The New Holiday Tradition We Can’t Wait to Start

We’re already looking forward to a magical holiday entertaining season with Valerie Bertinelli’s expert advice on getting great food on the table without losing our minds. When we sat down to talk to her about her amazing new book, Valerie’s Home Cooking, Bertinelli made a holiday tradition suggestion that blew us away: Don’t just get your friends and family involved in the planning, but ask them to bring a dish with recipe cards filled out, and do a recipe swap.

“Put your friends and family to work,” she said. “Instead of gifts, have them bring a dish and the recipe cards to go along with it.”

So simple, and yet, so brilliant! What we love best about this idea is how easy it is for your kids to get involved. Plus, be honest with yourself: does anyone need to play another harrowing and uncomfortable game of Pink Elephant with the family? Wouldn’t it be better to swap and steal cute serving plates and baking dishes? As an added bonus, having people bring dishes loaded with food is a great way to lighten the load on yourself as the hostess– or serves as a great way for you to help out as a guest. It takes minimal planning, and we’ve put together handy guidelines riffing off Valerie Bertinelli’s idea. 

We can’t wait to try this out with our families this Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah seasons. Curious to know what we’re serving? Our favorite recipes from Valerie’s Home Cooking are below and you can bet you’ll find them scribbled on a recipe card or two as we proudly present them to friends and family. Nothing brings good tidings of comfort and joy quite like a heaping helping of BLT Pasta or Hamburger Helpa does. (Sorry, but we’re not sharing the Brown Sugar Bacon Sriracha Bites. You’re just going to have to make your own. You can find all three recipes below.)


  • A baking dish or serving plate that meets criteria (see below)
  • Recipe cards
  • A recipe that works every time, without fail, and that everyone loves. (Need inspiration? We’ve got you covered.)


  • Set a spending limit for the cost of the dish. Give a range, so that everyone’s costs between, say, $20-25. That way nobody is fighting for the fancy plate, or avoiding the one that someone is clearly regifting. 
  • Make sure everyone has a headcount, so they can make enough recipe cards for everyone (or make sure your printer/copier is working in case someone wants to snag a recipe they didn’t win in the swap). You can also simply snap photos of all the recipe cards and email them to everyone when you send out your, “Thanks for coming!” notes.
  • If you’re hosting (or if you want to organize this on behalf of the host), keep tabs on what everyone is bringing and be ready to make assignments. (Or make a quick Google Form for people to use to sign up for dishes.) 
  • Keep tabs on sweet vs. savory. Not that it wouldn’t be fun to have a Thanksgiving meal made entirely of pies, but make sure someone is covering the stuffing, too. (Our rule is typically: Host handles the turkey and the gravy, 2 appetizers, 2-3 veggie sides, stuffing, white potato, sweet potato, and 2-3 desserts).
  • The person who’s handling drinks can either bring a plate that meets requirements or if they’d like, a fun punch recipe and a cute pitcher. 

The Day Of

  • Set all the dishes out buffet-style.
  • Eat the food, and once the meal is done, sort the leftovers into their containers. 
  • Gather everyone around and draw numbers. 
  • Select from the dishes in numerical order, either pulling from the common pile or stealing from one another. When someone selects a dish, the person who brought that dish presents the winner with the matching recipe card.
  • Once everyone has a dish and a recipe card, make copies of recipes for everyone who wants them.
  • Send your guests home full and happy, each pleased with their cute new dish and excited to try their new family recipe, resolving to make them all cook something for the table again next year. 

You can give recipes from Valerie’s Home Cooking a try this holiday season. Our favorites are below! And if a taste of the book isn’t enough, you can order your own copy here.

Excerpted from Valerie’s Home Cooking by Valerie Bertinelli. Copyright © 2017 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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