By Kristin Owens

Hectic holidays can turn entertaining into one more item on a never-ending to-do list. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For help making the holidays a memorable time (whether as the host or an invited guest), we interviewed several folks who have plenty of entertaining experience. They’ve shared their best tips for refocusing the holidays back on fun, laughter and getting together with people we love.

TWO FAT JUSTINS – Professional caterers

It’s all about working backwards from your serving time. Figure out how much time each item takes to prepare. Have everything ready so you can enjoy your company.

JOHN GATES – Mayor of Greeley

Keep it simple; it’s about family and friends and not about the food.

ANDY FEINSTEIN – President, University of Northern Colorado

At the beginning, when guests are first arriving, people understand you may be busy. Don’t be concerned if you’re unable to have long conversations with each guest initially–you’ll find time as the event progresses when guests (and you) have a chance to settle in.

JULI Y JUAN’S KITCHEN – Professional chefs

We all get so entangled into our desired outcome, we forget the most important part of hosting is having a fantastic time. If you’re at a point where you feel things aren’t going according to plan, just adapt. Never forget you’re also part of the event, so cheer-up, grab a beer and enjoy the holidays with everyone else.

JENI ARNDT – Mayor of Fort Collins

Don’t wait until your house is perfect to entertain: Good friends won’t mind if yours isn’t perfect. Enjoying each other is what counts.

PATRICE PALMER– New Belgium Brewing Company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Specialist

Helping to take the trash out or wash dishes lifts so much off the shoulders of the host. They’ll say they’ve got it but offering goes a long way.

ANDY FEINSTEIN

Strike up a conversation with someone you may not know very well or at all. Remember you’ve been invited to someone’s home because they want you to have a good time. If you’ve never been to this home or venue before, a small gift is always appreciated. I typically bring flowers, a bottle of wine or a small potted plant.

JENI ARNDT

Anything from bringing a side dish to coming over early to help set up. I like everyone to relax and enjoy each other, so I usually leave clean-up for the next day.

TWO FAT JUSTINS

Ask the host, “What do you want? What do you need?” And hosts should be specific, such as “mashed potatoes or root vegetables.” Don’t say “whatever”– it doesn’t help anyone out. When in doubt, bring alcohol.

JOHN GATES

It depends on the crowd, however, chili and cinnamon rolls are always a hit.

ANDY FEINSTEIN

I love making homemade ice cream with fresh ingredients—that’s always a hit. I create flavors you can’t get at your local grocery store: Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, Palisade peach, and brown sugar and bourbon are some of my favorites. I also enjoy baking and sharing bread.

JULI Y JUAN’S KITCHEN

Appetizers are always the best to have. They are small, fun, colorful, artistic and come in all sorts of variety and flavors. When we host in our home, we only focus on appetizers and alcohol: There’s no need to make a meal. Meals can make you tired, and then the party energy drops.

JENI ARNDT

For a big crowd, I like to make chicken curry and lots of steamed rice and toppings. I also make homemade noodles with handmade meatballs, a big salad and good bread. It’s sort of a classic people don’t have much anymore and guests usually appreciate it. Also, I make A LOT of pizza. We have a wood-fired pizza oven and I use that or the traditional oven

PATRICE PALMER

My mother-in-law was a big holiday gumbo maker influenced by her Creole roots in Louisiana. She passed away just before Thanksgiving 2018, so to help my wife get through the holidays I tried my hand at her famous gumbo. I named it Kado which means “gift” in Haitian Creole as a reminder that time is a gift and to use it responsibly.

(Recipe for 25-30 hors d’oeuvres)

Photo by John Robson Photography.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds Ahi Tuna (sashimi grade)
  • 2 Tbs. ginger
  • 5 Tbs. sesame oil
  • ¼ to ½ cup soy sauce (or Tamari for gluten-free)
  • ½ cup scallions or chives
  • ½ pound sprouts
  • Package of small round rice crackers
  • 2 cans of chipotles
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

 

DIRECTIONS

Tuna Tartare

    • Mince the scallion or chives and the ginger, add all to a bowl.
    • Chop the tuna and add it on top. (Chef’s secret: get the tuna frozen, let it sit outside for 20 minutes or so, and cut it while still hard, this allows you to work better and have similar sizes in the pieces.)
    • If serving immediately, add the soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper.
    • If preparing for later, hold the soy sauce and the salt because they can alter the color of the tuna by turning it brown. Make sure to leave this step until the very end; you want that vibrant red color of fresh Ahi.
    • Mix all together.

 

  • Take the rice crackers and add a small teaspoon of the chipotle aioli (recipe below) on the top. Then add a spoon of tuna tartare mix and put on a few sprouts for the final touch and enjoy this amazing little piece of Mexican-Asian taste explosion.

Chipotle Aioli

  • Cut the chipotles in fine pieces, then with a blender or food processor mix it well with the mayonnaise and honey. Season with salt and pepper.
  • If it’s too spicy, add more mayonnaise to make it smoother. Not spicy enough? Add more chipotles.

 

INGREDIENTS

Photo courtesy of Two Fat Justins.

  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, combine the egg, water, breadcrumbs, onion, salt and pepper. Break the ground beef into chunks, then add it to the bowl. Mix gently, but thoroughly, with your hands to combine. Don’t overmix.
  • Form mixture into meatballs 1-inch in diameter and place on a broiler pan or a pan with sides topped with a wire rack. Make sure the meatballs are the same size so they all cook evenly.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until meatballs register 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer.
  • Combine with red sauce in a crockpot.

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup of frozen okra
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup each: onions, celery, green onion and bell peppers
  • 1 tsp. of gumbo file (sassafras)

    Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company.

  • 4 cups reduced-sodium
  • chicken or seafood stock (optional)
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • Seasoned salt (such as Old Bay)
  • Roux (recipe follows)
  • ½ pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound crab (red, blue crab or loose crab meat)
  • 4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh meat, trimmed and cut into
  • ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup of andouille sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice

DIRECTIONS

  • Soak the chopped okra in a bowl with ½ cup vinegar and three cups water.
  • Brown chicken and sausage in a skillet. Drain the excess grease and fat. Set aside.
  • Drain the water/vinegar from the okra. Pan fry the okra for about five minutes, set aside.
  • In an 8-quart pot, heat one tablespoon of oil over mediumheat. Once hot, add garlic, onions, celery, bell pepper and green onion. Stir so that it doesn’t stick. After five minutes add the parsley and thyme. If using stock, add it.
  • Add three quarts of water.
  • Season with salt, Old Bay, file powder and paprika. Cover and simmer.
  • In a separate pan, make the roux then add the okra to the oil and flour mixture. Reduce heat to low and stir five more minutes.
  • Add the roux and okra to the big pot. Add crab (or crab meat), sausage and chicken. Stir frequently. Simmer about 15 minutes
  • Shrimp goes in last. Reduce to low heat. Cover. Stir occasionally. After about 20 minutes turn off, uncover pot and let sit.
  • Cook rice separately according to its directions. Serve gumbo over rice.

For the roux:

  • Heat ¼ cup oil in a medium-size skillet (with a heavy bottom) over medium heat. Once hot, add ¼ cup all purpose flour, stirring constantly until mixture turns brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low