The holiday season means holiday parties. Don’t ask me why but expectations always seem to be over-the-top. Forget a casual get-together; it just won’t do. No indeed, our holiday parties should sparkle. If you’re thinking of hosting one this year, you may be feeling a wee bit of pressure. It’s okay, take a deep breath and don’t panic. After all, ’tis the season for holiday magic.
Be it dinner for eight or cocktails for fifty, don’t worry, everything will be smashing. Not only will you figure it out, you might even keep your sanity. First, let’s start by stating categorically and for the record that one-of-a-kind, special and specular do not mean perfect. After all, why settle for perfect when you can have wonderful?
It starts with the company. Collect a group of brilliant, funny conversationalists and the party will be a success. Good company makes for a good party. However, add great food and a beautiful setting and the evening becomes exceptional.
Whenever you put together an eclectic group, it’s a good idea to enlist some kind of conversation starter. Some hosts do it with ugly sweaters or twenty questions. I find that food, yes food, is a fantastic ice breaker. Set out a beautiful cheese board and someone will share a story about a recent trip to France. Smoked salmon with all the fixings will encourage a tall tale of a fishing trip or Christmas Eve smorgasbord.
Keep it simple but elegant. There is no need to buy box after box of hors d’oeuvres from Trader Joes or Costco. Instead, think homemade and two or three, not tens, of different appetizers to pass. Add a few beautiful platters, scatter bowls of olives and nuts or other nibbles and you’ve got it covered.
Every family has its holiday food traditions. From oysters on the half shell to Christmas cakes and sugar cookies, certain foods are inextricably linked to yuletide. When planning your menu, consider bringing a few updated family favorites to the table. That said, you might want to skip the green Jello salad in the Christmas tree mold. Some things are better left in the past.
End on a sweet note. Let’s face it, at least a few of your friends are night owls and don’t know when it’s time to go home. A subtle and delicious hint is to put the savory treats away and pass a tray of holiday cookies. After all, aren’t you suppose to go home after dessert? Even if they don’t get the hint, be flattered. Everyone is having too much fun to call it a night.
Now for the decorations. Start with lots of greenery and boughs of holly. Next, big bowls of simple glass balls are lovely – especially in candlelight. Elegant gold and silver or cheery red – it’s up to you. Of course, you will want to bring out all your favorite decorations. Whether you have a grand army of nutcrackers or Santas from around the globe, your collection is part of your holiday story.
Finally, everything looks better by candlelight. I’m rather fond of red candles for the holidays but it’s up to you. Fat ones, skinny ones, tall and short, more is better so don’t be shy. (Do be careful to place candles where they won’t be knocked over. As much as we love our volunteer firefighters, I’m guessing you’d rather they come as guests – not to the rescue.)
Have a lovely party and bon appétit!
Cheesy Spinach Tartlets
For a delicious little nibble, pass flavorful tartlets at your holiday cocktail party. You can buy and fill phyllo tartlet shells or make your own pastry. Enjoy!
Makes about 24 tartlets
Savory Tartlet Pastry (recipe follows) or frozen Phyllo Tartlet Shells
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
2 large eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
If using Savory Tartlet Pastry, make the dough and divide into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls. Place the balls in mini muffin tins and, using your fingers, shape each ball into a tartlet shell. Place the tins in the freezer for 15 minutes. If using phyllo tartlet shells, put the shells in mini muffin tins and store in the freezer until ready to fill.
While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and make the spinach filling.
Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach and cool for a few minutes.
Put the eggs in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the ricotta, season with thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Fold in the spinach and mozzarella.
Spoon the filling into the tartlet shells, sprinkle the tops with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and bake until the filling sets and the top and crusts are golden, about 20 minutes. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes before removing and serving. You may need to use a small knife to loosen the tartlets.
The tartlet shells and filling can be prepped 1 day in advance and stored separately.
Savory Tartlet Pastry
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces
2-3 or more tablespoons ice water
Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the ice water and pulse until the dough comes together in large clumps. Remove the dough from the food processor, pat into a ball and wrap in plastic or parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
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What are your favorite holiday cocktail party tips? Feel free to share!
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018