Hosting the holiday party is just another family-and-friends get-together, but with fancier music and dishes, right? What matters most is gathering with people you love over good food—and just being together. No pressure, right?
So then why do so many cool-as-a-cucumber homecooks we know (including our entire Familia Kitchen team) get heart palpitations and a little knock-kneed at the thought of the holiday party we’re in charge of hosting this year—be it Thanksgiving, Noche Buena/Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s, or Reyes/Three Kings Day?
We get it. We really do. Which is why we are bringing you this annual message to chill, gente.
Tis the season to host and stay calm—or you won’t enjoy a second of it, which is the whole point, says Patty Morrel-Ruiz of The Mad Table and author of The Essential Cuban Cookbook. Patty is one of the savviest Latina cooking and entertaining experts we know. Just in time for holidays—the Superbowl of family entertaining, Familia Kitchen asked Chef Patty, as she’s known, for her top entertaining tips for the season. Here are her fave 5 pro party tips to help you host and enjoy your holiday feast with your familia and friends this year!
Relinquish Control: Delegate, Even a Little
”We all want to be the super hostess, and we all want to be superwoman,” says Patty. ”But the biggest tip that I can share is keep it simple. And delegate. Delegating for me was very hard. Because I wanted to control from beginning to the end, but you have to delegate because if not, what happens is that you’re exhausted, you have to clean before the big event, and then you have to cook all the food. Everyone’s sitting down and having a cocktail at the party, and you look exhausted, with bags under your eyes.”
”So delegate,” says Patty. Seriously. It’s OK to give up control. Bonus: You’ll actually enjoy your own party, she adds. ”If you’re hosting a large group, encourage guests to bring a side or even one of the mains. There’s always something that we don’t prefer doing, whether it’s a side dish or maybe dessert. I’m not big on making dessert. So that’s what I’m always going to delegate. Figure out what do you like to do the least—and delegate that.”
Plan Day-by-Day—and Ironing Is Optional
Starting a couple weeks out, ”break it all down, day by day,” says Patty. List all the things that have to get done: sending invitations, grocery shopping, pickups at the airport, making the sides, making the main, making dessert, setting the table, opening the wine. It goes on and on. ”Then ask yourself: ‘OK, what day can I do this? And can I set my table three days ahead of time, even if it means I’m flipping the glasses upside down?’ (to keep them dust free)? Then, make a schedule: On Monday, I’m going to take my tablecloth to the dry cleaner, or I’m going to iron my napkins.” And keep going with your lists, all the way to the time guests arrive.
P.S. Patty advises ditching that last one: ironing. ”I have evolved through the years where I no longer iron my napkins. I still want to use real fabric linens, but now I just grab my napkins and make a little knot. Nobody knows that they’re wrinkled,” Patty smiles.
How to Save Money, Fridge Space, and Time
”You don’t have to spend a fortune when you are the host,” says Patty. ”In lieu of elaborate tablescaping, which can cost a pretty penny, create a centerpiece for your holiday table with things you have in your pantry or yard. Things like pine boughs, autumn flowers, squash and other vegetables, walnuts, chestnuts, mini pumpkins and plenty of greenery.”
Another inexpensive way to add ambiance? Good-old velas or candles. “They change the mood and make everything seem magical and special. Candles are a must—lots of them!” says Patty.
The fridge gets full, fast!, when you stuff it with the Thanksgiving turkey or the Christmas pernil and tamales. How do you organize things so you don’t lose track of everything by the the time the party starts? Patty’s answer is to repack as much as possible, early and often. ”When I get home from the grocery store, the veggies, herbs or lettuces often come in these big clunky plastic containers that take up so much room in the fridge. I remove them from the original container. If, for example, I buy green beans, I trim them, wrap them in a paper towel and pop them in a zip baggie when I put them in the fridge because they won’t take up as much room. Anything that can be marinated, go ahead get it done. For example, the pork can be marinated three to four days ahead of time.
One more Patty tip: When menu planning, ”pick a combination of foods that can be prepared on both stovetop and oven to not create a traffic jam on the big day,” she advises. ”I try to pick a lot of dishes where not everything has to be cooked in the oven at the same time.”
Kids Table Inspiration: An Idea We’re Grateful for
Keeping los chiquitos engaged and happy is a win for everyone, says Patty. ”Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I love using kraft paper for the children’s table. I lay out lots of crayons and stickers so they can do activities. During Thanksgiving, when my kids were small, we would go around the table and share what we were grateful for, and the kids would draw little pictures, usually a picture of mom, dad or their dog.” So sweet and inclusive of all ages. Plus the drawings are something you can save and pull out years later, as a holiday memento. #nostalgia
2 New Ways to Serve Coquito
You know how the coquito, called Puerto Rican eggnog and everyone we know’s favorite holiday libation, is decimated within the first 5 minutes of the fiesta? Patty loves how her mom used to save a special bottle of coquito for the end of their holiday gatherings. ”She would emerge late in the night with a tray of glasses filled with shots of coquito. It’s a great way to send everyone home,” says Patty. ”And for another really cute coquito idea, I used to do name cards for holiday parties, but I’ve minimalized my ways. Now, I like to set out small coquito bottle at each plate with everyone’s name written on it. It’s both a personalized gift—and place setting.”
Gracias, Patty, for these been-there 5 holiday-hosting pro tips. We honestly feel a little more calm and inspired, and hope you do too, Familia Kitchen Community. We especially love Patty’s first one: the host deserves to enjoy the festivities, too! With a little planning ahead and delegating (don’t forget that one), you can enjoy this year’s holiday celebration. We are all about less stress and más time for style, sabor and quality time with people we love.
For more of Chef Patty’s Latino-infused holiday entertaining ideas, check out her site themadtable.com. And watch this space, because we’ll be posting several of Patty’s delicioso, Cuban-inspired holiday recipes in the next few days, including her masa real (a Cuban guava-filled baked sweet) and her mother’s family-famous perfect-for-Christmas, red-and-green salad made with avocado, radishes, pineapple and watercress.
Feliz holiday hosting, everyone. And because it bears repeating, let’s say it together one last time: Delegate. It truly is the secret to happy holiday hosting, says Patty. You got this, you really do!