Whether you go casual or elegant, we have all the tips and advice you'll need to host a warm, friendly, successful party. By Ann Taylor Pittman
Healthy Holiday Open HouseIn this season of giving, which I love, I find that one of the hardest things to give is my time. Holiday commitments may be fun, but they come fast and furious—they seem to crowd every moment—and leave little time for myself, let alone others.
My solution is not to back away from the chaos, but to throw a party.
I designed this open house menu for versatility: a dress-up evening or a casual day, a low-key Sunday afternoon drop-around or an elegant Saturday night, even a New Year's Eve. The dishes are small, full of flavor, suitable for adults or kids, and can be dressed up or dressed down. There's a lively mix of flavors and textures, from crunchy phyllo-wrapped asparagus to a creamy caramelized onion topping for crostini. Most are pick-up bites, both savory and sweet (including chocolate and peanut butter--coated pretzels that are completely addictive), with a heavier "anchor" pairing of pork tenderloin in herbed biscuits alongside a colorful roasted root vegetable salad.
The best part? This beautiful party menu, including drinks, comes in under $10 per guest. Now, that's reason to celebrate!
Open House Party Planning TipsI talked with expert party planner Jeffrey Selden, formerly with the New York Palace Hotel and now with Marcia Selden Catering in Stamford, Connecticut. He shared some of his best tips on successful holiday open house party planning.
• Send invitations at least four to five weeks in advance.
• Festive-up the house
• Don't forget about music! It absolutely sets the tone for the party.
• Choose suitable dishes that work with the feel of the gathering.
• Take time to study a food plan.
• Keep the kids happy with kid-friendly bites and special area where the little ones can play.
• Be prepared for gifts especially food and have a few vases ready for flowers.
• Welcome guests with refreshments. Set up a drink station close to the entryway.
• Hire a presentable neighborhood teenager and put her or him in charge of refreshing the food.
Whiskey Sour PunchLook for fresh orange juice in the refrigerated part of the produce department.
Make-ahead tip: Combine all ingredients except club soda up to two days ahead; gently stir in club soda shortly before serving.
Warm Spiced Cran-Pom ToddiesFor a nonalcoholic version, simply omit the rum; to make it sweeter, replace the rum with apple juice.
Make-ahead tip: Steep juice mixture up to a week ahead; cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. Warm over medium-low heat, and add rum and lime juice shortly before serving.
Apple-Blue Cheese ChutneyServe with Basic Crostini or try toasted walnut bread.
Make-ahead tip: Prepare and refrigerate the chutney up to three days ahead; bring to room temperature before serving. For a prettier presentation, top crostini with chutney, and sprinkle the cheese on top instead of stirring it into the chutney.
Caramelized Onion SpreadServe with Basic Crostini, or melba toast. For an upscale version, thinly slice onions, and caramelize as directed. Then combine cream cheese, mayo, pepper, and salt; spread over crostini, and top with onions and chives.
Make-ahead tip: Refrigerate the spread (or its components) up to two days ahead.
Phyllo-Wrapped Asparagus with ProsciuttoYou can also chop the prosciutto and sprinkle it on the phyllo.
Make-ahead tip: Arrange assembled rolls on a baking sheet, coat with cooking spray, and cover; store in the fridge for up to four hours. Bake an hour or two before the party.
Pork Tenderloin with Herbed BiscuitsMake-ahead tips: Freeze uncooked biscuits for a couple of weeks; cut out dough rounds, and freeze flat on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer to a zip-top freezer bag. Arrange frozen dough on a baking sheet, and allow to thaw slightly as oven preheats. Bake an extra two or three minutes or until browned. You can also assemble the sandwiches about an hour or two before the party; wrap and keep warm at 150°. And just know that these are delicious at room temperature—they don't have to be piping hot.
Roasted Root Vegetable SaladMake-ahead tip: Roast the veggies several hours ahead; toss with vinaigrette about an hour before the party. Serve at room temperature.
Coconut-Cardamom MacaroonsMake-ahead tip: Bake cookies, and cool completely on a wire rack; store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Pistachio and Pine Nut BrittleMake-ahead tip: Cool the brittle completely, break into chunks, and store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Dipped PretzelsMake-ahead tip: Dip the pretzels, and store in the fridge on a parchment-lined tray up to five days ahead. Set out shortly before serving, but not too far ahead, as the chocolate may melt.