Christmas entertaining with Trish Magwood
Whether your holiday party budget allows for a pull-out-all-the-stops, no-expense-spared extravaganza, or you're envisioning a gathering that's long on fun and festivity but low on expense, Trish Magwood has a wealth of ideas for creating a memorable affair.
Trish is the owner of the Toronto catering and cooking school DISH Cooking Studio, and the host of Party Dish, a brand-new entertaining and lifestyle show debuting next fall on The Food Network and Life Network. Trish believes that the secret to a great bash -- regardless of budget -- is in taking the time to plan things carefully beforehand. After all, once the party's underway it's much more fun to relax and enjoy the company than to hide out in the kitchen, attending to last-minute details. Here are a few of her suggestions for throwing a lavish party -- on a champagne budget or a beer one.
Carry your theme beyond the menu to encompass the presentation, decor and serving ware. For an evening of Japanese fare, for example, visit a Japanese gift shop for exquisite serving dishes and beautiful chopsticks; or for a Chinese theme, scope out your local Chinatown for bamboo steamers and Chinese paper lanterns.
More and more restaurants offer at-home catering services with special dishes and uniformed servers. Alternatively, hire a specialty supplier to provide unusual foods and/or to set up a serving bar: fresh oysters and seafood, sushi, or specialty martinis. Check the Yellow Pages or ask your favourite restaurant for sources of unusual fare.
A festive idea for New Year's is a “sparkling” wine theme: start with sparkling wine with your aperitif, a bubbly wine with dinner, followed by a sweet dessert wine, and, of course, the finest champagne at midnight.
Put food or wine tasting “stations” all through your house to encourage people to mingle as they try different taste sensations. Make each station as festively decorated as the last.
Give yourself a holiday treat: hire a team to circulate with hors d'oeuvres during the party and to clean everything up after it's over.
Instead of a holiday dinner, invite guests to a special brunch. Not only is the food less costly -- since most of your dishes will be based on eggs and veggies instead of meats -- but it's a wonderful alternative for guests whose evenings are getting booked up with dinner parties.
Trish loves interactive meals such as fondues, where everyone gathers around a communal serving pot. Or you might create a potato bar, where a steaming Dutch oven filled with baked potatoes is surrounded by yummy fixings: sour cream, chives, bacon bits, cheeses and other favourites.
Combine a relatively modest but delicious main course, such as Frenched Chicken with lots of beautifully presented side dishes: asparagus bundles tied with a single stalk of lemongrass, exquisitely arranged crudités, brightly coloured squash. Also consider locally grown root and other vegetables, inexpensive and delicious this time of year.
Instead of serving a whole meal, hold a wine and cheese tasting, especially around a theme such as Chardonnays or Canadian wines, many of which are excellent and wonderfully reasonable in price. Many liquor stores have experts on staff who can help you find some great selections.
Instead of a potluck dinner, invite friends (or accept their offers) to help cook a fabulous multi-course dinner. It's not only a great way to get them involved, but lets you keep the menu organized.
On a high budget or a low one, recruit guests to pass around the hors d'oeuvres; food is one of the greatest icebreakers there is.