As with all holidays throughout the year, It always amazes me when I hear people say: I am not ready! I can’t believe Thanksgiving is over! Wow, how time passes! I haven’t even decided on the menu! I haven’t bought the presents! And I think, really? Haven’t you had an entire year to think about this? It should not come as a surprise that Christmas is on December 25th. And that Valentine’s is on February 14th. Every. Single. Year. No matter what.
However organized one is, there is always a moment of panic just before the holidays. Any holiday. When I lived in Palm Beach, my friends and I would decide in September who was doing what. I loved Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Another friend took over Thanksgiving (by that time, I had already cooked and photographed a roast turkey, oh, maybe four times!) and someone else hosted Christmas Lunch.
Another friend had us over for a grown-up Halloween…and another had the most wonderful and romantic Valentine’s… We all took turns as needs changed.
I am always happy to host and feel for friends that, for whatever reason, are by themselves during any of these holidays. In recent years, as my group has shrunk, I am thrilled when I am invited to someone’s family gathering.
I have done so many of these that I have learned what to do when so that when the day comes, I am able to have a great time with my guests. Doing a bit every day so that, in the end, it is really just fluffing up and putting out.
Because these parties are more often than not for a large group of people of all ages, some consideration must be taken in both menu and seating. It is sort of like a fine-tuned ballet where you are the maestro.
Grandad and little Sebastian not only look alike, but they are also, at this point, on the same culinary trajectory; mushy food, not a lot of flavors, easy to swallow. Auntie Blanche has a problem with gluten, and her unpopular daughter, Julie-Marie, is now vegan; a hard-core vegan who leaves the room when the roast comes to the table… They deserved to be seated at their own table.
And cousin Edward, who tells very dirty jokes, needs to be somewhat controlled and let’s not even discuss the infamous Charley and his opinions… well actually, maybe those two just need to sit …. outside.
To cater to all these idiosicrencies, one must plan well and well in advance.
Create a menu where the majority of dishes can be made in advance and heated before serving. Food will taste even better. Leaving one or two things to make just before serving allows for a relaxing and enjoyable time with your family and friends. By the same token, having to just do one simple thing before serving gives you the excuse to hide in the kitchen…
Keep the menu simple and plentiful. Serving a really good meatloaf with a few side dishes is much better than a meager piece of tenderloin. Remember, you, as the host, are welcoming family and friends to your house to celebrate together. Yes, food is important, but not at the expense of cordial ambiance and a relaxed experience.
Tidy up the house and do the flowers up to two days before. The flowers have time to open and sort of settle. If you can, lay the table and do the place setting. This takes time and a bit of thought.
On the day, give your other half and the children a specific job to do. Like looking after grandma, or making sure the ice bucket is always full or opening the door! Everyone is looking to you for guidance. Don’t be shy in delegating.
And finally, pick out your outfit and make time to get ready…. leisurely. I have learned to organize the count-down schedule, so I have time to do so. It is important.
Family feasts, holidays, and gatherings are our way as humans to create bonds and friendships. Don’t waste the opportunity to make amends, perhaps, or to reconnect with long-lost relatives and to embrace family and, therefore, friends and bring them into your life.
I leave you with one of the most fantastic ways to serve Brussel Sprouts. Inspired by a dish from Delaney Oyster House in Charleston created by Chef Shamil Velazquez. You can make nearly every aspect of it ahead of time and just crisp up the Brussels sprouts last minute.
The Serial Hostess
Crispy Brussel Sprouts with Pomegranate
Serves 4 as a side dish
A wonderful combination of crispy, soft, and crunchy, this recipe has it all. You can save a ton of time finding already-made pomegranate molasses (readily available), but simmering pomegranate juice will imbue your house with a wonderful aroma… either way, it has to be mixed with agave or any other sweetener that you like.
Frying the Brussels sprouts keeps them crispy and slightly undercooked, as the 40 seconds in the hot oil just caramelizes the outer leaves. That is the beauty of this method. Of course, roasting them will create a softer, mushier sprout….
Double or triple the recipe as needed.
2 cups pomegranate juice (to make 1/2 cup of molasses)
1/2 cup agave
1/4 cup hazelnuts, pinenuts, and pecans
1 cup plain yogurt (or Greek)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
The zest of 1 lemon and its juice
2 garlic cloves, diced
3 sprigs of mint, stems removed, leaves chopped
3 sprigs of dill, chopped
Avocado Oil for frying
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
To make the pomegranate molasses: Place the pomegranate juice over medium-low heat and simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup. This will take about 1 hour or until the molasses coats the back of a spoon but is still a bright red color. Keep your eye on it, especially towards the end, as it could go from delicious to burned in seconds. Then mix with the agave and taste to adjust. It should be sweet and sour. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Alternatively, mix store-bought pomegranate molasses with equal parts of agave and place in a large bowl. Set aside.
To toast the nuts: In a dry saute pan over medium heat, gently toast the nuts until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
To make the yogurt sauce, stir together the yogurt, cumin, garlic, lemon zest, mint, and dill. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
To make the Brussels sprouts: In a frying pan, add enough avocado oil to cover the bottom of the pan for about 1/2 inch. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, fry the Brussels sprouts on the cut side for about 40 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; season with salt and pepper and immediately toss them with the pomegranate molasses.
A note of caution, the Brussels sprouts will pop and splatter oil everywhere, so use a frying screen if you have one, or fry them in a high-sided stock pot or saucepan.
To serve: spread the yogurt sauce on the bottom of the serving dish, spoon the coated Brussels sprouts on top, and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and the nuts. Serve immediately.
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