Whether you thrive during the season of entertaining, or just survive it, these pros are here to help
Tick tock! The holidays are nearly here. That means entertaining friends and family. For some, that’s a reason to celebrate—get out the pots and pans and all the china and silverware. For others, it’s a reason to take deep breaths until the anxiety passes. Love throwing parties or not, this is a season ripe with get-togethers. That’s why we asked a few local experts to share their entertaining insights. They may inspire you to whip up the holidays of your dreams—whether that means heating up the oven or speed-dialing a maître d’.
Ashley Hart & Amy Strife
Stress over the holiday meal? Never again, thanks to Fairfielders Ashley Hart and Amy Strife. The foodie duo recently launched a new service called Book-a-Cook—and it’s going to leave you toasting them with champagne this season. Why? Because they’ll arrange to have a top Fairfield County chef cook in your home. Stress-free and guaranteed success! The concept was born of Ashley’s passion for food. A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, she worked in the banquet kitchen at the Waldorf Astoria and has cooked for multiple high-end private clients. In short, she’s at home in the kitchen and fluent in the discourse of high cuisine. Recognizing that not all of her friends are equally interested in putting in time behind the range, she and business partner Amy Strife started Book-a-Cook. You decide how elaborate or practical you want your holiday party to be, and Ashley and Amy will make it deliciously easy. A chef will plan the menu, shop for the freshest ingredients and cook a great meal while the staff serves it and leaves your kitchen sparkling clean. You also can opt for one-on-one instruction and impress your guests with your new skills. bookacookct.com
What do you love about the holidays?
“The parties! The holidays are such a social time. I love catching up with old friends and family in front of a roaring fire.”
What’s your favorite food to prepare for your own holiday guests?
“I make a wild mushroom, leek and pancetta stuffing. It’s a huge hit every year. I usually double the recipe just to have leftovers.”
Musts for the pantry?
“I have a list of about fifteen pantry items I keep on hand at all times. For the holidays, the key for me is having items I can quickly throw together to make hors d’oeuvres for unexpected or especially hungry guests. Things like microwave popcorn, olives, good crackers, dried Italian salami, chutney or honey and Marcona almonds usually do the trick.”
No holiday table is complete without...?
“Place cards. I know, it seems rather formal, but I love the idea of putting family and friends who don’t see each other much together.”
A cool twist for traditional hot beverages?
“Liquor. I’m a huge fan of setting a hot chocolate bar for guests at the end of the evening. I usually include a variety of liquor like Bailey’s, Godiva, Kaluha and Peppermint Schnapps. I think it’s a great update to the classic after-dinner drink and takes your classic hot chocolate to the next level.”
Who’s Your style icon?
Gwyneth Paltrow. Simple. Timeless. Sophisticated.
One tip for conquering a complicated dish?
“Take it step by step and don’t rush yourself. Take the time to understand the process and it will all come much more naturally.”
Musts for the pantry?
“Good olive oil, canned tomatoes, chicken stock/ broth, an assortment of dried pastas, bittersweet chocolate, aged balsamic vinegar.”
What’s a good menu for a confident home cook?
“Roasted carrot soup; Ina Garten’s roast turkey with truffle butter; sautéed garlic Brussels sprouts; Italian sausage and cornbread stuffing; traditional mashed potatoes; and my new obsession, butterscotch pot de crème topped with crème fraîche and chocolate shavings.”
How do you manage the countdown to the holiday dinner?
“Lists. I live by lists.”
Traps even good home cooks should avoid?
“If a recipe seems too complicated, it's probably not worth it. Unless you are a professional chef, you are always better off sticking to the freshest ingredients and keeping it simple.”
What tool makes time in the kitchen easier?
“I don’t think they make a tool for it, but a staff would be nice.”
Local shop for a great hostess gift?
“I love the Pious Bird in Fairfield. The merchandising is fantastic and I really appreciate their commitment to local artisans.”
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