Haylie Duff, author of the Real Girl's Kitchen blog and host of the Cooking Channel's The Real Girl's Kitchen Show, knows a thing or two about cooking and entertaining for a big group. So this season, she's partnering with T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods to focus on the most important part of the holiday season: spending time with family. These three superstores have a "Bring Back the Holidays" campaign centered on being home for the holidays, and they've already pledged to send 10 lucky people that Haylie helped choose back to their hometowns for free. That's something that Family Circle can certainly get behind, so we caught up with the singer/actress turned food blogger for tips on throwing a fabulous Christmas fête for family and friends.
1. Keep the menu traditional but add a twist. People love comfort food during the holidays, so Duff loves to make her grandmother's stuffing. Her turkey is also becoming a family fave, but she barbecues hers instead of roasting it in the oven. And she has a genius idea for the leftovers: Turkey Pie. "Basically you put your leftover turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing into a pre-made pie crust and bake it," she says. "Most of the time I top mine with shredded cheese and almonds. It's easy and you don't have to waste anything."
2. Put together a rockin' playlist. Sure, you could choose something prefab from Spotify or Pandora. But growing up, Haylie and her sister Hilary used to listen to their mom's old records, especially during the holiday season. So around this time of year, Haylie buys a classic Christmas album or two to add to her collection. These records are the soundtrack to her dinner parties.
3. Plan festive activities. Maybe it's a Hallmark or Lifetime movie on in the background or a fun party game that you can entertain folks with before or after the meal. Haylie's family has a tradition called Christmas caviar, where each guest brings a jar of caviar and the whole family does a blind taste test to guess which is the most expensive and which is the cheapest. "We're not fancy, so it's fun to pretend," says Haylie. "Set a spending limit, so no one has to shell out a fortune. Put together a platter with capers and crème fraîche and start tasting. For us, usually the cheapest is the best." You could try this with chocolate, too, for a more kid-friendly option.
4. Dress the part. For Haylie, Christmas is time for being silly and goofy. So save the sequins for New Year's, and rock an ugly sweater. Or put on Christmas PJs or a festive hat. "We love matching as a family, so my fiance, Matt, and I will do cozy socks from T.J. Maxx with our daughter, Ryan," she says. "Matching makes for great memories and photos."