Tastemaker Tips for Flawless Holiday Entertaining

No need to stress your holiday dinner party with these easy and expert tips from industry pros.

With the holidays upon us, it seems the stress of party planning is on everyone's mind. No need to freak out as we have plucked the industry's top professionals to make sure you are the hostess with the mostess. Read on for all the inside secrets to make sure your guests will eat, drink, and be more than merry. Cheers!
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Zac Posen - Fashion Designer

You may know Zac Posen as Project Runway's newest judge or perhaps you covet his luxurious silk toile gowns, but what may surprise you is that Posen is just as brilliant in the kitchen as he is in his design studio.

"It's all about preparation and decoration," says Posen.

Tip #1: For hors d'oeuvres I always like an variety of fresh, savory, and colorful options for both meat-eaters and vegetarians. And, crudités is always necessary, so make sure you have an assortment of beautifully cut vegetables you can arrange as a bouquet. For dipping sauces I like to blend white miso, puréed cashew, a dash a spicy yuzu sauce sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and grated ginger.

Tip #2: Champagne cocktails are fun, refreshing, and a great way to get the party started. For those who don't like bubbles, spiced wines are a nice alternative--warm up a port and serve it in an old inherited punch bowl.

Tip #3: Serve finger food. There are so many amazing variations with puff pastry and phyllo dough, like mini puff squares with sundried tomatoes or prosciutto rolls. The combinations are endless!

Tip #4: I'm a salad person and in the winter I like to incorporate all the winter root vegetables for a great combination. Grated beets for color, turnips, and hicima go really well with chopped kale and baby lettuces. I like to mix in baby bib lettuce and for a refreshing surprise, pomegranates!

Tip #5: For the non-meat eaters quiches are so easy. And for time efficiency you can totally opt for a pre-made pie crust, just add vegetables and a few different cheeses. It's a whisk, bake, and serve dish.

Tip #6: But we all know the holidays are all about dessert. Need something easy? Buy puff pastry dough, add apples, honey, nuts, brown sugar, and dried fruit. Roll and bake!

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Colin Cowie - Lifestyle Guru and Party Planner to the Stars

As the party planner for celebrities like Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey; Author of Colin Cowie Chic, among 8 other books, as well a regular guest on NBC's The Today Show, you can bet that Cowie will give you nothing short of the most perfect celebration:

"A savy hostess is well organized and resourceful," says Cowie.

Tip #1: Set your table the night before and have all your serving dishes and serving pieces set out, with little stickies as to what will be served in each dish or bowl.

Tip #2: Prepare a casserole or a dish that can be made ahead of time so you are not stuck in the kitchen cooking while the festivities are going on in the other room. This will allow you enjoy time with family and friends, and not be a slave to the stove.

Tip #3: Or, take your favorite casserole dish to your local restaurant and have them fill it with the specialty of the house.

Cowie's final tip? "When your guests show up at your door greet them calmly and well prepared with a cocktail in your hand and a warm greeting. And enjoy your holiday time together!"

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Kelly Wearstler - Interior and Fashion Designer

Named once by the New Yorker as "the presiding grande dame of West Coast interior design" and having served as a judge on Bravo's T, Kelly Wearstler definitely knows a thing or two when it comes to sprucing up your house for the holidays:

"Black and white is always chic, elevated, and classic cool for holiday parties," says Wearstler.

Tip #1: I love to pepper in rich metallics and luxe stone accents, such as my Hand Mobel Wine Stopper in solid bronze ($195) or Little Kisssculptures ($395) to make the setting feel spirited and soulful.

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Chef Roblé - Celebrity Chef

Ruling New York with his Bravo TV Show Chef Roblé and Co. as well as serving up dishes for notable individuals like President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, Chef Roblé always puts his innovative twist on our favorite holiday dishes.

"I have always been a fan of mac and cheese, especially as a caterer because it's a fun meal that both adults and kids love, says Roblé.

Tip #1: A smoked duck mac and cheese recipe is my special take on the classic dish, which is always sure to be a favorite around the holidays. I guarantee it."

Chef Roblé's Smoked Duck Mac and Cheese (serves 12)

Ingredients:
1 lb – Ditalini pasta
3 Tbsp – Sea or kosher salt
8 oz – Smoked duck breast, skin removed (and reserved), cut into small dice
Reserved duck skin, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 ea – Garlic clove, sliced in half
1 ea – Thyme sprig
1 tsp – Olive oil
2 Tbsp – Italian parsley, chopped

Ingredients for cheese sauce:
1 ea – 12 oz can of whole evaporated milk
½ C – Whole milk
¾ C – Goat’s cheese
2 C – Sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
2 C - Smoked Gouda cheese, grated
2 C – Gruyere cheese, grated
1 ½ C – Parmigano Reggiano cheese, grated
1 tsp – Hot sauce
½ tsp – Worcestershire sauce

Method:
Add the duck skin, garlic clove, thyme and olive oil to a small pan over low heat. Allow the fat to render out of the skin until it is crispy, about 20-25 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so. As the skin cooks, fill a large pot with water, cover and bring to a boil on high heat. While the water heats, add the evaporated milk and whole milk to a medium sized heavy bottom pot and set on medium heat. When the milk is warmed, add the goat’s cheese and mix continuously with a whisk or emersion blender. Once the goat’s cheese melts, add in all the other cheeses one cup at a time, making sure each round of cheese melts completely before adding the next until all the cheese has been incorporated. Add the hot sauce and Worcestershire. Turn the heat down to it’s lowest setting to keep warm without burning. Remove the crispy duck skin from the pan with a slotted spoon and cool on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Add salt to the boiling water then add in the pasta. Stir the pasta and allow to boil, slightly covered until the pasta is just cooked through, about 8-9 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander and add back into the pot. Stir in the diced duck meat and 4 cup of the warm cheese sauce to incorporate. Serve immediately in small bowls, garnishing with the crispy duck skin and chopped parsley.

