At the best of times it can be stressful. Like many guys I know, entertaining guests never came naturally to me. This vulnerability caused my stress levels to go through the roof. But over time I've figured out a few ways to reduce the stress and still wow guests at the same time. So, whether you're serving a five-course meal or cracking open a few boxes of frozen spanakopitas, here are some tips you might want to consider this holiday season...
1. Play Your Hits
As an adventurous cook and eater, I always try to push my culinary limits. That's fine on a Sunday afternoon when you're messing around in the kitchen for yourself or your loved ones. However, this is a high risk game to play if you have guests due within the hour and you're still googling the theory behind a perfect soufflé. My advice: serve items you're comfortable with. If you've got a tried and true crab dip that always delivers results, why mess with it? There are other ways to make an impression.
2. Scatter Showpieces
Further to the last point, you don't have to go big with every item you serve. That said, if you want to try out a new hors d'oeurves recipe that will surely have your guests talking, consider complimenting that with a special new dessert offering as well. Remember: if a record can go platinum with just a couple of hits, so can your gathering.
3. Presentation, Presentation, Presentation
In no way would I consider myself the avant garde of style. However, I have spent enough time toiling in the culinary world to know that people eat with their eyes way before their mouths. There are many simple things you can do put a spin on your offerings, aside from adding a generous sprinkling of chopped parsley. For example, try incorporating as much height in a plate as possible. Ever been to a diner and the grilled cheese comes sliced in half with one side propped up against the other? Creating visual appeal can elevate the simplest of dishes.
Take the Pressure Off Food
Many people forget that it's not just food that can tantalize the tastebuds. Having a signature drink or two can create wow factor without a lot of effort (or stress.) At a recent gathering, we served a home brew that had chocolatey coffee notes and garnished it with a chunk of Toblerone bar. Low cost, low stress, high impact.
We also opened the night with a holiday sangria boasting cranberries and rosemary sprigs. For non-alcoholic drinkers and designated drivers, a festive punch can be just as memorable.
5. Planning is Essential
Having an idea of how your gathering will go down is always a wise idea. Thinking ahead about what you need is just as important as knowing when you're going to prepare it. In our house, with two little rugrats demanding much of our time, efficiency is needed during nap time. Prepping and cleaning as much as possible far in advance will result in less stress when your guests arrive and more time to spend with them.