I was in Boston this past week for work and I’m not sure if it was the cold air or the fact that I saw freaks with their xmas trees up already, but my thoughts turned to holiday entertaining. Personally, I love entertaining in my tiny abode but I know home entertaining for a lot of peeps is a stressful proposition.
It’s my suggestion that if you aren’t comfortable (or have never) entertained in your casa
that you start by inviting a small group of close friends that know each other well. Don’t try to be Martha Stewart right out of the gate. Entertaining should be fun for you as well as you guests. On the flip side, don’t go to Safeway an hour before your guests are supposed to arrive and load your cart up with chips, salsa, hummus, goldfish crackers, baby carrots, booze, mixers and red plastic cups and call it a day. I’m proposing something that sits somewhere in the middle. Below are 10 tips for hosting a sophisticated, fun and non-stress-inducing fete:
- Greet each guest with a signature cocktail but just serve beer, wine & bubbly throughout the rest of the party. Choose something you can make ahead of time and put in a pitcher or punch bowl. Avoid cocktails that need to be made up individually, such as martinis. It’s too time consuming. Last year, at my holiday party I served Paula Deen’s Egg Nog. It is 2 DIE 4. Or more precisely, 2 DIE from. It’s made with a sh#$ ton of milk, heavy cream, egg yolks, and bourbon. Soooooo good. And, please please please use glass/crystal drinking vessels. We aren’t in college anymore. It is my firm belief that using real glassware makes your guests feel special and cared for.
- For cocktail parties of 6 to 8 guests, I generally make a charcuterie/cheese plate, one protein-based offering, a dip, and a sweets platter. If I am hosting 10 to 14 guests, I would add another protein (probably seafood based) and deviled eggs (they are old skool but I heart them).
- Make everything you possibly can ahead of time. That means avoiding fried foods and a lot of the hot stuff as they need to be made at the last minute. If you are serving any type of canapé or crostini make sure you ready the individual components in advance so you can just assemble and plate before everyone arrives. Meatballs and beef tenderloin crostini with a blue cheese dressing are great make ahead protein alternatives.
- Dips are a good serving option and generally very easy to make. I am really into Barefoot Contessa-style dips. She sticks yummy stuff (like smoked salmon, caramelized onions or oil-packed sundried tomatoes) into a basic concoction of sour cream, mayonnaise and cream cheese. Delectable every time!
- Everything should look abundant so it’s ok to pile stuff up on smaller platters and continue to refill throughout the evening. It’s like the opposite of when you go to a fancy restaurant where they serve you the tiny portion on the big plate. And, don’t think you need to go out and buy a bunch of serving dishes. Use what you have. I love reusing those gift baskets you get from your vendors at the holidays to put crackers, bread, and chips in to serve alongside a dip or fondue. Just stick in a clean,pretty tea towel and you’ve got a serving vessel.
- Charcuterie/cheese plates are the easiest thing to do and everyone loves them! Trader Joes, @WholeFoods, and @Cheese_Plus ( http://cheeseplus.com) have great cheese/charcuterie selections. I generally buy one pate’, some thinly sliced salumi or bresaola, a triple cream (like a brie or robiola), a cheddar-based cheese (cottswold is my fave), and a goat cheese. I serve fig preserves (or honey), cornichon, and kalamata olives alongside. Don’t forget the baguette and crackers. You can assemble the platter 60 to 90 minutes ahead of time and put it out. Charcuterie and cheese taste best at room temp.
- Use candy as decoration. There are really pretty candies available during the holidays. I stick candy canes in a pint glass and red/green M&Ms in martini glasses and place them in various spots throughout the room. It’s a 2fer—they are cute and munchable!
- Don’t go crazy decorating your house (unless you dig doing that kind of stuff). Just sprinkle the candy-filled glasses and some candles throughout your entertaining area and put one big bunch of flowers in your main serving area. During the holidays, I usually do a bouquet of different types of white flowers in a pretty Tiffany vase that was gifted to me many moons ago.
- Do have a sweet platter but unless you are a candymaker or baker just buy a selection of the three tasty things and plate them together. My dessert platters generally have something chocolate (french bark, fudge, dark chocolate covered caramels, or brownies), marshmallows (not stay puft, but the fancy kind you get at Williams-Sonoma or from your local candy store) and sliced banana bread or citrus loaf cake. If that’s too much for you to source just go to the nearest cupcake shop and buy some assorted cupcakes (I think cupcakes have jumped the shark though so I’d do it as a last resort).
- When your first guest rings the doorbell, take a deep breath, crank up the tunes, turn down the lights, and welcome him or her into your home. You’ve (hopefully) invited people who care about you and aren’t there to judge so RELAX.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Feel free to leave a comment about this post and let me know if you have any suggestions for easy holiday entertaining. I look forward to hearing your ideas.