Arcadia at Stonegate Models, 8/1/13.

THE ENTERTAINER

Fa la la ? Try Ooh La La. A Few Menu Planning Tips to be the Host with the Most this Holiday Season.

‘Fess up: Since the minute you saw the gleaming, state-of-the-art kitchens in the TRI Pointe Homes models, you’ve been dreaming about hosting family and friends during the holidays, right? And yet, as the date draws closer, the trepidation is setting in. If that sounds like you, relax! It’s natural. And you are NOT alone (cocktail trivia: between job interviews and hosting dinner parties, most people find the dinner party more stressful). So how to overcome the pressure cooker? Allow us to share a few tips to become The Entertainer.

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#1: Use a Pressure Cooker

See what we did there? All joking aside, this making-a-comeback piece of kitchen equipment could be the smartest investment you ever make—besides your TRI Pointe Homes kitchen, that is. Why? Because the pressure cooker—beloved by French grandmothers and celebrity chefs alike—allows you to turn out a been-cooking-all-day dish in a fraction of the time. And everyone knows that the key to a standout holiday meal is to serve something that tastes like you’ve been slaving over the stove since the wee hours of the morning. Think Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin. Now think about getting them on the table in well under an hour—including all your prep time. You’re welcome.

Buttermilk Biscuits

#2: Bake Something, and by Something We Mean Bread

Use the time you’re not spending slaving over a slow-cooked showstopper main course to bake a loaf of bread. Why? This is a mind-blower, but according to the Journal of Social Psychology (and a study originally conducted in—wait for it—France), the smell of fresh baked bread makes people act more kindly toward strangers. Incredible, right? And we know—you’re probably not opening your doors to total strangers over the holidays (or you are, and then you are a wonderful human being). Regardless, this is the season of good will, and spreading altruism and merry mojo one loaf of bread at a time just seems like a very good idea. Also, popping a par-baked baguette into the oven (they’re available at most major grocery stores) totally counts. And you’re going to want bread anyway to mop up all the sauce from your pressure-cooker dish.

Dinner party

#3: Flip the Script

Are you picking up all the French cues from this holiday meal? Then allow us to drop yet another: Serve the salad after the main course. This is how the French do it. And there’s a brilliant logic to it because if you think about it, that’s exactly when you most want something clean and fresh to eat. Plus, serving the salad after the main course allows you to skip the veggie side dishes. Which means you “focus” all your “energy” on the (sneaky, time-saving) main dish, and still get kudos for serving everyone their greens. Voila!

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#4: Say Cheese

With the salad, serve a cheese plate. It says, “I am a worldly sophisticate and totally know everything about food.” Also, you don’t have to cook the cheese. Instead, pick up a few different varieties, keeping the following saying in mind: “Something cow, something ewe, something goat and something blue.” Serve your cheeses at room temperature on a platter garnished with a few dollops of jam (cherry or apricot is always a good choice) and a scattering of almonds or toasted walnuts. Everyone raves.

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#5: The Ultimate Answer to the “What Can I Bring?” Question

You know everyone wants to contribute to the holiday meal. You also know how hard it is to incorporate someone’s random, but well-intentioned, casserole or side dish into your artful menu. So when someone asks (and they will), what can they bring, here’s your answer: dessert. There are no wrong choices here! Every kind of dessert works, because dessert is delicious. Chocolate. A fruit tart. Ice cream. Cookies. Anything any of your guests could think of to bring would be welcome, which means they get to feel like a hero, and you get to keep your menu just the way you want it. And everyone is happy!

And that, after all, is the true spirit of the season. Enjoy! And bon appétit.

amyfinley

Amy Finley, Cook & Writer

Amy grew up in San Diego, California, and worked as a science and technology writer before moving to Paris, France. She trained as a chef and worked at cult-favorite Rose Bakery on Rue de Martyrs before returning to the U.S., where she became the Season 3 winner of Food Network Star and the host of The Gourmet Next Door. She returned to Burgundy, France, in 2008 to write How to Eat a Small Country, a memoir about family and French regional cuisine. She entertains as much as possible during the holidays and never skips the cheese plate.

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