No-stress holiday entertaining

No need for a sit-down dinner — these delicious recipes and step-by-step planning tips will Ensure fun for all. Even the host.

Published: Monday, January 18, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 1:14 a.m.

The holidays are here and we are all busier than ever. Invitations to parties are flying out of our mail boxes and piling up in our in boxes. We feel we really have to entertain – our families, friends and co-workers expect it – but how can we do it without going crazy?

Here are wonderfully elegant entertaining ideas from two professional caterers that are simple, perfect and won't break the bank.

"Make a list" is the best advice from both Leah Sherer, owner of Celebrations Catering, and Monica Albert, co-owner of Olive You Eat Well Catering. While they have somewhat different approaches to entertaining, the basics remain the same — prepare well in advance, so that when your guests arrive, you look elegant because you are relaxed and serene on the inside.

Leah Sherer has been catering for years and her company, Celebrations, creates hundreds of events throughout the year, right up to December 22. She emphasizes the need to keep it cool — "no sweating over a hot stove," no rushing around, and be sure to check the room temperature as well.

She suggests you have a friend greet guests at the door with a signature cocktail or beverage that fits your theme. Hire a helper to clean up and clear away the trash and, if dishwashing is an issue, splurge on the new "green" disposable plates, cups and flatware.

Leah's mantra — "kick the recipes to the curb" — means make the event as easy as possible. Instead of dinner, have an open house, a Sunday afternoon brunch or a late afternoon party. Pick a theme and let the food and décor create the party atmosphere.

Leah's recipe for a Vintage Florida Coffee and Dessert Bar is detailed on page 43, but her other ideas include active parties where you can roll your own sushi, decorate cookies or sample a variety of colorful cocktails or flavored martinis.

Olive You Eat Well Catering specializes in personal parties and Monica Albert's idea of easy entertaining is "spontaneous get-togethers as a way to enjoy elegant food without formality." Her inspiration comes from special ingredients or recipes used to create "a simple straightforward menu" that when executed well "can make for an impressive experience."

Monica emphasizes local, fresh ingredients that don't require elaborate preparation, which results in some internationally inspired flavor-filled recipes and parties that are centered around the food.

She was intrigued by food and, as a young child, was encouraged to explore her curiosity about exotic ingredients. Her upbringing included the influence of her father's mom, who was a professional chef, and weekly trips to the farmers' market with her dad. She first worked as a personal chef before opening a catering firm and the restaurant Sisters, in Haile Village, with her sister Lita Giampola, a talented pastry chef.

Monica and Lita's recipes reflect eclectic tastes, but are easy choices for entertaining, since they can be made ahead and presented in unusual ways.

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