So, it’s your turn to have the family over for Easter. You want the meal to be special, but cooking for a crowd can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, we have lifestyle writer Lisa Finn to help, and she offers a few recipe links as well. Finn is a wife and mother of three children but perhaps more importantly — when it comes to cooking, that is — she comes from a very festive Italian family. She and most of her family still live in the area where she grew up in Los Angeles. 

“I watched my mom put on huge parties. Every time that there was any little tiny events in us kids’ lives, my mom would celebrate it. Life just happened around food and parties,” said Finn. “Now that I’m married and have kids, I’m raising my kids that way.”

Keep Calm and Carry on

Some are terrorized by the idea of cooking for others, but Finn says that the way to conquer stress is to plan ahead. “The most important thing, whether you are entertaining for seven people of if you are having party for 100, is to be prepared and that all starts about a week in advance.” 

She starts by choosing a theme. In this case, it’s Easter, but it’s not that simple. “You can’t just think, ‘Oh, Easter. Pastel.’ You really need to know how you’re going to decorate, what you are going to put on the table, the food you choose to serve and finding the recipes.” 

Finn suggests giving yourself time to envision how everything is going to look. Take time to borrow ideas from Pinterest or magazines. “You need to write everything down and set a timeline too. That is how you’re not going to be stressed. A skilled hostess can pull out all of her warmed dishes at the same time and put them on the table. The frazzled stressed out one will be the one who puts cold beans on the table because they didn’t time everything correctly.”

And how does one master the art of timing the food? By really reading the recipes. Don’t just skim through them. You don’t want to find a “surprise” at the end that you’ll need to chill a dish for a couple of hours if you don’t have time to do so. Also, this is not a time to try out new recipes. Preparing the tried and true will help lift some of the stress as well.

What to Serve

For Finn, it just works better for her family to enjoy an Easter brunch, rather than dinner. Like many families, her family has their own traditions. “What we do and that might have something to do with my Italian heritage, it always comes back to pasta and antipasto, but we always order a ham and sometimes we have lamb. I always have a potato dish – you know – something really cheesy, fattening, with sour cream – the worst ever for you,” she laughs.

To start, Finn prepares an antipasto spread with meats, cheeses, stuffed olives and roasted peppers. She frequently serves crackers or bruschetta as well and she always prepares a fruit platter. “Make it big enough, because everyone will nibble on the fruit. It can go all the way from the hors d’oeuvres to the dessert. I always have the same platter rotating from table to table.”

To help round out the meal, Finn adds a vegetable dish like asparagus or cinnamon-honey-glazed-carrots. “Devilish Eggs” are a must.

Who Brings What

To keep her stress level at a minimum, Finn never asks guests to bring a main part of the meal. Instead, she tries to think about what that they can bring that would be extra. That way, if your guests forget to bring the ham or have an unfortunate accident, the lack of the “extra” dish is not that big of a deal.

Simple but Special

Perhaps Finn’s spread is a bit more than you feel comfortable with. No problem. “It really doesn’t matter how elaborate things are, but what does matter, especially when it’s an occasion like Easter, is that you pinpoint a couple of things and make them very special.” 

For instance, a favorite recipe, Baked Eggs in Hash Brown Cups, contains only four ingredients and is super easy to make, but gives your guests that “individual” attention. You can do the same with individual desserts. “That’s the ‘wow factor.’ It doesn’t have to be pomp and circumstance, but you just need a couple things to stand out to make the day special.”

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

Some people welcome others into their cooking space. Others do not. So how can you tactfully keep people out so you can get the meal done? Finn says that the best host is a gracious host. “So, with a big smile on your face you say, ‘I loved that you asked to help. Thank you so much. But…(and you are super blunt), it is really better for me if I do it.’

Kids naturally want to help, but sometimes the way that they want to help, is really no help at all. “What I like to do is put them on arrangement duty the night before. So, instead of having them help in the kitchen on that day when things are a little more stressful, I will have them arrange the cheese and crackers or have them sprinkle the parsley over the potatoes, cut the tops off the strawberries or put the toothpicks in the cheese – you know, those little things so that they feel like they are a part of it. Even with my husband, I do the same thing. For me, I like to do everything myself. It’s just less stressful than having to delegate. But I realize that it’s for the kids and that they do need to have their hand in it. During the meal, kids love to walk around the table with the bread basket or water pitcher, but with the main dishes, I would say keep them out of the kitchen.”

What About Clean Up?

For Finn, cleaning up is just part of the process. It’s not fun, but she doesn’t mind it. “I do not do it while the guests are still there. I think that it’s horribly rude and it sends the wrong message – ‘Okay, we’re done!’  It’s fine to clear off the table if you need it to serve dessert and its okay to quickly load the dishwasher if you need the space.” In the end, Finn is just thankful that she was able to share the day with special people in her life.

If you enjoyed Lisa’s tips, be sure to visit her website.

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