Make Holiday Entertaining a Breeze with These Tips

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Deck the halls with boughs of … what’s the Jewish equivalent of decking the halls with holly?

With Chanukah around the corner, you might be starting to get into the holiday party frame of mind.

There are plenty of ways to throw a festive holiday party without breaking the bank or setting your kitchen ablaze.

One tip for throwing the ultimate holiday get-together: Play to your strengths, said Keri White, who frequently writes on food for Jewish Exponent.

When you’re preparing a party and you’re not the greatest cook, don’t try a super involved dish that those Tasty videos make look so easy.

“If you are really creative into cooking, then make that your focus. If you love to set a beautiful table, make that your focus and then simplify the meal. Don’t try to do every single thing,” White advised.

“Don’t make a completely new recipe that has 4 million ingredients and 77 steps, and weave your own linen tablecloth, and grow your own flowers for your centerpiece,” she added. “Focus on one really big priority and then make everything else manageable.”

That includes making the cooking manageable.

As the host of the party, you don’t want to miss the actual party because you’re in the kitchen.

“Don’t plan a meal that requires tons of last-minute preparation. Try to do something that you can do ahead, pop in the oven and then pull out and serve,” she suggested.

(Or if you’re like me and are not great at actually cooking, you could try a Crockpot meal.)

Make it something scalable, as well, to better increase the amount of food depending on how many guests you’re expecting.

“Do a big braised lamb shoulder or a couple roasted chickens or something like a big casserole that you can do ahead and you can double and triple and make for a big crowd,” she said.

If a big dinner isn’t your thing, you can stick to appetizers — but make them mess-free and easy to eat.

Namely, skip the bruschetta. Yes, it’s delicious, but it also falls apart as soon as you take a bite.

Instead, White said, make appetizers that are small and simple, no bigger than a quarter. If you make a cheese plate, cut the pieces up so they’re easy for people to just take and eat.

“If it’s something people have to work to eat or you do a crispini with a slice of filet on it, people are not going to take that because it seems like it’s going to be messy,” she said. “If you’re doing a sit-down dinner, don’t overdo the appetizers because people pig out on the appetizers, and then you cooked this beautiful dinner and nobody eats it.”

You’ll also need some drinks to go with your delicious meal, of course.

White suggests creating holiday-centric concoctions, but don’t forget to create an accompanying non-alcoholic drink for your underage cousins or party guests who don’t imbibe.

The Daily Meal has plenty of Chanukah-themed recipes that would surely provide some inspiration.

The Chocolate Gelt Cocktail, for instance, requires 3 ounces chocolate vodka, 1 ounce Goldschläger and cocoa powder for garnish. Put the ice in a cocktail shaker and add the chocolate vodka. Shake well, and strain it into a martini or cocktail glass. Add Goldschläger and gently stir.

Or the Chanukah Gift Cocktail, which uses 3 ounces chocolate vodka, 1/2 ounce Sabra (chocolate-orange flavored liqueur), and a small chocolate gelt coin, chocolate kiss or chocolate Baton (unwrapped). Add the ice, vodka and Sabra in a cocktail shaker. Shake well, and strain it into a martini or cocktail glass. Garnish it with a chocolate candy.

Beyond the food — though that is arguably the most important — there are other ways to create a festive atmosphere.

Scan Spotify for some holiday playlists to have on to fill the awkward lulls in conversation or just provide some festive background noise. Or if you’re like White’s family, you might end up just dancing, which is OK, too.

Some suggestions: The “Hanukkah” playlist by Spotify, which features holiday tunes by Carole King, Neil Diamond, Matisyahu, and, of course, Adam Sandler; PJ Library created a kid-friendly Hanukkah playlist there as well; fill the room with the a cappella sounds of groups like the Maccabeats or Six13.

Setting the table — and perhaps creating a seating chart to avoid an awkward game of musical chairs — is also a key element to a successful holiday party.

You could scatter some plastic dreidels and gelt across the table for aesthetics, or a mid-meal snack.

White outlined a few suggestions for a centerpiece: floating candles, a vase of flowers, or you could even create a bowl and have people write questions on pieces of paper and pull them out during the meal to get to know each other.

Ask open-ended questions like “Where would you like to travel this year?” or “What is the best film you’ve seen?”

Another suggestion was to have everyone bring a small gift and play a round of Yankee swap or white elephant, where you can swap or keep gifts (it is Chanukah, after all).

But no matter what, one key tip White suggests: Hire a cleanup crew.

After the party is over, having a cleanup service, even if it’s just a local teenager out to make some extra money, clean up the party is a lifesaver, White said.

It helps the host enjoy the party without picking up trash the whole time or having to save it all for the next day.

Change around your budget if necessary — skip the Champagne and opt for prosecco or swap the filet for a pot roast to save some money for the cleanup service.

“It’s like, the best holiday gift to yourself you can give,” she said.