Caterer: Keep your holiday party realistic – and delegate

Keep your party simple. Serve hors d’oeuvres. Ashley Miller/Daily

Therese Brown, of Downtown Catering in Front Royal, took a break from her busy catering season to share her thoughts on successful holiday entertaining because, as she sees it, with a little forethought and planning, one can avoid falling into some of the usual entertaining stress that often comes with the quest for holiday perfection.

“Holidays – days meant for relaxing, spending time with family and friends,” Brown said. “Somehow, however, relaxing becomes an afterthought, almost an impossibility, as the hustle and bustle of the holiday season arrives and overtakes us. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create the ‘perfect’ holiday, fretting over creating the ‘perfect’ meal, assembling the ‘perfect’ household décor to create the ‘perfect’ setting, finding the ‘perfect” gift for a loved one.”

Brown recommends that hosts and hostesses remind themselves to keep it realistic.

When planning a holiday party or dinner, consider what can be reasonably handled. She suggests making a detailed list of tasks to be done – map out a schedule and assign a manageable task each day to yourself or to helpers.

Ask for help if there is not enough time to do everything yourself – delegate, she said.

Decorate your table with holiday colors. Use edible bowls to hold dips. Ashley Miller/Daily

Guests enjoy being asked to contribute to a holiday gathering, becoming an active participant in the celebration, she said. Ask close friends and family to bring a favorite dish or place an order with a bakery, restaurant or food shop for a signature dish or a holiday dessert.

Keep things simple, she said. Serve hors d’oeuvres party rather than a formal dinner. This allows for more mingling and socializing among guests using a pre-planned menu that minimizes kitchen time.

Brown suggests taking advantage of the cheese/deli department at a local grocery store. Choose quality over quantity. Buy special cheeses and thinly sliced meats, some artisan bread, whole grain crackers, healthy dips and spreads, olives, fresh/dried fruits and crunchy veggies to create a charcuterie display. Present dips and spreads in edible bowls – use hollowed-out squash, peppers, cucumbers or small cabbages to provide interest and color to your display. Garnish it with fresh rosemary sprigs, colorful leaves or pine branches for a rustic and natural look.

“If you decide to make a festive meal for holiday guests, opt for a one-dish affair such as chicken pot pie, risotto or paella,” Brown said. “Years ago, we began celebrating Christmas Eve with a big pot of seafood gumbo. It’s become a tradition: gumbo and quiche. These one-pot meals can be made ahead – and in fact often taste better the next day! – and require little to no last-minute prep, freeing you up to enjoy your holiday party with your guests. Pair with some good bread and a salad,  and dinner is served!”

Brown suggests using disposable dishware such as environmentally friendly bamboo or palm leaf products – they are both attractive and practical.

An hors d’oeuvres party allows for more mingling and socializing among guests. Take take advantage of the cheese/deli department at a local grocery store, and choose quality over quantity. Ashley Miller/Daily

When it comes to drinks, provide a holiday cocktail like eggnog, or come up with a new drink that is served from a vintage punch bowl surrounded by glasses.  Brown suggests providing beer and asking guests to bring a favorite wine to share.

Party preparations, Brown said, should be started early. Two weeks out, she said, make a schedule and assign yourself and helpers a manageable task each day. Hang decorations a week or more ahead, choose desserts that freeze well so that they can be baked or prepared a week ahead of time. Set the table the day or evening before the party, she said, and leave as little as possible for the last minute.

Serve your guests a spcial drink for the holidays. Ask them to bring wine to share. Ashley Miller/Daily