My favorite part of the holidays is inviting friends and family into my home. Today I’m giving you a sneak peek into my holiday celebrations, along with two other bloggers – Kippi from Kippi at Home, and Lia from Southern Yankee DIY.
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If you visit my house this time of year, you’re likely to find me in the kitchen. This past weekend was our holiday party, which I love because I get to create all sorts of delicious little bites to share with friends.
This year’s menu was inspired by our recent trip to London and Paris. Sausage rolls, mincemeat pies, and chestnut-filled sweets were a little taste of our travels.
The mincemeat was especially interesting because some people swear it should be only fruit, and others swear it should be the Victorian version with meat. I decided to make both versions given here and let my guests decide which they preferred.
Hands down, the meat mincemeat pies were the winner! I also used real beef suet, which I was lucky enough to find at the fancy grocery store for $0.84. (If you can’t find it locally, this British brand is available online). The richness of the fat and the meat cut down on the cloying sweetness of the mincemeat.
Other sweets included homemade baklava and mini pavlovas with either vanilla whipped cream topped with persimmon and pomegranate, or Bonne Maman chestnut spread topped with chocolate whipped cream.
For savory items, I started with a veggie tray with an assortment of dips (all store-bought, shh!), and a cheese tray that included blue cheese with honey and nuts, tangy herbed chèvre, sharp aged gouda, sweet and nutty caciotta, and a creamy Port Salut. I made three crackers to go with them: crispy olive oil and herb, cheesy pecan crackers with a little kick of cayenne, and a copy of Raincoast Crisps, my favorite party cracker.
To round out the menu, I added phyllo cups filled with grilled chicken, cilantro pesto, and tomatoes; cucumber cups with horseradish cream cheese, salmon, and dill; bites of crispy bourbon-glazed pork belly; and the perennial favorite, cocktail meatballs glazed with a mix of chili sauce and grape jelly.
Over at the bar, I set up ingredients for four simple, holiday-themed cocktails. A peppermint white Russian, Pomegranate-Rosemary Gin Fizz, Winter-Spiced Old-Fashioned, and Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch. The punch was the surprise hit of the night! I thought people might only politely sip such an unusual drink, but it was gone by the end of the party.
I’ll be sharing many of these recipes over the next week or so, but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite party-planning tips.
5 Tips for Hosting a Swellegant Holiday Party
- Balance your menu: try to vary flavors and textures as well as dietary needs of your guests. For example, I picked crackers with three different flavor profiles – cheesy/spicy, neutral, and nutty/fruity. I also selected options that would appeal to guests that avoid dairy, carbs, or gluten.
- Spread it out: look for recipes that can be made ahead of the event. For example, my sausage rolls can be made weeks ahead and baked from frozen. Crackers, phyllo cups, pavlova shells, and mincemeat pies can be made 4-5 days ahead of time.
- Storebought isn’t cheating: sometimes the most popular item is the one you spent the least amount of time on – like cocktail meatballs! These old favorites are favorites for a reason. Use them wisely to round out your menu and free up some time in the kitchen.
- Keep it simple: too many choices can overwhelm you and your guests. This is especially true if you’re serving drinks that need to be mixed. A short menu of 3-4 choices is more than enough. For drinks, I picked one vodka, one gin, one whiskey, and one make-ahead punch. I also pre-mixed ingredients where I could, so you only had to combine 2-3 ingredients to make a drink. A handy cheat-sheet of drink recipes was posted near the bar for the bartender or ambitious guests.
- Careful calculations: a good hostess doesn’t want her guests to go hungry or food to go to waste. For a 4 hour party over dinner time, I planned for about 12-15 bites per person, leaning a little more towards savory and meaty options. These were heavy appetizers intended to replace a meal. For a pre-dinner cocktail hour, you might only need 4-6 bites.
A Few of my Favorites:
- Le Creuset cookware in Caribbean Blue.
- Vintage cocktail glasses.
- Collins glasses and apothecary-style bottles.
- Piping bags and tips.
- Vintage-style picture frames.
How do you welcome friends and family during the holidays? Do you have any favorite recipes or party tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments. And don’t forget to check out Lia and Kippi’s lovely homes as well!