Throwing a holiday bash can be a huge undertaking. From the cleaning to the food, the decorations to the guest list, a big celebration has enough details to keep you up at night. (Not good—especially during this time of year!)
“It’s about turning the holidays from hectic to happy,” says Debi Lilly, celebrity event planner and Safeway’s entertaining and design expert. “Sixty percent of women don’t even enjoy the holidays because they’re so busy.” So Lilly, who has designed parties for Oprah, Brooke Shields, Debra Messing, Cindy Crawford and more, passed along five tricks to turn your party prep from “Ahh!” to “Ooh!”
1. Plan ahead. “Preset the buffet before guests arrive so you can truly enjoy their company,” Lilly suggests.
2. Try Oprah’s flashy fave. Miss Winfrey loves the chic, corset details seen on the vases above. Here’s how to do it:
- Start with 36 inches of satin ribbon. Wrap the middle of the ribbon around the back of the vase and bring ends to front.
- When the ends meet in the front, twist them around each other and bring them to the back. Twist them again and bring back to front.
- Repeat the twists on the back and the front sides until you reach the top of the vase; knot the ends together and finish with a single loop.
3. Reuse. After the party has wrapped, don’t toss that ribbon! It’s perfectly good to use for other holidays with similar color schemes. And the branches from your tree that hang too low? Gather them up around the bases of the vases for an additional festive touch (and aroma).
4. Outsource when necessary. Shh…Your secret’s safe with us! “Buy snacks from the frozen food aisle and garnish with fresh herbs. It will look like find catering,” Lilly says.
5. Serve appropriate apps. And if you have a little more time, try assembling these no-oven-necessary treats from Safeway’s Executive Chef Jeff Anderson.
In addition to worrying about preparing a terrific, tasty turkey, Thanksgiving can cause plenty of stress related to entertaining a large group. I don’t know about you, but I’m not hosting big dinner parties every weekend! We turned to Rachel Hollis, the creator of Chic Events and a celebrations.com expert, to gather her top tips for throwing a successful, yet worry-free fete. She should know—her company often organizes events for celebrities, such as Ivanka Trump and Marcia Cross!
- Stock up. “I have an area in my pantry dedicated to last-minute parties. It’s full of fancy mixed nuts, tapenades, olive oils, great chocolates and good wine. All items I can turn to in a pinch and throw on a lovely platter and be ready when guests are at the door.”
- Give as a guest. “The best way to show your appreciation is to offer to help. But since your host is cooking, perhaps you could help with decor and offer to bring a beautiful centerpiece to adorn the table!”
- Don’t forget the favors. “Hosting the meal is enough of a gift. I think the best favor would be a lovely takeaway box so you can get rid of some of your leftovers!”
- Match your party with your personality. “When I did Sara Rue’s wedding this summer, they had a vintage photo booth and beer pong! I love that they embraced who they were—a really fun-loving couple—instead of doing something stuffy and traditional to please others. Keep that idea in mind with your events!”
- Go easy on yourself. “Don’t overwhelm yourself. For instance, don’t use your holiday party as the opportunity to make a miniature souffles for the first time. Go with what you’re good at to keep stress to a minimum—even if what you’re good at is ordering takeout!”
But don’t grab that phone just yet—this super-simple recipe is even achievable for Thanksgiving rookies!
- 1 acorn squash
- 1 shallot
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut acorn squash in half, scoop out seeds and strings with a spoon and rinse. Slice each half into eight pieces and set aside.
- Remove peel from shallot and rough chop.
- Put squash, shallots and rosemary sprigs on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix together until well-coated.
- Bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.
For more entertaining tips, visit mychiclife.com.
For Sue Smith, a registered dietitian who moonlights as a turkey expert with the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line every fall, Thanksgiving is truly the most wonderful time of the year. “It’s definitely my favorite holiday! As part of the Talk-Line, I’m able to be involved with so many Thanksgiving meals,” Smith says.
The most common question she tackles? How to properly thaw the bird. And who calls most commonly? “A lot of newlyweds who want to make their first holidays perfect,” she says. But the most memorable call during her 11-year stint as a talk-line expert was from a mother-in-law who was whispering into her phone while hiding in a closet. “She would stop talking when people walked by! She was afraid her daughter-in-law, who was a vegetarian, couldn’t cook the meal right,” Smith remembers. “But the mom called back later to tell us that the daughter did everything perfectly and the turkey was delicious!
Smith promises that your Thanksgiving turkey is nothing to worry about—in fact, it can be as simple as following her three tricks of the trade:
1. Stock up. How do you know what size bird to buy? Smith recommends allotting for 1 1/2 pounds per person. “That will be plenty for generous servings and leftovers.”
