One day, a few weeks before Christmas, Mark Bittman and Sam Sifton — two of the New York Times’ most gregarious, fearless food writers — cooked a dinner party for 15 people with only eight hours to shop, prep and cook.
“There’s a simple logic in putting together a big holiday feast,” Bittman wrote in the Times magazine feature that dinner party inspired. “You want variety — even vegans are pretty easily satisfied by bounty — but you don’t want to be cooking individual meals for each person. A couple of easy decisions at the beginning start a cascade of choices that generate a menu.”
Let’s imagine that you have your turkey or ham already selected from the store, and you know which recipe you plan to use for it. You have a good idea of how many people will be coming to your holiday dinner party.
For when things are getting overwhelming and you don’t have enough time to get every detail right, take some tips from the pros.
1. In Bon Appetit, Food52 founder and former New York Times writer Amanda Hesser says start simple. Make some easy appetizers OR make cocktails; don’t try do both or “the party gods will be angry.” For a quick and delicious dinner party appetizer, pair a baguette with a complex cheese, some marcona almonds, and a cut up pear or apple.
2. The hostess with the mostest, Martha Stewart, has a whole feature on how to throw a last minute holiday dinner party. Sure, print invites are nice, but for a last minute affair, stay online. She recommends using fun and easy email invitations, like this one from Evite (below).
3. Have a house cocktail. Dinner parties go a lot smoother when guests have drinks in their hands. Try a “Christmas spritz” with prosecco and pomegranate (recipe courtesy of the New York Times Dining section) or a grapefruit and ginger sparkler made with Domaine de Canton liqueur, courtesy of Serious Eats.
4. Another tip from Ms. Hesser: delegate. “Don’t be a martyr,” she says. Her husband handles music, flowers, the dishwasher and garbage. If you have early guests, give them easy things to do, like opening wine, arranging the silverware and napkins or setting up your dinner party playlist.
5. Finally, the best last minute dinner party tip, offered by Real Simple: Be present.
“Each time you get up to fetch something, you essentially abandon your guests,” Deb Schwartz writes in a recent feature. “A host’s primary duty isn’t to feed people (really!) but to spend time with them. Serve family-style, and forget cleaning up mid-event. Carrying plates to the kitchen is one thing; but once you turn on a tap, you’ve doused the festivity. ”
Still figuring out what to do with your holiday ham? Check out our free Holiday Ham Guide, an easy primer with info about how much to buy, how long to cook and lots of delicious glazes.
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