Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holiday Entertaining Tips

Don't Do It All
Especially during the holidays when time is tight. This may surprise those who know how much I love to cook, but I rarely cook everything from scratch when entertaining. If I'm making a labor-intensive lasagna and frozen chocolate mousse, I'll likely purchase fresh bread and a tapenade from the store instead of making my own. Choose the foods you love to cook and the ones that show off your skill in the kitchen. For the life of me, I am not a cake baker or decorator. They always turn out looking like a second grade art project. So I often leave those to the professionals.

Craft a Menu
When planning a menu, I try to create a seasonal balance of flavors, colors and textures. If I'm serving a rich, creamy main course, for example, I'll serve a lighter dessert. I'm a sucker for beautiful food, so I skip the parsley garnish and serve something green instead. Also ask your guests about any dietary restrictions they may have to ensure you cook food they can eat. It can be a hassle to cook a vegan, gluten-free meal, but in forcing you out of your comfort zone, it can also open your palate to new ingredients and amazing new recipes.  

Prepare Ahead
Plan a meal around the nature of the event and the amount of time you wish to spend interacting with your guests so that you can prepare some of the foods ahead of time. For example, if you wish to serve a formal sit-down dinner for eight, you may wish to avoid foods that require last-minute preparation, such as seared fish or meat. A more casual event may lend itself to mingling with guests in the kitchen helping your finish such last-minute dishes. Shop a day or two in advance and prepare anything you can the day before, such as chopping vegetables, cooking soup bases or whisking together salad dressings.

Set the Table
Set the dining table a day in advance of your guests' arrival. Even if you're still bustling around your kitchen at the last minute, a beautiful table communicates to your guests you're anticipating their visit and eager to make the occasion memorable. Add special touches with personal name cards. I attended a brunch in honor of my mother-in-law where the hostess framed each guest's name and a special quote in a small silver frame. A less-expensive but equally charming place card is to make ginger bread cookies in different shapes and write each guest's name on it in white icing.

Decorate Simply
Avoid all of the lovely holiday-scented candles at the dining table as the aromas will compete with the food you've spent time artfully preparing and instead opt for unscented. Decorate with natural materials, such as a bowl of fresh citrus fruit and leaves. Often you can find the fruit with the stems and leaves still attached during the holiday season at specialty markets, or in your yard if you live in a southern state. Depending on the height of your chandelier, also consider hanging attractive glass ornaments from it with ribbon cut at varying lengths.

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