Inspiration for holiday entertaining

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By Karen Knowles

Planning a holiday party this season? Create a joyful event by adding a unique twist to holiday favorites. The trends this season are all about comfort, sparkling and luxe decorations, and fresh, flavorful foods. Your family and friends will love celebrating with you in such a warm and welcoming way. Here are some ideas to inspire you.

Relaxed and comfortable entertaining
Create a relaxed environment for your guests while they enjoy your special event. Put a distinctive spin on your holiday gathering with these fresh ideas:

Offer an all-day open house
• With jammed pack schedules, it can be tough for friends to get to every merry-making event. Make it easy on your guests by picking a Sunday to throw a holiday open house when guests can choose when they will stop in at your home. Offer finger foods, a drinks table, and a variety of fun stations like cookie decorating or ornament or wreath making to encourage guests to share the fun and celebrate in creative ways.

Get cozy with a holiday hot chocolate bar
• If a small gathering is more your style, consider a homemade hot chocolate bar, the latest trend in casual celebrations. Prep a long table with mugs, spoons, hot chocolate, and yummy additions such as marshmallows, whip cream, chocolate and caramel syrups, cinnamon sticks, candy canes, sprinkles, and liquor mix-ins. Add chocolate spoons for stirring and you’ve got the perfect treat! Send your guests home with clear ornaments they’ve filled with a variety of pretty homemade hot chocolate mixes—from traditional dark chocolate to peppermint and white chocolate with a variety of colorful add-ins. They’ll love the instant tree decoration and your generosity long after the party is over.

Break the ice with games and crafts
• Throw an Ugly Christmas Sweater party—but instead of wearing one, guests bring their favorite to cut up and make crafts from the pieces, such as stockings, placemats, and even tea cozies. At the end of the evening, guests vote for their favorites. Serve a sheet cake or cookies decorated as ugly sweaters, too. Everyone loves a Christmas party with a wacky gift exchange. Set a price limit, and have each guest bring a pre-wrapped gift. When it’s time for the exchange, everyone will draw a number and pass the gifts around.
• Invite guests to bring a pre-wrapped gift to a White Elephant Gift Exchange and watch the laughs begin.
• For kids, Holiday Bingo is a sure winner, especially when using Hershey Kisses as markers.

Ring in the New Year with a healthy party breakfast
• By the time New Year’s Day rolls around, our resolutions for a healthier 2017 will be high on the priority list. Why not help your friends and family launch their New Year with a healthy, comforting breakfast celebration? Consider these favorite breakfast menu items that prove healthy food can satisfy and delight:
• Yogurt with granola – Make your own granola or buy it in bulk; serve with yogurt and fresh fruit for a satisfying sweet and crunchy morning treat.
• Frittata – Made with eggs and sautéed with veggies herbs, and feta cheese
• Steel-cut oats – Topped with milk, sliced almonds, a bit of maple syrup or brown sugar, and dried fruit.

Create a comforting, welcoming atmosphere
• Heighten your home’s sparkle and shine with silver and gold centerpieces, candles and accent ribbons.
• Add coziness with faux fur table runners and wine bottle stoles. “It’s all about upgraded comfort and luxury in materials,” says Interior Designer Julie Maleski Putzel of JMP Interiors.
• Up the warmth and coziness with natural and woodland themes, using lots of decorative pine cones, birds, and stylish woodland creatures. Red, white and black plaid also brings a congenial feel to your home.
• Decorate with multiple Christmas trees. “Anything goes here,” Maleski Putzel notes. “Tall and skinny, white, metallic, black—and each one trimmed out in a different style.”
• Add sprigs of rosemary and thyme to decorative candles and vases for a beautiful look and lovely scent.

Food trends: fresh, unique, and mini
• Wow your guests with fresh seasonal choices that are big on unique herbs and seasonings. With fresh, local vegetables and farm-raised beef and poultry, your holiday offerings can truly be farm-to-table. Take advantage of the Troy Waterfront Market which offers seasonal vegetables and meats on Saturdays from 9am-2pm throughout the season.
• Popular this season are spices paired with fresh produce. Incorporate spices and herbs like cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, nutmeg, rosemary, garlic, and curry to heighten flavors and add a new element to tried and true holiday menus.
• And don’t forget your vegetarian friends: they’ll be delighted with this Rosemary Hummus option from gardendish.com or the Chocolate Chia pudding from minimalistbaker.com, both of which hit all the right notes!
• Of course, no holiday party would be complete without sweets, but the trend is all about bite-sized snacking. Mini sweets allow guests to sample without over indulging.
• And fresh fruit desserts, full of color and sweetness, work well in place of cookies or cupcakes.

Festive drinks for a sparkling party
The classic champagne cocktail never goes out of style. But new combinations will have you rethinking your favorite drinks. Try these Food Network concoctions:
• Trending drinks this holiday have hints of flavors from other seasons and countries, such as a Pomegranate Sangria or the vodka and limoncello Citrus Temptation with its hints of Italy.
• Try some ultra-smooth and rich drinks like Sandra Lee’s Candy Cane Cocktail featuring vanilla rum with white chocolate liqueur and peppermint schnapps or a Santa’s Sleigh Cocktail, consisting of eggnog, brandy, amaretto, nutmeg, and ice cream
• Make your drinks shine brighter by dipping barware rims into festive gold, green and red sugar crystals that complement your drink offerings.
• For a unique bar accessory, provide skewers with frozen berries, tart green grapes, gumdrops, or other items that complement your chosen drinks. Guests will love swirling them in their drinks! However you celebrate, ring in the season with a joyful gathering that’s warm, welcoming, and uniquely yours. Happy holidays!


Overnight chocolate chia seed pudding
Serves: 4

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups unsweetened Almond milk
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
2-5 Tbsp maple syrup if not blending (can sub 5-9 dates, pitted if blending)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 tsp sea salt optional:
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions
• Add all ingredients except sweetener to a mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. If not blending (which I preferred!), sweeten to taste with maple syrup at this time. If blending, you can sweeten later with maple syrup or dates.
• Let rest covered in the fridge overnight or at least 3-5 hours (or until it’s achieved a pudding-like consistency).
• If blending, add to a blender and blend until completely smooth and creamy, scraping down sides as needed. Sweeten to taste.
• Leftovers keep covered in the fridge for 2-3 days, though best when fresh. Serve chilled with desired toppings, such as fruit, granola or coconut whipped cream.


Santa’s Sleigh Cocktail
Ingredients
White sugar crystals, preferably coarse
2 cups eggnog, chilled
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup amaretto liqueur
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 scoops vanilla ice cream
4 cinnamon sticks

Directions
• Dampen the rims of 4 martini glasses and then line the rims with sugar crystals.
• Combine eggnog, brandy, amaretto, nutmeg, and ice cream in a blender; process until smooth.
• Pour mixture into martini glasses • Garnish each glass with a whole cinnamon stick.

 

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