My 12 Tips for Easy and Stress-free Entertaining will help you survive this busy holiday season and actually enjoy it! Amazing tips from how to set the table to prepping the recipes to shortcuts for cooking!
This post first appeared on Imagelicious on December 21, 2015.
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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 12 Tips for Easy and Stress-free Entertaining.
These amazing tips apply to any kind of entertaining, be it a 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
1. Plan and be strategic with the menu
My olf 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 (or at least prepped) 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 your 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.
Both take under 30 minutes to make and can be prepared up to a week or two in advance. You can even make them a few months in advance and freeze. They’ll add a little something extra to the cheese platter and will keep in the freezer.
Serve with Instant Pot No Knead Dinner Rolls, which taste amazing and your guests will love biting into homemade buns or buy frozen baguettes to ease any stress while entertaining. Just bake before your guests arrive and they’ll still enjoy that right-from-the-oven smell and taste of the bread.
Don’t forget to add some Savoury Herbs and Cheese Muffins that your guests can munch on and spread with some fresh cheese. These muffins can easily be made a day in advance as they keep pretty well.
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 Affordable Canned and Smoked Salmon Rillettes – coarse fish pâtés.
The pâtés 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 and is also affordable since it uses a combination of canned salmon and a little bit of smoked salmon.
If serving a pig pile of smoked salmon isn’t in the budget but you would still like to serve those same smoked salmon sandwich flavours, then Affordable Smoked Salmon Cheese Ball is the way to go. It uses only a few ounces of smoked salmon but it an absolute crowd favourite!
5. Charcuterie platter
For the carnivores in your life, 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.
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. It’s a lot of fun! Also, guests will be able to adhere to their dietary restrictions without you needing to cook different things for everyone.
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 preps
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 more manageable than spending a few hours a day before.
I like making pâtés and rilletes earlier in the week as they keep really well. Spiced Caramelized Pecans keep in air tight container for a few weeks. I also like making these Cheesy Pinwheels with Walnuts and freezing them before baking.
There are so many things that can be done in advance that don’t compromise the taste or quality of the recipes:
- peel garlic a few days earlier and keep in an airtight container in the fridge
- finely chop dill. Make sure it’s really dry first. It will keep in an airtight container for about two days without spoiling
- if you are using dates, pit them in advance
- slice the cheese as well, wrap it really well with saran wrap and then keep in an airtight container
- slice or chop onion and keep in an airtight container
- prep all your veggies also, just make sure to keep them all dry and in an airtight container
- some dips can be prepped a day or two ahead without any issues
- sometimes I just measure out all the ingredients and keep in separate containers, this way all I have to do is grab a few of them and use them up
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 precious 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
- Pecan and Boursin stuffed Dates – I pit dates a day or two before and make Spiced Caramelized Pecans about a week in advance
- Goat Cheese and Fig Tartlets – they only take about 5 minutes to assemble
- Mushroom Crostinis are also easy to prep in advance
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.
There are many different kinds and brands. I personally buy mine at Costco and I have never been disappointed. In fact, I make it a point to have a box or two of frozen quiches in the freezer for emergencies. Quiche emergencies are a thing, right?
10. Dip and veggies or chips
Dips, just like many of the other appetizers that I make, can 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. Don’t forget that you can prep all your veggies a few days earlier, just make sure that everything is really dry before it goes in the fridge.
Or, if you have slightly more time, then make this stunning Sheet Pan Ricotta-Crab Biscuit Ring Dip.
You can make the actual dip a day or two in advance and keep in an airtight container. Mix the oil and herbs for the biscuits a night before. Just before the guests are scheduled to arrive, assemble everything on a sheet pan and bake.
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 tend to make set it and forget it entrées
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. I have this recipe in my cookbook, The Ultimate One-Pan Oven Cookbook.
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, Roasted Radishes and Carrots with Thyme and Lemon.
Recently I’ve been making Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes as a side for big dinners. I get to cook everything together in Instant Pot and then leave it all in the pot for hours on keep warm function. Once the guests are here, all I have to do is open the lid and mash – so convenient!
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 Festive and Easy Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Cranberries, some kind of fruit bread, or one bowl drop cookies like these Quick Soft Almond 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 and my 12 Tips for Easy and Stress-free Entertaining you can host a successful and big holiday dinner without feeling stressed or tired.