Stress Free Holiday Party Ideas From Chef Pia

By: Pia Van Coutren
By: Pia Van Coutren

Chef Pia Van Coutren offers up some great ideas for a Mediterranean Stress- Free Holiday Party.

The days of of formal, stuffy dinner parties that required weeks of planning and days of cooking are gone. Today, entertaining is fun - for both the guests and the hosts.

It's casual, it's spontaneous, it's relaxed and it's easy.

The warmth of your friends is what counts.,Yet no party happens
without some kind of strategy. Another contribution to the culinary
term is the idea of mise en place(MEEZ-ahn-plahs), or "everythng in its place". It's critical to all preparations, because it forces you to get organized BEFORE cooking and setting up your party.

Tablesettings, too, can vary with your own personal approach, with
the occasion, with the time of day. Don't feel bound by any rules of tradition(although it's nice), instead, experiment with what you have, mixing the casual with the elegant, creating an eclectic style.

Use your imagination and mix place settings, colorful fabrics to
accent your tablecloth, napkins with lots of color and don't forget
the candles. Scatter them around the table and add fresh flowers
floating in water. Add holly with berries and my favorite magnolia
blooms.

Setting separate tables in other areas of your house with your favorite foods can also have an elegant yet warm approach. Have bowls of assorted nuts, fresh fruits, small chocolate desserts. White chocolate pretzels, chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered strawberries.

This party is casual Mediterranean Holiday Party!!!!

Play your favorite music while preparing for your special occasion!!

3 days ahead, pick up some items from the grocery store, such as
a jar of marinated artichokes that you can use in a dip or a pasta dish. A jar of olive tapenade that can be spread on bruschetta, the day of the party. Arrange in a platter with a bowl of chopped tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and fresh chiffonade basil.

Pick up a couple of bunches of asparagus, snap it where it breaks, rinse it off and wrap it in paper towel and place it in a ziplock bag until the day before the party.

The day before, you can blanch it and ice it. When cool, use thinly sliced proscuito spread with boursin cheese and wrap the asparagus. Place it on a platter, cover and refrigerate..

Garnish the day of the party...grating Parmesan cheese on it. Pick up fresh parsley, immerse it in cold water upside down, removing the string, shake it well and place it in a cup of water in the refrigerator....you will need it to garnish your plates.

Pick up assorted cheeses imported and domestic, fresh grapes,
assorted crackers and blackberry and orange jam.

The day before the party, arrange your cheeses on a platter, surround with the fresh grapes, wrap and refrigerate. Add the crackers the day of the party and place a couple of bowls of jams.

One of my other favorite Holiday foods for entertaining is The Pates...Most of the groceries carry assorted pates...I would prepare them ahead of time in small plates, round, oval, garnishing them with cornichons, halved lengthwise, crisp toasts..or melba rounds, thin radish or green onion slices. Have them available and replenish them as needed. Champagne goes very well with this!!!!

Also, no matter what you prepare, make sure that you have some wonderful breads, infused olive oils, real butter, fresh herbs and spices...good coffee, cinnamon, family and friends to enjoy it all!!

Also 3 days prior, pick up smoked salmon .The day before, you can pickup hard boiled eggs at the grocery store, or prepare them yourself. Chop them and keep them cool. Have capers on hand, finely chop red onion, refrigerate, chop an English cucumber and place in a small strainer, lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth, and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble all.

Arrange salmon in small rosettes and surround with all toppings
serve with melba rounds.

One of my other favorites and easy appetizer is a block (8Oz)
Philadelphia cream cheese, place on a platter the day before the party..make an identention . Add a 1pound lump crab meat on top...drizzle with your favorite cocktail sauce, serve with your favorite crackers. You may have to prepare two or three plates of this, keep refrigerated and replace as needed.

The day before the party, pick up feta cheese, kalamata olives, vegetarian grape leaves, hummus dip, tzatziki sauce, pita, baba ghanouz, taramosalata, from Pia's Restaurant...One less item you have to worry about. How about Greek meatballs, spanakopites, tyropites, kefta with tahini sauce? Shrimp wrapped in bacon can also be prepared in advance and baked the day of the party. Arrange on a platter with Pia's plum and orange sauce.

Here are some more delicious ideas:
Pia's Mediterranean Seafood Salad (to include mussels, scallops,
shrimp, calamari, octopus)

Spinach herb balls and zucchini fritters with a garlic aioli sauce

Cold Roasted leg of lamb that Pia's can prepare for you, sliced and served with rolls, English Mustard, and Black Currant Blueberry jam

Grilled Lobsters with Fennel and Aegean Lemon Sauce can be prepared 1 day in advance...as in cold appetizer, or grilled the day of.....by a personal chef(Pia's)

Tomato, cucumber, red onion and green olive salad

Orzo pasta with Rosemary and feta...can be prepared a day prior and heated the next day.

Assorted fresh fruit with chocolate fondue...All fruits can be cut the day before and assembled on a platter, refrigerate..Chocolate can be heated the day of the party.

Assorted desserts(cannoli, baklava, biscotti, tarts)

Arrange your wine table with red and white wines, have ice on hand to place your white wines...glasses and napkins...wine tool...

For mixed drinks, have sliced oranges, limes, lemons, stirrers. all wine glasses do not have to match...

For your coffee table...Prepare 2 days in advance, by placing it in a
room by itself, where you will have the desserts. Arrange all your
coffee cups, saucers, sugar, creamers, tea/coffee spoons, napkins.
Have a coffee pot for self service.

Contact Pia's of Washington or Pia's of New Bern for all your catering needs, no matter how small or large, no matter how casual or elaborate your party will be.

Remember that whatever you do must be done with love!!!!
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