This weekend, we hosted some of our extended family for a Christmas lunch. The first holiday meal I ever hosted was a Christmas gift exchange with my high school girlfriends. Of course, my mom did most of the the planning and grocery shopping, and over the years I’ve learned much more about hosting meals, parties, and tailgates thanks to LOTS of advice from my mom and LOTS of trial and mostly error.
I’m by no means an expert, but here are the key tips I’ve learned from hosting - whether it is a smaller dinner party or a large bash.
- Keep the menu simple: I like to plan my menu around food that I’ve made several times before. This way, I know the food will taste good, and I won’t have a melt down minutes before guests arrive since it's harder to botch a familiar recipe.
- Do as much work ahead of time as possible: Two nights before the event, I created my tablescape, set out my serving dishes, washed the holiday china, and prepared any food that I could get a head start on. The day before, I cleaned the house (minus the kitchen). This meant that on Sunday morning, I was only responsible for popping a couple of dishes in the oven, doing a light spot cleaning and vacuuming, and putting final touches on everything.
- Delegate tasks if it makes sense: Since this was a smaller family gathering, I didn’t feel bad asking people to contribute. My brother-in-law brought the wine and each couple brought a side dish. Generally guests want to bring something or help in some way, so if the situation is appropriate, I encourage it and give them a guideline, such as, “It would be great if you could bring a salad.” Then I know that I don’t need to prepare a salad, and the generous guest knows they won’t be duplicating a menu item I’ve already made. Being fairly general also gives them autonomy to put their personal spin on the dish.
Here’s the menu I planned for our Christmas lunch:
Appetizer: Beaten biscuits with country ham
Main: Beef tenderloin, salad (brought by guest), green vegetable (brought by guest), mashed potatoes, and rolls
Dessert: Raspberry trifle, assorted homemade Christmas candy
Raspberry Trifle Recipe
This is the same dessert I made for my girlfriends in high school. It is a go-to recipe because it looks pretty and festive, is easy to assemble several hours before guests arrive, and is practically no-fail.
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 (10.75 ounce) package prepared pound cake*
- 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen raspberries, thawed**
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
- In a medium bowl, beat cream with 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. In another bowl, cream together cream cheese, lemon juice, vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar. Fold 2 cups of whipped cream into cream cheese mixture. Reserve remaining whipped cream.
- Slice pound cake into 18 - 1/2 inch slices. Drain raspberries, reserving juice. Line the bottom of a 3 quart glass bowl or trifle bowl with one-third of the cake slices. Drizzle with some raspberry juice. Spread one-fourth of the cream cheese mixture over cake. Sift one-fourth of the cocoa over that. Sprinkle with one-third of the raspberries. Repeat layers twice. Top with remaining cream cheese mixture, whipped cream and sifted cocoa. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours before serving.
*I love to bake, and I would normally make a homemade pound cake if I was serving a more simple dessert, such as pound cake with fresh berries. However, since I had a busy weekend and the trifle had plenty of flavorful ingredients, a Sara Lee pound cake from frozen foods aisle worked great.
**I bought a 26 ounce bag of frozen raspberries because it was a better deal at the grocery store and ended up using the entire bag. If you and your guests like raspberries, you may want to use a few more than the original recipe suggests.
I hope you're enjoying your holiday festivities!