Your brother calls you to tell you that you are hosting the family Holiday party this year: 1) You say no I can’t do it or 2) You take on the challenge. Well if your answer is number 2, I am here to help. Hosting a party can be overwhelming if you are not a planner. The best way to approach any large party or gathering is to be well-organized in advance of the party. Even if you aren’t the best chef, you can host a party. I have hosted countless parties. I am always well-organized and that helps a lot. Here are the basics.
1) First, plan out the menu. Try to create dishes that will appeal to most of your guests.
- Some popular appetizers: sweddish meatballs with a sweet dipping sauce, mozzarella with basil & tomatoes (you can stack these and heat them up too), an array of salty olives, soft & hard cheeses combined with cracked pepper & rosemary crackers served with grapes, mini hotdogs with spicy mustard dip, crudité (an assortment of veggies), chips & salsa – always a crowd favorite, and hummus with pita chips. Choose 3 of these.
- Some meal favorites: baked ziti, eggplant parmesan, turkey chili, and soup in the colder months, a carved turkey or baked chicken, ham, BBQ chicken, or pulled pork and any kind of pasta dish. These are all crowd favorites and don’t have too many steps to follow (except the eggplant). Choose a pasta, meat and a veggie. For instance, you can do a baked chicken, an angel hair pasta with olive oil, and an eggplant parm. If you have a guest who doesn’t eat meat they can have the pasta and the eggplant, everyone is happy.
- Some favorite side dishes: SALAD of course – a mixed green salad with gorgonzola cheese, blueberries, cranraisins and croutons, or a spinach salad with strawberries, cranraisins, egg, chunks of cheddar cheese or feta, and warm turkey bacon. Also, romaine hearts with tomatoes, corn, cranraisins, and chick peas. You get the idea! Salad is a must! Other sides: broccoli, roasted brussel sprouts with onions, mashed potatoes (if you are serving a ham or baked chicken), mashed yams, green beans or corn on the cob in the warmer months. These are some good options that everyone likes. (Ok, maybe not the brussel sprouts but my family likes them.)
- The best for last: dessert. So many options here. You can easily buy these or try my Ricotta Cheesecake or my Dark Chocolate cake. Also, brownies are always a big hit.
2) Second, decide if the party is semi-formal or more casual. Chances are if you are having kids over, it’s casual. Choose dinnerware that is disposable to make things practical. I like the clear plastic plates. If you are hosting adults only, then use your china (otherwise, when are you using it!). Use nice glassware for drinks and wine, and plastic for soda and water. I always have fun straws for the kids!
3) You can’t be in charge of everything, so give your husband/wife an assignment. I typically have my husband in charge of drinks and the bar which means he will buy the waters, soda and any wine or beer. We designate an area in the dining room or put up a table for all the drinks.
4) The week before the party, I typically buy the appetizers like the crackers, cheeses, olives etc. I put them aside in the frig or label them so no one eat thems beforehand!
5) Start the day before: If you are making Eggplant Parm, you can cook the eggplant and assemble everything, and bake the day of the party. If you are making a soup try this one Chicken Noodle Stewp but put the noodles in the day of the party! ( the kids love it) or Split Pea & Ham Soup. Meatballs are time consuming, so do these today as well. Try my Sweet Meatballs recipe. My Ricotta Cheesecake takes time, do it the day before, adding the berries the day of the party. Ham, chicken or turkey, I would buy fresh and cook the day of the party.
Also, press any linens for tables. Wash and dry all glassware. Purchase at least one centerpiece or pick flowers from your garden. It’s nice to have a centerpiece. I think part of planning a great party is in the details. Your guests notice little things like shining silverware and sparkling glasses. It’s about going out of your way, so you create an ambience and a memory for everyone.
If you are not cooking everything, buy what you can and then you can heat it up. Desserts are the most time consuming, and they tie up the oven while you are trying to cook your meals. Catering out a few meals can be helpful as well, but hopefully with the help of my website that won’t be necessary.
6) Party time! Have your appetizers assembled. Take cheeses out at least one hour before the start of the party so it softens up. Start cooking your main meals and then keep them warm in the oven. Be sure the bar is ready to go an hour prior to guests arriving. It’s go time! Time to relax and enjoy your guests, that is what having a party is all about.