*Note: There will be about two cups of sauce left. Some people want even more cheese in their mac n’ cheese. Feel free to add remaining cheese sauce if desired or store refrigerated in a sealed container for up to two weeks. The portions are smaller due to the richness of the dish.

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David Tutera - Leading Wedding & Entertaining Expert

David Tutera has captured the heart of America hosting WE's My Fair Wedding and is widely known as a celebrity wedding planner, bridal fashion designer, and author, but when it comes to holiday decor Tutera may surprise you with nature's best.

"You don't want your home to feel like a cheesy Christmas mall installation, you want it to be unique and full of your own personal style! Your holiday decor will work best if it works with your regular home asthetic so find ways to tie them together," says Tutera.

Tip #1: Add natural elements from your backyard to an already "shabby chic" tablescape. This is one of my favorite ways to decorate for the holidays as it's both rustic and elegant!Fallen branches, evergreen boughs, strips of bark, pinecones, birch tree rings, or holy sprigs mixed with an abundance of candles and it creates the perfect cozy holiday atmosphere.

Tip #2: For a slightly less natural touch, spray paint branches white or coat in sparkly metallic gold and silver glitter for a clean, monotone look.

Tip #3: When planning your party, think about how you can speak to each of the senses. Mix different but complimentary fabrics, such as warm wool, fluffy shearling, and coarse burlap, throughout your centerpiece, linens, place settings, and even the throw pillows on your couch to play with texture.

Tip #4: Create homemade potpourri, by leaving apple cider gently simmering on the stove with cloves, cinnamon, orange rind, and nutmeg--it will give your home a wonderful seasonal scent.

Tip #5: A great holiday soundtrack is key; create a custom one that combines classic holiday tunes, quirky covers of old favorites, and top 40 hits that everyone knows.

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Jacqueline M. Wood - Actress and TV Host

Having landed the host position of E!'s anticipated travel series, "Party On," premiering December 5th, 2013, Jacqueline M. Wood knows just the way to stay in shape while indulging in our favorite seasonal cocktails.

"I know how important it is to keep that summer body through the winter season, without sacrificing holidays treats," says Woods, "So I stick to my "go-to" holiday drink recipe (below), that is big on taste, small on the waist!

Classic Eggnog

Original Recipe: 651 calories

1 egg
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz 1/2 & 1/2
1 oz Kahalua Liquor
Top off with whipped cream


Jacqueline’s "Skinny" Recipe: 242 calories

1 egg
1 tbst stevia
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz nonfat milk
1 oz Kahalua Liquor

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Rachel Roy - Fashion Designer

Having received a plethora of awards for her eponymous fashion line as well as dressing regular clients such as Michelle Obama, Kate Hudson, and Sharon Stone, Rachel Roy not only holds the key to dressing well but also shares her secret for the perfect holiday ambiance.

"Designing the sound of a dinner party is as important as designing the menu or the guest list," say Roy.

Tip #1: I work with Coleman Feltes, who creates and styles sounds that are instant mood setters. I love the idea of making people feel comfortable from the second they step in the door. For the holidays I think staying recognizable and classic is good but of course with a twist. For cocktails, 'Be Thankful For What You Got' (FKJ Remix) William De Vaughn. For dinner I like to slow it down a bit with sexy and smooth sounds like Joe Claussell's remix of Nina Simone's 'Feelin Good'. Good music for me makes all the difference!

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Nate Berkus - Interior Designer and Author

Nate Berkus is one of the most sought after interior designers. Having authored his latest book The Things That Matter, while juggling TV show appearances, Berkus shares his tips to make sure a party goes off without a hitch.

Tip #1: My big secret for throwing a successful holiday gathering is to know what you're good at and go with it. I can't cook. So, that gets outsourced immediately. But, setting the table and the ambiance, I own that. Maybe yours is that one AMAZING dish your known for...make that, even if it's not fancy. Good trumps pretense every time. Play to your strengths. It eliminates the stress.

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Chef John DeLucie - Celebrity Chef of New York's "The Lion" and "Crown"

Perhaps you recognize Chef DeLucie from his cameo on Gossip Girl or maybe you had the chance to dine in one of his many New York City hotspots, but when it comes to serving all American favorites, Chef DeLucie hits the mushroom on the cap.

"A fool proof party is all in the preparation," says DeLucie, "Plan something simple. Make it in stages so you are not spending the entire day cooking."

Tip #1: Bruschetta with wild mushrooms and stratchaitella is always a crowd pleaser. And, you can make the croutons and roast the mushrooms a day ahead.

Bruschetta

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps quartered

1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

Salt and freshly ground pepper

16 slices of peasant bread (from a long loaf), about 1/3 inch thick

1 pound Stracciatella cheese

In a large bowl, toss the mushrooms with the garlic, rosemary and the 1/2 cup of olive oil and let stand for 1 hour.

Light a grill. Spread the mushrooms on a lightly oiled perforated grill tray and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8 minutes. Brush the bread with oil and grill, turning once, until toasted, 1 minute.

Spread the cheese on the bread in a thin layer

Top the toasts with the mushrooms.

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Robert Verdi - American TV Personality and Style Expert

The New York Times noted Robert Verdi as a "Jack of all Trades" thanks to his many roles as fashion expert, sunglass designer and stylist to the stars as well as their homes (Eva Longoria marks as a favorite). Verdi gives us his creative take on making sure your presents look one-of-a-kind.

Tip #1: Plain brown lunch bags with holiday stickers are a quick solution to wrapping stocking stuffers.

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