Even if you’ve been hosting holiday parties for decades, that annual Christmas party can be one of the most stressful things you do all year. Instead, take the pressure out of entertaining with these tips from local chefs and experts.
“The operative word is ‘entertaining,’” says Christian Petroni of Fortina in Armonk and Rye Brook. “You can’t do that if you’re in the kitchen the entire time. Select cocktails, food, and treats that can be done almost entirely ahead of time.” If you have some light cooking left when guests do arrive, encourage them to join you in the kitchen. “Everyone loves to hang out around the kitchen while the cooking is happening.”
“One or two great ideas that you can pull off are always better than 15 that don’t come together,” says Eric Korn of Good-Life Gourmet catering and Slice Shop in Irvington. If all else fails, “serve pigs in a blanket. Everyone loves pigs in a blanket.”
“Scrap the formal dinner,” says Sherry Blockinger of sherry b dessert studio in Chappaqua. “Instead, opt for an informal setting with small plates and desserts. This way, guests can eat as much or as little as they’d like, and guests can mingle rather than be limited to talking with whoever is at their end of the table.”
“Instead of restocking your entire bar for your holiday party, why not create a signature cocktail as a single alternative to wine and beer,” says Derek Todd of Wine Geeks in Armonk. Or try starting cocktail hour with a low-alcohol sparkling wine (no one wants a hangover the next morning). Wine Geek’s Carol Todd suggests Poiré Authentique Sparkling Pear Cider from Normandy ($18.99). “It’s delicious and your guests will be grateful to avoid the harder stuff until they’ve started eating,” she adds.
“I set the table the day before a dinner party that way it is one less thing to worry about,” says Laureen Barber, design director at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills. “I even have the flowers placed and finished. To keep them fresh, put them in a refrigerator or cool space – they will look great the next day.”
“I always like to do dessert in another room,” says Jennifer Kohn of The Kneaded Bread in Port Chester. “I collect cake plates and set up a Viennese table beforehand. [After dessert] you can just leave the table in shambles and go to the other room. And I never use real plates. I use fun paper ones.”
“I love to have a take-home treat for guests to give them at the door,” says Geoffrey Zakarian of The National in Greenwich. “When they wake up the next day it is a little reminder of the fun they had the night before. You can bake something festive or simply pack a favorite granola or nut mix. Fill a cellophane bag, tag it, and tie it with a piece of ribbon that matches the décor.”
“Consider a braised meat for Christmas dinner,” says Matt Campbell of Campbell Meats in Dobbs Ferry. “This way you can prepare the main dish a day or two in advance. In fact, the meat will taste better after resting overnight.” In addition to popular cuts like beef short ribs and lamb shank, Campbell recommends lesser-known cuts like lamb shoulder, lamb neck, and pork coppa.
“A frazzled and stressed out host translates to an awkward and uncomfortable party,” says Zakarian. “Have your party outfit ready to go in the morning, and wear comfortable shoes all day so you are ready to be on your feet all night.”
“As the host, you set the mood,” says Blockinger. “If you are relaxed and happy your guests will be too. Don’t sweat the small stuff (or anything, really). Your guests will never know you burned the pine nuts three times and had to leave them out of the pasta dish.”