Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Entertaining

( This is just one of our families! )

Less is more. Less clutter and decorations creates spaces for guests to put plates and cups during the annual open house two weeks before Christmas. Less fussy foods take less time to prepare and are easier for guests to handle. Serving Thanksgiving dinner family style in one room and eating it in another room results in less stuff on the table

The holidays are supposed to be fun! All the parties, food and drinks are the gift to adults. When you are the one hosting you want to be able to make magic and pull it off. There are a couple of tips we have used over the last few years that have worked well:
  • Dress up the food table. Make a centerpiece or accent the table with garland and confetti. Draw people’s attention to it.
  • Small plates allow people to take just enough food and be able to be on the move.
  • Self service beverages really help with the flow of your event. You’ll see later we ignore this tip for cocktails, when used together...
Everything else you do is going to depend on who is coming and whether guests are bringing food.

( Several years ago I hand washed and dusted each of these pieces of fruit.
Settled together on a platter with a vanilla scented candle it made our table stand out! ) 

Holiday food! Can’t beat it and thankfully we all get to carry some of it into the next year with us. Our holiday spreads are always a team effort with our guests. Our family and friends love to bring all kinds of dishes to our house depending on what we need. My mother is one of the best people to take up on the offer to make food for a family gathering. Guests are happy to contribute and find foods they like on the table. The host doesn’t have to be responsible for everything and can enjoy something different as well.

( Clean forks lining up for dessert! )
If you want to pick a food theme, like Southern influences, you want to make sure guests are aware of the theme and you know whether they are participating. We used this theme for Thanksgiving dinner one year and had some incredible side dishes like macaroni & cheese, greens and sweet potatoes. We also wanted a wider vegetarian selection for Christmas two years ago and asked our families about what they could make to help out. When Anuarg & Dhepeka arrived they were pleasantly surprised at all the vegetable dishes, including the Indian gobi (cauliflower ) I had made. Additionally the beans, salad, potatoes, squash, Indian dal and rice all went amazingly well with a glazed ham. The variety and a very new combination of flavors were the talk of the meal.

Open house style events are common this time of year and we always have one. We find there is a bit more work on the social aspects of gatherings like this. We use different activities to help our guests get to know each other and interact. We now find some of our friends come for the holidays and are interested in seeing other friends of ours, and more than us!

Last year I led a mixology demo at our open house, making three different cocktails. An Old Fashioned, a Street Pharmacist and a Cool Runnings. (recipes at the end) Cocktails capture people’s imagination. Trying different flavors and textures is a lot of fun, especially with a group and several drinks to try! After demonstrating each drink and letting my guests try them I asked if anyone wanted to try it for themselves. Several takers stepped up and they went to work, asking a few questions along the way. The drinks were good and everyone had fun. I walked away and came back 30 minutes later and there were still people mixing up the different drinks and talking about them.

Several years ago we took family photos on our stair case at several events. The photos weren’t pro and the lighting sucked, but everyone had a good time and loved having the photo to print out or put on the computer. All the holiday smiles were nice to look through on Christmas day. We have even assembled a collection of photos for Christmas showing the different events over the years.

I wrote posts on wine and beer for the holidays earlier in the week. How you decide to pair foods and beverages out for different functions comes down to the people. In those two posts I covered both family dinner and open house settings with simple beverage ideas. Two solid tips are as simple as having diverse selections and the self-service option for busy gatherings. Read the linked articles for more stories and specific recommendations for holiday food pairing.

 Be ready to have fun. I have a playlist of Nu-Jazz, Downtempo and lounge music playing softly in the main room. For Christmas we put cartoons on rotation in another room for the younger kids. We otherwise turn the TV off and put a photo slideshow on the computer. Moving from room to room we get many opportunities to talk to our family and friends and celebrate all we have to be thankful and happy for.
( This isn't the entryway to my house. It is the entrance of the Lobby at the
Sandals Ocho Rios in Jamaica. We experienced Christmas in Jamaica in 2005.
That was a whole other kind of party and not one I had to cook or cleanup from! )

Cleaning up from these types of events is always a pain. People are going to be hanging out in your kitchen so it makes sense to move most everything you don’t need out of it. Put your reserve supplies in another location and go get them when needed. We have used three specific things to make cleaning up less of a disaster:
  • Start the day with an empty dishwasher and put stuff in it as you go
  • Have separate trash and recycling and keep an eye on them during the party
  • Use paper and plastic with large busy and more casual gatherings
Hopefully your holiday gatherings go off without a hitch this year. It’s about the people after all so don’t count out some twists and turns!

Check out the first three posts in this four-part series on holiday food, beverage and entertaining.

Holiday Beer Talk - Post 3 of 4
Holiday Pies - Post 2 of 4
Holiday Wine Advice - Post 1 of 4



Mixology Demo Cocktail Recipes

Old Fashioned

2 oz bourbon whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 splash water
1 tsp sugar syrup (make ahead, more if sweeter is desired)
1 maraschino cherry
1 orange wedge

Mix first four ingredients in a rocks glass. Add ice. Squeeze the orange slightly to add some juice to the drink. Place orange and cherry in glass and serve.

Street Pharmacist

2 oz Appleton 12 year old rum
2 oz Rum Cream
1 oz Amaretto

Mix and serve over ice.

Cool Runnings

Gold rum
Coconut rum
Blue Curacao
Pineapple juice
Simple syrup

You make this in a pitcher like punch. Use whatever quantities you like! Mix and serve over ice


Meghan@travelwinedine said...

Holidays at your house look like a ton of fun! I like to not just pick wines that I think will go well with the food, but I love bringing a special bottle or two with a good story. Last year and this year we will have Travessia wine at dinner; I love that it is local. We will also bring a Zin from a trip to Sonoma. Fun conversation pieces :)
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Lisa | Authentic Suburban Gourmet said...

Great tips for the holidays!! Wishing you and your family a happy Thanksgiving Day Holiday!!

Magic of Spice said...

Love those cocktails...What fun your Holidays must be, nice idea to have themes like that :)
Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

I love the theme idea and having everyone pitch in and bring something - so much fun to try new things! The cocktail demo and bar is a brilliant way to get people to interact. Excellent tips as always! Hope you have a great Thanksgiving with sacred mashed potatoes ;)