The days may be shorter and the weather a little colder, but with the holiday spirit upon us, I think we're entering one of the most wonderful seasons of the year. That said, holiday-induced stress can quickly outshine all of the excitement. With so much to do in such little time, the thought of holiday get-togethers themselves can be daunting, let alone the time it takes to prepare for all of these gatherings.
As someone who loves to entertain for my family and friends, I know just how tiring hosting can be -- but who says it has to be this complicated? It's time to get back to basics and remind ourselves of what we love most about get-togethers during the holidays and year-round: quality time with the ones we love! There are lots of simple hacks every people-gatherer can use this time of year to make entertaining totally fuss-free.
Forget the dishes
It can be really difficult to stay in the moment and enjoy yourself while you watch a mountain of dishes pile up in your sink. Ditch the stress and dreaded clean-up by using paper plates and cups. Today you can find tons of recyclable, sturdy options with beautiful designs that will liven up any coffee table. The best part? No washing necessary.
Don't stress when it comes to food
Between planning, running to the grocery store, waiting in long lines and cooking, you can easily waste hours on food prep just to end up spending your whole get-together behind the scenes in the kitchen. To save yourself some time and energy, use the foods you already have in your pantry to whip up quick, delicious crowd-pleasers. You can never go wrong with a simple charcuterie board or brie and cranberry scoops. They only take five minutes to pull together and your guests will obsess over them all night.
Keep décor simple
There's no need to stress over décor - simple is always better. Burlap makes a great table runner and elements from nature are a perfect addition to any tabletop. This time of year is bright and beautiful outside, so if you're looking to add some accents to your gathering, just look to your own backyard, literally!
Set it and forget it
A bit of extra upfront work before your guests arrive will pay off later in the evening. Prepare a large pitcher of your signature cocktail and big spread of snacks, then encourage your guests to help themselves. Having everything ready before your guests arrive will eliminate last-minute scrambling and help you enjoy yourself from the get-go.
Raise a toast to your guests
Your party would be nothing without your wonderful guests, so make sure to step away from your hosting duties to spend some quality time together. Put out a retro style Instamatic camera for a fun, vintage touch that allows guests to take photos home with them. Throw in a few simple props like mini party hats and oversized glasses, and let your guests' creativity take over. If you choose to go digital, you can post later as a great way to toast to the great time you had!
Most importantly remember the key to entertaining to be is a host or hostess whom expects to have a good time! Keep it carefree and fun... always.
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Setting the table the day before takes time and energy, not to mention that it renders unusable a perfectly good surface that you can otherwise use to chop vegetables, lay out finished dishes to cool and do other necessary preparations. Instead, set up a buffet table and let people serve and seat themselves when they arrive.
Before you even start shopping for the party, take some time to make space in your fridge for the ingredients you'll be buying, as well as for the new batch of leftovers you're probably going to have on your hands once all is said and done. You'll avoid that moment of panic when you've got a tupperware container full of perfectly good lasagna and nowhere to put it but the back porch.
Stick with a few tried-and-true recipes you're already comfortable with, and supplement them with, say, shrimp cocktail from the local grocery store, canned bruschetta, a batch of frozen biscuits and a great pie from the local bakery.
If you're serving six or more people, disposable dishware is a perfectly reasonable way to save yourself some clean-up time. If you're concerned about seeming unsophisticated, don't. There are plenty of options — from plastic that looks like real china to specialty designs to bamboo — that are better-looking than the average paper plate. For the eco-conscious cook, the jury's still out on whether going disposable for the Big Meal is truly worse for the environment than the water and energy used in dishwashing, so using recyclable materials is a good bet.
When it comes to scaling recipes, 2x2 doesn't always equal 4, and certain dishes (soufflés, breads and cakes, for example) are just not conducive to serving large crowds unless you have the time to prepare several separate batches in small portions. So go with casseroles, soups, salads and other less-finicky dishes that can be doubled and tripled with lower risk of kitchen catastrophe.
The most common reason most people don’t delegate in the kitchen? They feel awkward doing so. But when you’re the one in charge of the Big Holiday Dinner, offloading responsibilities shortens your to-do list and lets you focus on the tasks you alone can do. For guests, being asked to help implies that you trust their skills, appreciate their contributions and value their company.
This collection of desserts and sides contains 7 holiday-themed recipes designed to be prepared a day ahead. Simply refrigerate after assembly, then bake the day of your fête (allowing a little extra cooking time if the dish is cold to start out with). You’ll take a chunk of the work off your food-prep plate and have more time to celebrate.
Throw in the ingredients and go. Come back later to a house that smells like a holiday. What's not to love about your slow-cooker? And yet too many of us pull them out only for soups and stews, missing opportunities to make flavorful and warm-you-up-from-the-inside dishes without much fuss. From delicious roasted veggies to poached pears, steamed persimmon pudding or even mulled wine, your slow-cooker is your friend when it comes to big holiday gatherings.
There's no shame in requesting a few additions to your menu from the guests you already know have great, signature dishes in their repertoires. If your cousin's favorite meatball recipe is the stuff of legends, why spend the time making your own version when she'll probably be thrilled to bring hers along? It'll give you more time to focus on your own famous recipes, and hopefully a little extra to spend with the family you rarely get to see.
Follow Janette Ewen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Janette_Ewen