By Donna Fischer
Throwing a holiday party is something that comes naturally for some; for others it’s a stressful affair where the host or hostess overcompensates for a lack of party-giving experience by offering too much of everything.
If you’re more like the latter, it’s time to take a deep breath and try the holiday party again. Amy Hanten, from the TV show, Fox 11 Living with Amy, offers some of the most essential tips any novice party – giver could hope to find.
Hanten hears the stories of parties gone wrong all the time, and she says there is a common theme.
“They didn’t have any fun!” she explains. “They were in the kitchen the whole time and they missed out on the fun. I think we’ve all had that party where, after everyone’s gone home you say to yourself, ‘I’m never, ever doing that again!’
“I’ve tried to figure out a way to entertain and have a really good time at the same time. No one likes to have a party where you’re stuck in the kitchen the whole time. I really try to put a game plan together at least a few days ahead of time. Keep it simple. People will end up in your kitchen anyway. The more casual the parties, the more fun. I end up putting out a bunch of hors d’ouvres on my island, and let everybody have at it!
“And you don’t have to do 53 different things! Do a few different things, and make them wonderful. Go ahead and assign people to bring things.
People are going to ask you, ‘Can I bring something?’ Don’t say no. People always say, ‘Oh no, just bring yourself.’ And then they’re going to show up and you’re going to have eight different potato salads! I really appreciate it when I’m going to a party and I ask if I can bring something and people are honest and say, yes!”
Hanten has learned great tips from interacting with professional chefs along the way.
“Minis are big. Don’t overcrowd your platter. Make more and just refill your platter. I do these little brie tarts. Little mini things will make you look like a rock star on a white space. That’s what my chef and caterer friends call it. Invest in some pretty, different – shaped platters, that you can pick up at Shopko, Walmart, Target. Rectangular platters, round platters. Have different heights on your buffet table. Even if you drape a table cloth over a box and put a plate on that so you’ve got a little interest.
“Always try to serve something healthy at your party, too. Especially during the holidays some people are trying to watch it a little bit. Always think of that and have some sort of veggie and fruit option. And always have some non-alcoholic beverages and make it festive. Whatever the reason, it’s no fun for them to be drinking a can of soda.
“It’s really fun to do something bubbly and sparkly. Even for the kids. Whether it’s a little bit of cranberry juice and some Sprite with some fresh cranberries and orange. Make them feel part of the party and put it in a pretty glass. It’s a little more festive and fun.”
And even though it’s an etiquette standby, some people forget this important rule when attending a party:
“Never go to a party empty-handed, even if the hostess says she doesn’t need anything. A bottle of wine, homemade cookies, even a nice holiday dishtowel is a nice idea. It’s just a nice thought after the party is over and they’re doing the dishes.”November and December are ideal for putting those classic baking recipes to work. Hanten has found a way to take the fuss out of the process. “I do like to bake if it’s quick and easy. I’ve come up with a lot of recipes that are quick and easy. One thing I like to bake during the holidays are mini loaves of bread. If you are going to someone’s house for a party, or you need to bring something to the office, use a mini load pan. You can bake four loaves at once. It’s genius! Instead of washing four different pans afterward you wash one. Really good cookie sheets are a must! That’s something that you can invest in.”
Hanten looks forward to the holiday season because not only is it a great time to help others learn how to make great meals, but it brings about two traditions she loves.
“The crew of Living with Amy get together and have a super casual party at my house every year. We pull out Trivial Pursuit, we play board games.
People have been known to come in their jammies, it’s that comfy and cozy. We’re kind of tired of doing a lot of fancy holiday cooking for everybody on the show so this is kind of a roll up your sleeves kind of party and it usually goes pretty late and we have a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to that; it’s a tradition that we’ve been doing ever since the show started. We compare cooking disasters and laugh a lot.”
And for her family, Hanten says they keep things decidedly low – key. “The other thing I look forward to is spending time with my family. We head up to our cottage for Christmas every year. It’s very quiet. We don’t have a TV up there. We do some skiing, and have hot chocolate and fondue by the fire. It’s just a really special time. My big thing is cooking up memories and I like to cook up a lot of holiday memories at our cottage. Hopefully there’ll be a lot of snow!”
You can find Amy Hanten’s recipes for holiday favorites and more at www.thecookingmom.com. Fox 11 Living with Amy airs weekdays at 10am on Fox 11.