Last year’s annual holiday party did not go as planned. Our heater was being flaky (I’d argue it wasn’t working at all by the end of the week) and I had come down with a cold. Between the two, we had to cancel the party or risk everyone being cold and getting sick. I was super bummed – this has been our big party each year. I plan and look forward to it for months. More than half of the menu, to feed 40-50 people, was already prepared by the time we made the call to cancel. As hard as it was for me, I’m sure I wouldn’t be forgiven if everyone spent their upcoming Christmas vacations in bed with colds.
Even though we didn’t get to host the party last year, I wanted to share the menu I had planned, in case something inspires you. In addition, I wanted to share a few tips and lessons I’ve learned while planning these parties over the last 6 or so years:
1. I plan and execute my menu each year. This sounds silly and might offend some people, but I’ve learned not rely on others (or at least limit that reliance) for contributions. Inevitably, something happens and someone can’t make it, which has the potential of throwing everything off (one year, I had backup appetizers in my freezer, just in case… another year, I wasn’t prepared and had to ask someone to pick up a last minute item from the grocery store on their way to the party because someone arrived without the promised goods). Planning and executing myself means that I don’t worry that something may not go as planned.
2. I’ve learned to dial back on the desserts and increase the savory items. Year after year, my savory items were all gone by the end of the night but I was still left with a number of desserts. Sometimes this is due to guests preferences, other times because people end up bringing cookies and other sweets unannounced.
3. Start cooking and baking well in advance. I usually start cementing my menu in November, about a month away from the party. I start cooking and baking at the same time. Cookies freeze great; candy keeps well at room temperature. I store candies in airtight containers in my basement – cooler temps and not in sight to tempt us! Even some savory appetizers (such as the spinach and artichoke dip and meatballs on the menu below, or mini quiche that I’ve made in the past) freeze really well. This keeps me from feeling frantic in the week prior to the party, and rushing around the day of the party. I’ll even keep a little extra in the freezer in case I need to restock during the party.
4. Know your layout and the flow of guests throughout your house. We’ve always had two floors of the house for entertaining. Currently, our upstairs has a family room, kitchen, dining room, etc. The downstairs has a second family room and pool table. While I set most of the food out upstairs, I usually try to make sure there’s snacks – bowls of nuts, a small cheese/cracker or veggies tray, an extra plate of assorted cookies – in the downstairs as well.
But this final item is equally as important for your main entertaining space. Does everyone tend to hang out in the kitchen and family room? Maybe then, place the food and beverages in a dining room so that people move around the space a bit more. Our formal living room and dining room have been completely empty for the past two years, so we always set up a few folding tables for holding food and beverage stations.
These four tips have helped me kick things off smoothly every year.
This year, we’ve decided to change things up a bit. We now have two young children and the majority of our friends have their own families. While we’ll still hold a holiday gathering, this year’s will be slightly smaller and more kid-friendly than it has been in the past. Come back tomorrow for our first annual Holiday Open House Menu.
Holiday Party, 2014
Gingerbread Cookies, Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, and Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Spicy Espresso Dark Chocolate Almonds
Pecan Pie Bars
Black Bottom Cupcakes
Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip with fresh bread
Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Mini Italian Frittatas
Veggies with Fiesta Dip
Beer, Wine, Assorted Soft Drinks