tips for a successful holiday party

‘Tis the season to invite friends, family, and coworkers into your home to celebrate the season.  I did just that this past Saturday and thought it might be helpful for those of you who will be doing the same in the coming weeks to learn from my mistakes via a few helpful tips…

1. You are not Martha Stewart and any attempts to recreate the beautiful and festive scenes that grace the pages of her magazine would be pure folly.  She has teams of people who make it look perfect.  You have a full-time job and limited time and resources.  Furthermore, no one is expecting you to be Martha Stewart so stop expecting it of yourself.

I did well to get the holiday table set early in the day before all of the food was done and long before guests arrived.  Granted, I wasn’t able to buy the adorable vintage Christmas tablecloth I had seen at an antique store before Thanksgiving because by the time I went back someone else with (clearly) impeccable taste had already snagged it.  (Note: when you see something you love in an antique/secondhand/thrift store, buy it right away.  Even if you think $30 is a little steep for an adorable vintage Christmas tablecloth with matching napkins, but are later reminded that even at Target or TJMaxx you will be charged $30 for a cheaply-constructed new tablecloth with an inferior design and then kick yourself for being a cheapskate in the first place.)  So I had to settle for my second favorite antique store tablecloth with giant gaudy poinsettias and pom pom fringe.  It worked.  I also planned to make cute little placecards for all of the food and beverages so guests would know what they were partaking in.  Ran out of time.  It happens to the best of us.

2. If people offer to bring food, let them.

I have a tendency to want to do everything myself.  Bad idea.  Let people bring something!  It’s great because it means less dishes for you to make and also might expose you and your guests to a wonderful type of food you’ve never had before.  Or it just might make your food seem even better in comparison. :)

3. Pick places to take shortcuts.  Rather than making all dishes from scratch why not buy a few ready-to-serve options like nice olives, a variety of cheeses for a simple cheese plate, and crackers?  Yes.  Totally do that.

I had visions of making six different appetizers and three desserts.  I realized that wasn’t so much going to happen when it was 1pm and guests were arriving in six hours and I had just gotten home with groceries.  So I wound up making the three desserts, made four of the appetizers, sent my trusty helper out to buy pre-made (gasp!) vegetable dip rather than the carmelized onion variety I had planned to make, and when three guests arrived exactly on time (who does that?) and offered to help I put them to work.  There’s no shame in it!  People like to help!

4.  Have great beverage options, preferably of the booze-variety.

Even my non-alcoholic beverage of the evening (spiced cider) got spiked by the end of the night.  It was a great time for all.

I am sharing the four appetizer recipes I made– bonus post today!  The irony is that three of the four recipes came from Martha Stewart publications… Maybe I was a little closer to channeling her for my party than I thought…

Rosemary Roasted Nuts (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Herbed Flatbread (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and hands
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup fresh rosemary or thyme (or a combination)

Place water in a medium bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, oil, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and the sugar. Stir until dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead with floured hands until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces; cover with plastic wrap. Roll out 1 piece to roughly 4 by 10 inches on a lightly floured surface; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sea salt and herbs. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 4 pieces per sheet.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until crisp and golden, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool on sheets on a wire rack.

Cook’s Note: Crackers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Baked Brie

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut into fourths and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • 1 round (15 oz) Brie cheese
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts, slivered almonds, or walnuts
  • Crackers

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in 10 inch skillet over medium heat.  Cook onion in butter 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in cranberries, brown sugar, and vinegar.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened and caramelized.  Lightly brush ovenproof plate with oil.  Place cheese on center of plate.  Bake uncovered 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is soft and partially melted.  Spoon onion topping over cheese.  Sprinkle with nuts.  Serve with crackers.

Pancetta Wrapped Figs (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
  • 12 ounces pancetta, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds and cut into      1/2-inch-thick strips

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, and cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Add figs, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, to bring to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer figs to a cutting board using a slotted spoon; cut in half. Wrap a pancetta strip around each half. Transfer, seam side down, to a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Bake until pancetta is browned, about 30 minutes. Secure each with a toothpick. Serve warm.

3 thoughts on “tips for a successful holiday party

  1. Your words of wisdom are brilliant! You know how much I totally identify with planning to do more than can possibly be done before a party… :)mom

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