She’s a doctor, mother of two, novice knitter, backyard gardener and wildly successful food blogger, but— reassuringly—even Annie Marshall gets a little harried before a party. Fittingly, though, the doorbell has the finality of a game-show gong. “Once the party starts,” Annie says, “I let everything else go. If something doesn’t get made, don’t fret—guests won’t know. The more happy and relaxed you feel, the more welcomed your guests will feel.”
That’s the kind of down-to-earth wisdom that has drawn millions of visitors to Annie’s Eats (annies-eats.com ) since 2007. Among her no-fuss recipes, friendly kitchen tips and pretty photos, Annie also shares ideas from her beautiful buffet parties. Click ahead for some of her ideas for a Christmas open house.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cranberry Margarita 
Turkey Pesto Sliders 
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.