A recent Gallup poll found that Americans rank entertaining -- along with filing tax returns and visiting the dentist -- as their number one stress-related event. Why is something that should be enjoyable causing such anxiety?
"Sometimes just the word ‘entertaining' conjures up images of a picture-perfect home and fancy foods that are hard to pronounce, not to mention cook. But it doesn't have to be difficult," insists Pam Anderson, author of "Perfect Recipes for Having People Over." Anderson and the National Pork Board have some helpful advice for hassle-free entertaining this season:
- Decide on the main course first. A large cut of meat that is easy to cook is usually an excellent option. Once you've nailed the cornerstone of your meal, the rest of the small stuff falls into place - whether you choose to cook, purchase or potluck.
- Cook smarter, not harder. When choosing recipes, ask yourself questions such as, "How far ahead can I prepare this?" "How can I vary it?" and "What about leftovers?" For example, Anderson's Oven-Barbecued Pork is so tender and flavorful that your guests will think you slaved over it all day. Surprise! It cooks overnight, leaving little to do during a party. For a festive, no-fuss twist, Anderson suggests a "make-your-own carnitas" bar. Guests can build their own fork-free carnitas with the pulled pork, tortillas and purchased toppings like guacamole, sour cream and salsa. As a bonus, the delicious leftover pork is perfect for busy weeknight suppers -- anything from sandwiches to pizzas to quesadillas.
- Go with the flow. No matter how organized you might be, there are always times when life manages to interrupt your plans. Taking little steps, such as setting the table in advance, conveys, "Welcome - I'm ready," even when you're not. Remember, the most important part about entertaining is spending happy times with friends and family.
1 (8- to 9-pound) bone-in pork shoulder butt roast or fresh picnic shoulder
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for sprinkling
1-1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees.
Mix brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder in small bowl. Pat roast dry and place on rack set over foil-lined shallow baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle top and sides of roast with salt, brush with half the mustard and sprinkle with half the spice rub. Carefully turn roast over. Sprinkle with a little salt, brush with remaining mustard and sprinkle with remaining spice rub. Roast until meat thermometer registers 170 degrees, 9 to 11 hours, depending on size.
Transfer pork to platter and cool long enough to handle, about 1 hour. Cut roast into 1- to 2-inch chunks and shred meat into large bowl. Add enough pan drippings to moisten pork and stir to combine. Serves 12 to 20
Adapted from "Perfect Recipes for Having People Over," courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.
All materials courtesy of National Pork Board
Making a memory
More than the elaborate table or painstakingly prepared food, it's the precious moments of love, laughter and shared life experience that make a seasonal gathering memorable. For many holiday hosts, the greatest compliment of all is a cherished memory of the event.
"Capturing those moments is easier than you think," says professional photographer Nick Kelsh. "All it takes is a camera, a little planning and a few basic tips."
Just before you're ready to serve, ask everyone to take a seat at the table. Because looking up toward the camera is a more flattering angle and ensures you'll capture everyone's face, take the picture from a standing position or use a short stool. Make sure every wine glass is filled, and ask everyone to raise their glass -- holding them below eye level, so no expressions are obscured. Take more than one photo to increase your chances of getting a "keeper." This may be the perfect moment to propose a toast: nothing too formal, just a few brief but sincere words of welcome.
Often the most natural shots are candid photos, when your subjects aren't posing for the camera, but are simply caught in the act of enjoying themselves. And don't wait for a big smile to snap your picture -- a serious expression or a dreamy gaze makes for compelling, and revealing, images.
A picture says a thousand words, the saying goes, and simple props can tell a whole story. A raised glass full of wine conveys one message, an empty one quite another.
Perhaps the most important tip for taking good portraits is to get close to your subject. "Really close," adds Kelsh. "Too much background can be a distraction and rob your photo of intimacy."
Even when you're photographing two or more people, arrange the image so that their faces fill the frame. The immediacy of the close-up can be the difference between a forgettable snapshot and a memorable moment.
Capturing the Moment
Everyone loves photos, and everyone knows how hard it is to take good ones, especially during the holidays. How can you improve yours? By following these easy tips from professional photographer Nick Kelsh:
- Get close to your subject, and then get closer. Good close-ups have emotional impact -- fill the entire frame with your subject.
- Keep pushing the button. Digital photography allows you to shoot more pictures with little added expense. Take dozens, pick a few good ones and delete the rest.
- Photograph things you've never photographed before, like a baby crying or Dad napping. People don't always have to be smiling and looking into the camera.
- Turn off your flash and use natural, existing light to create dramatic photos.
- Read your camera's instruction book. Being familiar with all of your camera's features will ensure you're ready for the unexpected.
- Plan group shots before you gather everyone together. Decide if you need to move furniture or stand on a chair or ladder to get a better angle. Everyone looks better (and five pounds lighter) when they're looking up.
- Shoot a test photo of the scene before everyone's in it so you'll know that your camera is ready to go.
- Most importantly, have fun -- it will show in your photographs.
Live, Love, Laugh
Show Lindemans how you live, love and laugh this season, and your special photo could be featured in a full-page ad on the pages of Us Weekly magazine. It's easy: Use the tips in the accompanying article to capture friends and family as they celebrate, and then go to www.lindemans.com for entry details and contest rules.
Here's a little-known wine fact: There is no "perfect" wine for the holiday meal. A single wine simply can't complement turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams and whatever cranberry salad your cousin brought, all at the same time.
That doesn't mean you have to throw out your corkscrew. Instead, just ignore traditional wine matching rules and offer a selection of favorites at the table for your guests to choose from.
"Many people do not realize that the exact same wine can taste different to different people," said Matt Lane, director of wine education for Lindemans Wines. "So don't worry about any wine ‘rules.' The most important thing is to drink wines you genuinely like."
Try a Shiraz, with its dark licorice and chocolate overtones, and a rich, cherry-berry Cabernet Sauvignon. For whites, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a fuller, creamier Chardonnay make nice options.
Don't worry about the price tag. The "best" wines aren't necessarily the most expensive, and New World regions like Australia are known for producing delicious wines for about $6 to $10 a bottle.
All materials courtesy of Lindemans Wine; Family Features Editorial Syndicate