One of the best parts about the holidays is sharing food and drink with close friends and family, but it’s all too easy to let the stress of hosting overshadow the good times. We asked Alex Guarnaschelli, executive chef at Butter restaurant in NYC, “Next Iron Chef: Redemption” champion and author of the cookbooks “Old School Comfort Food” and “The Home Cook” her advice on how to make a great holiday meal for guests that you can enjoy yourself, too.
Prep ahead so you don’t spend the whole dinner party cooking
“My parents had a lot dinner parties when I was growing up, but they missed out on a lot of them because they were cooking the whole time,” Guarnaschelli recalls. Instead, get your appetizers and desserts done well ahead of time, she advises, so you can spend QT drinking and socializing with your guests. A simple cheese board, pre-made dips and crackers, or crudite give guests something to nosh on while you all have drinks and catch up.
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The secret to cocktail hour
Guarnaschelli likes to serve a light and refreshing, yet potent, French 75 cocktail, rather than juice-heavy mixed drinks like Greyhounds or Screwdrivers, which run the risk of filling guests up before dinner. She also fancies a simple syrup (a one-to-one ratio of water to sugar) simmered with lemon zest and fresh herbs like thyme or basil. Strain it and chill it, then mix with gin or vodka, crushed ice and seltzer, or hold the liquor and you have a flavorful soda for the kids or teetotalers to enjoy.
If you’re in the mood for a cozy wintery cocktail, try her Woodbridge Toasted Spice Chardonnay Hot Toddy, which she likes to serve right out of the crock pot.
Make the main course a crowd-pleaser
During the holidays, focus on preparing dishes that everybody will enjoy, says Guarnaschelli. She opts for comfort-food crowd pleasers, like roast chicken, hanger steak or roast beef, with sauces on the side, like a spicy salsa and a classic gravy, so guests can take their pick. Be sure to make a non-meat option to accommodate your vegetarian guests, like a whole roast cauliflower served with a warm chutney. “You don’t want anyone to feel left out,” she says.
A simple and sweet finish
Dessert-wise, Guarnaschelli likes to take a break from Thanksgiving’s pie obsession and opts for a cookie platter or her Cranberry Apple and Red Blend Crumble, which are both easy to bake ahead. And word to the wise: “Don’t undersell a classic chocolate cake — it never fails,” she says.