Hosting any gathering over the holidays can end up being more stress than expected. What sounded like a great idea initially, can end up being a lot of work for the hosts. For years I would plan get togethers and be so frantic and busy as my guests arrived, it hindered the good time that was intended.
It's taken me awhile to figure out a reduced stress system (and it's always a work in progress), but here are a couple tips I've picked up along the way that help me to have everything complete with wine glass in hand once the first guest walks through the door.
Hire help -
I used to deep clean my home before the guests came over. This would add on a good four hours of thorough cleaning to an already busy schedule. Now, I have my apartment professionally cleaned. The team cleans our place in half the time and allows me to focus on the festivities instead of getting caught up in vacuuming. The investment in their services is more than worth its weight in gold.
Stage and decorate early -
Pre-clean all serving dishes and utensils, polish silver, iron linens... even floral arrangements can purchased or arranged a couple days before.
Consider a food delivery service -
I use either Amazon Fresh, who delivers groceries, or a company like Blue Apron, who deliver all the pre-measured ingredients needed to make select recipes. Both will save you time from roaming the aisles of the grocery store. The latter will also help take the question mark out of "What on earth do I serve?"
And speaking of food...
Split your menu into things that can be made ahead of time with things that need to be made just before the gathering. If you can make half of the food the day before the event, it will significantly ease your stress. I even go so far as to rinse, chop, and prep all food as much as possible the day before.
Things that can be made prior: Almost any dessert, anything with a phyllo dough, dips, egg dishes, casseroles, and soups.
I love the idea of signature cocktails and a full bar, but both of these are time consuming before the gathering and also during. Playing bartender all night can pull you away from your guests. Instead, having a selection of wine and beer is an easy crowd pleaser. If you go for the signature cocktail, find something that can be premixed. White Winter Sangria is a great option, Kir Royale is simple to make on the spot (champagne and a dash of cassis liquor), or my personal holiday favorite hot spiced cider with bourbon.
My recipe for spiced cider is fool proof and so simple:
You'll need -
2 - 1 gallon containers of fresh pressed cider (I like the blends or pre-spiced varieties)
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp vanilla extract
Fifth of bourbon. I prefer cinnamon whiskey for an extra holiday spice.
Add one 1 gallon of cider to a crock pot or slow cooker.
Pierce whole cloves into the skin of each clementine. Add 10-15 cloves to each fruit.
Place the entire fruit into the cider.
Complete by adding the cinnamon sticks and tsp of vanilla.
Let simmer for minimum 1 hour to allow spices to steep and cider is warm throughout. Ladle into mugs and top with one ounce of whiskey. Add additional cider to cooker as needed.
Cheers and Happy Hosting!!