Appetites: The essential do's and don'ts of holiday entertaining

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
The Splendid Table's Lynne Rossetto Kasper demonstrates two easy appetizers that are perfect for holiday entertaining Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 at Cooks of Crocus Hill in Stillwater.
MPR News/Jennifer Simonson

Hosting a holiday party can feel daunting, so The Splendid Table's Lynne Rossetto Kasper has some advice to calm your nerves and make your soiree a success.

DON'T line up chairs along the walls. Nobody will talk to each other. Better to cluster seating so people can face each other.

DON'T have enough seats for everyone. It will keep everyone mixing.

DON'T have bright overhead lighting. It's depressing and makes people look bad. Lighting is everything — we're drawn to light so use it to move people where you want them. A lamp is warm and inviting, and candles are magical. But...

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DON'T use scented candles — especially on the dinner table. Believe it or not, a white chocolate-ginger candle can sink your great meal in moments. Taste is all about smell!

DON'T have "stuff" cluttering your surfaces. Drinks and plates need space.

DON'T make fussy individual appetizers. Any savory tart can be heated up and cut up into little pieces.

DO try these easy appetizers:

DO have drinks set up right near the door. This will ensure everyone has a glass in their hand. Somehow a drink in your hand (water or whatever) makes it easier to mix.

DO serve your cocktails in pitchers. Forget mixing individual drinks. Also, limit the variety: your favorite cocktail (watered down), sodas or fruit drinks, water, maybe wine. Don't bother with a full bar.

DO have pitchers of water and glasses spread around. Nothing dries you out faster than a few glasses of wine.

DO facilitate introductions. Have fun with them, but do a little thinking ahead. Here are a couple of examples: "Meet Cindy — ask her about her hanger collection." Or: "Tom has some pretty strong opinions about new art — see where that takes you two."

DO make all the food ahead of time. It will relieve stress during the party.

DO keep the food small and fresh. Keep it small enough for one bite and have bright fresh tastes — not all heavy cheeses, and gooey sweets. For a different take on a raw vegetable tray, see the recipe below for Japanese sweet-tart pickles.

DO put out baskets of unexpected chips. Asian rice chips that come in pastel colors, or Terra's sweet potato, beet and turnip chips.

DO give people a warm send-off. Put a pot of broth or any drinkable soup on the stove, ladle out mugs of hot soup as the good-bye drink.

Japanese pickles
Vegetables such as radishes, beets, cauliflower, turips, carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes marinate to make Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Fast Japanese Pickles Monday.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

RECIPE: Fast Japanese Pickles

Makes about 3 cups of pickled vegetables and multiplies easily
20 minutes prep time; 30 minutes refrigerator time

These keep in their marinade for about two weeks in the refrigerator, but are best within a couple of hours of pickling.

Talk about a refresher and perfect with drinks, these pickles deliver flavors that are snappy, clean and fresh with great crunch. These are not the same-old, same-old holiday snack or another mouthful of over-the-top richness. This recipe can turn a turnip, of all things, into something you take for seconds and thirds.

In short these pickles, mainstays of Japanese tables for generations, taste as though they were designed to set off new cocktail concoctions.

Make extra because for the next couple of weeks you can snack on them with eggs, rice (dice into hot rice for a snack), rice noodles, on sandwiches, and as sides with just about anything.

3 cups Japanese rice vinegar (not "seasoned")
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
6 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground chile (for mild use ancho or Aleppo; for hotter use ground New Mexico, pasilla, smokey chipotle or cayenne)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Use what appeals - from peppers, cucumbers and raw sweet potatoes(definitely worth a try), to onions, cauliflower and beets. Below is a possible combination.
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slivers
2 to 3 small turnips, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds, each cut into 4 pie-like wedges
8 to 10 red radishes, cut into thirds

In a storage container stir together the vinegar, salt, sugar, chile and zest until the sugar is dissolved. Taste for balance.

Pour about a 1/4 of the pickling blend into a smaller container. This is where you'll pickle the radishes so their color won't tint the other vegetables. The turnips and carrots go into the larger container.

Chill 30 minutes up to a couple of hours. Drain before serving.

Ingredients to make Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Fast Japanese Pickles. The vegetables are marinated in rice vinegar seasoned with ground chile, lemon zest, sugar and salt.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Spear the pickles with picks - set them in small shallow bowls to show off colors.

Recipe Copyright 2013 Lynne Rossetto Kasper