It’s that time of year again. There’s a chill in the air, the leaves have turned and the holidays are around the corner! At my house, the planning began back in October. With three little girls, Halloween is now considered a “holiday”, and is the prelude for the fun and merriment to come in November and December.
As the creator and host of The Elegant Occasion Home Entertaining and Cooking Show, I dive into the preparations wholeheartedly and embrace the chaos. But for some, entertaining can bring more pain than pleasure. The idea is appealing, a gathering of your family and friends, a celebration in your home – but putting the idea into action can be stressful. Here are some ideas for taking the stress out of home entertaining, and making it as enjoyable for you as it is for your guests.
The Note Pad…Your Best Friend!
Be organized and make lists. I always have a note pad handy when getting ready to entertain. Whether my gathering is big or small I begin by making a menu, and from there, a grocery list, beverage list and general to-do list. There are times between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I actually sleep with the note pad by my side of the bed. With holiday parties, the actual holidays themselves, and the” pop-in” guests that just want to stop by and spread cheer, the note pad does not leave my side.
Setting the Scene
When you are determining the kind of gathering you want, think about whether you prefer casual or formal. Take into account the space you have, the number of guests and your budget. If the style you choose suits you, then your gathering will be a success. Be realistic. What is your culinary ability? Would inviting guests for a casual brunch be easier than a dinner party? I find that many people almost completely forget that entertaining does not have to be reserved for sunset. A warm fire on a chilly Sunday afternoon and friends gathered for a lovely brunch is a great way to spend time together. (You’ll find ideas for recipes at www.TheElegantOccasion.com.)
Once you decide on casual or formal, start to envision the décor. A casual gathering lends itself to a buffet, with an eye-catching centerpiece in the middle of the table. A more formal gathering would be better suited to a sit-down dinner where small vases filled with seasonal colored flowers provide warmth and elegance. And don’t limit your creativity…think outside the box. Anything can be used as a vase; a pumpkin or squash that is hollowed out, wine glasses or drink pitchers can really add visual interest to a table when used as vases. And don’t limit yourself to a centerpiece of just flowers; add fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme, and fruits such as cranberries and pears to your arrangements. Their natural scent will add a subtle warmth and fragrance to your dining area.
As you begin to make your menu, remember to keep it simple and keep it seasonal. Choosing seasonal ingredients can do a lot of the work for you, since you need only simple preparation to showcase their flavor. Be realistic about how much time you have to prepare the food, and plan dishes that can be prepared in advance. For example, when entertaining in the fall and winter, start with a soup, which can be made a few days ahead and reheated before serving. Creamy Carrot Soup is perfect for the season. The vibrant orange color, the rich velvety texture and the hint of ginger is the perfect way to start a meal. Garnished with crème fraiche and crumbled bacon, it makes a beautiful presentation. Roasted chicken with fresh herbs, potatoes and root vegetables is not only a comforting meal, but one that is cooked together in one roasting pan, making it the perfect meal for dinner guests on a chilly winter evening. My basic rule when entertaining is that I want my guests to feel like my home is theirs. I don’t want the food to be intimidating; I want it to be heart-warming.
I think of entertaining as filling in another page of my scrapbook. I’ve shared time with people that mean the most to me, and I have created another great memory. This year, don’t look ahead to the holidays with fear, embrace them and all the joy and craziness they bring. For more recipes and entertaining ideas, visit www.TheElegantOccasion.com .
Roberta Lombardi is the creator of The Elegant Occasion Home Entertaining and Cooking Show that is aired on-line. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, Tom and their three daughters.