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Quick Tips for Holiday Entertaining
(November, 2006)

by Mary Jo Rulnick, author of The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends (Warner Books)

The extra commitments and responsibilities brought on by the winter holidays can overwhelm even the most organized person. And adding holiday entertaining to the jam-packed schedule can make anyone feel frantic. However, mix in a dash of preplanning and a pinch of preparation to create a gathering you can easily host and enjoy, too.
The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends by Mary Jo Rulnick
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To start, plan your menu by making as much of it self-serve as possible. Set up a drink station so guests can help themselves. Mix up trendy dishes with traditional ones for your menu. Be sure to have 1 or 2 hot dishes and fill in the rest with raw veggies and fresh fruit and make-ahead cold side dishes. Be sure to offer a low-cal choice and vegetarian dishes, too. For hot dishes, use the slow cooker or a roaster to keep food warm.

Consider a wine and cheese gathering. Chunks of cheese with spiced nuts, fresh or dried fruits and a variety of breads can make a great wine and cheese party. Be sure to include 3 different types of cheese for a smaller group and 5-6 varieties for a larger group. Serve each cheese on a separate plate with its own knife.

Try hors d'oeuvre party for simplicity. For appetizers, make bite-size nibbles in a variety of colors, textures or flavors. Serve small bite-size hors d’oeuvre so you can eliminate the need for utensils and spills on your carpeting when guests are trying to cut something in half and the piece of kielbasa lands on your carpeting. A favorite club sandwich cut into quarters makes an easy appetizer. Add a garnish on top with a toothpick.

Using foam and paper plates will cut down on after-party clean-up; however, use holiday-themed colors in the paper products to add pizzazz to the table. Use wine glass charms if serving wine to eliminate the possibility of running out of stemware. You can easily make personalized charms out of cardstock, foam or wood for each guest. Add ribbon to the charm so guests can tie them around the glass stem. This makes a nice take-home favor for attendees. Don’t forget music and match it to the gathering and the crowd. Borrow additional CDs from friends or the library.

Now you’re ready to write a shopping list using your preplanned menu. Post the menu on refrigerator so you don't forget anything in the frenetic pace to get everything on the table.

Create a preparation and cooking schedule. Note the designated times that particular dishes must go into the oven or slow cooker so they’re ready in time for the bash. Make as many dishes a day ahead as possible. Or mix dry ingredients together, adding wet ingredients on cooking day.

Pull out your serving trays and dishes several days beforehand. Use grandma's bowls and heirloom pieces to hold cookies, buns, breads and more. Don't keep them hidden. Decide if you need to buy or borrow additional pieces. Look to dollar & discount stores for possibilities.

Set your dining table or buffet table a day or two prior to the party. Include everything from dishes to utensils to serving pieces. Cover the “set table” with a sheet to avoid dust collecting and uncover prior to guests' arrival.

Keep garbage cans throughout the party area so guests can dump their own plates and not leave them on your coffee tables or another other flat surface they find. Assign tasks to family members or early bird guests. Include everything from lighting candles to hanging coats to refilling the relish tray.

Now, take a deep breath and enjoy mingling with your guests.

Mother-of-two Mary Jo Rulnick has turned her creativity as a do-it-yourselfer into a writing career. She has written extensively about home, family and women's issues in parenting publications across the United States. Her books include The Frantic Woman's Guide to Life: A Year's Worth of Hints, Tips, and Tricks (Warner Books) and The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends: Shopping Lists, Recipes, and Tips for Every Dinner of the Year (Warner Books).

Copyright © 2006 by Mary Jo Rulnick.

Posted with permission of the publisher.

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