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4 Experts, 1 Perfect Holiday Table: Heather Taylor, Caroline Styne, Suzanne Goin and Maire Byrne Share Their Tips

4 Experts, 1 Perfect Holiday Table:  Heather Taylor, Caroline Styne, Suzanne Goin and Maire Byrne Share Their Tips

Aside from the beloved company gathered around your dining table, it’s the seamless combination of ambience, décor and food that really captures the style and spirit of this treasured time of year.

Every detail, from table linens and lighting, to serving platters and centerpieces, is key to creating a stunning tablescape that will add warmth to your home and set a cheerful mood at your table.

Here, four of the most sought-after entertaining experts share their valuable tips for creating a truly magnificent and unforgettable holiday celebration.

(Photo credit: @heathertaylorhome)

Heather Taylor, Founder of Heather Taylor Home

During the fall I like exposed wood tables that are not covered in a heavy cloth. Use runners, or nothing at all, to allow the natural beauty of the wood to show through, and add a bold napkin. It’s a less-fussy look that feels less “done,” yet is still seasonally appropriate and sophisticated. Don’t be afraid to use color, but think beyond the typical fall palette. Fir green, plum and marigold are all rich, autumnal hues that keep your table from looking like a Thanksgiving window display.

I always have a focal point in the center of my table, but I look beyond flowers, especially in the fall. A gorgeous bowl filled with pomegranates, squash or grapes is a bit unexpected, and it evokes the harvest in a very subtle way. Avoid the urge to spread red, yellow and orange maple leaves across your table. I also like to put some striking birch branches in a beautiful vase or a bay leaf wreath as a centerpiece. It still gives that autumn feeling without being so obvious.

I love using mini fruits or vegetables, such as pears, persimmons and winter squash, to hold place cards. It’s fun and less precious than the usual options. I try to mix old and new, for instance my grandmother’s china with some of my table linens, for a mix of formal and modern so that the table looks fresh and not too traditional or stuffy.

I turn off all the lights and just use candles. It’s perfect for this time of year and avoids brightness which can really put a damper on a gathering.

(Photo credit: @suzannegoin)

Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin, The Larder at Burton Way

Caroline: The food that surrounds the holiday season delights the sights and senses, undeniably bringing people together. In particular, sweet potato dishes create an amazing and autumnal aroma and flavor that is immediately engrained in people’s memories. Add in the gorgeous color, and it’s a dish that everyone always looks forward to enjoying.

This sweet-and-savory sweet potato recipe makes a great side dish. I always say that if I stopped bringing this to my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner, I might never be invited back! For those who don’t have the time, these sweet potatoes can always be ordered from our Thanksgiving Take-Away Menu at The Larder at Burton Way.

Sweet Potatoes with Bacon, Romesco and Spinach

4 pounds sweet potatoes

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 cup sherry, reduced to 1/2 cup

8 ounces (2 stocks) unsalted butter

2 tablespoon sliced sage leaves

2 teaspoons picked thyme leaves

3/4 pound slab bacon, cut into ½-inch lardons

1/2 pound young spinach, cleaned

1 recipe romesco

Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the potatoes, then cut them into 1 ½-inch cubes. Place them in a large bowl and toss with the sugar and reduced sherry.

In a medium sauté pan, cook the butter over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, until it’s brown and smells nutty. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add the sage and thyme to the butter, then pour it over the sweet potatoes, scraping the pan with a rubber spatula to get all the brown bits. Toss with a large spoon, being careful of the hot butter. Season with 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a large roasting pan, then bake in the oven for 50 minutes to one hour until they are caramelized tender. Stir with a metal spatula every so often to coat evenly.

While the potatoes are cooking, slice the bacon lengthwise into 1 3/8-inch thick slices. Stack them in two piles, then cut the strips crosswise into 3/8-inch thick, even-sided rectangles or lardons. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute, add the bacon and cook for about 5 minutes, until it’s tender and lightly crisped. Using a slotted spoon, transfer it to a plate.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove the pan from the oven, then toss in the bacon and spinach. Taste for seasoning and arrange in a shallow bowl or large platter. Spoon the romesco over and around the sweet potatoes.

Maire Byrne, Owner of Thyme CateringThyme Cafe & MarketLocal Kitchen & Wine Bar, and Quinnie & B in Santa Monica

I like to have everything ready and out so that I don’t have to spend too much time in the kitchen. I love to set up food around the house so as people move throughout, they are excited by new tasty treats.

On the kitchen island I like to set up a panini and soup station.  Everyone loves a delicious winter soup served in a mug, and we have a server there pressing paninis to order.

In the dining room we set up a comfort-food station with sliced turkey, cranberry compote, beef filet with spicy horseradish, creamy mac ‘n’ cheese, crispy onions and our thyme-kale salad.

I set up dessert on our breakfast table, covering it with bite-sized treats such as mini red-velvet cupcakes, mini cranberry-apple crisp with vanilla ice cream in small glasses, and hot chocolate and apple cider, which are sure to make the house smell amazing!

For the kids, we have donut decorating. We set up a table with all sorts of cute bowls filled with toppings that kids can use to decorate donuts for them to take home.

Brown Sugar-Lime Yams

From Thyme and Available at The Gourmet To-Go Section at Thyme

Serves 12-15

12 yams

1/2 pound butter

Zest of 3 limes and juice of 5

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

Salt to taste

Cover yams with water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. When cool enough to handle, peel yams, being sure to remove any threads and tough portions. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan, then bring to a simmer. Cook until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved; remove from heat. In batches, purée yams and butter mixture until smooth. Taste for seasoning.


Fig & Thyme Cocktail

From Local Kitchen & Wine Bar

2 1/2 ounces vodka

1 1/2 ounces fig syrup

1 ounce Earl Grey tea (double concentrate)

1 ounce tangerine juice (pulp removed)

2 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish

1 large egg white

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker and stir until combined. Add egg white, and fill shaker to the top with ice. Shake vigorously for 90 seconds, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with sliced fig on thyme skewer.

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