Holiday entertaining -- a dozen ways to keep calm and carry on
(MS) -- 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, Meyer Corporation, U.S., the largest cookware company in America with long standing brands, such as Farberware and Anolon, enlisted the advice of Los Angeles-based party expert Diane Rossen Worthington for tips on how to alleviate stress and gain confidence hosting parties this time of year, and all four seasons.
Diane is a professionally trained chef, writer, editor, food consultant, and James Beard Award-winning radio show host who has authored more than 20 cookbooks, including her latest, Seriously Simple Parties -- Recipes, Menus & Advice for Effortless Entertaining (Chronicle Books).
Culling from her newest book, and vast experience hosting parties large and small, Diane shares a dozen practical ways to keep calm so you can fully enjoy being with your guests.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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's the time to shop.
5. A well-stocked pantry is every clever cook's secret weapon. Infuse your recipes with gourmet flavors by having on hand a variety of well-made 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 (available at dianeworthington.com) for spicing up all of your savory dishes.
6. 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. For an easy-to-make crowd pleaser that's perfect for the holidays, try mulling fresh apple cider with allspice, cinnamon sticks, lemon slices, and a splash of bourbon or rum.
7. 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.
8. Give yourself permission to round out your menu with store-bought foods. There's no shame in focusing on what you make best and leaving some items to other experts, like the fabulous bakery down the road with the most divine apple crumb pie and shortbread cookies. 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.
9. 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.
10. Embrace offers from family members and guests to help out, since let's face it, everyone winds up in the kitchen anyway. 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.
11. 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.
12. Make enough food for leftovers to enjoy the next day as you relive your party, and take the day off from cooking.
Echoing Diane's wise tips on how to enjoy your own party, be sure to peruse your cupboards and upgrade your cookware as needed to get the best cooking results with the least amount of time and effort.
For cooks who grew up with Farberware in their family kitchen, the venerable cookware brand has a new look and design with all the "bells and whistles" of more expensive collections. Look for Farberware Premium Professional Dishwasher Safe Cookware, available exclusively at Macy's.
Featuring SmartGlide Pro Nonstick System with DuPont Teflon Professional Nonstick with Metal Guard, this practical cookware frees the home cook to use any type of utensil, including metal, safely. Also, the cookware's unique dimpled surface reduces abrasion for long-lasting performance, and transfers heat to food quickly to promote even browning. Modern styling includes a red exterior that's perfect for the holiday season while energizing kitchen designs all year long. The 12-Piece Set with two saucepans, stockpot, saute pan, two skillets, lids, slotted turner and slotted spoon is accessibly priced at $99.99 and comes with a new lifetime guarantee.
Two great options in gourmet quality cookware that can save you time in the kitchen are the elegantly styled Anolon Nouvelle Copper Hard Anodized and Anolon Nouvelle Copper Stainless Steel collections. Elegant styling with tulip-shaped bodies, slightly domed lids made of polished stainless steel, and a beautiful copper layer at the base, frees party hosts to serve foods straight from the pots and pans to the table.
The beauty of beautifully crafted cookware boils down to less hassle and time spent finding serving dishes and platters, and less washing up when guests leave. Anolon Nouvelle Copper Hard Anodized, which is constructed from heavy gauge hard-anodized aluminum, a material that is twice as strong as stainless steel, includes a durable, metal utensil-safe nonstick cooking surface to speed up cleaning with no scrubbing.
Dishwasher safe Anolon Nouvelle Copper Stainless Steel is similarly designed with gleaming stainless steel inside and out. Both "Nouvelle" collections feature a unique base with a layer of copper as well as aluminum for optimum heat distribution. Suitable for use with all cooktops, including energy-efficient induction cooktops, and oven safe to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, both collections are highly versatile and designed to give everyone the confidence needed to be an accomplished cook and host.
For more information on Diane Rossen Worthington and her new cookbook, Seriously Simple Parties, please visit www.dianeworthington.com. For more information on Farberware cookware, please visit www.farberwarecookware.com. For more information on Anolon, please visit www.anolon.com.