Written by Dana Shortt
As the holidays approach, having family and friends over for special get togethers can become a regular thing. If you are less than eager to entertain, there is always the option of taking people out to a restaurant for dinner (who’s going to complain about that?), but if you’re feeling a bit more daring, here are my top 10 tips to make entertaining at home as easy as possible:
Prepare dishes that can be made in advance.
In colder months, serve dishes that taste better the day after they are made, such as coq au vin, beef bourguignon, chicken marsala, curries, pasta bakes or another one of your favourite “one-dish-meals” that can go from oven-to-table. In warmer months, serve cold or room temperature dishes such as grilled salmon, cold sliced chicken or flank steak, potato salad and a platter of roasted vegetables. These room temperature menu items can be cooked, put on platters and garnished in advance — and when it’s time to eat, all you have to do is remove the plastic wrap and serve!
In addition to the food, prepare whatever else you can in advance.
For example, have your coffee set up so that you only have to press the start button; have your cream and milk already poured into the creamers and stored in the fridge; select and set up your music; have your matches or lighter out near the candles, and so on. In other words, do whatever you can in advance so that you aren’t running around at the last minute trying to get organized!
Serve “buffet-style” or “family-style” whenever possible.
Plated meals take a lot more time, require more fussing about, and the food can get cold easily. I love serving buffet or family-style because your guests are able to choose their own portions and/or avoid taking something that they aren’t as fond of, without embarrassing themselves or the host/hostess!
Consider renting dishes and stemware if your budget allows.
It goes without saying that renting makes for much easier clean up — and you won’t be devastated if a treasured bowl or champagne flute gets broken.
Hire a server if your budget allows.
An additional hand to help with cleaning, topping-up drinks or collecting coats can really come in handy, especially for large groups. A server can free you up to spend more time eating, drinking, and socializing with your guests, which is why you asked them over to your house in the first place, isn’t it?
Set up a self-serve bar.
Offer your guests a drink when they arrive but have a self-serve bar set up for your guests to help themselves for the duration of the party. Consider serving only wine, beer and perhaps a signature drink (in addition to a non-alcoholic choice, of course). It’s often the little touches that your guests will remember – like the fact that you garnished your signature “champagne and framboise” cocktail with fresh raspberries, or that you served your non-alcoholic option in a special glass.
Take something basic and make it more exotic by introducing a ‘twist’ or using a small amount of an expensive or ‘luxury’ ingredient.
Some examples: top traditional devilled eggs with crab or lobster, and garnish them with smoked salt; drizzle roasted or mashed potatoes with truffle oil; stuff homemade burgers with blue cheese and pancetta; add a splash of ice wine to your fruit coulis; or roast large cocktail shrimp with garlic instead of poaching.
Don’t forget the importance of presentation.
Remember, people “eat with their eyes” first. Try making your food more interesting by presenting it in an unconventional manner. Choose a vessel, container or stemware piece (from your own kitchen cabinets, hutch or attic!) that is not ‘normally’ intended for that food item. For instance, fill your old fashioned tea cup and saucer sets with fresh fruit salad and top with a dollop of lemon curd or whipped cream and a sprig of fresh mint. Tea cups also work beautifully for appetizer sized portions of hot or cold soup, and are also a great way to serve shrimp cocktail: fill the cup 1/3 full with cocktail sauce or aioli and “hang/drape” a few pieces of jumbo shrimp over the rim of the cup. Finish by garnishing with a few sprigs of fresh chives.
Don’t forget the music and candles.
Have music playing as your guests arrive and keep it going throughout the duration of your gathering. Don’t forget about lighting – dim the lights and light some candles for evening entertaining.
If you don’t like to cook, or are pressed for time, consider ‘assembling’ good quality store-bought food instead of creating it.
For example, buy great quality sausages and/or cold meats, sliced cheese, marinated and/or pickled vegetables and artisan breads and let your guests prepare their own antipasto. Or, purchase fresh pizza dough and good quality toppings and let your guests have fun making their own personal gourmet pizzas. Dress up good quality store-bought food to make it look like your own – drizzle hummus with olive oil and a handful of pine nuts or add fresh chopped herbs to salsas, sauces or soups.
Remember that it’s your mood which sets the tone. Your guests aren’t going to have a good time if they see that you’re exhausted from all of the preparation or if you’re running around in a frenzy trying to host the “perfect” party. To quote Ina Garten, AKA the Barefoot Contessa: “Your friends aren’t going to have more fun if you spend two weeks making the hors d’oeuvres!”
To close, here is a great recipe for Lemon Curd — perfect served on top of fresh fruit salad in fancy tea cups!
Tangy Lemon Curd
Recipe adapted from “Fine Cooking Magazine”
Makes about 2 cups
- 6 tablespoons (six tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (one cup) sugar
- 2 (two) whole eggs
- 2 (two) egg yolks
- 2/3 cup (two-thirds of one cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons (two teaspoons) grated lemon zest
- In a large bowl, beat the softened, room temperature butter and sugar with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes.
- Slowly add the whole eggs and egg yolks. Beat for 1-2 minutes more. Mix in the lemon juice. Note: the mixture will look “curdled” but it will smooth out as it cooks.
- In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth.
The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.
- Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15-22 minutes. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170° F on a thermometer. Do not let the mixture boil.
- Remove the curd from the heat, then stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for two months.
You can substitute lime juice and lime zest to make a lime curd. For a twist, layer lemon or lime curd and whipped cream in a martini glass and serve with 2 or 3 long-stemmed strawberries for a beautiful dessert.
Dana Shortt is an Elite Mompreneur Member, who built a business around her love of food. She is the owner-operator of a specialty food store and catering business called “Dana Shortt Gourmet” on Erb Street in Uptown Waterloo. Visit her website at: www.danashortt.ca
This article was previously published on danashortt.ca; featured image courtesy of shutterstock.com