Holiday Party Planning Pointers
‘Tis the season for gatherings, and while holiday party planning always starts out fun and exciting, it doesn’t take long for the reality of a hosting a significant social event to set in. So much to do, so little time… But take a deep breath. We have some ways to lighten your load in the kitchen so the party is as much fun for you as it is for your guests.
Regardless of the type of party are you’re planning – a formal, sit-down dinner or a casual, low-key affair – menu planning is key. Biting off more than you can chew is easy to do. Draw up a menu around items that can be made (or substantially prepped) ahead and use them as focal points to the menu. And when guests offer to bring something, take them up on it and assign them to bring something you can check off your list!
For a formal get-together, we often opt for a braise such as Beef Bourguignonne. Braises are actually better the day after they’re made – flavors can marry, mingle and mellow – so that all that you need to do the day of the dinner is reheat it gently on the stove or in the oven. Add a splash of Swanson® stock and a touch of mild vinegar during reheating to help deepen the bourguignonne’s flavor.
If, though, you’re looking for a plated entrée, beef filets served with a quick pan sauce is elegant and easy. To get ahead of the game, sear the beef in the afternoon before guests arrive and chill (don’t wash the skillet! You need the fond to make the pan sauce). About an hour before dinner, pull the filets out of the fridge to take the chill off, then before serving, finish the beef in a 400°F. oven while you make the sauce in the skillet on top of the stove.
Round out the menu with a couple of make-ahead courses, filling in gaps with simple slow cooker starters and sides: soup can be simmering away when guests arrive (house smells great!), as can mashed potatoes. A simple, fresh vegetable like green beans can be whipped up in no time at all. Then just sit down, raise a glass to your guests and enjoy the evening with them.
For less formal affairs, we’re all about the slow cooker. From hearty stews to satisfying soups, it’s a great way to get a festive gathering going without a lot of effort. We like to prep ingredients like onions, celery and carrots ahead of time, store them in re-sealable plastic bags in the fridge and then load up the slow cooker the morning of the party. Simple sides like salads and biscuits are all that’s needed to get the party started – and don’t be ashamed to fill in any menu gaps with take-out salads, sides and sweets from the grocery store deli counter and bakery.
Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to take an easy road when planning a holiday party – passionate cooks are also passionate party planners! But it just might be the best gift you give yourself this season. What are your party planning secrets that you rely on this season? We’d love to hear about them!