Entertaining at home is something cookbook author Katie Lee relishes. She does it often and does it well, combining comfort with a bit of elegance, and easy menus with appetizing presentations.
While she's adept at serving up impromptu gatherings and informal buffets, Katie's sit-down dinners with dressed-up, candlelit tables are also a hit with her guests.
"It's nice to have fancy parties during the holidays," she says, "but it's also nice to have casual get-togethers, so people don't feel like they have to dress up."
At this time of year, guests might gather around the island to help themselves to hot cider while nibbling on various goodies as Katie pulls them out of the oven.
"The island is my No. 1 favorite feature in the kitchen," Katie says. "The more beat up the butcher block countertop gets, the more I like it." The island is also equipped with a sink and garbage disposal so she can chop, rinse and dispose of food scraps all in one place.
Since the bright, white kitchen opens into the dining area, guests can enjoy a cocktail at the island, then move to the dining area for a buffet or sit-down meal.
Katie's kitchen is loaded with other amenities that make entertaining a cinch. In addition to the butcher block workspace, there's a marble countertop for working with pastry dough, a handy warming drawer and a convenient pot filler that hangs over the range. Her stainless-steel stove features six burners and two ovens. "I use the bigger oven for main dishes like turkey and the smaller one to reheat leftovers or bake bread."
As you might expect, Katie keeps her pantry well stocked, so she's ready to entertain at a moment's notice. "My house practically has a revolving door," she writes in The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions. "There are always friends knocking, and they are usually hungry."
Just in time for the holidays, Katie Lee shares some of her party secrets.
- Check your pantry. About a month before your party season begins, make sure you have all the essential herbs and spices on hand as well as flour, sugar and other baking staples. You'll save time by avoiding multiple trips to the store.
- The freezer is a hostess's best friend. You can make many things ahead of time and freeze until you need them. Freeze appetizers on baking sheets, then transfer them to freezer containers with parchment paper between layers.
- You don't have to make everything from scratch. It takes only a few minutes to pull together a festive party tray with the help of your local deli. Fill a tray with salami, prosciutto and Parmesan cheese; or cheese, crackers and grapes.
- Make some easy crostini. You can prepare a variety of crostini by toasting thin baguette slices and topping with gorgonzola cheese and jam; ricotta cheese with olive oil and sea salt; or goat cheese with roasted red peppers.
- Keep washed and cut-up veggies on hand. Serve them with hummus or homemade pimiento cheese spread. They're great for unexpected guests.
- Get out serving utensils and trays ahead of time. Put notes on them to remind you which foods they will hold. If it's a sit-down dinner, set the table a day ahead.
- You don't need huge floral arrangements. Let the kids decorate pinecones with gold or silver glitter pens and arrange them in a pretty bowl as a centerpiece. Or fill a bowl with red pears, and afterwards, make a pear pie with them. Use cut evergreens or holly around serving dishes, with an occasional orange for color.
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