It’s the happiest time of year – crisp air, occasional flurries, festive food and drink, fires warming the hearth and valuable time spent with loved ones.
Just as the weather is changing, so can your approach to cool-weather celebrations. Number one, remember that holiday party planning doesn’t have to be stressful; and number two, all it takes are a few subtle, unexpected touches to differentiate your celebration from others. A tantalizing appetizer, creative cocktail, spruced up décor or a unique party favor are sure to have people talking about your gathering into the New Year. Keep in mind these four things and your holiday party is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Cozy home, happy guests
When your guests step out of the chilly air and through your front door, set the mood by making your home feel warm and inviting. Provide a cozy, comforting ambiance by using soft lighting, plush textiles and warm color tones.
Create a warm aroma by lighting seasonal candles or using a scented wax holder.
Let guests know they’re appreciated by adding a party favor. Keep it inexpensive and simple, such as placing a unique ornament at each place setting that guests can take home at the end of the night.
If you choose to use decorations, incorporate ones that accent and create focal points, but don’t overwhelm the space. Now is the time to break out that perfect holiday wreath or buy a new one! Don’t forget, you can add to your décor by using stylish drink containers and serving platters.
Smorgasbord of treats
Not sure what to put on those serving platters? Stick to what you know best, and let local chefs take care of the rest.
Try taking your guests on a culinary journey with the tastes of the season – cater some, or all, of your party food from your favorite places. Why limit yourself to one cuisine or restaurant when you can incorporate a variety of dishes? There are no rules saying you can’t get a salad from one spot, an appetizer from another and a dessert from yet another.
Pro tip: When it comes to sweets, consider using them as a form of décor – incorporate shades of the season like deep maroons, oranges and yellows into things like macaroons, berries, scones or cupcakes.
When your guests have loaded up their plates, make sure they have something tasty to quench their thirst.
Seasonal craft beers are all the rage. Stock up on winter lagers, Christmas ales or festive stouts. Rather than a growler of a specific brew, consider letting guests try a flight of them all.
If beer isn’t your forte, try out a new holiday cocktail recipe, like Hot Buttered Rum or Pomegranate Sangria [recipes provided].
If you choose to serve wine at your gathering, complement the flavors by pairing it with the correct foods. If you’re serving meat dishes such as beef and lamb, go with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. If you’re sticking to finger foods and appetizers, try Sauvignon Blanc or Syrah. Chardonnay pairs well with spicy foods, poultry and pork; and Pinot Grigio pairs well with seafood, pasta, vegetarian dishes or chicken. When in doubt, ask your caterer to do the wine and food pairings for you.
Big gatherings, small spaces
Not every home is equipped with an ideal space for entertaining, but don’t let that deter you from hosting.
Make the most of your limited space by getting creative and planning carefully. Hosting a small-space celebration can be intimate and memorable. The first step in preparing your area for entertaining is eliminating clutter. Not only do unnecessary items restrict physical space, they can be distracting and make a modest space feel smaller. Stick to the perimeter when arranging furniture.
Map out the space. Traffic flow can be a big obstacle in a small area. Instead of low furniture such as a coffee table, try incorporating a counter-height island or cocktail table that will create conversation spots while still allowing for people to move about freely.
Instead of having a buffet table, which creates lines and congestion, try situating the food items on tables throughout the space and away from doorways.
Finally, make use of outdoor space if you have it. Just because the weather is chilly doesn’t mean people can’t be drawn outdoors. Place a cooler of drinks outside to break up the crowd indoors. Place a few cozy blankets on the patio furniture, bring out a space heater or light a bonfire – guests are sure to migrate to the fresh air.
HOT BUTTERED RUM
[Makes 4 servings]
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup [1 stick] unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup spiced rum
2 cups boiling water
4 sticks cinnamon, for garnish
• Beat the brown sugar, butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a medium bowl until well blended and smooth.
• Transfer the mixture to a large measuring cup or heat-resistant glass bowl. Add the rum and 2 cups of boiling water. Stir until the butter mixture dissolves. Divide the buttered rum among four mugs.
• Garnish with cinnamon sticks and serve.
1 bottle red wine, dry or sweet
2 cups pomegranate juice
2/3 cup brandy
1/2 cup Triple Sec
1/4 cup simple syrup [equal amounts sugar and water, heated until sugar dissolves, cooled]
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 large orange, halved and thinly sliced
1 green apple, cored, halved and thinly sliced
1 pear, cored, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup seedless holiday grapes, halved
Make it sparkle: add 12 ounces of a carbonated lemon-lime beverage
Combine all ingredients in a pitcher, cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to 48 hours before serving. Serve over ice.