We are often asked for our advice on entertaining during the holidays. Recently, A Thyme to Cook Founder and President, Linda Sample, took some time to discuss her thoughts. Here is the second in the series of Holiday entertaining season tips…
You decided you are going to have a party and have narrowed down the guest list. You looked at your available space and all the logistics. Now you have some serious decisions to make! As with all these tips, I will keep reminding you to Keep It Simple! Plan on serving something tried and true that is also reflection of yourself. This is the season for comfort and is NOT the time to go playing with pork belly or that 45 step dish you saw on the cooking show last week.
Let’s talk guests and menu…
Although it may seem arbitrary – this is HUGE, as this will dictate the amount, style and quantity of your menu. A cocktail party from 5pm-8pm implies that you plan on serving enough food to equate a meal and do not expect guests to go on to dinner when they leave your home.
You might want to consider a few stationary items, a few hors d’oeuvres (maybe get someone to assist you so you don’t have to leave your guests – Keep It Simple) and perhaps, bring out something a little heartier around 6:30pm or so. You also may want to set out a few holiday cookies for a sweet send-off before guests head back out into the cold.
If you decide on an earlier 5pm-7pm soiree – this is what I would call a traditional, light, cocktail party. With a few nibbles and bites, this short gathering is more social and promotes mingling; but just not for too long!
You can plan on scattered (or passed) hors d’oeuvres and a few stationary items such as; cheese, veggies and spreads (flavored hummus is still very popular!), a crock pot of a great hot curried apple squash soup, tiny sandwiches, etc. This 2-hour time frame assumes that guests will come for a short time, and then leave for dinner afterwards. They can also get some sweets at the door.
Now, a party from 6pm-8pm is ambiguous and confusing and could mean any of the above, so you need to be clear on your intentions and expectations. It is just a 2-hour gathering, but is right in the middle of dinner time, so it can be anyone’s guess. Not highly recommended, unless you want to generate more stress!
A “sweet spread” from 9pm-11pm, implies that guests will have eaten dinner prior to the event and just expect an array of desserts, coffees, perhaps cordials and port, and, likely – depending on the crowd, will not linger long after 11pm.
Should you decide to do a full dinner party for 12 guests or so, expect them to stay for 3-4 hours total and ….more on that, later…
Hopefully, you have already considered the physical logistics of your location. For a party with more guests than you can fit at your dining room table, you will likely have scattered seating with a lot of moving around. Remember to move any smaller furniture/‘obstacles’ that could get in people’s way!
Scattered “Cocktail Seating” will dictate your menu a bit more. Whatever you serve must be easy to eat with just a fork – nothing requiring a table or use of a knife. One great idea is to bring out your favorite stew (a flavorful lamb tagine with couscous, or a favorite family recipe of beef bourguignon), anything with small enough pieces, that can be easily eaten with just a fork or spoon will be the perfect fit.
GUEST FOOD “ISSUES”
Today’s society is full of all kinds of dietary restrictions, preferences, allergies, and intolerances. I suggest you DO NOT open that can of worms by asking guests in advance about their flavor profiles.
Assume that there will be some Gluten Free guests. Make sure you have rice crackers, veggies and fruits to accompany your cheese and your goodies are not all wheat-based.
You are also likely to have a few vegetarian guests (who may or may not eat fish), so make sure you have enough of a selection in that department, as well. Don’t go crazy; you are thoughtful to consider their food issues, but remember, they are coming to visit you and your home and not just for sustenance.
Remember the old days, when your parents told you to just move things around on your plate if you did not like something, and NOT to make a big deal out of it? Those days are gone, unfortunately, and it actually seems the opposite is true – as everyone expects to be accommodated or even worse – make a huge scene about it on social media.
In the end, remember, you chose to invite these folks into your home – so presumably, you like them (at least a little). Make the party about sharing time together and you can’t go wrong.