Hosting a holiday meal can be stressful, especially if it’s your first time. A couple weeks ago, my husband and I hosted our first ever holiday together – a Thanksgiving dinner for my family – and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the way it all turned out. We stuck to a simple roast turkey and a few basic sides – stuffing, roast vegetables, and a red cabbage salad. This number of dishes was easily manageable even for a couple of rookies. I’m pleased to report that everything turned out great! I don’t have a lot of experience cooking for a crowd and apparently I’m not a very good judge of portions so there was more than enough food to go around and lots of leftovers (not that I’m complaining – the leftovers made an amazing turkey pot pie later in the week). The decor was simple but really made an impact – a tumble of mini pumpkins and gourds along the table with a few ivory pillar candles. This wasn’t the original plan for all these gourds but I’ll save that for a later post.
So despite a little initial trepidation, it turns out that hosting a holiday meal is no sweat! All it takes is a little planning and organization. Here are a few tips I learned in the process for hosting a memorable, stress-free holiday party:
1. Don’t be a hero
I think that a simple dish that is well executed and beautifully presented is a much better bet than a challenging, impressive recipe with a high chance of failure. Now is not the time to be experimenting – choose trusted recipes that you’re confident with. This can be difficult if it’s your first time hosting a holiday meal, since there may be family favourites on the menu that you’ve never made before. If you decide to try something new, do a test run before the big day so you can make adjustments to the recipe if need be. This will also help you save time on the day of your party – I always find a recipe is faster to make the second time around. And if someone offers to bring something, let them! It’s one less thing that you’ll have to worry about, and guests love to contribute.
2. Get organized
I love any excuse to make a list, so this step is quite possibly my favourite. A few weeks ahead of your event, write out the entire planned menu. And I mean ENTIRE menu, from the main course down to the pickles. Don’t forget to include drinks, appetizers, desserts, and side dishes. Working from your menu, make a shopping list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Also jot down any special kitchen equipment or serving ware you’ll need, so you can be sure to purchase or borrow anything you don’t already have. You don’t want to have to make a last-minute trip to the store on the day of your party when you realize you don’t have a turkey baster (trust me).
3. Stick to schedule
Choose recipes that can be prepped well in advance and that don’t require a lot of last minute fussing in the kitchen. Study the timing of each recipe – think about what oven and fridge space you’re going to need and plan accordingly. If your fridge looks anything like mine, I recommend cleaning it out a few days before your party to make room for all your groceries and prepped ingredients. Prepare as much as possible ahead of time. A lot of desserts like cakes and pies can be made 1-2 days in advance. Veggies can be washed and chopped the night before and stored in resealable plastic bags in the fridge. On the day of the party, start cooking an hour earlier than you think you need to – this will help you stick to schedule even with unexpected delays or emergencies.
4. Set the mood
I think the atmosphere of a party is just as important as the food that’s served. I tend to go the natural route in terms of party décor – flowers, pinecones, seashells, whatever – but this is really a matter of personal taste. Get creative and use things that you already have around your home. It doesn’t have to be expensive! I also love candles – they make even pizza night feel like a special occasion. Just make sure to use unscented candles anywhere near the food.
5. Relax and enjoy yourself!
The holidays are about enjoying time with friends and family and creating memories. By the time your guests arrive, most of the hard work should be behind you so pour yourself a drink and join in the festivities. Not everything has to be perfect. Chances are your guests won’t notice if something doesn’t turn out as planned, and even if they do, friends and family are pretty forgiving in my experience.