By Laura Farmer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year—party season! So deck the halls and get ready to fa la la with family and friends! To add some ho ho ho to your holiday hosting, we’ve reached out to Ilda Yescas, owner of Nova Europa in Silver Spring. Her pro tips provide the secret sauce for the perfect party. Plus, read on to find out her favorite ingredient of the best gathering she’s ever hosted. (Spoiler alert: It has nothing to do with what’s on the table, but who’s around it!)
Montgomery Magazine: Sometimes creating a menu for an event as large as a holiday gathering can be overwhelming. Can you help families design the menu?
Ilda Yescas: As you consider your menu, you want foods that can be prepared before the event or require minimal preparation during your gathering. Our goal is to spend time with the people we love, so preparing foods ahead of time will be very helpful.
So first, think of appetizers that are very simple. I really like a charcuterie board, where you can just lay out lovely cheeses, rolled up hams, perhaps a cranberry relish or spicy jelly. You can even prepare the tray in advance and wrap it up and store it in the fridge until your guests arrive. Baked brie is also a lovely and simple appetizer. For the holidays, you might wrap it in cranberry and nuts with a honey glaze. Or in autumn, we like to bake it topped with apples and almonds.
The main course, too, can be prepared ahead of time. You can put a nice cut of beef in a slow cooker in the morning; by the time the guests arrive, it will be ready to pull apart.
For sides, green bean casserole is always a popular side dish and can be prepared ahead of time. For a starch, consider baby potatoes that you don’t even have to peel. You just wash them, toss them with olive oil, a little garlic, salt, pepper and some parsley, and put them in the oven for about 40 minutes.
For dessert, a very popular trend is buying a variety of mini-desserts. They’re small enough that you can eat the whole thing and still try something else.
What are some other party trends we’ll see this holiday season?
Mocktails are very popular. You can make or buy flavored teas, add some sparkling water to give it a little fizz, and you can even add little sprigs of rosemary or thyme to enhance the flavor.
Another trend is having a holiday brunch, instead of dinner. Guests arrive midday for a nice eggs benedict, fresh bagels, smoked salmon and a mimosa or bloody Mary. It can also be a lot less expensive than hosting a dinner.
Can you share some other ways to stretch your party budget?
Buying in bulk at places like Costco can really save you some money. Plus, keep an eye out for sales and special deals. There are also simple substitutions that save money, like instead a beef tenderloin, a chuck roast can work really well. Or instead of strawberries, consider big grapes, cut in half to look more festive.
Do you have any entertainment ideas that work for both adults and kids?
I think simple jigsaw puzzles are always fun. You could even put a few out and have the kids and adults compete with each other to complete them. You could set out a craft station for kids. For adults, I think charades is a lot of fun. Another idea, if the weather allows, are bonfires. People enjoy sitting around the fire and talking.
What are some décor ideas?
Silvery and shimmery décor is nice because it works for anything from Christmas to Chanukah or Thanksgiving. Those little LED light ropes really add nice sparkle and are so easy to put up.
For centerpieces, you can just have a shallow bowl, put one of those little green bars in the bottom, and fill it in with flowers from the grocery store. Start in the center and fill it around the sides.
These are great tips. Can you tell us about the best party you’ve ever hosted?
The event that comes to mind was our housewarming party. We kept it very simple and just had 30 or so family and friends come. All of the food was made ahead of time, so we could just hang out and have good conversation. That’s all you really need: good people, just some warm comfort food and the chance to talk to people you love.
1311 Lamberton Dr. Silver Spring
About Ilda Yescas and Nova Europa
Nova Europa, in Silver Spring, boasts a memorable fine dining experience for any occasion. Since 1982, it has served European food specializing in Portuguese cuisine using only the freshest ingredients available. Guests can enjoy a cocktail from its full-service bar or a glass of wine from the extensive wine list.
“My dad originally started the restaurant with a couple of partners,” says Ilda Yescas. “He passed about four years ago, so I took it over. I just kind of grew up in it so it was easy to slip right back in.”
Yescas is proud of the unique and fresh items on Nova Europa’s menu.
“We have a lot of the traditional Portuguese meals, and everything’s made to order. We serve some of the things you don’t see too much nowadays, like escargot,” says Yescas.
“But I would say our best dish is the fresh fish—anything from corvina to rockfish. We prepare it a couple of different ways. I like it just grilled lightly with the lemon sauce, with vegetables and potato. It’s very nice.”
— Laura Farmer