Holiday Hosting Tips From Royal Chef Darren McGrady

royal chef darren mcgradyPlease welcome Royal Chef Darren McGrady. He shares his kitchen tips and tricks with us in this special guest post series. Darren was personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales and Princes’ William and Harry for fifteen years and has cooked for five U.S. Presidents. He is now a sought-after chef, author, owner of Eating Royally fine dining catering service and culinary consultant living in Dallas, Texas.

holiday table decor

The holidays are approaching, and, for most of us, that means some sort of entertaining. Many people look forward to holiday time and having friends over, usually until the day arrives. Then it’s often a morning of rushing around stores because we don’t have enough glasses, china or flatware for the number of guests we have invited. The afternoon stress rises once we finally get into the kitchen, checking we have all of the ingredients we need for the new recipes we have found to impress our guests.

Alas! You don’t have to be a caterer to make your holiday party run smooth this year. You just need a few tips! Good thing I’m here...

First, decide what kind of party you want to host. Will your friends enjoy a seated dinner or be more relaxed at an informal get together?

● If a dinner party:

  • As soon as the invitations have gone out, count your china, glassware and flatware to make sure you have enough. 
  • Next, plan a menu. Choose a cold first course that you can make ahead that just needs a few herbs sprinkling over it or a spoonful of dressing while your guests are getting seated. For the entrée, my rule of thumb is that if you need to keep looking at the recipe then you shouldn’t be using it for a dinner party. Pick a dish that you have made many times and are comfortable with. Choosing a dessert that you can make before your guests arrive (or even the day before) takes the pressure off you rushing your entrée because you have to “get started” on dessert.

● If a larger group of friends:

  • A hors d’oeuvres menu would be better. Prepare a cheese, crackers and nuts tray and a charcuterie platter where you know the heavy traffic will be. Guests can now nibble away on those while you prepare your other dishes. 
  • Start off with cold appetizers and serve the hot ones once the party has really started. Decide against putting all the food out at once, it’s much more fun seeing different dishes appear throughout the evening. 
  • Save the dishes with expensive ingredients until last. Let everyone fill up on artichoke and spinach dip first and then you won’t need so many crab cakes or beef tenderloin sliders. 
  • Always prepare a sweet treat too like little one-bite cookies, shortbreads, cheesecake fingers etc.

Second, be prepared too for days when friends just drop by over the holidays. I stock my pantry with goodies like:

  • finger foodsWalkers Shortbread Mini Oat Crackers, peach jam and jalapeno peppers. 
  • I always have cream cheese in the refrigerator too. Within ten minutes of my impromptu guests getting drinks, I pass them a delicious appetizer and can now enjoy time with them rather than busying in the kitchen and missing the fun.

Don’t spend so long in the kitchen creating a dish to impress that you hardly get to enjoy your company. It shouldn’t just be about the food, the best parties are when everyone is relaxed and having fun… and not stressing over things like “I hope my chocolate soufflés are rising” as you wolf down your entrée. Plan ahead and choose dishes that you are comfortable making when entertaining and all will go well.

Happy Holidays!