"At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well, and talk well but not too wisely." — W. Somerset Maugham
Let's continue last week's dialogue with more party themes, along with a treasure trove of food and drink faves to celebrate the holiday season in good style and cheer. Bottoms up!
Perfect Pitch Parties
Everyone loves a caroling party (even the grumpiest Grinch), so host a fun and lively one serving up sheet music featuring favorite holiday tunes along with harmonious treats. For starters, pass around mugs of soul-soothing caramelized pumpkin or butternut squash soup with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Some nice accompaniments include a mixed olive or heirloom tomato bruschetta, a smoked salmon crostini, or garlic rosemary toasts. Keep up the tempo with a puff pastry strudel filled with wild mushrooms, French shallots and fresh herbs, and a warm wilted arugula, cranberry and candied hazelnut salad.
For eye-popping finales Christmas spices shake, rattle and roll out of the pantry with sweet, warm and pungent notes of cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, peppermint, cinnamon, and ginger enlivening classic gingerbread and shortbread cookies, mincemeat pies and plum puddings.
Other indulgences that make the palate sing in delight include a cherry, dark chocolate trifle, assorted crème brulees, honey pecan brittle, and marzipan macaroons. Up to the lips, over the gums with some top hits of the season, including silky smooth eggnog, hot toddies, and warm spiced apple or pear cider (see recipe).
Let's Do Brunch
As brunch is the blending of breakfast and lunch fare, dishes can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature so the host can be mingling with guests instead of monkeying in the kitchen. Assorted frittatas and quiches like smoked salmon, caramelized red onion and caper, Portobello mushroom and kale, or turkey bacon and red pepper are crowd-pleasers, along with a decadent crème brûlée French toast drizzled with drunken berries.
Holiday sips can also be mixed and chilled overnight like minty mimosas, cranberry Marys, and ginger citrus spritzers. Have steamy comfort drinks like praline coffee, Mexican hot chocolate, or pumpkin chai tea ready and waiting in attractive, insulated carafes to serve when guests arrive.
A pan of peppermint brownies, cranberry almond biscotti, and a cinnamon coffee cake also make us all a little more jolly.
The Divine (yet dreaded) Dinner Party
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras upper-class wives were expected to frequently host large and lavish dinner parties, not only as a conduit for important social contacts, but also to secure their status in society. Today, dinner parties can be sophisticated and elegant or casual and rustic; small and intimate or large and formal; for business purposes or for sheer pleasure.
Alas, the bane of the dinner party host ranges from food choices and preparation to personality clashes among guests. But most people would agree that the key to a dream dinner party lies in the richness of conversation.
So when planning a holiday dinner party, compile an eclectic group of guests, both men and women, young and old, educated and self-taught from diverse fields, and, of course, intriguing, entertaining and humorous. It's best if everyone can be seated at one table so all are engaged in a single topic of conversation.
As for the food part, start the party in the kitchen with festive drinks and apps, shuffle to the dining room for the main course, then waddle to the living room for coffee and dessert.
Prepare simple yet tasty dishes to suit dietary preferences and tastes, and serve family style. Rack of lamb, baked salmon, roast chicken or paella are safe bets, while a wild mushroom risotto or butternut squash lasagna are good vegetarian choices.
Fresh berries drizzled with a balsamic glaze, and topped with an amaretto or Grand Marnier-infused whipped cream is a simple yet elegant holiday indulgence.
Recipe: Homemade Spiced Pear or Apple Cider
• Ingredients: 1 gallon apple or pear cider; 10-inch square cheesecloth; piece of butcher's twine (long enough to tie); rind from one lemon; rind from one tangerine or mandarin orange; 4 cinnamon sticks; 6 whole cloves; 6 allspice berries; 1 inch stick fresh or candied ginger; 1/4 cup orange blossom honey.
• Method: Place cider and honey in a large pot. Make a sachet piling the rinds and spices in the center of the cheesecloth square, bringing edges together, and tying tightly. Drop into the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove sachet and pour cider into mugs. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean whipped cream.
— For additional holiday recipes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org