We all have a friend or two who makes entertaining seem effortless and fun. Turns out a flair for entertaining is not a genetic talent born to the lucky few but it’s simply about learning to plan everything ahead of time.
Fortunately for most us it isn’t all that hard to host a holiday meal once you learn a few key tricks to keep tucked up under your apron sleeves.
Read on and maybe one of these tips will help you to become the party maven you know you were born to be.
- Do the big grocery shop 2 or 3 days in advance of the holiday. You will manage to keep your holiday spirit by avoiding the worst of the crowds and since there are always a few last minute things to be picked up, have family or friends pick them up for you.
- Buy more ice than you think you will need. That way you can avoid the inevitable run to the grocery store to pick up more. If you don’t have enough freezer space, fill a cooler with the overflow and keep it in the garage.
- Have lots of pop, mixers, wine and beer on hand. It’s your choice as to whether serving hard liquor but if you do, be sure to have vodka and bourbon as they seem to be the most popular, along with gin, rum and whiskey.
- Holiday get-togethers are long and family is family after all. Feeding people early and often so that alcohol doesn’t become a negative factor is key. Guests will usually consume two drinks in the first hour then one drink per hour for the rest of the party so think about serving hot make-ahead appetizers of puff pastry and phyllo, which go right from the freezer to the oven. Or better yet, buy ready-made appetizers from the grocery store. Hot spinach dip and a cheese tray are classic holiday noshes.
- Plan your menu so that you can make most the dishes in advance. Look at stuffings and vegetable casseroles that can be assembled a day or two ahead and baked in their serving dishes to be served at the last moment.
- Or, you can have your guests bring side dishes and wine (pinot noir for red drinkers and a non-oaky chardonnay for white) so that you only have to cook the turkey and get the house ready (which is enough…right?).
- Set the table a day ahead. That way you can take the time to be sure that napkins are ironed and flowers arranged. If you can’t set the table because you need to use it throughout the day, have the napkins, plates and silverware all ready to go on a buffet or out of the way place and leave the older kids in charge of setting it up.
- Speaking of the table, no one cares if you don’t have an heirloom 7-foot mahogany dining table. Two sawhorses and a sheet of plywood covered with a tablecloth is perfectly fine. Just be sure to give everyone a little space to sit whether at a coffee table, card table or kitchen table. It’s all about getting together with family and friends and enjoying each other’s company.
- Make a fun centerpiece of gourds, pumpkins, apples and pears for the holiday table. They are inexpensive, colorful and look great on a white tablecloth. Add sparkling votives, candles and soft lighting to make everyone look great. While we’re talking about it, make sure the centerpiece doesn’t obstruct guests view across the table. If you have a tall centerpiece, move it to another spot right before guests are seated.
- For a small gathering, roast a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. It’s so much easier and quicker to slice up. I know people who even cook 3 or 4 breasts for a larger crowd instead of a whole turkey. If they only want white meat…why not?
- Heat plates and serving dishes before filling them with hot food. Microwave safe dishes can be warmed in the microwave for a minute or so. Heat up your gravy boat with boiling water and pour it out before transferring the gravy to it. That way the gravy will stay hot longer. Use oven-to-tableware whenever practical. It saves time and keeps food hot.
- Buy the bread or rolls and the pumpkin pie or dessert from the bakery (or have someone bring it) instead of making them yourself. Everyone is so full after dinner that a light dessert or just a small slice is welcome and more than enough.
- Seat children at their own table if possible. They love to be together and you can make their table fun by spreading it with craft paper and washable crayons, chicken fingers and French fries. If you must seat the children with the adults for dinner, allow them to leave the table once they are finished eating so that the adults can savor that last drop of wine or enjoy their coffee with no interruptions.
- Remember, the most important tip is to entertain with an eye to making your guests comfortable, not to make the party look perfect. A cozy room full of happily, well-fed family and friends is just about the best thing a hostess can ask for.