Holiday entertaining — a dozen ways to keep calm, carry on

Whether you’re a seasoned cook and veteran at throwing parties, or new to the art of entertaining, hosting family and friends can provoke a condition that has been coined, “kitchen performance anxiety.”

With the holidays upon us, party expert Diane Rossen Worthington gives tips on how to alleviate stress and gain confidence hosting parties this time of year, and all four seasons.

Worthington is a professionally trained chef, writer, editor, food consultant, and James Beard Award- winning radio show host who has authored more than 20 cookbooks.

Culling from her books and vast experience hosting parties large and small, she shares practical ways to keep calm so you can fully enjoy being with your guests.

• Start planning your menu as far in advance as possible of your gathering — whether it’s an intimate Sunday brunch, a big cocktail party, a Sunday afternoon open house of cookies and coffee, or a traditional sit-down dinner.

Tweak your menu as you get closer to the day to make sure you’re comfortable with what you’ve set out to make. You may need to edit here and there based on how busy your schedule gets during the days leading up to the date.

• When selecting recipes, think like a chef and choose dishes with ingredients that focus on what’s in season and available at peak freshness. This approach to devising your menu will ensure the best tasting results, even if you’re a novice cook. Fortunately, the holidays is all about celebrating what’s in season — such as pumpkin and acorn squash, delicious root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, and crisp apples, juicy pears, pecans, walnuts, cranberries, and more.

• Seriously turn down the dial on stress by choosing appetizers, sides, main dishes and desserts that you can make either completely or partly one or several days in advance. This is a huge time saver that relieves a good deal of the pressure to perform on the day of your party.

Selecting appetizers that you can make in advance is especially smart, as this gives you the freedom to enjoy the company of guests when they first arrive.

• Before you start cooking and baking, take inventory of kitchen equipment to be sure you have everything that’s called for in your recipes. Are your pots and pans, cookie sheets, electric mixer, food processor, kitchen knives and other culinary tools in good working order? If you need to replace or add items, now is the time to shop.

• A well-stocked pantry is every clever cook’s secret weapon. Infuse your recipes with gourmet flavors by having on hand a variety of wellmade red wine and balsamic vinegars, assorted oils, good quality chicken and vegetable stock, seasoning salts, capers, spices and nuts. You might want to invest in a package of Seriously Simple Seasoning Salt for spicing up all of your savory dishes.

• To save time on preparing drinks when guests arrive, consider making pitchers of a signature cocktail in advance, along with a non-alcoholic version. You can set up a tray in the foyer, kitchen or elsewhere that’s convenient for guests to help themselves.

• Make lists of everything that needs to be done, from shopping for ingredients to planning when the cooking or baking gets done to deciding on the look of your table setting and choosing your lighting and background music. You’ll make entertaining seriously simple when you refer to your “road map” of lists — a strategy that truly takes the stress out of pulling it all together.

• Give yourself permission to round out your menu with storebought foods. There’s no shame in focusing on what you make best and leaving some items to other experts. You can also make smart shortcuts, like purchasing ready-made piecrust to save time baking your family’s heirloom recipe for sour cream pecan pie.

• When you have a large gathering for a holiday cocktail or dinner party, select dishes that taste great served cold or at room temperature. This takes the pressure off making sure your timing for serving foods piping hot — not to mention stovetop or oven capacity — is perfect.

Many appetizers, such as dips, pates, crostini and, of course, cheese platters, as well as many seasonal sides, like wild rice salads and roasted vegetables, are at their most flavorful when served at room temperature.

• Embrace offers from family members and guests to help out. Think ahead about the kinds of tasks that can easily be delegated so that guests can feel useful without working too hard — such as tossing salad and serving into salad bowls, pouring water into glasses at the table, ladling food into serving platters, slicing bread, setting the table, and clearing the table. Being open to guests lending a hand puts everyone at ease.

• Adapt the kitchen habit of professional chefs who are taught to “clean as you go.” It’s hard to achieve Zen-like calm in the midst of chaos in the kitchen. While you’re preparing dishes, be mindful of wiping down counters and washing utensils and bowls as quickly as possible. If you have a dishwasher, make sure it’s been emptied and ready to be loaded up as the party progresses.

• Make enough food for leftovers to enjoy the next day as you relive your party, and take the day off from cooking.

For more information on Diane Rossen Worthington and cookbooks, visit

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