2. Follow the “three Ts.” That’s Smith’s trick to remember the three most important factors in preparing the perfect turkey: thaw, temperature and temp.
- Thaw. “Thaw your bird breast-side up in a pan on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Allow one day for every four pounds,” Smith says.
- Temperature. “Cook your turkey until a thermometer you insert in the thigh reads 180 degrees or 170 degrees in the breast,” she adds.
- Tent. Two-thirds of the way through the total cooking time, top your turkey with foil to allow the meat that is closer to the center of the bird to cook without burning the meat closer to the surface.
3. Ditch dry meat. When your turkey is finished in the oven, “pull it out and let it stand on the counter for about 20 minutes before carving, with the foil on top, to let the juices settle,” Smith says. This will lead to a moister, more flavorful slice.
If you need help with a turkey crisis during November and December, you can reach the experts at Butterball via phone (1-800-BUTTERBALL) or email (email@example.com). Keep checking in at The Fit Stop in the next two weeks for more Thanksgiving entertaining, cooking and leftover tips!
Now tell us: Do you have any Thanksgiving meal prep disaster stories? Come clean in the comments!
Domenica Catelli grew up with a taste for the culinary world. “My grandparents opened a restaurant in California in 1935, which was passed down to my dad. I was sure I’d never work there but I started working at a different restaurant in college. I was a hard worker and spent most of my life around the business, and took over as head chef at 19,” Catelli says.
Today the mom, cookbook author and event chef (she cooked for Oprah’s Legend’s Ball in 2006!) focuses on teaching families how to enjoy well-balanced meals without sneaking in ingredients through her “Mom-a-licious” brand. “I believe there’s no long-term payoff for hiding vegetables in your kids’ meals. You can build a lifelong healthy relationship with food by starting young,” Catelli says. “Adults at the table need to have a good attitude and be a role model for eating a nutritious diet, and kids will do the same.”
One of her top tips for busy parents? “Stock three or four go-to snacks in your car or purse, so you have something for you and more to share with your children, their carpool friends and even neighbors on a plane,” Catelli says. “That way you’ll be able to bypass the potato chips at the convenience store. I like raw almonds or Kashi’s TLC Peanutty Dark Chocolate Layered Bars.”
Since Catelli is such a pro at entertaining and pleasing the whole family with delicious dishes, we thought she would be the perfect person to give us some new inspiration for all of our fall tailgating parties. For your next game day meal, Catelli suggests serving her turkey chili, which her friends who are Olympic athletes love. Simply set out the bowls, spoons, chili and an array of toppings and make it a build-your-own bar.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1-3 teaspoons red chili flakes
- 3 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
- 1 pound ground turkey breast
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 14.5-ounce can of fire roasted organic crushed tomatoes
- 2 15-ounce cans of black beans
- 2 15-ounce cans of kidney beans
- 1 cup of water or chicken broth
- Optional: Jack or sharp cheddar cheese, fresh onion, sour cream, Kashi TLC Pita Crisps
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, saute onion, cumin and chili flakes over medium heat with extra virgin olive oil. Do not let onions brown. As onions become soft, after about five minutes, add garlic and cook about two minutes.
- Add ground turkey and stir to smash up turkey. Add soy sauce, fire-roasted tomatoes, beans and water (or broth).
- Bring to a boil, turn down to medium heat and cook for 10 minutes.
Heather Christo may very well be the next Martha Stewart. When she stopped by our offices to tell us about her amazing blog, we were charmed by her personality and surprised with how easy she made elegant entertaining look (even for beginners like us)!
She grew up in a family that loved to throw dinner parties and the passion rubbed off. Heather attended the California Culinary Academy and Le Cordon Bleu. In other words, this mom of two knows her stuff!
With the Fourth of July quickly approaching, we asked Heather for her top tips for a successful party.
- Plan ahead. “Do prep work before so you can enjoy the party! Make marinades, dips and dressings the day before, then just add them to the freshly-prepared ingredients.”
- Make it D.I.Y. “Guests love ‘build your own’ meals like adding grilled meats on top of salads or assembling their own tacos or burgers.”
- Simplify the decor. “It can be beautiful without too much work! Feature farmers market or garden flowers with piles of gorgeous, seasonal fresh fruit for the centerpiece. Large white ceramic platters are timeless and make food look fabulous.”
Start prepping now for a stress-free soiree. Click below for a complete healthy menu that Heather designed for your festive party!