Join the party! Tips for a fun, festive season

For a peripatetic group, the progressive dinner party is truly a blast. Start at the Allen’s for appetizers, then saunter over to the Miller’s for the main event. Stroll down the block to the Stevens’ for sweet treats, and finally across the road to the Zinberg’s for nightcaps. This is a great chance to bond with neighbors and enjoy a variety of holiday homes and different styles of entertaining. Everyone in the travelling troupe can contribute their specialty dish, a nice bottle of wine or box of bon bons.

One tip: Keep the guest list to a manageable number, especially if the hosts’ houses are small.

Shindig on a Shoestring

A potluck get-together is a frugal and friendly way to celebrate the holidays with friends, family or co-workers. Some cardinal rules of potluck etiquette apply:

1) Everyone has to contribute to the offerings, and preferably bring a dish that does not require heating, prepping, refrigeration or storage space.

2) Condiments and beverages do not count as a dish.

n Foods prepared by neophyte cooks must be graciously received, without criticism.

3) Before bringing a dish, guests should check with the host to avoid repetition

Brunch Up

A Saturday or Sunday holiday brunch is a warm, cozy, relaxing change from a formal soiree or dinner party. As brunch is the blending of breakfast and lunch fare, dishes can easily be prepared in advance and served at room temperature so the host can be mingling with guests instead of tinkering in the kitchen.

Holiday sips can be whipped up and nicely chilled overnight like minty mimosas, cranberry Marys and spiced pear or ginger citrus spritzers.

Soul-soothing warm drinks like praline coffee, Mexican hot chocolate or pumpkin chai tea can be ready and waiting in attractive, insulated carafes to serve when guests arrive.

Instead of babysitting an omelet or other high maintenance egg dish, prepare in advance a smoked salmon frittata, Portobello and caramelized onion quiche, or baked crème brûlée French toast drizzled with drunken berries (see recipe below).

A smorgasbord of charcuterie from ginger rabbit and cherry venison to chicken sage and smoked duck sausages adds a hearty seasonal treat to the meal. Bake a pan of salted caramel brownies and a spiced apple coffee cake for your just desserts.

Station Identification

Set up small do-it-yourself buffet stations or food “bars” throughout your serving area to suit the gustatory preferences and dietary restrictions of your guests.

Do a gluten-free station with assorted cheeses, raw fruits, roasted veggies, and a variety of Mediterranean dips like hummus and eggplant caviar.

A pasta bar is always a fave with a nice display of sauces from marinara and Alfredo to Bolognese and mixed seafood.

Make your own sliders, brushettas or flatbreads with toppings such as heirloom tomato basil, chopped olives and fresh mozzarella.

And, of course, for dessert, nothing beats a dark chocolate fondue with fun dippers from shortbread and biscotti fingers to dried and fresh fruits.

Crème Brûlée French Toast

Ingredients

One egg bread or challah (I prefer raisin)

5 eggs

3/4 cup hazelnut, coconut or almond milk

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons orange blossom honey

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

1 teaspoon vanilla, almond or hazelnut extract

2 teaspoons Grand Marnier

Method: Cut the challah into 1 1/2-inch slices. In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and honey. Heat on low until melted. Pour into a 13X9 inch Pyrex or other oven-proof baking dish and layer with the bread slices.

In a mixing bowl, whisk milk, cream, eggs, extract and Grand Marnier. Pour this mixture over the bread, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes or until puffy and golden. Top with fresh whipped cream and drunken strawberries.

Drunken Strawberries

Ingredients

16 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Method: Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Pomegranate Mimosa Cocktail

Ingredients

Chilled Champagne or sparkling wine

Freshly squeezed blood orange juice

Pomegranate juice and seeds

Method: Fill 1/3 of a glass pitcher with the orange juice. Add a few splashes of pomegranate juice then top off with bubbly. Sprinkle some ruby seeds for garnish. Cheers!

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