Monday, December 1, 2014

Home for the Holidays

Even though my husband is an amazing Chef and can serve a five course plated dinner for 20 guests with ease, I tend to shy away from hosting parties like this simply because I like to take the path of least resistance. Being so busy in December, I want my husband and I to be able to enjoy our parties as much as our guests. With plated dinners over 6 or 8 guests, someone has to spend much of the time in the kitchen plating and serving. Unless you want to hire help. I feel entertaining larger groups is about being together and enjoying each others company, especially if youre entertaining family or friends who dont often visit. So I limit my holiday gatherings to two different types of meals that allow this: a cocktail and hors doeuvres party in the evening, and a buffet style brunch mid-day on a Saturday or Sunday.

Last year, our family gathering during the holiday consisted of 35 guests. I researched many different types of fun cocktails and collected the supplies. Premixing as much as I could the day before, and assigning the bar tending duties during the party to a family member, we offered festive Peach Prosecco Bellinis, traditional Tom and Jerrys, Calvados Martini, and what turned out to be the most popular, a rich Ultra Alexander Martini. Our menu, as it turned out, did not follow any theme or nationality. We simply choose items that we loved. We placed platters and slow-cookers here and there instead of filling a single serving table. Entertaining like this encourages guests to eat slowly, taking time in-between items to enjoy every plate, and helps to create a pace of leisure. In our hectic lives these days, it is nice to actually be able to slow down a bit. Of course the menu choices are countless with this style of meal, which is what makes planning them so fun. This is what we prepared:

   Caviar with Egg Crumbles, Diced Onion, Creme Fresh, and Tiny Buckwheat Pancakes
   Seafood Platter: Shrimp Cocktail, Crab Claws, and Raw Oysters with Creamed Horseradish, Cocktail Sauce, Lemons, and Tabasco
   International Cheese Display including Smoked Salmon, Egg Crumbles, Chopped Onion, Cream Cheese, Relishes, Breads and Crackers
   Fresh Fruit and Berries Platter
   Butternut Squash Ravioli
   Mini Gyros: Sliced Lamb, Chopped Tomatoes and Onions, and Mini Pita Bread
   White Rice
   Duck & Wild Rice Soup
   Assortment of Christmas Cookies, ours mixed with several of our guests, I like to mix them together on one giant platter.

Although the menu took a couple hours to prepare earlier that day, the only last minute things that needed attention were assembling the Seafood Platter and cooking the Rice. Everything else was either placed on a platter and refrigerated or in a slow-cooker to warm hours before. We were able to enjoy a leisurely cocktail, watch the fire, and listen to holiday music for an hour or so before our guests started to arrive. It is a good place to be.

It is so easy to prepare much of the food in advance and hold it until dinner. Guests can graze on delectable items for a couple hours, sampling things here and there while enjoying other activities. The thing I most appreciate about this style of dining is that much of the clean up can be done after your guests have left.

For Brunch the next day, a buffet is the rule of the day for me. The only thing here that needed last minute attention was pulling the Quiche and Chicken Sausage out of the oven. The soup and cider took care of itself in the slow-cookers. Everything else was prepared the morning before. We served:

   Butternut Squash Soup
   Maple Bacon Quiche
   Chicken Sausage with Sun Dried Tomatoes
   Festival Salad
   Applesauce Coffee Cake
   Spiced Apple Cider

Parties during the day take on a whole new family feel and you can follow brunch with some fun winter activities like building a snow man or ice skating. Most of the time, however, we opt for the good, old-fashioned indoor activity of playing board games together.

Do yourself a favor and simplify your holiday entertaining. You dont have to skimp on the menu to enjoy your gathering as much as your guests!

   -Christine Schiltz
Owner & Catering Director
Lake Elmo Inn Event Center