Entertaining at Home: Kitchen Tips and Getting the Home Ready for Guests

Ahhh... the holidays. Sweet smells fill the air, everyone seems to smile a bit bigger, holiday parties, cozy sweaters, watching classic holiday movies while buried under a plush blanket - even holiday music playing 24/7 on the local radio station puts a little skip in my step.

But as lovely as the holidays are, let's be honest - there's a lot of stress, too. Racing between parties, finding the perfect gift, juggling friends, family and colleagues, all while still making time to enjoy a spiked hot chocolate and mistletoe kisses with the hubby. Let The Chef & The Dish take a little of the work off your plate with some tips on how to make entertaining at home effortless this season.

We believe nothing brings the world together more than food. And with that comes memories of baking together, cooking together, or even gingerbread house decorating together.

This year, invite your family and friends and start a yearly cooking tradition. Entertaining during the holidays should be something you look forward to, and having a tradition with those special people will give everyone a little something to anticipate on their yearly calendar. Whether it's making traditional Buccellati (traditional Sicilian fig cookies) on a Sunday, staying up late Christmas Eve to make loads of Chestnut Stuffing, or coming together to make decadent Hot Chocolate gifts for the family - get into the kitchen and invite your nears and dears. It's those memories that last a lifetime.

Need some inspiration? We've got you covered. Read our Holiday Party Ideas article, giving 15 ideas for fun traditions to start this holiday.

Simple decor around the house makes a big impact in how festive the home feels. We aren't ones to go overboard with blow up Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer crew, but small details will make a big difference. Pretty white lights on the mantle, cranberry wreaths, lanterns, poinsettias (as long as you don't have cats!) and fire logs... For decor that you'll look forward to year after year, find timeless and classic pieces that could easily be displayed in another season. On their own, they may not scream the holidays - but when paired together these pieces make the home feel special and cozy - just what your want your guests to feel when they come over for the holidays.

Holiday essentials will always be pine and lights. There's been lots of advancements to lighting technology which means more durable, safer and energy efficient lights that will be friendlier not only for your pocketbook, but the environment, too. Want to be the star of the neighbourhood Christmas light display? Why not control your lightshow from your phone with AppLights? Whether you're creating an outdoor winter wonderland, decorating a Christmas tree for the ages, or just creating a small-space friendly mantle display we suggest heading to Home Depot for a widest selection of holiday essentials. If you need some tips on which lights are right for you, or help installing them - check this out.

One of our favourite parts of the holidays is the smell of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and powdered sugar. It makes us want to head right into the kitchen to bake - but, if you're like us and are trying to cut back on the countless cookies (we didn't say cutback on cookies all together!), go our way and head the route of spiced mulled wine!

This holiday classic fills the kitchen with gorgeous aromas - orange, clove, cinnamon sticks all warming in a big pot of red wine. A few hours before our guests are scheduled to arrive, we prepare a big pot and let it gently warm on the stove.

Mulled wine is so easy to do! In a large pot, simply combine a few big heaps of sugar with a long pour of wine. Add juice from a couple oranges, lemons, a lime, and then add spices - fresh grates from nutmeg, a couple bay leaves, star anise, a clove or two, a split vanilla bean, and of course the cinnamon sticks... let it thicken up over the heat and once you get a nice syrup, add the rest of the wine (two bottles at least!). Turn down the heat as to not cook off the alcohol and let it go. By the time your guests arrive, the air smells sweet - and after one glass, your guests will feel pretty sweet, as well!

Keeping with our general philosophy - we like to keep our centrepieces simple, too. We believe food should always shine, so we like to decorate our dining space with holiday treats. A centerpiece with cookies toppled high, clusters of cinnamon sticks wrapped with twine or burlap, dried oranges, bowls heaping with cranberries, oranges studded with cloves, pomegranates, nuts in their shells... Winter ingredients will always be classic as centerpieces.

When creating your centerpiece, make sure it isn't so high that people will need to remove it to talk during dinner - it makes all that work for nothing! We love these mason jars filled with Cranberries and pine from our friends at Yellow Bliss Road. Alternating jars with candles will help add a lovely glow to dinner. Our only suggestion is to use sugar on the bottom rather than epsom salt. Why? Because the best part of using food for your centrepiece is... once your guests leave - you get to eat everything!

The first step is to do a surface clean of the entire house (bathrooms especially - and make sure they're filled with beautiful smelling soaps and supplies).

Now, onto the kitchen... I'm sure you've heard the saying "No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best." There's no time like the holidays to remind you just how much the kitchen is truly the heart of the home. Whether it's gathering for drinks, baking holiday cookies, or having a holiday feast with the family, the kitchen is always filled with guests who want to watch or partake in the action.

This year, before you invite the guests over, make sure your kitchen is organized, functional and ready to entertain. Clear countertops of clutter, put your entertaining dinnerware within easy reach, and even think about reorganizing the pots and pans if they would work better in a different cabinent. Small upgrades to cabinetry and appliances can also go a long way in making for a functional and attractive space that inspires you to entertain.

The Chef & The Dish team is dedicated to bringing kitchens together across the world. This year, we want to give you a little something to inspire more cooking, more dinner parties with the friends, and maybe even a cooking class (or two!) with our chefs. We're giving one lucky person a $250 gift certificate to Home Depot Canada and a free cooking class with The Chef & The Dish for the winner and their family. Just a little something extra to inspire you to get into the kitchen and cook together in the New Year. Visit our Instagram page for details.


Learn How to Make Classic Southern Appetizers

No one knows how to throw a party like someone from the South. Skype Chef Jenny into your home kitchen to and learn how to make classic Southern Appetizers, perfect for any party plans you have this year.

View the Southern Appetizer Cooking Class >

Learn How to Make Turkey Cooking Class

Never screw up the turkey again. In this class, Chef Joanie of New England will Skype in to your home kitchen to teach you how to perfect the holiday classics, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all.

View the Turkey Cooking Class >

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