I have hosted numerous brunch, lunch, and dinner parties ranging from intimate six people get-togethers to 20 people sit down dinners. Being a foodie and a food blogger, I've struggled with finding a balance while entertaining between making every single item on the menu including, bread, sauce, dressing, even deli meat and buying pre-made food. I finally made peace with relying on store-bought shortcuts, but I still put my twist on the food that I serve. Over the years I came up with a few tips that help me entertain without stress. These tips apply to any kind of entertaining, be it holiday dinner party or just a special brunch with a few friends. One thing you’ll notice is that my tips are appetizer heavy. I love appetizers and I find that they are usually the best part of any meal, so I always make lots of them and cover the table with many plates and dishes. I believe they make the dinner more interactive with people passing the plates around. Also, all these appetizers can be served buffet style.
12 Tips for Easy and Stress-free Entertaining
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by my friends at M&M Meat Shops, however all opinions, images, text, and recipes are my own.
1. Plan and be strategic with the menu
My colleagues at work would be really proud that I used these words, but corporate speak aside, it really is important to plan the menu and be strategic about it. What I mean is don’t choose to serve boiled potatoes, steamed asparagus, caramelized onions, pan-fried pierogies, and gravy if you only have two burners. Choose foods that would work for your kitchen and your stove. Also, choose recipes that can be made in advance, this will help you with not being tired the day of the party.
2. Set the table a night before
This one may sound strange, but even though setting the table only takes a few minutes, doing it a night before really helps on the day of the party. You can move your prepared appetizers to the table as they get ready instead of crowding precious counter space. This really alleviates the stress and makes you feel in control.
3. Cheese platter
Everybody loves cheese. Cheese platters are extremely easy to make, they look impressive, and ingredients can be bought a week or more in advance. To make the platter unique, make a really quick jam, such as this Blueberry and Balsamic Vinegar Jam that I developed for M&M Meat Shops. It takes under 30 minutes to make and can be prepared up to a week in advance. While you are at M&M Meat Shops getting Wild Canadian Frozen Blueberries, which, by the way, you can buy a few weeks before the party and save time and stress, grab a Cheese Ball or two. It’ll add a little something extra to the cheese platter and will keep in the freezer. Serve with Petit Baguettes, which taste amazing and your guests will love biting into hot crusty bread.
4. Seafood platter
Another platter that looks impressive and usually is one of the most popular on the table. Pile smoked salmon on a large plate, arrange a bunch of dill, thinly sliced red onion, lemon wedges, and a small bowl of capers. This only requires about five minutes to assemble, add room temperature cream cheese and hot baguettes and no-one will be able to resist. To make that platter even more exciting, add a pot of my favourite Arctic Charr and Shrimp Rillettes - coarse fish and shrimp pate. It takes under half an hour to prepare and should be made a few days before the party, so it’s a perfect recipe to create in advance. It's really easy to make with the delicious ingredients from M&M Meat Shops. Check out their super convenient Frozen Diced Onion. I don't know how I lived without this time-saver before. M&M Meat Shops not only have frozen prepared meals, but also frozen fish conveniently packed in individual pieces for easy use and lots of frozen nutricious vegetables and fruits.
5. Charcuterie platter
For the carnivores charcuterie platter will be heaven. Arrange a few thin ribbons of prosciutto, slices of salami, roughly chopped links of chorizo sausage, and cubed ham on a big platter, add small bowls of various mustards and olives. All of these deli meat can be purchased in advance, which will make you less stressed before the dinner. Serve all these delicious meats with crackers and hot baguette slices. I think it’s safe to say that you may need to buy quite a few frozen baguettes at M&M Meat Shops as the steaming crusty bread will be quite popular with deli, fish, and cheese platters. To make this easy platter a little bit special, add my make ahead Chicken Liver Pâté with Apple and Thyme. It actually needs to be made a few days in advance, so you won’t need to cook it right before the party.
Don’t stress about mixing and dressing a salad. Place mixed greens in a large bowl and arrange other ingredients around it. This way the salads won’t wilt, also everyone will be able to get exactly what they want. And it makes the dinner more communal and comfortable with everyone passing the bowls of fixings and dressing around. I like bowls of crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, and Spiced Caramelized Pecans. Everyone usually loves those Pecans so much, that I don’t even mind using store-bought dressing for the salad.
7. Make-ahead appetizers
I try to make as many things in advance as possible. Sometimes it’s a week in advance, sometimes only a day, but it really helps. Spending 30 or less minutes every day over a course of a week is so much better than spending a few hours a day before. I like making pates and rilletes earlier in the week. Spiced Caramelized Pecans keep in air tight container for a few weeks. I also like making these Cheese and Nuts Pinwheels and freezing them. There are so many things that can be done in advance that don’t compromise the taste or quality of the recipes. I may peel garlic a few days earlier, or finely chop dill. If I know I’ll be using dates, I pit them in advance too. On occasion I pre-cut the cheese as well, wrap it really well with saran wrap and then keep in an airtight container.
8. Quick appetizers
Don’t make involved layered savoury napoleons or individual fried ravioli or even devilled eggs. All those are very involved and take previous time. I still serve these on occasion, but it would be during much smaller and less stressful dinners, when other people are helping preparing food. When I host big holiday parties, I make simple and quick appetizers: bocconcini and tomato skewers; Roasted Fennel with Parmesan; dates (pitted a day or two before) stuffed with Spiced Caramelized Pecans (made a week or more before) and topped with Boursin cheese.
9. Store-bought appetizers
Don’t shy away from pre made appetizers. If you find some that you love, then why not? I used to never buy them and kept dreaming about making individual quiches. Well, that never happened, but I buy pre-made appetizers now. They are always a hit and let you enjoy your party instead of being tired after slaving for hours in the kitchen. Try these Mini Quiches or Mini Chicken Pub Pies from M&M Meat Shops.
10. Dip and veggies or chips
Dips, just like many of the other appetizers that I make, can and should be made a day or more before the event. There are many kinds around there, I like the ones made with healthy ingredients like ricotta, yogurt, or this healthy Cottage Cheese Dip. Serve the dip with veggies and crackers or chips.
11. Easy main course and sides
When I host big dinners, main course is always always easy and most often is some kind of roast. I usually mix a bit of softened butter, olive oil, garlic, and a lot of herbs in a food processor, then slather it over the meat, place it in the oven and forget about it for a few hours. With so many delicious appetizers on the table, I believe that there’s really no need for creamed this and scalloped that, so my sides are very simple: roast potatoes, roast beens, roast broccoli. Your guests will thank you for such healthy sides without any extra cream and cheese.
12. Easy dessert
I love layered cakes, mousse desserts, chocolate sauces, etc. But if it’s a big dinner, then I make something easy, usually simple one layer cake such as this Vegan Chocolate Cake, some kind of fruit bread, or one bowl drop cookies like these Chocolate-Mint Crackle Cookies. If I have time, then I can make something more interesting, but I try to avoid anything that needs to be done last minute, like poached fruit, or creme brûlée etc. Or, better yet, ask someone to bring dessert.
With a little bit of planning, some delicious and healthy frozen products from M&M Meat Shops, and these tips you can host a successful and big dinner without feeling stressed or tired.