The holiday entertaining season is here. American Thanksgiving is next week. The December holidays are right around the corner. New Year’s Eve soon to follow. It is party season, not to mention food season. Deep breaths, we got this. Let’s channel our inner holiday entertaining goddess, and remember the lessons of blog posts past. I have tried and tested nearly all the strategies, and made lots of organized plans over the years. I’ll share a few more of my favorite tips this week, just in time for holiday entertaining.
photo by TerriC via pixabay
I learned all my best tricks from Ina Garten, also known as The Barefoot Contessa. I covered the basics of Ina’s teachings in last week’s post. Getting organized, making a plan, and generally sticking to tried-and-tested strategies when navigating the hectic holiday entertaining scene work for her, and will work for us.
This week, we’ll cover a few more of the recipes I reach for over and over in her cookbook series. I have my holiday season favorites, but we’ll also discuss the standbys for weeknight meals or last-minute guests — extra important this time of year. I have also included my favorites to make ahead in batches to have ready for last-minute entertaining or anything else that comes your way this season. Well, food related, that is.
photo by jenn kosar
My Favorite Barefoot Contessa Holiday Entertaining Tips
Make a detailed schedule. Holiday meals are generally more complicated. Make a schedule for the big day, and the days before if necessary. [I once hosted a holiday meal with my friend Matt where a three-day schedule was necessary. True story.] For each recipe, break up the preparation, passive cooking, active cooking, and resting time, and plan each activity based on the planned serving time. This allows you to enjoy your own party knowing exactly when things need to be done. It will also highlights any flaws in your plan that you need to correct either with adjustments to timing or frankly, changes in the menu. Excel spreadsheets are your friend. Don’t let your real friends mock you.
Plan simple but elegant party decorations. Holiday meals call for a little extra decoration. If using fresh flowers, do as the French do: choose one flower and use lots of them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money here; you can deconstruct bouquets from the grocery store and fill lots of small vases with flowers of the same type in each vase. For the holidays, I also like big vases filled with single color ornaments, strings of small battery operated lights or garland, or bowls of floating cranberries and votive candles as low-cost table decor alternatives.
Keep a record of your holiday party plans, and use them again. I use Evernote to record plans for all my major events, including recipes, schedules, grocery lists, and more.
Remember the secret ingredient. This one bears repeating this time of year: “there is no substitute for the host actually being present at a party… making a complicated, expensive dinner doesn’t flatter them nearly as much as spending the evening talking to them.” Holidays are about being with our loved ones, so remember not to miss your kids opening presents because you were fussing over perfect poached eggs.
My Favorite Barefoot Contessa Holiday Cooking Tips: Freezing Strategies
Consider batch cooking. Perhaps it is to get ahead of multiple holiday events you are hosting, to make a dent in holiday baking, or just to make sure you have weeknight dinner on the table as things get hectic. Your freezer is your friend. Here is what I have learned from Ina over the years for the times I focus on filling my freezer.
photo by jenn kosar
Your best bet for make-ahead success is a sauce or pesto, frozen into the portions you will need later. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator if you can. Stock was made for your freezer; make as much as you can in advance and freeze it for up to 6 months. Soups freeze well if they do not have cheese or milk in them. I love the Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup, the Rosemary White Bean Soup, and the Lentil Vegetable Soup for this strategy.
Simply cooked protein dishes like chicken and beef don’t tend to freeze well on their own, but when they are in stews, sauces, or baked pasta, they do better. The same goes for vegetables. Baked goods freeze well, just not the icing or glaze. You can make baked goods in advance and freeze them. Make cookie dough ahead and bake same day; make the cake in its entirety and then decorate it the day of the party.
photo via pixabay
My Favorite Barefoot Contessa Holiday Recipes: Make-Ahead Recipes
The holidays bring with them a lot of food-centric occasions: cocktail parties, office celebrations, gift exchanges, and of course, family gatherings with lavish, all-day eating extravaganzas. If you’re hosting, actively participating, or bringing along a food contribution, Ina’s make-ahead recipes are a lifesaver. Here are some of my personal favorites I use time and again.
The Pan-Fried Onion Dip and the Sun-Dried Tomato Dip can be made days in advance and in fact improve with a little time for the flavors to meld. Served with high quality potato chips (I like Kettle Brand Salt & Pepper), they are a delicious appetizer for any occasion.
