November 29, 2019
Were you born to host? Do you love devising the menu, issuing invites, creating “tablescapes"? This article is not for you! These tips are for those of us who love to entertain but aren't crazy about all the planning and prep that goes into throwing a party. And really, who doesn't appreciate a smart shortcut? Here are a few party planning and menu hacks for hosting a seasonal gathering that's small on effort—but big on results.
Pick Your Party
First, determine whether you want a sit-down dinner or something more casual.
Instead of a huge sit-down dinner, why not consider a hors d'oeuvre-and-cocktail party? You can even make it semi-potluck, where each guest can bring a favourite appetizer.
A holiday open house is an ideal way to entertain during the holidays, when the desire to host is the strongest, but you have the least amount of time. Keep it short (3-4 hours), and ideally hold it in the afternoon so you don't have to serve a full meal.
If you do want to serve a meal to family and special friends, buffets make dinner parties easy: you can get dishes out quickly and keep them warm while guests can help themselves.
Simplify the Menu
If you still want to do a sit-down meal, go heavier on the appetizers and lighter on the main meal. Do as much ahead as possible. A spiral sliced ham is a delicious holiday tradition and it comes pre-cooked; you can find beautiful smoky hams in the meat department of your local Co-op store. You just have to glaze and reheat it, making sure it doesn't dry out. Calgary Co-op store-made Porkbelly skewers are another ready-made timesaving option.
Plan a mix of dishes that you can mostly prepare in advance and either reheat or serve at room temperature, so you don't end up frantically sautéing as guests arrive. To keep the food flowing, prebake hot hors d’oeuvres, then just warm them in a low oven when the guests arrive.
Dishes that get better with time or that can be served at room temperature include long braises like stews, quiches and tarts, lasagnas — all of these make your life easier.
Get Cold with Charcuterie
There's a good case to be made for skipping hot appetizers entirely when a large charcuterie and cheese board can be so delicious and visually appealing. The most important factors for a great cheese board are quality and variety of ingredients.
Remove cheeses from the fridge an hour before serving. Peruse the selection at your local Co-op deli and choose a variety of soft, semi-soft and hard cheeses, then lay out a variety of smoked meats and salamis. For a no-fuss option choose the new Calgary Co-op Charcuterie box. Inside you’ll find things like Boursin Soft Cheese, Co-op Gold Pure Compote Jelly, Mastro Riserva Salami, Marc Angelo Italian Deli Meat, Smoked Prosciutto, Genoa Salami and Snowdonia Cheddar.
Get Co-op To Do the Work!
For the ultimate time and effort-saving party hack, seek out store made appetizer trays of all kinds. Co-op has a large selection of cheese, charcuterie and bakery trays that can make life much easier.
Another time saver that’s still a crowd-pleasing favourite? Frozen shrimp rings to the rescue! Either choose one that comes with cocktail sauce, or easily make your own with ketchup and horseradish.
More Instant Appies for Holiday Time Saving
If you want to create a filling variety of easy appies, head to our deli and load up on store made guacamole and salsa (don’t forget the tortilla chips!), pâté with cornichons and sliced baguette, or some ready-made hummus or new black bean hummus (serve it in a nice bowl). Don’t forget to cruise by the olive bar for a variety of olives, plus goodies like cheese-stuffed pickled peppers, and sweety pep peppers.
Making an appie out of bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella) is easy; just empty the liquid from the container, pour in some olive oil, crushed red pepper and herbs, and shake to marinate. Serve in a pretty bowl when guests arrive.
Of course you can also lay out dishes of holiday nuts and snack mix too.
Get Your Freezer Ready
Stock your freezer with store-bought potstickers, quiche, meatballs, eggrolls, wings. They take little time to prepare and when you serve them in nice-looking dishes or on festive trays, no one will know you raided the Calgary Co-op freezer section!
Prefer to do it yourself? With puff pastry dough in your freezer, you’ve got the makings of dozens of hot appetizers, including tarts, savory turnovers, sausage rolls, cheese straws, baked Brie, and more. Puff pastry dishes can also be assembled up to twelve hours ahead.
Bacon-wrapped dates or bacon-wrapped potatoes or Brussels sprouts can be prepped ahead and kept in the freezer for impromptu holiday drop-ins.
If you love to bake and homemade baked goods are part of your tradition, fantastic. If not, head to our bakery to order your cakes and cookies. Just remember many holiday holiday items must be ordered in advance so your can plan ahead. You can order in store or online with as little as 24 hours notice.
Keep the Bar Self-Serve
Go big, in batches. Instead of buying a full bar of alcohol, serve wine and beer plus big-batch pitchers of one signature mixed drink or a festive punch. Keep a few restaurant-style water pitchers of the cocktail chilled in the fridge so you don't run out. Keep Alberta Pure Vodka, Alberta Premium Canadian Whisky and Captain Morgan Spiced Rum (and egg nog) for those impromptu guests.
If you've got a large guest list, make life easier on yourself with disposable dinnerware. Luckily, quality options have grown beyond the bulk packs of sad, thin paper plates. You can buy attractive compostable plates made from palm leaves or sturdy serveware made from recycled materials. Same goes for glassware—no one will judge you for using recyclable cups, especially when they inevitably misplace theirs and need to grab another one.
With everything you need to remember, there is one thing you should forget. Perfection. Stuff happens! Relax and roll with it. Enjoy your blessings, and all the special people in your life. That's what the holiday season is really about.
Pick up these last minute holiday helpers at your neighbourhood Calgary Co-op store.
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