Q&A: Holiday entertaining etiquette
It’s one of our favorite times of the year. Friends, family and lots and lots of food. Fall and winter are prime times for entertaining guests, so we’ve pooled the expertise of our fabulous bloggers to answer some of our burning questions on holiday entertaining and etiquette.
If you’re just visiting for the holidays …
Sauder Editor: Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any time of year, what are the best hostess gifts for: A) the in-laws; B) your fiancé’s family; C) Aunt Bonnie; and D) your Friendsgiving host?
Hannah Vong: For the in-laws or fiancé’s family, I go for edible treats — a fruit basket, like Edible Arrangements, or a cheese-and-wine gift basket. For family members, I like to give a small flower or potted plant. Friends get wine — the more the merrier, I think (friends and wine!).
SE: The holidays are about spending time with family, but how do you visit both sides of the family for short holidays, like Thanksgiving?
Shawn Sowers: You don’t. Sometimes it’s easier to split up the holidays — Thanksgiving goes to one, Christmas to the other. We like to use FaceTime or Skype to connect with family we can’t be with on the holidays, too. It’s great for the kids and helps my wife and I stay sane by limiting our travel!
SE: You’ve been asked to bring a dish to pass. What’s your go-to?
Lindsay Hierholzer: My mom is an experienced hostess, so she usually has requests for what each guest should bring. We just comply! She does the turkey, and the rest of us bring the sides. I usually get stuck with green bean casserole because it’s idiot-proof and I can’t cook! If I’m feeling adventurous, I go with pumpkin pie, which I buy from the store.
Mark Strayer: Homemade cranberry sauce. My recipe is so simple — I make it with fresh cranberries and one teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Hannah: Roasted butternut squash salad.
If you’re hosting the big meal …
SE: What’s your greatest advice for hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner?
John Amell: Plan, plan and plan. And then relax because it will never go exactly as planned.
Mark: Have all of your guests bring a dish to share. It’ll make your first go much less intimidating if you’re only responsible for part of the meal.
Lindsay: Like I said, I’m no chef, but it seems to be a recurring theme from past Thanksgivings that it’s important to thaw the bird ahead of time.
SE: Is it OK to ask guests to bring a dish to pass for Thanksgiving?
Shawn: Of course; it’s an event about sharing, so share the cooking duties so you have time to spend interacting with guests.
Hannah: Yes; I love family-style potlucks. Everyone can show off their own cooking style.
SE: Tips for carving the turkey?
Shawn: I’ve been doing this since I was about 8. If it’s dry, you’re in the ditch. You need a sharp knife to break the skin and leave it attached to your slice. It’s finding that balance between thick and thin and plating it nicely.
SE: You’ve taken a page out of Martha’s playbook and prepared some of your side dishes ahead of time. How do you fit all of the fixin’s in the fridge ahead of time?
Lindsay: If it’s cold enough outside, we usually put the side dishes in covered containers in the garage or outside on the patio to stay cold. If that’s not an option, I suggest taking the drawers out of the fridge so you can stack casserole dishes and Tupperware.
John: Our family has perfected this one. We eat in stages, usually starting with some kind of pastry bar, and then an appetizer or soup. Then we rest (and cook some more) before the main course. Planning is critical!
SE: If pumpkin pie isn’t your thing, what dessert should you make?
John: Apple pie, of course. Although everyone loves chocolate pie with homemade whipped cream. Can’t go wrong with that!
Hannah: Sugared cranberry and brie bites.
SE: Once the party has ended, how do you (tastefully) get guests to leave?
Lindsay: If you’re sending out invitations via email or even formal invites in the mail, you could put an end time on the invitation. That way, guests will know what to expect before they arrive.
Hannah: I’m all about subtle hints — like falling asleep.
SE: After the feast is over, what are your tips for cleaning up?
Hannah: I always start with a plan, which usually involves cleaning as I go. I like washing my prep dishes and utensils before dinner so I only have the serving dishes and dinnerware to clean afterward. Even then, I’ll enlist help of my guests (and my dishwasher), and use disposable dishes, napkins, etc., whenever possible.
Photo credit: Heather, Setting for Four
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