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The Minimal but Memorable Holiday Party

Submitted by on December 15, 2009 – 1:29 PMNo Comment
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Food + Beer = Fun.

All you need for a fantastic holiday party is food, drink and a structure.  The structure is the spine of the party and gives early arrivals something to do so that people aren’t standing around feeling awkward.

Get guests engaged.
Early arrivals can play havoc with last-minute party preparations so instead of getting stressed, think of it as having extra help arrive just when you need it.

Have your guests light candles, arrange music, cue up the holiday dvds you’ve got stacked next to the television. Put them to work pouring chips into bowls, setting out munchies and checking on the ice situation.  You can never have too much ice.  Put them on door patrol.  Designate a person to wrangle gift bottles and food offerings and other presents so that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to ooh and ahh at that very minute.  (But make sure the wrangler lets you know what kind of bounty has arrived so you can thank your friends before the end of the evening.)

If you’re giving a tree trimming party, pick a few guests to start the ball rolling.  (You should have the tree set up and already wound with lights because that’s a messy chore and aggravating.)  Having a couple of people hanging balls and ornaments will tell guests that you really meant them to hang up ornaments and will help strangers break the ice.

Like all parties, holiday soirees develop as the evening goes on and you can control the rhythm with the food.  Start the party off with some hearty appetizers to fill in the gaps between the cheese plate and the crudités and the tortilla chips and salsa and the onion dip and Ruffles.  (It’s always nice to have some humus and pita chips too or the Mediterranean eggplant dip called caponata, which is available in jars.)

Frozen appetizers like egg rolls and spanikopita are available in the freezer section of any supermarket, along with frozen quiches and bite-size pizzas.  If you live near a Trader Joe’s, your appetizer options are even more awesome.  You can, if necessary, rely on store-bought for everything, but if you throw in a couple of home-cooked dishes, those will be the ones everyone remembers.  They don’t have to be fancy.  Try something like…

NY0204_Honey-Cornbread-Muffins_lgCornbread Ham Muffins


-3-5 boxes cornbread mix, like Jiffy
-1 ½ pounds sliced deli ham
– 1 ½ pounds sliced Swiss or Cheddar cheese
-Milk (as needed)
-Eggs (as needed)
-1 jar grainy mustard
-1 jar chutney (like Major Grey’s)


1. Prepare cornbread muffins according to package directions.  Usually you have to add milk and eggs.   Pour batter into muffin tins that have been sprayed with Pam so they don’t stick.

2. Cut the ham and cheese into squares that will fit inside the muffins.

3. Cut each muffin in half.  Spread one half with mustard, preferably a strong, grainy mustard.  Spread the other half with a hot/sweet chutney.

4. Layer a slice of ham and a slice of cheese on each muffin and you have a mini-meal.

Tip: You can always store leftover corn muffins in the freezer and then use them to make cornbread stuffing for Christmas.

Moving on to the Next Phase

As the party matures, it’s time to bring out the sweets.  Even if people have stuffed themselves with little nibbles and light bites, there’s always room for dessert.  Give your guests a wide variety, not just in type of dessert (cookie, candy, cake) but also in flavor.  Hard as it is to believe, not everyone loves chocolate, so make sure there’s something else just as rich and luscious for those sad people.

A sample sweets menu might include any or all of the following:

Key Lime Tarts
Bite-size Pecan Tarts
Stuffed Dates
Pumpkin Bread
Maple Cheesecake
Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Pound Cake

chocolate poundChocolate Pound Cake


-1 ½ cups unsalted butter
-3 cups granulated (white) sugar
-5 eggs, unbeaten
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-3 cups flour
-½ tsp. baking powder
-½ tsp. salt
-5 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
-1 cup whole milk

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Cream together butter and sugar.  Add unbeaten eggs one at a time, mix well after each addition.

2. Stir in the vanilla extract.

3. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Add 1/3 the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, alternating with the milk.  Mix well.

4. Pour the batter into a tube pan that’s been sprayed with Pam.  Bake at 325 degrees for an hour and 20 minutes or until the cake is “springy” to the touch.

Bring on the Beer

At a big holiday bash you’ll want to have a supply of soft drinks and sparkling water to serve alongside the alcohol, but be sure not to stint on the beer.  Bring out a selection of “winter-warmers” and seasonal brews to make a festive occasion a celebration of cheer.  Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale,  a malty, honey-amber colored brew, pairs as well with salty ham as it does with cake.  Another excellent choice is the spicy, fruity, malty Jubelale from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon.