|Photo courtesy of Orange County Mining Co. ~ http://orangecountyminingco.com/|
Holiday entertaining doesn't have to be a big, scary undertaking. All you really need is food, drink, a few guests, a little organization and the desire to have a good time. I've planned lots of parties and events and I can tell you that it does get easier with practice. There are many tips I could share with you but it would take several blog posts to include everything I want to say. So, in the interest of saving time, I've listed a few quick suggestions below that may be helpful as you plan your party/event.
1. Plan your event as thoroughly as possible or as thoroughly as time permits. Decide on a theme and then decide on food and decorations to support that theme. If you need help deciding which foods to prepare, consider doing a little research online for menu suggestions at websites like Epicurious (they even have wine pairing suggestions for the menus) or Delish. If you want individual recipes, the online resources are endless. Some of my favorite sources for recipes are Food Network, The Splendid Table and Recipe.com. If catering is an option for you, your caterer should have menu suggestions available.
2. Set a budget--this ensures you will not spend more money than you can afford to spend on your event. If you have the time, compare prices of the items you need at different stores and map out the quickest routes to the stores to save time.
3. Make separate lists for all components of the event: guest list/invitations, food, decorations, etc. Make your lists are as detailed as possible. They should include any helpful, relevant information--for instance, once you decide on your menu, write out a detailed market list and prep schedule. This ensures you are not making several trips to the store, cuts down on impulse buying and organizes your efforts in the kitchen.
4. Prepare/cook as many items as you can ahead of time so you don't spend the entire evening in the kitchen. If you're having an intimate gathering, consider a seated dinner and serve homey, comfort foods. If you're planning a large gathering, a buffet would probably be best. Consider foods that will stretch--feed a lot of people without breaking the bank!
5. Enlist the help of family and friends. They can help by running errands, helping with food prep, serving during your event or cleaning up afterward.
6. Clean several days before your event (especially your refrigerator as you will need extra storage space for your party food/trays, etc.) and decorate as early as possible. Your dining area/table is very important--be sure to put extra care into this area. Your table can be set a couple of days in advance--minus the place settings (if you set them out too early, they will get dusty). Choose an attractive, low-height centerpiece. Natural holiday greenery is a lovely option for a centerpiece. You could also use fresh fruits with a combination of holiday baubles to create a stunning centerpiece. If you've decorated other ares of your home for the holidays, consider bringing in colors/elements of the design into the tabletop decoration. Get creative with your tabletop decorating. Don't be afraid to mix patterns/shapes to bring more interest to the table.
Candles are always a welcome item on the dinner table or in the dining room as candlelight is very flattering--it helps set the mood and makes everyone look great. Choose unscented or moderately scented candles with soft food/fruit scents. Vanilla would be a great fragrance choice if you prefer scented candles.
7. Set the mood. In addition to the decorations and candlelight, fill the room with soft, instrumental music. Music is very soothing and will help calm guests who may be nervous or anxious.
8. Make several attempts to contact your guests to remind them of the event. If you can have them R.S.V.P. that would be great. If you prefer a less formal approach, send occasional reminders via email, Facebook, etc.
9. Help your guest feel more comfortable--get them involved. Ask your guests if they'd prefer to relax or help with a small task. Some people may opt for the task because they are more comfortable when they are busy or helping out could provide the perfect vehicle for the shy guests to interact with people they may not know very well.
10. If you are serving alcoholic beverages, monitor the crowd occasionally to see how everyone is doing. If you notice a guest having too much holiday cheer, offer them a cup of hot coffee and do what you can to find a designated driver to get them home safely.
1. Prepare dishes you have never cooked before or foods that are so complex your guests won't feel comfortable eating them.
2. Wait until the last minute to purchase items that can be purchased in advance.
3. Be afraid to get really creative. Your event doesn't have to be really expensive to be fun and memorable.
4. Feel obligated to provide a takeaway. Party favors for your guests are nice if you can afford them but if not, don't sweat it.
Remember, the holidays are supposed to be a time of good tidings, comfort and joy. There are resources for everything you need right at your fingertips--on the web. Also, feel free to post any entertaining or food-related questions you may have on the Seasoned & Stirred! Facebook page. I love planning parties and I'll be happy to help you as much as I can! Happy entertaining and happy holidays!