Easy holiday dinner tricks and recipes that really wow

Party Planning 101: Food for Thought

Holiday Dinner Tricks

Your grandma's pumpkin pecan pie is the stuff of legend. But considering how long it'll take you to make it (Nana's a stickler when it comes to homemade crusts), we suggest tucking some quick tricks up your sleeve for the rest of your holiday dinner.

Enter Ryan Loo, Executive Chef at Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, and his arsenal of tips and recipes to add a stunning, professional touch to any holiday feast.

They're easier than pie. (Sorry, Nana.)

Pickle fruits and vegetables. Chef Ryan prepared three versions for our table (see above photo, recipes posted here). Experiment with radishes, pineapple, watermelon rind, cucumbers, onions and more. Why we like it: the brine takes just minutes to prepare, then the fridge does the rest. Come party day, set them out with fruit, cheeses and cured meats so guest can nibble as soon as they arrive. Store and serve in mason jars for a classic, rustic feel.

Holiday Dinner Tricks

Make your own garnishes. You don't need any fancy tools for this one, just a wide plastic-handled vegetable peeler. Create curls by crisping hard vegetables, like carrots, daikon, radishes or celery, in ice water for 15 minutes. The shavings will curl naturally as you peel. Sprinkle on salads and appetizers for a nice crunch and pop of color. Another option: fake a julienne by finely slicing straight peels. Try lemon or lime zest or ginger.

Use a microplane. Surprise guests with an unexpected twist on old favorites. Clean and cut fruit into sections, freeze, then shave onto your dish just before serving. As guests eat, the fruit will melt into a natural, refreshing sauce. Chef Ryan topped spinach, arugula and prosciutto with frozen melon for a fun appetizer and added frozen pineapple over preserved fruits and beans for a quick halo-halo. He also whipped up a healthy dessert by grating almonds over yogurt and fresh fruit.

Holiday Dinner Tricks

"Make" your own doughnuts. Some fake-outs – cake mix, potatoes from a box – taste obvious, but Chef Ryan's simple cinnamon sweet bread doughnuts definitely don't. Slice any local sweet bread into small, bite-sized rounds, dip them in pancake batter, deep fry until golden and serve with a custard dipping sauce (get the full recipe here!). Everyone will think you have your own malasada factory in the kitchen.

Rather have someone else do the cooking? Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa offers delicious holiday menus for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. Call (808) 921-4600 to make a reservation.

Related story: Easy, affordable decorating tips to dress up your holiday table.

Holiday Dinner Tricks