Tis the season to celebrate. And yet, as we all know, finding just the right combination of food and drink to entertain friends and family in the comfort of home can be a bit, shall we say, daunting. To help ease the process, we asked Roe Chlala, co-owner and senior event consultant for the past 35 years for Festivities, an award-winning catering and event-design company in Norwalk, for her take on trends to consider when planning your own holiday festivities. Cheers!
Consider the source.
How many restaurants do you know that sing songs of “farm-to-table freshness”? Newsflash: the same goes at home. “People are much more aware of the importance of making sure that the food they serve is both healthy and well-sourced,” Chlala says. “It’s about keeping food ‘clean,’ ” she explains, and “each element of a meal at its most healthy.” In the end, “people want to stay true to their food.”
Be a good friend.
Your menu should be what Chlala terms “friend friendly.” In other words, make room for what your friends/guests enjoy eating. “No more ‘they’ll eat what I make,’ ” Chlala says. “That’s gone.” We need to “be aware of who eats what” (who is currently gluten-free, vegan or keto-consumed), then “come up with options for everyone,” Chlala says. “Your entertaining should reflect your lifestyle and your guests’ valuable place in it.”
Take it easy.
The inclination toward “comfort,” “simplicity” and keeping it casual for the holidays “echoes where we’re going as a society,” Chlala says. “When my guests walk in the door I want them to immediately sense that ‘this is going to be fun.’ ” In an effort to keep everyone entertained, “I know that every 45 minutes I need to introduce something new,” Chlala says. It could be a funky new drink (keep reading), a fabulous platter of cheeses, some trendy charcuterie … the idea is to keep everyone relaxed and interacting.
Making spirits bright.
Of course, “entertaining is not just about the food,” Chlala says. It’s about creating what she likes to call a “spirited kitchen” — and we’re not talking just standard wine and beer. How about a flight of bourbons for guests to sample, a knock-your-socks-off vodka infused with fresh herbs or an assortment of the best and brightest Connecticut-made craft brews? “Consider this another chance to be creative,” Chlala says.
Let’s keep it green, folks.
“The biggest change right now in consumer behavior and in what we are offering our clients is the move away from single-use plastic,” says Chlala, who calls it, “a reflection of an environmentally conscious lifestyle.” In fact, high-quality, eco-chic and, yes, compostable, dinnerware (whether flatware made from bamboo, plates made from fallen palm leaves or cold beverage cups made from all-natural plant sugars) have become what Chlala deems “the new statement pieces.”
You must remember this.
As much as you prep, plan and perambulate, “your sense of relaxation is what is going to make your guests want to be there,” Chlala sums up. “If you’re stressed, it’s all over.” Put in the time and thought in advance, keep organized (Chlala recommends keeping what she calls a “party closet” stocked with all supplies in one place), and then just go with the flow. You, too, have much to celebrate.
Three small appliances that help deliver stellar holiday celebrations.
A cooker fit for a chef
The Anova Precision Cooker ($199) brings restaurant-style sous vide cooking technology to the home kitchen. No need to be intimidated: “sous vide” (pronounced “sue-veed”) is fancy-schmancy in name only — it simply refers to the process of vacuum-sealing food in a bag and then cooking it to a precise temperature in a water bath. (The device itself attaches to a pot of water and you set the time and temperature.) “Sous vide allows me to cook the main parts of my menu, including proteins like meat, poultry and fish, in advance,” Chlala says. Better yet, “when I go to reheat it, I am not cooking it again and having food that’s cooked twice — a huge ‘no-no’ for me both at home and as a professional in the event industry.” Sous Vide at Home by Lisa Q. Fetterman (Ten Speed Press, 2016) features more than 100 recipes to get you started. anovaculinary.com
The big daddy of air fryers
The Philips Airfryer XXL ($249.95) uses Twin TurboStar technology, i.e. a whole lot of hot air, to “fry” holiday munchies with little or no added oil and up to 90 percent less fat. In fact, this baby’s 3-pound/4-quart capacity can even handle a whole chicken — or perhaps a platter of sizzling Sriracha cauliflower bites to get the party started. “An airfryer is how you explain to your guests and family that they are eating healthy even during the holidays,” Chlala says — just make sure you have the space to store it. As the folks at Philips like to say, “Air is the new oil.” usa.philips.com
A chill wine cooler
With its tempered smoked-glass door, sleek stainless steel and handsome wooden shelving, Ivation’s 18 Bottle Thermoelectric Stainless Steel Wine Cooler ($199.99) is a compact looker said to offer the benefits of a complete cellar in a portable package. “I love the idea of having wines at the right temperature [the 54-to-64-degrees Fahrenheit sweet spot] any time anyone drops by during the holidays or even through the year,” Chlala says. Not only that, “the cooler allows the bottles to lie in just the right position to be at their optimum quality.” ivationproducts.com