Expert Tips To Take the Stress Out of Holiday Entertaining

Expert Tips To Take the Stress Out of Holiday Entertaining landscape

Family and friends gathered ‘round the dinner table, with a sumptuous feast (prepared by you) set before them – does anything say “holidays” more than that? What guests often don’t realize are the hours of prep and, perhaps, stress the host endured to achieve this festive celebration. You, however, don’t have to be one of those crazed hosts.

With the holidays quickly approaching, you can make a stress-free holiday meal with some handy tips from celebrity chef and expert entertainer Cat Cora, the first and only female Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. 

“When it comes to holiday entertaining, planning ahead and having the right tools and equipment help prevent poor performance and high stress levels,” Cora says. Here are her tips for stress-free holiday entertaining:

* Start out with the best tools and equipment you can afford. If you’ve been thinking about replacing your old, energy inefficient refrigerator with something better, more convenient and worthy of your skills, the holiday season is a great time to do so. 

“A good refrigerator, with the right features, can make meal organization and prep much easier,” Cora says. For example, refrigerators like LG’s four-door model offer lots of storage room with nearly 28 cubic feet of capacity, including double freezer drawers – the top drawer for items you access the most and bottom drawer for larger items or longer-term storage. The freezer drawers automatically open and close at the touch of a button, so it’s like having an extra hand in the kitchen. 

* Take advantage of the convenience of the microwave, some of which now feature a warming lamp, to help keep dishes hot until mealtime. 

* Shop early and stock up on perishables weeks before your holiday event. Chop veggies and prepare hors d’oeuvres a day before, and take advantage of the great fresh desserts available at your local grocery store or bakery.

* Clean as you go — it makes a big difference and you can enjoy your meal even more knowing a sink full of dishes doesn’t await you when you’re done. New dishwashers with steam technology now offer cycles that allow you to thoroughly yet gently clean fragile items such as fine china and stemware. 

* Enlist friends to come over an hour or two before the party to help set up the drinks, appetizers and a children’s table complete with crayons, puzzles and games. 

* You don’t have to bust your budget in order to host a memorable event. If a full-blown four course dinner is beyond your budget, consider a single-course affair such as a cheese tasting, dessert party or appetizer buffet. 

* Mix up serving pieces. Instead of the traditional bowls and plates, try unusual presentations like serving dessert in a martini glass, appetizers in a shot glass or serve the meat course on a cutting board.

* Edible & functional garnishes are a great way to add color and verve to any dish. Items like orange or lemon wedges, radish roses, slivers of carrot, toasted nuts or grated chocolate work well as quick, attractive garnishes.

* “Never forget to be original,” Cora says. “While we all love traditional holiday fare, get creative with a couple special dishes that will add flare to your dinner party.”

Try this creative recipe from Kristine Snyder, of Maui, Hawaii, chosen as “America’s Top Amateur Chef” at LG’s “Taste of Something Better” cooking competition judged by Cora. Snyder will represent the United States in LG’s 2009 Global “Life Tastes Good” championship in Bangkok, Thailand, in November.

Soy-Glazed Mahi Mahi with Cilantro Butter Shrimp (Serves four)

3 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 tablespoons sesame oil 
4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, divided 
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided 
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, divided 
4 6-ounce Mahi Mahi fillets (or other mild white fish), about 1 inch thick 
3 ounces spicy Portuguese sausage (linguica), thinly sliced and quartered 
3/4 cup clam juice 
1/4 cup low salt chicken broth 
3 tablespoons rice vinegar 
1 tablespoon Thai sweet chili sauce 
3/4 cup packed fresh cilantro 
6 tablespoons cold butter 
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest 
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail on 
2 cups chopped watercress 
12 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved 

Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, two tablespoons ginger, one tablespoon  
garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a 1-gallon, sealable plastic bag. Add fish and sausage to marinade, turning to coat, and refrigerate for one half hour.

Combine clam juice, broth, vinegar and sweet chili sauce in a small saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes.  Set aside. 

Puree cilantro, butter, remaining two tablespoons ginger, remaining two teaspoons garlic, lime juice, zest and remaining 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a food processor.  Reserve two tablespoons for shrimp and set remainder aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Remove fish and sausage from marinade, scraping off excess, and place in a spray-coated baking dish. Bake eight to 10 minutes until just cooked through. 

Meanwhile, to finish sauce, reheat broth mixture over medium heat and gradually whisk in cilantro butter until blended and slightly thickened.  Melt reserved cilantro butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and saute shrimp until opaque, about one and a half minutes per side. To serve, divide watercress onto four warmed plates and top with fish. Drizzle sauce over the fish and top with shrimp.  Garnish with tomatoes