We are in full holiday party swing, around here. We bet you are too. There's something about this time of year that makes us want to see everyone we know and love all at once. Which usually means we are making dinner and cocktails for all of those people as well. Even for people who love to throw parties as much as we do, it can get a little overwhelming.
Everyone needs a guru sometimes, and today, ours is "Chopped" host, Ted Allen. Ted is just an entertaining powerhouse. He seems to know innately exactly what we want to drink and eat, and how to get it to us without breaking a sweat. We asked Ted to give us some of his best tips for holiday entertaining minus the stress, and he really, really delivered.
Probably no party-planning experience will ever be completely stress-free, but we bet you can get pretty close. What kinds of things help you keep your cool through the whole process -- planning, cooking, entertaining and cleaning up?
- Consider a potluck. The holiday meal is one of the most stress inducing rituals in American life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. One of my favorite holiday traditions is the potluck. Potlucks take so much weight off the host. I’d recommend having the host make the part of the meal that takes the most time to cook, like the turkey or the pie. Everybody else can bring a side dish, like stuffing or cranberry sauce. Potlucks reduce the work and the expense which everyone can appreciate around the holidays.
- Cook what you feel comfortable with. One of the biggest mistakes I see with first-time holiday hosts is feeling the need to cook extravagant meals. You’re adding unneeded pressure during an already stressful time! Plan a realistic menu and practice beforehand. Whatever you make the week before you can freezer for leftovers well after the holidays. Who doesn’t like holiday leftovers?
- Decorate with natural things. There is nothing more beautiful (and stress free!) than decorating with food. For example, a bowl of lemons, artichokes or apples adds pops of color to your kitchen or dining area. Go in your backyard and pick up some branches, pine cones or leaves and put them in a vase.
- Setting the ambiance is easy. An easy and cost effective way to create a special space for your holiday get together is to fill your room with candles. If you don’t have a large amount of spare ones lying around, purchase a pack of votive candles for around $10 and space them throughout the party area.
What snack do you wish people would serve you more at parties?
The finest quality caviar and vast quantities of white truffles! No I kid! I’m honestly delighted with a simple bruschetta or a nice cheese tray with a bunch of olives. I also get really happy with a good antipasto platter. If people cook with love I’m happy.
Do you have a favorite cocktail that can be pre-batched and not lose its panache?
Sangria is a total go-to for me in the summer. I make large batches ahead of time and store it in gallon water jugs. I’d recommend storing in either water jugs or another type of storage container that hasn’t held any previous flavors. It’s also a great way to use cheap wine that you have lying around.
When someone says, "let us know what we can bring," what do you usually tell them?
As someone who loves to host nights with family and friends, I love when people bring side dishes! They usually don’t take too long to cook and any side is a great addition to a perfect meal. One of my favorite new dishes I created is a fun take on the typical mashed potatoes, Smashed Potatoes with Golden Beets. The unique addition of golden beets gives the mashed potatoes a beautiful texture and adds a gorgeous yellow color to the dish. For the full recipe and more information on my other recipes please visit www.itisgoodtoknow.com.
What's your feeling on serving disposable utensils/plates/cups for holiday parties? Tacky or a godsend for clean-up efforts?
In a way it’s much easier to use disposable utensils/plates/cups because they are faster to clean up. However, you’re throwing everything in a landfill. I personally hate plastic forks, knives and spoons. My suggestion is to go a discount store and buy inexpensive stemware/glassware, save the box you bought them in and use the boxes to store the glassware.
Sam Sifton's Thanksgiving Gospel was especially specific about one point: you must clean up before bed. Do you subscribe to that notion, or would you rather enjoy your guests' company until the wee hours and clean up in the morning?
Well, Sam Sifton doesn’t make the rules in my house but I think his intentions are good. What I usually do in my house is stay up into the wee hours and clean anything that has food on it, the rest I rinse and leave to finish the next morning. The most important thing is you can’t wait to put away the leftovers. You should keep in mind food should sit no longer than two hours. I’m the first to rescue the food leftovers before it’s too late! More importantly, when you start cleaning it’s a signal to your guests that they should leave. In fact, if you want them to leave you should go and wash the dishes!
Who in your life has most influenced your holiday cooking today?
My dad is from Florida and my mom is from South Caroline, most of what she cooks has been influenced by the south. Every holiday she makes a platter of deviled eggs and ever since we were little, my sister and I would fight over who would sprinkle the paprika on the top of the eggs. We called it who would put the “devil” on the eggs and, because of that, I’m incapable of having a holiday dinner without making deviled eggs.