Holiday Entertaining Tips + an Easy Appetizer to Kick Off Your Festivities
Recipe by Leah LeMoine | Photography by David B. Moore
Holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be complicated.
When it comes to planning party menus, winery owner Peggy Fiandaca’s advice is simple: Think in threes. “If I’m having a small get-together, I would do three different light bites,” she says. “You want a variety of colors and textures.”
Fiandaca frequently entertains in her home and in her Old Town Scottsdale tasting room—she even personally cooks for her staff holiday party. After deciding the scope of a soirée and the guest list, Fiandaca develops a “food profile” for her trio—or trios—of dishes. “I’m Italian, so that’s my go-to,” she notes. “I would only do one that would be hot, and the other two would be at room temperature.” She might balance hot stuffed mushrooms with “crudités with a really unique dip, something creamy” and a variety of crostini. “I love to put roast salmon on crostini with a little bit of fresh salsa on top, or fresh herbs.”
Fiandaca’s rule of three extends to her beloved wine. “You just want a mix,” she advises. “Have something white and lighter, but not overly sweet, like a sauvignon blanc or a chardonnay. We do a really nice viognier. Then you want a medium-bodied red, like a grenache or a pinot noir.” She’d pair one of these with our Middle Eastern-inspired dip (see recipe on previous page). “And then offer a heavier red—a syrah would be nice, and it goes with a lot of different foods, or go a little bit heavier with a cabernet or a petite sirah.”
Preparation saves day-of-the-party sanity, Fiandaca says. She cooks as much as she can in advance and lays out serving trays with notes explaining what goes where. “All I have to do is pull the wine out and open it, put the food on platters, and then pop a cork and pour myself a glass of champagne before everyone arrives.” Ultimately, Fiandaca adds, remember that holiday entertaining should be enjoyable. “I am not a stressful kind of party person. I like to have fun at whatever event I’m doing.”
Herby Yogurt-Feta Dip
This bright, creamy dip is flexible. Don’t like cilantro? Substitute more parsley or basil, or even mint. Crave more cheesiness? Add extra feta, which will also give it more body—just reduce the kosher salt, since feta is briny.
1 cup each: fresh basil, cilantro, dill and parsley, roughly chopped and lightly packed
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 teaspoon za’atar
½ teaspoon each: kosher salt and black pepper, more to taste
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces feta, crumbled
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon honey—or to taste
Juice of half a lemon
Dippers of choice: crudités, pita chips, toasted bread, cooked shrimp, etc.
Pomegranate arils, for garnish (optional)
Blend fresh herbs, garlic, za’atar, salt, pepper and olive oil in a food processor until it resembles a chunky pesto. Add feta, Greek yogurt, honey and lemon juice and pulse until the feta is incorporated and the dip is mostly creamy—small feta bits will remain. Taste and adjust seasoning. Make up to one day ahead. Refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with pomegranate arils, if desired, and serve with dippers.
Peggy Fiandaca shares her entertaining tips.
Don’t make everything from scratch. “It’s OK to use some prepared items,” she says. A store-bought rotisserie chicken gives you a jump on dinner. Buy sauce or bread from your favorite restaurant and “add your own spices at home” to make it yours.
Invest in frozen fruit. “I’ll put cranberries frozen in water in the bottom of my vases and then put flowers in them,” Fiandaca says. Freeze and reuse again and again—just label them as “decoration” so nobody eats them.
Shop your yard. “I try to use more natural things that I have around the house or in my yard,” she says. “I’ll bring in leaves from the lemon tree to use in my flower arrangements.”
Choose the right tunes. Think about the tone you want to set—relaxing, lively, raucous? “As people have a glass of wine and are starting to loosen up, the music should help them.”
Skip the shop talk. “I learned this a long time ago while traveling: Europeans never ask you about your work,” she says. “They always ask you about what’s going on in your life or what you love to do. Try to find something interesting about people other than what they do for a living.”
Winery owner: Peggy Fiandaca, LDV Winery, Scottsdale, ldvwinery.com. Dishware: Main Dish, Scottsdale, maindishaz.com