Party on, without the stress

Hosts can keep things simple and celebrate the season with merriment, not frazzled nerves

Jackie Burrell / Contra Costa (Calif.) Times /

Published Dec 25, 2012 at 04:00AM

This is party season — but that needn't mean slaving until the wee hours when it's your turn to play host. At least not when you have party-throwing tips from Ina Garten and Diane Worthington in your back pocket.

Sure, you've heard most of this advice before, the part about planning, preparation and not panicking. What you don't often hear is equally important: The real trick to throwing a memorable bash lies in restraint. Don't serve six courses at a dinner party, and there's no need to turn your cocktail spread into a bacchanalian extravaganza.

People try to do too much, says Garten, whose new book, “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof” (Clarkson Potter, $35), hit shelves this fall. Too many hosts have visions of handcrafted canapés — millions of them — or elaborate multicourse dinner parties floating around in their heads.

But it's better — for both the harried host and the anxious guest watching the frazzlement unfold — to make just a few really good, foolproof dishes, and to fill out the rest of the menu with interesting cheeses, clusters of grapes and fresh figs. Do as much ahead of time as possible and think about local resources: Is there a deli or artisanal food vendor who makes that dip or appetizer better than you do?

“Then fill in with what you're comfortable making,” Garten says.

Buying hummus and tzatziki from your favorite restaurant, and decanting the dips into pretty bowls to serve alongside the crudite, will help stave off “party anxiety,” says Worthington, whose latest book is all about “Seriously Simple Parties” (Chronicle Books, $24.95).

Worthington makes mini corn-crab cakes ahead of time, grills skewered chicken to serve with a mango-curry dipping sauce, and sets out platters of fruit and interesting cheeses. Then she adds a crowd-pleaser: an interactive crostini bar whose appeal belies its simplicity.

“You make the crostini — which is toast — then put out spreads and dips in little bowls. People love it,” she says. “You can do different pestos, edamame pesto, a white bean dip, smoked salmon with creme fraiche.”

Pate and salumi are wonderful and easy, but don't assume all your guests will dive into meat-based dishes. “There are vegetarians, pescatarians,” Garten cautions. “There's every known variation.”

comments powered by Disqus