Holiday Entertaining Tips from Food Network’s Donatella Arpaia

If you’re anything like us, you’re probably looking for ways to update holiday parties with new traditions. When the time comes to plan a menu, its so easy to getoverwhelmed.
To help ease fears, we caught up with Food Network personality, Iron Chef judge, restaurateur, cookbook author, and entertaining expert, Donatella Arpaia, who gave us some of her simple, yet glamorous tips on how to set the stage for the perfect holiday.
Whats the best way to plan a holiday cocktail party menu?
Choose easy to make dishes like Sautéed Spicy Cracked Olives, Bakes Figs with Prosciutto & Gorgonzola, Mixed Italian Salami with Artisanal Jams, Autumn Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seeds & Stars Anise, Ricotta Cheesecake, and Rice Pudding. 

Any recommendations on how to welcome guests?
Offer guests a mini sparkling wine bottles or a signature cocktails made with bubbly when guests arrives to make the evening feel special and personal. 

What are some ways to better personalize a holiday event?
When sending out invitations—whether electronic or traditional-invite your guests to include a song request along with their RSVP. Compile their music choices and mix them with holiday tunes and perennial crowd pleasers like Being Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald for a playlist that appeals to everyone on your guest list

Its always hard to judge how much food to buy. Any tips?
When shopping for your event, keep these numbers in mind to approximate how much food to buy. Expect each guest to have an average of 3 drinks and 4 to 6 hors d’oeuvres if a meal is served (12 pieces at a cocktail party).

What are tips on cutting prep time?
There is a stigma surrounding the use of premade products. The key is to choose correctly and add your own touch to make it seem freshly made. For example for cocktail sauce go to your local fishmonger ask for their homemade version then grate fresh horseradish on top. Look to organic specialty gourmet stores or online is a great resource then present beautifully and add fresh garnishes of chopped herbs, very good quality olive oil or balsamic vinegar!! No one needs to know.

Any suggestions for creative center pieces?
Instead of the obvious green and red, use a sophisticated combination of red and white with hints of gold or silver. Arrange tall branches of winterberries and pomegranates in tall and short square modern vases. Intersperse mercury glass votive with candles for a beautiful glow.

How can I be the most gracious host?
Persuading guests to mingle is one of the greatest challenges of entertaining. When introducing strangers, make a point of sharing a bit of information about each guest to encourage a connection. At a formal dinner party, separate couples and close friends to generate new friends and a more diverse range of conversation.

Any ideas for a small parting gift for party guests?
I always like to give my guests a parting gift so they remember the evening! Beautifully wrapped gifted cubes filled with a selection of nuts and chocolates, or homemade muffins so my guests can enjoy them for breakfast in the morning. If you don’t have time to bake your treats, I love MARTINI Prosecco, Asti or Rose minis bottles – they are beautiful and can be easily adorned with ribbon to serve as a place card holder or to share a holiday blessing or wish! They are also perfect for gift bags or takeaways for your party as well!


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