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Holiday entertaining for the low-key host

Tips for stress-free gatherings with friends and family this season.

The holidays are a time of great indulgence and some relaxation — but also, stress. We want to enjoy the (limited) time off work with friends and family to the utmost, but sometimes the thought of organizing a get-together can be more overwhelming than festive.

For those of us who’d rather not Seamless our holidays away (but might need a helping hand to keep from having a meltdown in the kitchen) we consulted a few experts for tips on how to make our holiday parties seamless— with a lower case s.

Keep it healthy, but still festive

For Fiorella DiCarlo, the NYC-based RD, CDN and host of the “Living in Italian” video series, healthy cooking and holiday entertaining aren’t mutually exclusive.

For starters, begin the night with veggie and protein based hors d’oeuvres “to help minimize mindless munching on chips and starchy foods,” that will fill up guests before the meal, she says. She suggests: endive leaves with grilled shrimp, caponata bruschetta, and hummus with roasted carrots.

You can keep the nutrition going strong throughout the night, so long as you make flavor paramount. “Dress up your vegetables,” she says. Think, roasted brussels sprouts with parmigiano reggiano and truffle oil.

For dessert, there are plenty of creative and tasty ways to incorporate fruit. Add seasonal fruits instead of crackers and bread to accompany a cheese plate: baked pears with 16 month old Manchego drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar, she suggests. Or, soak berries in Limoncello or Frangelina (Italian liquers) and serve over sorbetto with biscotti.

Try a tea party

Daphne Oz, co-host of ABC’s “The Chew” and author of “The Happy Cook” says that when it comes to hosting friends for tea, stressing yourself out is the silliest thing you can do.

“The beauty of a tea party is you can keep it as casual or as fancy as you want,” says the chef, who recently partnered with Pure Leaf teas to launch their newest selection of bagged and loose flavors.

“It’s easy to set the vibe with pretty tea cups, maybe candles or fresh flowers and a little crafting table,” she says. While a tea tray and matching china set are wonderful assets, she prefers to mix and match cups and saucers that she finds at yard sales and antique shops and cute boutiques. “Each one has a story, which I love,” she says. “It’s especially fun to let guests pick the one that speaks to them.”

Oz keeps a drawer at home full of different tea varieties so guests can take their pick. She always provide honey, milk, lemon and sugar for them to customize.
For a bite to eat to accompany the tea, Oz’s go-to is theblueberry tea cakefrom her cookbook, which she describes as “my take on a classic yellow box cake dotted with juicy blueberries and topped with brown sugar streusel."

Cocktail know-how

For advice on entertaining with cocktails, we turned toRussell Davis, the mixology expert on Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” and president of nightlife consulting company Unlimited Liabilites. He’s also the chief cocktail officer ofShaker & Spoon, a monthly subscription box that provides you with all the syrups, citrus and bitters you need (minus the alcohol), plus recipes, to make creative, mixologist-designed cocktails at home (think Blue Apron, but for adult beverages).
According to Davis, “fresh ingredients are key to a good cocktail and a good experience.” He adds, “a little showmanship goes a long way, when your guests see you fresh grate nutmeg on a nog or squeeze the juice from a fresh lime.”
As far as planning what to serve, Davis suggests syncing up the drink menu with the vibe of the party. If you’re having friends over for a poker game, for example, you might want to make drinks using darker spirits — Old Fashioneds. If you’re having friends over for brunch, on the other hand, go with a light and refreshing crowd pleaser, like a Moscow Mule.
Davis is a fan of adding a twist to a classic high-ball (for those who don’t know the lingo, that’s a mixer plus spirit). Take a gin and tonic and add pickled beets and rosemary.
Although we’re talking cocktails, Davis says you should always provide a non-alcoholic option. And it’s not a bad idea to keep a bottle of the good stuff (top shelf tequila or bourbon) for a guest who might want to sit and sip it, straight.

Sweet celebrations

Elise Strachan, creator of the YouTube show “My Cupcake Addiction” and author of the cookbook “Sweet! Celebrations,” says, “Don’t be afraid to cheat a little. Home-made is amazing, but don’t feel like you have to hand-make every pie crust and cookie dough.”

Instead, choose a couple of items you’re OK with buying pre-made and focus your energy on the treats you enjoy making yourself.

A word of advice: clear out the freezer in advance. That way, you’ll have room to plan ahead. “If you need a pie for a holiday party, make two and freeze the other,” she says.
To add color and festivity to your presentation, Strachan suggests covering books in wrapping or craft paper and using them as stands on which to display the desserts. She also adds candy jars to her dessert display, filling some with apples and oranges to give guests a healthy option.

 

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