Jill Donenfeld and Tiana Tenet know a thing or two about hosting – they've built an entire business on it. As co-founders of The Culinistas – a Manhattan-based in-home personal chef company – the two have mastered the art of menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking and clean up, with the help of their team of private chefs throughout NYC, L.A., the Hamptons and Aspen. With plenty of first hand experience under their aprons, we turned to the culinary experts for their take on holiday hosting – with or without private chefs. Here are their tips for a successful soirée – including what prep can be done ahead, when to ask for help and their go-to recipes for a decadent and healthy holiday meal. Cheers!
Set a Dress Code
For your table. There is no friendsgiving, dinner party or holiday meal without the meal itself. Pull out your favorite linen runner and create a tablescape worthy of your menu. We're fans of keeping place settings and serving dishes neutral so you have room to play with florals and centerpieces that compliment your dishes. Low – and seasonal – elements like pomegranates, apples and bud vases of eucalyptus provide pops of color while while still making room for plates of food, bottles of wine, candles and conversation.
Once your guests arrive, keep the momentum of the evening moving – literally – by encouraging guests to move around with each part of the evening. Serve hors d'oeuvres in the kitchen while you finish making dinner, before moving to the table for dinner, followed by dessert and coffee in the living room for much needed post-meal lounge.
Infuse Holiday Spirit
Channel the festive mood by making EVOO infusions with all your extra fall herbs – a culinary move guaranteed to impress. Rosemary oil is easily incorporated into our couscous & apples dish, as is marjoram oil in our delicata kale salad by simmering each herb in olive oil before straining and serving [Ed note: Recipes below]. Don't want to stop there? Try making pre-batched cocktails with an herbed simple syrup – freeing up time as you host to enjoy your company.
Bring on the Nostalgia
No one likes to show up empty handed. When guests inevitably reach out to ask what they can bring, consider going old school and request a casserole. Seriously! This retro staple is a no-brainer addition to any menu. Not only can they be made in advance, they're easy to transport, don't need to be assembled at the host's home, can be reheated without drying out and they're always a crowd pleaser!
Break up the traditional spread of a holiday meal – like turkey, gravy and sweet potato mash – with fun, unconventional dishes that are both delicious and also best served at room temperature. This means you can enjoy hosting without having to spend so much time pacing in front of the oven. Here are two easy to prepare, private-chef curated, seasonal salads, your guests are sure to enjoy.
Couscous + Apples
2 pink lady apples, cored, chopped
¼ cup + 3 TB olive oil, divided
½ tsp sumac
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp onion powder
½ cup pearled couscous
¼ cup rosemary leaves
5 small sunchokes, scrubbed clean
2 TB apple cider vinegar
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted, plus more for garnish
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven 375ºF.
2.On a parchment lined baking sheet, toss apples with 3 TB oil, sumac, cayenne and onion powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then roast until soft, 20 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
3. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook couscous until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water.
4. In a small saucepan, heat remaining ¼ cup oil over medium heat. Gently add all of the rosemary. When the oil is no longer bubbling, strain the oil and reserve. Transfer the fried rosemary onto a paper towel lined plate and salt lightly.
5. Thinly slice sunchokes then toss in a mixing bowl with vinegar to prevent oxidizing.
6. In a large mixing bowl, combine apples, couscous, sunchoke mixture and almonds. Season with 2 to 3 tablespoons of rosemary oil and salt and pepper to taste.
7. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with fried rosemary, almonds and black pepper.
Delicata Kale Salad
½ cup olive oil
6 sprigs marjoram
1 small delicata squash, seeds removed, sliced
½ cup maple syrup, divided
½ tsp cumin, coarsely ground
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp cayenne
1 TB lemon zest
3 TB lemon juice
1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed, finely chopped
¾ cup hazelnuts, roasted, roughly chopped, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Make the marjoram oil: In a small saucepan, heat marjoram in oil until the marjoram is fried. Transfer the marjoram to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Reserve the oil.
Roast the delicata squash: On a parchment-lined sheet pan, mix the squash with ¼ cup marjoram oil, ¼ cup maple syrup, cumin, onion powder and cayenne, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside.
Make the maple vinaigrette: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining maple syrup, lemon zest and juice. While whisking, stream in the remaining marjoram oil. Season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the kale, ½ cup hazelnuts and roasted squash. Season the salad with the maple vinaigrette to taste. Transfer the salad onto a large platter and garnish with remaining hazelnuts and fried marjoram.
For more menu inspiration – and private preparation – visit The Culinistas.