The Jalapeno-Cheddar, Parmesan-Thyme, or Stilton-Walnut crackers can all be made ahead and frozen as dough for up to 6 months. Slice and bake when ready for freshly baked crackers. How good will your house smell for that party?
photo by jenn kosar
The Parmesan Crisps, Thyme-Roasted Marcona Almonds, and Rosemary Cashews can all be made in large batches and stored for parties. Package them up in pretty containers and boxes and give them to your foodie friends as holiday or hostess gifts.
For an elegant hot appetizer that is deceptively easy, serve Roasted Asparagus & Prosciutto bundles topped with melted Gruyère. Prepare them hours ahead and bake right before serving.
For brunch, side dishes, or savory breakfast, bread puddings are a great make-ahead strategy. I often bring the Leek and Artichoke Bread Pudding as a contribution to a potluck and have made the Mushroom and Leek Bread Pudding (my friend Michelle’s favorite!) for parties time and again.
photo by RitaE via pixabay
Homemade pesto is great to make in large batches and have on hand for last-minute weeknight dinners or even to dress up a special meal. If the basil is from your garden, it can also make a lovely hostess gift. Ina’s Pesto recipe calls for a blend of nuts that I think adds an extra special touch.
My Favorite Barefoot Contessa Recipes: Party Food
If you’ve got parties on the brain, you’ve come to the right place. Ina ran a catering company for a long stretch of her food career, so much of her recipes and instruction is focused on the type of cooking one does for parties. Here are some of the strategies I learned from Ina I use over and over.
For cocktail hour, especially when you don’t want your guests to fill up before dinner, serve simple Radishes with Butter and Salt, with a small selection of Cheese Straws or Gougères. Very French, very elegant, and actually quite simple. To go even simpler, buy the straws frozen from Williams-Sonoma (or any of their heat and eat appetizers – they are wonderful). Buy truffle butter online from D’Artagnan or your local gourmet grocer and keep it on hand to throw on popcorn for an upgraded snack.
Take your cheese board up a notch with sliced figs. Take it up two notches by serving them warm as Roasted Figs and Proscuitto. A simple addition that makes you look like a rock star hostess.
My go-to party recipes from Ina include the Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, the Curried Chicken Salad, and the Grilled Herb Shrimp with Mango Salsa. They are designed to serve at room temperature and transport easily to a potluck party. They also make great weeknight meals that you can batch cook for next-overs.
If you find yourself with last-minute dinner party guests, you can pull together an elegant meal from your pantry. Both Ina’s Spaghetti Aglio e Olio or Easy Parmesan “Risotto” are recipes to stock your pantry for and master the techniques so that you can whip them up with confidence. Served with salad, crusty bread, and wine, anyone would be a happy dinner guest in your home.
I do not generally make my own desserts, but when I do, it is not cake. Ina’s Double Chocolate Pudding or Chocolate Mousse with Make-ahead Whipped Cream are more my speed. Yes, homemade whipped cream can be done four hours ahead and yes, it is absolutely worth the effort. I also love the Salted Caramel Brownies and the Chocolate Peanut Butter Globs, because I believe even holiday cookies should be chocolate.
Guests staying at your home for the holidays? Overnight french toast or a savory bread pudding as mentioned above works beautifully. You can also make Mini-Italian Frittatas in muffin tins ahead of time and cook them in the morning to easily serve an egg-based breakfast to a crowd. I pair them with Williams-Sonoma croissants and fresh fruit for a simple, elegant breakfast.
photo by TerriC via pixabay
I wish you the easiest and most joyful of holiday seasons, and hope the lessons I’ve learned from Ina help you save some time, sanity, and stress this year. In case you missed it, this post covers even more of my favorite tips from my favorite teacher.
There is still time to join us at Smart Meals for Busy Cooks for more holiday planning all throughout the month of November with a group of expert food, money, and lifestyle bloggers. I am taking the reigns soon with a focus on staying organized as the December crunch approaches!
If a Barefoot Contessa cookbook is on your holiday gift list for yourself or a loved one, I love Barefoot in Paris, Barefoot Contessa at Home, and Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics as introductions to her style and recipes. You can buy all of Ina’s books on Amazon or your local bookseller, including her latest, Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.