When it comes to the Holidays, I go above and beyond from making sure my glassware sparkles to baking the old-fashioned Italian cookies we had growing up. Here are some ways I prepare for a large crowd during the Holidays ie; 20 (or more). My family is a BIG (and boisterous!) Italian family, so we have 20-25 guests around the table. For years and years we celebrated on Christmas Eve with the seven fishes, and at some point we got away from that Italian tradition due to allergies. These days now that everyone is usually scrambling to finish shopping on Christmas Eve, we switched the day to whatever works for the kids’ schedules. We all know that when your child is on a sports team, there are few if any breaks. As my brother Michael says, #nodaysoff “To be the best they must practice!” So with this said, this is how I prep for the holidays.
Every year I make old-fashioned Italian cookies which take a good amount of time. The recipe for my Ricotta Cheese Cookies is on my blog. Keep in mind this recipe yields 10 dozen cookies, so you will need at least 2 hours to prepare the cookie dough, bake and then ice the cookies. Well worth the effort! Since this is such a time consuming process, I typically start my cookie making a week or so leading up to my family party. Then I store them in an air tight container. You can even freeze cookies if you make them 2 weeks in advance. One of my favorite cakes to make for the holidays is my Gingerbread Cake. My son always says, “It smells like Christmas!” when this come out of the oven.
My family is Italian so we typically serve a pasta dish along with meat for our holiday meal. If you are making a homemade manicotti, lasagna or baked ziti prep it the day before you have company- this is good planning! Bake it before they arrive, but prep the day before. There is a homemade manicotti recipe on my blog using store bought crepes, but to make the crepes by hand, sends this dish over the top. It is so easy. You mix all-purpose flour and milk and mix until it creates a liquid consistency and pour a heaping tablespoon into a tiny pan, swirl and heat until it solidifies and then flip it! Pipe your filling on the center and seal the ends, sauce and mozzarella cheese and bake! It’s as easy as that. There is also a lasagna recipe in my cookbook, pick one up if you haven’t done so! Lots of good eats!!! Meatballs and sauce can be made one or two days in advance. Just don’t over cook your sauce or leave the light on high while heating it back up, because burned sauce will not taste good! Also don’t over stir it because the meatballs will break apart. To freshen up any sauce for the party add some fresh basil leaves. Grandma’s homemade bread is always a hit, that is a lot of prep and waiting for the dough to rise, so bake any breads if possible one day ahead and tightly seal it in some Syran wrap and tin foil. It should keep fine. Making a turkey or chicken one day ahead is a good idea, then reheat it and slice it. Keep Dindin easy and don’t cook or bake everything, order at least one prepared food from a local grocery store. My sister-in-laws always bring a side dish, very helpful! Salad is always served too. Buy the pre-washed lettuce for the holiday, and chopped any tomatoes or cheese a day ahead. Plan, plan, plan!!!
Setting the table
A few days ahead of my family party, I take out all my linens and put them in the dryer to get rid of any wrinkles. I set my tables up in a T formation so I can fit as many people around as possible. At the one end of my dinner room table I set up two large folding tables side-by-side. This seems to work really well. My dinning room is wide, so that does help. Once the linens are ready we lay them on the table. I use cream/white linens that coordinate well together, but do not necessarily match. Then I put out a festive charger plate for example, gold or silver depending on your color scheme. I use my best china, which my mom left me when she passed. It has a beautiful gold rim, so the gold chargers work well. Another idea is to rent a full set of plates in white, if you don’t have china. You can mix them in with your china as well. I also use chargers that have a floral pattern on them, so everything isn’t so matchy-matchy. My crystal has a gold rim around it, so that adds to the table’s elegance. When it comes to glassware though, I am very practical. I do like to use stemware for the holidays. However, I usually set out one glass placed right above where the knife is on the right side of the plate which you can use for wine or water. Next to that you may put a red or white wine glass if you wish. We have so many kids, that I just place one glass as I don’t want anything to get knocked over with the passing of the bread and other goodies – again it’s a practical approach. Sitting 25 around the three tables is a challenge enough, and it’s a tight fit. Here is a link for a complete guide for setting your table Martha Stewart Table Setting
I remove all of high back cream tufted chairs out of my dining room. Instead of mixing chairs, I much prefer ordering chairs from a local rental store, along with some white china dishes if i need to supplement. (I only have 12 china plates). I upgrade an get a chair with a cushion and I match the cherry wood on the china cabinet in the room. This makes the room look very uniform. When you walk into the room your eyes are immediately drawn to the table. I have had my nephews and neices ooo and ahhh over my table. Going above and beyond creates not only an ambiance but a memory that lasts a lifetime. Renting chairs for $2 or $3 dollars is well worth it!
This year playing off that floral pattern of my charger plates and china plates, I added red roses in small mason jars. I also added battery operated candles and votives. The centerpieces should be low, so your guests can talk across the table. I also like using herbs like fresh rosemary on the table in mason jars or cutting some evergreens from the yard. I like to create an earthy, elegant vibe that is relaxed yet polished.
Happy Holidays to you and your family! xo