It’s that time of year for Christmas lights, Chanukah candles, gift shopping and … more dinner parties to attend (or host) in a one month span than in the entire year.
Fresh off of cooking all the main dishes for Thanksgiving (for the third time), I’ve learned a number of tricks and tips if you’re hosting a holiday party where dinner is part of the main event.
As a chef, I think a little differently, especially during the planning stages of a large dinner. To help you out, here are my go-to tips for when I’m hosting the dinner party. In an upcoming blog post i’ll share my tips when I’m assigned to bringing a side dish to someone else’s party.
Tip #1 Appetizer Basics: One Hot & One Room Temp
The Problem: Most hosts offer appetizers that range from bland (Tortilla chips and store bought salsa) to overwhelming (Chips, salsa, veggie platter with ranch dip, sliced bread with cheese, salami, fruit, etc.) You work hard to make sure your dinner is homemade, so why serve appetizers that are not in sync with the quality of the meal?
Chef Tip: Less is more. The easiest setup is to have one appetizer you can serve at room temperature, such as a go-to cheese platter: Brie cheese, water crackers, fig jam, roasted walnuts and grapes. Pair this with one hot appetizer and your guests will be impressed.
I made Fried Calamari with Spicy Mayo at a recent event, but you can choose easier, but delicious recipes such as:
Pesto & Mozzarella Bruschetta or Parmesan Crusted Chicken Tenders
We will teach kids both of these recipes at our upcoming Winter Camp
Tip #2 Delegate the Dishes
The Problem: Holiday dinner parties require A LOT of dishes. Thanksgiving alone requires Roasted Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Green Beans and usually a few more dishes. It’s just too much for one person to do on their own.
Most people will have guests bring simple things, such as a raw veggie platter with ranch dip, sodas, chips, cookies and other store-bought items. These usually don’t taste good and detract from the homemade dinner experience where everything is fresh.
Chef Tip: Think like an executive chef at a restaurant and see your guests as a team contributing to the meal. Assign them each a simple, yet necessary part of the meal such as a vegetable side dish or easy-to-make dessert.
For my own dinners parties, I email everyone and list what each person is bringing, plus a link to a recipe which is usually from Food Network.com or Epicurious.com.
This method allows me to focus my time and energy on the entrees, plus it brings the guests together because they all contributed in some way.
Tip #3 The Cleanup Crew
The Problem: Cleanup takes forever! You, the host, are in charge of cleaning up dishes, silverware, cups, pots, pans, baking dishes and the utensils used for serving. Not to mention your countertop is a mess from all that cooking.
Your options are:
- Hire someone to help you, which will cost $80-$120 for 4 hours of employment plus tip
- Wait until the end of the dinner party to cleanup by yourself, which will take anywhere from 3-4 hours.
- Cleanup as you go, which usually means you miss most of the conversations at the dinner party because you’re constantly moving in and out of the kitchen.
So what’s a host to do?
Chef Tip: Designate a “cleanup” time for your guests once dinner is finished and before dessert. Then have some of the guests help with washing and drying dishes (in our family the youngsters do this) while everyone else helps move dishes to the sink area.
In 30 minutes, we’re done with ALL of the cleanup except for dessert. The final batch of cleanup after dessert usually takes no more than 15 minutes.
Note: This method works best for dinners with family or close friends who appreciate the work you, the host, put into organizing and making the meal.
Tip # 4 Easy, Easy Desserts
The problem: Most hosts like to go “all out” for the dessert, which takes a lot of work, and may not be the best time investment when there are so many other dishes to focus on.
On the other end of the spectrum, you could buy pre-made desserts from a local bakery. This works, but it does take away from the “homemade” vibe of the meal.
Chef Tip: Dig into some old Italian favorites that are easy make-ahead desserts that require very little cooking.
Tiramisu seems complex, but it never takes me more than 30 minutes to put together and feed a crowd. The only cooking is making the egg yolk custard, while the rest is just assembly. Here’s my go-to recipe
Chocolate Salami is NOT made of any type of meat or savory ingredients, but is instead a dish made of chocolate, cookies and orange zest that happens to look like little slices of salami (and hence the name). The only cooking required is melting the chocolate and butter. It takes me about 15 minutes to make. Here’s my go-to recipe
- Appetizer Basics: Serve One Hot & One At Room Temperature
- Delegate Easy-To-Make Side Dishes To Your Guests
- Simplify Cleanup By Scheduling It Right Before Dessert
- Stick To Desserts That Are Homemade and Quick
The next blog post will be focused on my chef tips when you’re the guest who is tasked with bringing a dish.
Want your kids to learn how to cook or build a robot this Winter Break? Check out our Winter Camp here
Read More: 5 Fun Things To Do With Your Kids On Winter Break