Kitchen Focus

If you're one of those folks who rival Martha Stewart when it comes to hosting holiday events, you can stop reading now. For the rest of us, this is a quick guide to planning menus for your holiday entertaining.

So many of us want to host delightful get-togethers during the holiday season and yet we're mortified by the thought of all of the time and effort that such events require. Well, with a little thought and planning, you can manage to pull off a great party with all of the grace and panache that so many of lose so early this time of the year!

Here are some of my favorite tips for pulling off a perfect menu without spending all of your time focusing on it:

  • Choose dishes that can be made ahead of time and frozen, refrigerated or put on hold in some manner. Try to use the time right before your party for garnishing and putting the finishing touches on dishes that were made hours, days or even weeks ahead.
  • Make planning easier by choosing themed menus. If you're thinking Italian, choose one or two main course dishes and round out the meal with traditional Italian sides and crusty Italian bread.
  • Make your meal with a mix of homemade and store-bought ingredients. Whip up a salad with a prepackaged mix and homemade dressing. Simply steam a frozen vegetable dish and give yourself time to focus on Aunt Martha's famous stuffing recipe instead.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify! If you're hosting eight for dinner, don't fuss with more than one entree and choose simple, yet satisfying sides to complete the meal. For dessert, make gourmet coffee and offer assorted biscotti and flavorings for the drinks. With a big dinner, no one will be craving a huge dessert anyway!
  • Try to choose appetizers, beverages, and desserts that do double duty as centerpieces. Who needs a huge floral arrangement to get in the way of delightful conversation when you can nibble the night away instead? A few flower blossoms and herbs can take that dish and make it beautiful!
  • If in doubt, find a great restaurant with a private dining room. No one is getting together with you to put your cooking skills to the test. If putting together a homemade meal isn't in the cards for you, make sure you enjoy your loved ones' company anyway and go out to celebrate the holidays. All you need is a good restaurant, good company and a quiet corner to enjoy it all.

When the big day finally arrives, here are a few tips to help you through it all with ease:

  • Remember to pamper yourself for at least 30 minutes on party day. You'll be amazed at how refreshed you'll feel.
  • Accept offers for help -- filling wine glasses or putting food out can free you to finish more involved tasks.
  • Give yourself time to visit with guests -- after all, that's why they're visiting ... to see you!
  • Have some inexpensive plastic containers on hand to send leftovers home with guests. It's fast cleanup and won't leave you eating the same thing for a week!
  • Avoid fussing with cleanup at the party. If you've got a lot of dirty dishes, put any extra ones in large coolers filled with warm, soapy water. They'll soak while you visit and be ready to clean later.
  • Use any floral centerpieces as festive arrangements in your home, send them with guests or donate them to senior centers. You can extend the joy they bring for many days this way.

However you choose to visit with family and friends this holiday season, we hope that you enjoy every minute!

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