Hosting Tips: Make This Holiday Your Best Yet

Photo: Roderick Chen/ Images

This year, take your holiday entertaining to the next level. Whether you’ve been hosting for the past 30 years or this is your first swing at it, we can all elevate our hosting skills. We’ve spoken to some of Toronto’s hospitality experts about how to make your guests truly thankful that they’ve been invited into your home this holiday.

First, consider your prep – and how much time you have. Do you have to cook the entire bird? Do you even need to do a turkey this year?

Roasting your entire turkey means you have to carve at the table. Chef David Chrystian of Hotel Le Germain’s Victor Restaurant & Bar suggests an alternative approach. “Everything else is starting to get cold and everybody is waiting for the main event. By doing some butchery ahead of time, you can methodically plan dinner and very quickly carve at the last minute.”

If you’re hosting a small group, consider butchering your turkey ahead of time and freezing the rest. This also makes brining the bird much easier. “If you’ve done the butchery, it’s very easy to put it in a bag in the bottom of the fridge,” says Chrystian.

If you decide that a whole turkey is the only way to go, here is the traditional and most efficient way to carve, according to Victor Restaurant + Bar’s Chrystian and sous chef Lanny MacLeod:

• Remove wings first
• Then legs (flip them over and slice in half)
• Remove breasts  and slice against the grain)

Or try a different protein.

Oliver and Bonacini’s Natalie Ho suggests Cornish hen. “We are bringing back the Cornish hen here at O&B, and our clients are loving it. I think people want something unique and elevated.” If you’re hosting a small group, these tiny birds look impressive stuffed and plated individually.

When it comes to stuffing…

…Nutritionist Rose Reisman says to swap traditional grains for something healthier. “Use quinoa or an ancient grain like farro or even wheat berries or brown rice. You’ll get that punch in terms of vitamins, minerals and protein in a healthier stuffing. Whatever you do with your stuffing – sautéed vegetables or dried fruit ­­– just do that with a whole grain.”

With traditional sides like brussels sprouts…

… MacLeod has a few tips on how to convert brussels sprout-haters. Cut them in half and blanche them. “Use lots of salted boiling water that tastes like the sea. This allows us to give flavour to these guys at the same time. Cook them for maybe a minute or two until they turn bright green and just tender. Then immediately shock them in ice water. That completely stops the cooking and sets the colour.”

The blanching can be done the day before. Next step is bacon and its glorious fat. “Render the bacon in the pan. Take bacon out of the pan and drain some of the fat back in the pan and add butter. Then throw in brussels sprouts.”

MacLeod treats the sprouts like he would meat: cut sides down in the pan.  “You want that caramelization and all that really nice colour on the sprouts.” And most importantly, leave your pan alone. “Just let it do its thing. It doesn’t have to be on high heat. Just medium-high heat and let it do its own thing. ”

In case you’re worried about wine pairings, LCBO’s Heather MacGregor knows what you should have on the table. “Often people will pair turkey with a Riesling, which is quite nice. It brings out a lot of flavours of the wine. It’s very traditional for a turkey dinner. If ham is on the table, then a Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County is a great option. With beef, then a Merlot is good.”

Remember to add personal touches, like printing a menu for your guests. “One year for Thanksgiving, for the entrée I just wrote ‘turkey.’ It’s kind of obvious but it shows a little personality, I think, and it also gives you the opportunity to write a little thank-you note to your guests on the menu,” says Ho.