15 Stress-Free Holiday Entertaining Tips
The ultimate comfort food, grilled cheese is the next big thing in a wave of fast casual eateries opening across the country. Jump on the trend with a holiday party featuring make-your-own grilled cheese sandwiches. Rent a commercial panini grill and have on hand a variety of deli-sliced cheeses, loaves of artisan bread (sliced thin enough for sandwiches) and add-ons such as tomatoes, basil, spinach, roasted red peppers and jalapenos. Don't forget condiments like cranberry mayo, aioli and pesto, along with plenty of butter and margarine for slathering.
Pack a Punch
What's more tedious than setting up a bar with liquor, mixers and cocktail garnishes? Playing mixologist all night. Instead, keep it simple with bowls of punch and other pre-made beverages. Keep hot spiced wassail warm on the stove or in a crock pot. Mix up a champagne-based drink or offer pitchers of cranberry cocktails. Eggnog is classic, but don't limit yourself to traditional offerings.
Breakfast for Dinner
Nothing makes your inner child happier than breakfast for dinner. Think outside the cereal box and throw a holiday party with French toast sticks, silver dollar pancake stacks, sausage links on frilly toothpicks and other morning favorites. Many of these ready-made items can be bought frozen, saving you time and energy.
Fake It, Don't Bake It
Martha Stewart may blanch. But if you're complaining about not having enough time for holiday baking, stop talking and walk the walk -- the cookie walk. Held as a fundraiser by churches and senior centers, this Christmas cookie bake sale features homemade favorites sold by the pound. Arrive early as these things usually sell out. And remember -- it's no walk of shame if you keep it to yourself.
If your busy schedule only allows time to bake one cookie recipe, host a cookie swap or exchange. Each guest bakes a different kind of cookie but everyone brings the same number -- between six and 12 dozen, depending on the participants -- so there's plenty to go round. Everyone goes home with a huge holiday assortment for minimal effort.
Fountains of Sauce
The ubiquitous chocolate fountain becomes an endlessly flowing fondue pot filled with cheese, barbecue or even spaghetti sauce. Melt cheese on a stovetop and thin with white wine or heavy cream. Dilute barbecue sauce with wine or broth and add tomato sauce to spaghetti sauce. For the cheese fountain, pick fondue favorites like bread, apples and vegetables. Chicken, pork and beef chunks -- even french fries -- are good with barbecue sauce. For an Italian feast, try mozzarella balls and breadsticks, meatballs, Italian sausage and mini raviolis.
Glowing luminaria are a festive (and inexpensive) way to welcome guests to your home. Pour a handful of sand into the bottom of a brown paper bag and set a tea light in the middle. Arrange in a line at the curb and along driveways and walkways. It's not only romantic but practical as it lights a path so visitors know which door to use.
Want to host a girlfriend get-together but don't have the budget for fancy food and drink? Invite everyone over for a gift-wrapping party so the focus is on the task at hand and not the hors d'oeuvres. Have each person bring three different rolls of holiday gift wrap, three rolls of ribbon, her own tape and scissors and the gifts she wants to wrap. You supply the gift tags. Clear several tabletops for separate gift-wrap areas so guests can move from one to another and try different papers and ribbons. Refreshments can be as simple as a pot of coffee and/or tea, cookies, snacks or holiday candy.
Like the wrapping party, this parent-child holiday get-together centers on an activity instead of eating. Kids love to make edible gifts, but not every parent wants the mess in their homes. Be the brave one and host a "Chocolate Covered Everything" party. Set up two chocolate fountains -- one milk, one white -- and invite guests to bring pretzels rods, rice crispy squares, shortbread cookies or other foods to dip, along with one candy decoration to share, such as red or green jimmies, rainbow sprinkles or crushed candy canes. After guests roll dipped items in candy, provide aluminum, paper or plastic takeout containers to package up the gifts.
Not Your Nacho
The playoffs may be over, but ballpark snacks are always in season. Rent a nacho chip and cheese machine -- the kind with the glass-walled chip warmer on the bottom and the pump dispenser on top for the cheese. Have sliced olives, black beans or refried pinto beans, jalapeno slices, guacamole, sour cream and salsa for guests to top their nachos just the way they like. Many party rental places sell packages that include nacho cheese, chips and trays. Or spend a little extra time to whip up a homemade sauce with real cheddar.