If anyone’s a pro at holiday entertaining, it’s cookbook author and Food Network star Ina Garten. She’s the chef behind our Hanukkah menu this year, so we took the opportunity to ask her for all her best party tips — from menu planning and serving to festive decorations and music. Keep reading to learn how to pull off a stress-free holiday get-together so you can enjoy quality time with loved ones.
What are a few ways you manage to stay stress-free while entertaining over the holidays?
The key to staying stress-free (a seemingly impossible dream!) is to plan the menu really carefully. I make a list of everything I want to make, and all my guests’ preferences, and then just start crossing things off. First, can I reasonably make all these dishes in one oven at the same time? Second, can I make one dinner that everyone can eat without making an alternative dish for the person who’s allergic to fish? And third, do I really need four vegetables and a complicated first course? I’ll cross two off.
Another easy solution is to skip the first course altogether. I serve the main course first, then a wonderful ripe cheese plus a green salad with mustard vinaigrette, and finally a decadent dessert. Now I’m not sitting and eating my soup while I’m wondering how in the world I’m going to carve the meat and get everything hot to the table while my guests are waiting.
How do you decorate your home over the holidays? Any tips?
I actually keep holiday decorations to a minimum. I love lots of candles at night and a few vases of seasonal flowers, but I’d rather spend my time making a delicious dinner for friends than decorating the chandeliers with garlands of evergreens that need to be vacuumed up the very next day.
What kind of music do you play during dinner or parties?
I think music is really important for a party—it gets everyone in the holiday spirit the minute they arrive. I love the series of CDs mixed by the French Hotel Costes – they’re a combination of American, French, Moroccan music and they have a wonderful upbeat energy. During dinner, I like to play Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra quietly in the background, and then later, while we’re having coffee, I’ll play Cesaria Evora, which gets everyone going again.
Do you have a go-to cocktail you like to make?
I’m secretly known for my Whiskey Sours. Unlike cocktails in many restaurants, mine are made with freshly squeezed lemon juice, lime juice, and good Bourbon. Sometimes I serve them in chilled martini glasses, which make them even more fun. It’s the kind of cocktail that really gets a party off to a good start.
What do you bring to other people’s homes as host or hostess gifts?
My favorite gift to bring people, if I have time to cook, is my homemade salted caramels. If I don’t have time to make them, I’ll order a box of chocolate-covered salted caramels from Fran’s in Seattle to bring to the host. I want to be sure to be invited back!