Holiday Party Tips From Annie Marshall: Eat, Drink and Be Merry
A few years ago, Annie snagged a wire ornament tree at Target—but she hangs cookies on it. She restocks the striking edible centerpiece throughout the party.
Comfort to go
For a neater buffet, Annie spoons warm macaroni and cheese into small jars right before the party. An extra step, to be sure, but one that guests rave about.
Hot chocolate bar
A little-used fondue set finds new life as a hot chocolate bar when stocked with garnishes and adult mix-ins like Kahlua. A slow cooker on low works, too.
The perfect buffet table
1 Tablecloths give a nice foundation. Buy fabric and have it cut to fit the table. It’s cheaper than a “real” tablecloth, and you’ll have lots more colors and patterns to choose from.
2 White dishes are essential. They’re affordable, go with everything and always make the food look nice. Plus you can mix and match pieces you buy through the years.
3 Cake stands aren’t just for cake! Varied heights make the table prettier and help guests see and reach food easily. An alternative: Set plates on festively wrapped boxes.
4 Labels instantly tie together your table. Guests like knowing what they’re eating without having to ask the hostess.
5 Garlands hanging from the ceiling draw eyes to the table. Cut pairs of circles in two or three sizes from scrapbooking paper. Put double-sided tape on the back of one circle, lay the string over it, and press a matching-size circle on top. Dot the length of the string, covering the end with a circle.
People who are reluctant to dig into a pie or lasagna will happily chow down on foods they can pick up easily. Annie’s exception to the no-forks rule: mac ’n’ cheese in jars.
Ready with seconds
Annie cooks one tray of sliders to serve as soon as guests arrive and keeps a second ready to pop in the oven when the first batch gets low. Don’t forget to set the timer!
Piping adds instant style to foods other than cupcakes. Anything you’d scoop or spread can be piped quickly and neatly. Disposable bags make cleanup easy.
Makin' her lists
Annie’s game plan for stress-free entertaining:
Plan your menu. Look for steps you can do in advance (like chopping veggies). Be sure to include a few dishes you can make entirely ahead. If too many foods require last-minute prep, rethink your menu.
Get the kitchen ready. With a menu chosen, Annie cleans out the pantry, freezer and fridge to make room for food. Tidying also helps her get into an organized frame of mind before tackling all that cooking.
Embrace to-do lists. Annie has two. One covers tasks to complete in the days before the party (such as cleaning and decorating), and one is a detailed schedule for the big day. Work backward from guests’ arrival, and consider details like how long it takes the oven to preheat or cookies to cool. (Remember to leave a window to get yourself ready!) Even if you fall behind, you will know the work order.
Mix and mingle
Tips for enjoying your own party:
Invite kids—or don’t. Annie includes children at her open house, but if you’d prefer an adults-only gathering, be up-front in your invitation. Guests will appreciate the clarity, and you’ll get the party you had in mind.
Practice the art of polite refusal. If your party isn’t a potluck, tell friends and family who ask what they can bring that wine (or nothing at all) is plenty. Other guests won’t feel guilty for coming empty-handed.
Serve a signature cocktail. Beyond wine, beer and soda, Annie serves one festive drink she can mix in large batches (such as sangria). Guests like helping themselves, and she isn’t shaking martinis all night.
Make an upbeat playlist. Annie and Ben use Bluetooth to stream holiday music from their phones to the stereo so they can flip tracks from anywhere in the house without leaving a conversation.