We’ve taken a decidedly nonstressed approach to entertaining this holiday season, and it’s been working like a charm. What’s our secret? One part learning to let go of the little things, and one part simple planning, which takes the worry out having a houseful of guests. This week we’re tackling holiday menu planning, with some of Annie’s favorite tips for crafting memorable meals. Check back in next week for part 2, on prepping the house, and you’ll be sitting pretty well before the doorbell rings.
1. Flip through cookbooks or your favorite recipe cards or blogs to choose your appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. This is one of Annie’s favorite steps; she finds it relaxing to “merchandise” a meal over a leisurely cup of coffee.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The holidays can be nerve-racking enough, so don’t experiment with a new recipe for the first time. The effort won’t be appreciated any more than if you stick to recipes you know well, so rely on your strengths and serve dishes you know will be a hit.
3. Check in with guests about food allergies and intolerances. It’s important to make sure you’re not using any hidden ingredients that might make a guest sick, and you also don’t want to serve soup with a beef- or chicken-stock base to a vegetarian or vegan. That said, don’t drive yourself crazy. Try to have a couple of dishes that suit most people, and if a friend or family member with an allergy/intolerance offers to contribute a dish to the party, take him or her up on it!
4. Think luxe, but simple. Annie loves to cook, but last year she decided to focus on the entrees and have all the sides catered. The result? Guests were thrilled with a spread of delicious food, and Annie was even happier to have more QT to spend with them. She suggests choosing two to four things you really want to make yourself, and investing in some good-quality prepared food for the rest. You can also delegate to friends and family, based on what they like to make. For example, Annie’s sister-in-law makes a mean crescent roll, and she also loves having a role in making the meal complete.
5. Do as much advanced prep as you can. Figure out which dishes—sauces, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, many soups, and cakes and cookies, to name a few—can be made a day or two before, and save the big guns for the day itself.
6. Stock an array of drink options, from sparkling water to red and white wine, soda or juice for younger guests, and coffee and tea. One of the easiest and most festive touches you can add to a holiday meal is a signature cocktail. Check out this post, with tips and recipes from spirits guru Chris Weld of Berkshire Mountain Distillers, for cocktails that will glam up your soiree with hardly any effort.
Now it’s your turn: tell us in the comments your favorite planning tips for holiday guests!