While you may know her best for her roles in NBC’s Heroes or films such as Legally Blonde, Ali Larter feels as at home in the kitchen as she does on set. Composed of a year’s worth of “festive menus” Larter’s new cookbook, Kitchen Revelry, is a testament to her passion for home entertaining. And after years of learning-through-hosting, Larter has found that whether you’re laying out a full Thanksgiving spread or having a few neighbors by for a Wednesday chili supper, focusing every effort on enjoying your company is the strategy that makes for less stress. With the holiday season joyously approaching, Larter was more than happy to share her top tips for [close to] effortless entertaining.

# 1 Tip: Keep it CozyLet’s be honest, no one aims to be the first guest to arrive at a dinner party… you know, that lone ranger destined to be the first venturing into the spinach dip as a frazzled hostess finishes primping the place to perfection. In attempting to keep any guest to her home from feeling such first-to-arrive awkwardness, Larter creates a warm and welcoming ambiance by paying special attention to simple, often overlooked, details. To allow party-goers (even the fashionably early ones) to feel as though they are walking into a friendly gathering that’s well underway, Larter suggests creating a soft warmth with your lighting. She has found that stark bright lights suggests a rigid atmosphere and can leave company feeling less than relaxed. If you’re hosting an evening event--when you’ll no longer be able to rely on natural light--lean more on candle light and don’t be afraid to use the dimmer switches on overhead beams in order to create the right glow.

Larter further recommends lighting your candles 30 minutes to an hour before people are due to arrive so that the wax has a chance to begin melting down--just another small contribution to creating a relaxed vibe. Along with the candles, go ahead and set out a cheese plate roughly an hour beforehand. Not only does bringing the platter to room temperature prevent guests from struggling to chip off chunks of a frigid appetizer, but a scene of cheese by candlelight… can you really ask for a more inviting image?

Above all, remember that striving for “perfection” lays a lot of pressure on your party, which can keep both you and your company from being at ease. No need to break out Great Aunt Helen’s porcelain china. A table of mismatched serving pieces can create a perfectly whimsical setting that expresses your personal style. Remember, casual is the new elegant.

# 1 No No: Doing it all in one day

If you feel confident planning a menu, grocery shopping, cooking, and prepping your home for umpteen guests in the hours leading up to the reveal of your most enthusiastic host’s face--cheers to you. For most of us, forcing all of the preparation for a home gathering into a single day is the fabric of domestic nightmares. Larter observes that when people attempt to load as many items from their prep checklists as will fit into the day of an event, the overload of work makes it nearly impossible for the host to have a good time. And while it’s important that you enjoy your own party for your own sake, Larter says that a positive mood is essential to your guests as well because of how intensely the energy of the host can impact the energy of the party.

Don’t let inviting folks over be the only task you accomplish on the forefront. Try to knock out major legwork early by grocery shopping and recipe prepping at least one day before. The day of your gathering, schedule the cooking so that by the time friends start to arrive, you need only add finishing touches or maybe do a bit of gentle reheating. If guests do happen to show up early (or heaven forbid you’re running late)--don’t sweat it. Larter explains that having guests help out with small kitchen tasks, like whipping cream or peeling vegetables, can be a hands-on way to have your company engaged in the party and a great start to conversation. Not to mention, having a few sous chefs by your side allows you to interact with your company rather than stressing solo behind-the-scenes.