Be a Guest at your Own Party

It’s the day of your holiday party, and you’re wondering what made you think it was a good idea to have your friends and family over a drink and a little bite. You’ve spent the day running around, cleaning up and cooking, and you’ve left yourself 5 minutes to change and transform into host extraordinaire. And once the guests start arriving, you have to become coat-check person, bartender, cook, babysitter and clean-up crew simultaneously.

Sound familiar? Well with a few guiding tips, entertaining should be a pleasure and not a chore, and your goal should be to become a guest at your own party. It really is all in the planning:

  1. Decide the scale of the party – is this an intimate gathering of friends, or a blow-out for the whole neighbourhood to drop by? Monitor the stress level as you even contemplate a large party. If you’re first thought is that you’ll have to book 2 days off work before to plan and a week after to recover, maybe a small gathering is just for you.
  2. Timing is everything – If you invite people for a bite between 3 and 5 pm, a meal is never expected. If you call your party an after-skating chili fest, you’ve just told your guests that it’s a casual “do”.
  3. Write a menu – If serving hors d’oeuvres, select a mix of tastes, colours and textures. Try to choose most that can be assembled in advance. If planning dinner, roasts are the way to go – they feed a crowd and free up your time to get other tasks accomplished.
  4. How many hors d’oeuvres? – It is smart to plan 2 to 3 pieces per person of each item for every hour they are expected to stay, and for desserts 1.5 to 2 pieces per person for every hour. For shrimp, double that amount (why do we love shrimp so much at holiday time?)
  5. Write a shopping list - After deciding what to serve, write down all the ingredients you need for each recipe, then design a shopping list that is sorted by departments in the grocery, such as Produce, Proteins, Dairy and Dry Goods. This way you’re not running around the whole store and you won’t forget anything.
  6. Write a prep list – Chef’s do this. Write a list of every step of each dish, and then plot out which tasks can be completed on preceding days of the party. Your final day’s prep list should mostly be about assembling and garnishing.
  7. Find real estate in your fridge – At holiday time, every square inch in your fridge is like lakefront property. Perhaps it’s time to retire that jumbo bottle of mustard containing only 2 ounces leftover from BBQ season. With the magic of re-sealable bags and plastic containers, an amazing amount of food can be fit into your fridge like pieces in a puzzle.
  8. If serving a dinner, pre-blanch your vegetables - No need to take up all four burners steaming broccoli and boiling carrots. Blanch your vegetables hours ahead in a pot of boiling unsalted water until almost done, then drain and shock in a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking. Drain well then pack in a re-sealable bag and chill. When it’s time to serve, simply warm the vegetables for just a few minutes in a pan with a bit of butter and seasoning. Stress free!
  9. Serve cookies and squares! If making a grand dessert is not your thing, be certain that a plate of cookies and squares passed around the table, or setting on a buffet table will never go unappreciated.

If the food’s great, everything else falls into place and your party will sparkle. Add the recipes below to your repertoire and have a successful entertaining season!