Channeling Your Inner Holiday Hostess

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This post is for my life long best friend and partner in crime, Monica.  She messaged me a few weeks ago needing some recipes for an upcoming holiday party she was hosting.  She remembered a thinly sliced beef tenderloin served for my 40th birthday celebration and requested that recipe along with a few others.

Entertaining doesn’t have to be stressful!  After you’ve created your guest list & type of event you plan to host, plan your menu. For this particularly party, they are hosting work friends for appetizers and drinks.  Here are a few holiday hosting tips and recipes:

 1.    Don’t make everything from scratch.

Pick a few recipes to make and then assemble the rest.  

Food to assemble: Cheese platter with fruit and nuts.  Find your favorite platter & fill with 3+ cheeses, an array of nuts, seasonal fruit (for Christmas I think honey crisp apples, pomegranates, clementines and small berries fit the bill.  A good cheddar, soft cheese (brie or goat cheese), or a blue cheese if you like something strong

For sweet treats, go to the bakery for desserts. When I lived in Cleveland I had a few favorites that I frequented.  Fragapane’s for cannoli and cassata cakeDick’s Bakery in Berea for Date and Nut cake, and A Cookie and a Cupcake for special events, to name a few.  

Also, bowls of your favorite chocolates, nuts, and such go a long way.  Trader Joe’s and Costco are great sources for delicious, affordable nuts and chocolates.  A few of my favorites from TJ’s: Turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds, dark chocolate covered peanut butter cups, chocolate covered salted graham crackers. From Costco: Sanders dark chocolate covered salted caramels.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say yes to guests that offer to bring something—whether it’s a bottle of wine, an appetizer or plate of cookies, say yes to help!  

Amazing variety of holiday cookies brought by friends—molasses, peppermint chocolate chunk, and Italian lemon cookies.

Amazing variety of holiday cookies brought by friends—molasses, peppermint chocolate chunk, and Italian lemon cookies.

2.    Choose a main dish and appetizers that feel special.  

My very favorite is roasted beef tenderloin sliced thin, served with horseradish, gourmet mustards, and a variety of rolls, good cheese and crusty bread.  

Here’s how to prep the tenderloin, according to my friend Stephanie. I promise, she’s the master.

Roasted Beef Tenderloin

Trim and tie the tenderloin and the season with Montreal steak seasoning blend by McCormickand Flavor by Penzey’s. Sear in olive oil until nicely browned and then pat with butter and roast at 475 until med rare. (Side note from Jen: I recommend investing in a good thermometer.  This was never clearer to me than this Thanksgiving when neither my mom or I could find a working meat thermometer. Here’s the thermometer I have on my Christmas list—I’ve read a lot of good reviews about it, and hopefully Santa is taking note.) I then freeze until almost frozen—about 3 hours. Remove string. Cut crosswise into very thin slices. (Put between parchment to store if doing the day before.). To serve, cover large platter with arugula or watercress and the slices of beef. Drizzle with a little oil, lemon juice, Parmesan shavings and serve with rolls or baguette slices and the sauce detailed below.

Mustard Horseradish sauce

¾  Cup good mayo (I prefer Helman’s)

1 ½ Tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon Whole grain mustard

½ Tablespoon Prepared horseradish

2 Tablespoons Sour cream

Kosher salt to taste

Side note: challenge yourself by learning from people who are better cooks than you.  When I moved to Michigan 7 years ago, I felt pretty confident in my cooking ability.  In my twenties, I even had a side hustle catering. But when I moved, I connected with people who took cooking to the next level, and Stephanie is one of those people.  I had made roast tenderloin for years and it was delicious, but hers was next level.  She took the time to properly trim and tie her meat before searing and roasting which creates a more even heat distribution.  I learned how important it was to quickly sear the meat and lock in flavors. Thanks, Steph! : )

Glazed Ham  

This is one of my favorites for feeding a crowd.  Ham seems fancy, it’s plentiful and not only is it a festive addition to any table, it’s also very affordable. Skip the glaze packet that come with the ham—making your own glaze is quick and so much better. My go to glaze is from the cookbook, Hungry, Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn.

Side note: this particular cookbook is a favorite.  Lucinda Scala Quinn was the food director for Martha Stewart for years and hosted her own cooking show.  She has also raised 3 boys.  I resonate with her approach to cooking, entertaining and feeding her family.  She loves gathering her family & friends, and her recipes are down to earth and achievable. Her Insta feed—in particular her stories where she cooks—are great!  

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Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

My favorite way to prep shrimp—toss in whatever spices you prefer and roast it for 8-10 minutes in the oven (until shrimp are pink and firm to touch).  Also learned this from Ina Garten.  It’s quick, simple and fool proof.  Sometimes I do this the day before an event and keep it chilled in the fridge. 

A good dip - Artichoke and spinach is a crowd pleaser, for good reason.  It’s so delicious and feels warm and cozy on a winter night. Honestly, I’ve been known to buy the Terre Fina brand at Costco, sprinkle with parmesan, warm in the oven and serve with crackers or pretzel thins. Or some type of veggie dip (homemade hummus, Sundried tomato dip, or a favorite that pairs well with veggies.    

Drinks: You can keep it simple with sparkling water, wine & favorite beer.  If you’re feeling fancy, serve a signature drink. 

Here’s a favorite that my friend, Jaminda, makes during the holidays:

Eggnog Martinis

Two parts vodka, 1 part Eggnog, 1/2 part Buttershots (flavored liquor).  Shake that and then pour into glasses.  Add a splash of cream soda at the end.  This gives it some fizz.  So good! 

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3.   Employ music, candles and simple décor to set the tone. 

 I know using the word simple sounds a bit ridiculous coming from the woman who decorates Christmas trees for a living, but you really can keep it simple and beautiful at the same time.  

Candles and greens go a long way. Tea lights, pine roping or clipping from a pine tree in the back yard are perfect accents on the holiday table. Before guests come, turn on the holiday music, have drinks ready to go, and light the candles.  Easy peasy!

Do you have any go to recipes for holiday parties? I would love to hear from you. Happy hosting & happy holidays!