“Full House” is more like it! Almost 50 blog followers and friends came to my Holiday Open House yesterday, and thankfully they were good eaters. (That’s why I love them!) For those who couldn’t make it, here’s a little bit of what you missed. And for anyone planning to host their own open house this holiday season, I’ve added a few tips and past lessons-learned. There are always lessons to learn with entertaining! One of these days I hope to follow my own advice.
Call me crazy, but I love the menu planning process. It’s like one big algebra problem – first you consider all the variables (make ahead? OK at room temperature? vegetarian options?), and then you start the process of solving the equation. I begin scribbling draft menu plans well in advance, and then revise the list over and over until right before the event.
The editing usually stems from 1) time crunch reality, and 2) my attempts to apply past lessons learned. Namely:
- Simplify. It’s fun to present an elaborate spread of food, but there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns. Quality is better than quantity. This is the rule I violate most frequently, and the one I tried hard to adhere to for this year’s open house.
- Make what you know and love. As tempting as it may be to try out new recipes for a big event, don’t do it. Not all recipes are winners, and that beautiful spread from Food & Wine or Martha Stewart Living might not taste as good as it looks. Who needs that added stress?
- Plan items that can be made or prepped well in advance. Soup is a great example; it actually tastes better if it’s made a few days beforehand. I made a pureed butternut squash soup, which could be served right from the stove and sipped from little punch cups. (No spoons needed! See “Ditch the utensils” point below.)
- Prep everything beforehand. In the past I have left “easy” stuff for the day of the event (i.e., chopping lettuce or slicing bread), but this time I learned from the past and did everything the night before. (Well, technically it was really early in the morning the day of the event. . . ) The thing with the easy stuff is that even easy stuff takes time, and there’s only so much time right before the event. It was a lot less stressful having nothing to do the day of but arrange things on trays, warm things in the oven, heat the soup on the stove and open the bottles of bubbly.
- Ditch the utensils. For “mingling parties” (open house, cocktail party), finger food is best – even when it comes to desserts. Why? Drink in one hand, food bite in another. Plus, if you don’t use a fork the calories don’t count. (Or so I’m told.) The only thing I served that needed a utensil was the Asian Chicken Salad – which I had originally planned to serve with fried wonton cups to make it finger food but the “Simplify” mantra won out. I made almond/ramen crunchies for the salad (the day before) and no one missed the wonton cups. (I actually think it turned out better as a salad vs. as a finger food.)
- Consider presentation. Part of what makes those magazine spreads look so amazing is that everything is set on a beautiful platter or garnished cleverly or arranged artfully on a table. Serving with style doesn’t have to break the bank; almost all of my serving pieces –silverplate trays, glass and crystal compotes, cake stands and punch bowls – came from thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets. This thrift store punch bowl ($10 for the bowl + 20 cups) has been a true workhorse; I used the bowl to serve a huge amount of Asian Chicken Salad, and the cups were perfect for appetizer-portions of soup.
- Have fun! This sounds obvious, but it’s hard to have fun at your party if you’re exhausted from doing too much right beforehand.
I had a great time with all of my guests yesterday – thank you for celebrating Year 1 with me!
Final Open House Menu
- Curried Butternut Squash Soup with poppy seed/parmesan puff pastry straws
- Asian Chicken Salad with peanut ginger dressing and almond/ramen crunchies (I was going for red & green; this was a very popular item.)
- Sundried tomato/cream cheese dip with scallions and pita chips (again with the red & green)
- Mushroom “Fondue” with warmed baguette slices (This was gone fast.)
- Spinach frittata squares
- Bacon-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates with green olive tapenade
- Cheese plate with 3 kinds of runny/pungent cheese, fig jam, grapes and apple slices
- Artichoke dip in fillo cups
- Almond toffee
- Mini gingerbread men cookies*
- Purchased mini peppermint meringues and limited-edition white chocolate mint “M&M’s”® candies