I have a slight anxiety attack whenever I invite people over to my house for a party. As if the holidays weren’t stressful enough, now I’ve just committed to hosting too! I have to plan a menu, decorate, make sure my house is clean…ah! But, being the stubborn person that I am, I refuse to succumb to the stress that usually ensues once I send out my final party invitation. It’s always overwhelming in the beginning, mostly because nothing has been planned yet. Follow my easy tips and you’ll be well on your way to the most festive-glam and stress-free party you’ve ever had!
Okay, let me break it down for you:
Start by creating a plan. Forget about the things that could go wrong and focus on what you can realistically handle. There must be some reason why you thought about having a party in the first place, whether it be to catch up with family or to enjoy an evening with the people you love spending time with, proceed with that in mind. Choose a date and your guest list and then send off those invites with gusto! It’s going to be great!
Now, it’s time to plan your menu. Ditch the complicated menu and consider easy dishes to prepare. Be sure to have a mix of dishes that can be made ahead of time or even the day before. I need to be inspired to create a menu and for my most recent party, Bonne Maman jams were my muse. Bonne Maman jams are really special because they are created from traditional recipes and are made from all natural ingredients with no artificial colourings. If you start with quality ingredients, how could you go wrong? I chose a few of my favourite flavours, Cherry Jam, Orange Marmalade, Wild Blueberry Jam and Caramel Spread.
If you have no idea how much food to prepare, the magic number is 8 appetizers per person per hour. Be sure to offer a variety of hot appetizers with room-temperature dips and spicy charcuterie with mild accompaniments like cheeses. It’s also a great idea to have some lower fat options as well. And lastly, have at least one vegetarian option, just in case.
Consider your resources; which items need a stove top, oven or a refrigerator. Serve a combination of hot, baked, room temperature and cold foods. Anything that can be made the day before, like the toppings for crostini, are a great addition to your menu and also alleviate stress on the day of the party. A cheese and charcuterie platter is also a great option because it can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated.
Here’s how I used Bonne Maman jams throughout my menu:
I kicked off the eating fest with local cheese and charcuterie boards. Bonne Maman jams pair really nicely with cheeses. I also prepared a Wild Blueberry Jam with maple and cinnamon the night before and I served with a spiced whipped ricotta on top of crostini. I whipped the crostini the morning of my brunch and I also made the crostini well in advance because they only need to be toasted, not hot.
Next, one of my favourite appetizers to serve are these Inside out samosas. They are essentially a samosa filling on top of a chip made up of samosa exterior. I created an Orange, fennel and pear chutney, the night before, using the Bonne Maman Orange Marmalade and I served it as an accompaniment with my Inside-out Samosas. These recipes are outlined below.
Next came the Cherry Jam round. I prepared a Pork tenderloin with a cherry jam, and thyme pan sauce and served it with an arugula salad with a Cherry Jam vinaigrette. The salad also had almonds and goat cheese.
I prepared the vinaigrette the night before, because vinaigrette’s are cool like that, and I chose to do a pork tenderloin on the stove top because it comes together easily and it tastes great when it is freshly made with the pan sauce while guests are munching on the first few courses.
For dessert I created my favourite dessert with the Caramel spread. A fresh Belgium waffle (made early that morning and kept warm in my warming drawer) topped with vanilla bean ice cream, caramel banana bourbon compote and spiced pecans. The caramel bourbon compote came together in no time at all and was the perfect topping to these sweet and crunchy Belgium waffles. The recipe for my Belgium waffles can be found HERE. To make the Banana Bourbon Syrup, Simply saute sliced bananas in melted butter and a bit of bourbon until soft and then add the Bonne Maman caramel spread until it’s all melty and delicious. Drizzle on top of the waffles with ice cream and serve immediately.
We can’t forget about the crucial step in planning a great holiday party – cocktails! Keep your drinks simple (remember, this is supposed to be stress-free!) Create a self-serve holiday cocktail bar. For my brunch, I served a classic Bellini. The bonus about having a party during the winter months is that you can often store your drinks outside where they will stay cold, freeing up valuable space in your refrigerator. Be sure to have sparkling and flat water available as well as a red and white wine.
Once the menu planning is all done, it’s time to give this party a theme and some décor. If you have specific décor in mind, write down the items you will need down on a to-do list. By planning in advance you are putting time on your side and this always reduces stress. Setting up a Christmas tree or wrapping the fireplace in garland is often all the decorations a party needs, and bonus, you will likely have them set up already for the holidays. Light a few candles the night of the party, and you’ve created a wonderful ambiance for your guests to enjoy for the evening. Also, decorating is one of those ‘to-do’s’ that you can do ahead of time and it is great to get it out of the way so you won’t have to worry about it on party day.
Centerpieces can be easy going too. Pick some branches of evergreen and bundle them with twine in small vases with pine cones spread around them. This will look beautiful and rustic.
Don’t forget about the music. Never rely on party banter alone, to fill a quiet room. This can create awkward moments that make guests feel uncomfortable. Create a playlist on iTunes or Sound Cloud and include holiday tunes as well as some party favourites. The goal is for your guests to unwind and enjoy themselves and music is a great way to set the mood. I chose to go with my son’s record collection since I didn’t want to fuss with technology while I was trying to prepare everything.
The key to stress-free success is to set up as much as you can the night before. This way, all you have to do on the day of the party is put out the food and drinks. Rearrange any furniture and gather extra seating if needed. Restock the powder room with toilet paper and clean towels. Next, Map out where you will put the food and drinks.
When guests finally arrive, be sure to have a few appetizers ready to go and offer them a drink immediately or delegate this task to a friend while you work on gradually bringing out the rest of the food.
Now, take a deep breath, make yourself a cocktail and go and enjoy your party!
*This post was created in partnership with Bonne Maman and I was compensated, however, and as always, all opinions are my own.
*Photography by Jeffrey Chan courtesy of Bonne Maman.