With all the gift-giving and travel planning that goes into the holiday season, entertaining can seem totally out of the question for many of us. Who has the time, energy or funds to throw a party? And then you have to clean up? Pass.
But fearing a lonely, hungry December, we turned to our friends Phoebe and Cara at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen for some tips on throwing a holiday party with all of the fun and none of the stress. They shared eight easy tips:
1. Think Ahead
Especially if you’re hosting, you don’t want to do any cooking or prepping once the party starts. A lot of food is good room temperature, so focus on that. Plus, take into consideration whether food will get soggy. Tea sandwiches, crackers and cheese, and wonton crisps are all durable finger food. If you must have one dish that requires last-minute attention, you can keep it on the menu. Just don’t have two.
2. Keep it Clean
Avoid all dishes that have sticky sauces, and minimize the number of dishes that have sauces at all. Don’t overstuff sandwiches — the filling will fall out — and don’t use caramel for any reason. Skewers and toothpicks can help you contain any items that might cause a mess. And bread is your friend: It acts as a neat vessel and a sponge.
3. Simplify the Booze (or Delegate It)
If you’re supplying the booze, set some kind of limit for yourself. Maybe you’ll just serve beer and wine. Perhaps you’ll develop a signature cocktail and serve that all evening. Unless you’re a total boozehound, don’t try to set out a full bar — it’s expensive and impractical. Best yet, ask certain friends or all guests to bring the wine of their choice. You’ll have a vast assortment without having spent any money, mental energy or time.
4. Plate it Pretty
Most of the time, plan to do all your plating before your guests arrive. You’ll want nice-looking platters. If you’re investing in your first set, make them white, and make sure they hold at least 15 to 20 bites. Much smaller and you’ll have to replenish all the time. It’s possible to find pretty disposable platters as well (we like Verreterra). Limit each plate to one item, unless you’ve made two kinds of one thing, like crostini with various toppings, in which case you can arrange the different kinds in patterns.
5. Pass or Station
If it’s a big fancy holiday party, you might consider hiring servers (or enlisting friends) to pass the hors d’oeuvres. Short of anything formal, though, you’ll want to place platters of finger food around your apartment. You can choose to have one central area if that works best, but it’s also nice to scatter food here and there: a small bowl of nuts on a side table, a large dip on the coffee table and two big cheese and cracker platters on the dining room table. No matter what, have extra trays of prepped food in the kitchen so that you can replenish platters occasionally.
6. Size Matters
If you want your guests to leave full, you’ll have to figure that each guest will eat five to seven things. That will give you an accounting of how much food to make. If your party is going to occur earlier in the evening, you can figure that guests will be eating dinner elsewhere and serve only three to four bites per person.
7. Consider the Vegetarians
And the red meat-ophobes. And the kosher guests, the vegan guests, the pescatarians! If a majority of guests adhere to any of these dietary restrictions, you’ll want to tweak your menu to suit them unless you’d like to be eating leftover pigs in a blanket for weeks. If you don’t know (or don’t care to find out), just make one-third of your dishes vegetarian. It’s cheaper anyway.
8. Room for Dessert
If your party extends long enough, or it’s meant to celebrate a birthday or other important event, it’s fun to add dessert to your finger-food menu. Choose bite-size delicacies: cookies, mini brownies or tiny scones. Plate them in overflowing piles on small plates and set them around the room.