Whether fancy or casual, holiday celebrations should emphasize time spent with family and friends.
So tap into a few simple techniques to put them at ease and ensure your efforts to ply them with food and drink don’t go unnoticed. Here are some tips courtesy of McClatchy News Service to consider with the story in this week’s A la Carte:
Let your guests know what kind of party you’re having, especially what kind of clothing style — dressy to down-home — is expected. If you’re a guest, remember that flowers are nice — but not if your host has to drop everything to find a vase. Bring the flowers arranged in a vase, or take them by as a thank-you the next day.
As the host, plan for dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.). Ask when you’re issuing invitations. And guests, remember: Let your host know if you have a health issue that limits what you can eat, but understand that the whole party can’t be shaped by one guest.
When presenting food, fill several small platters rather than one big platter. Scatter them around the house to keep people from congregating in one spot. Refrigerate them; whipping out a loaded platter is quicker and less messy than refilling a platter during the party.
Remove a slice: People never want to be the first to take something, whether it’s a slice of cake or wedge of cheese.
Think in levels when you arrange a buffet or dessert table. Use upside-down vases or cake tiers to put food at different heights. Lifting things adds visual interest and it makes some things easier to pick up if they’re above the table surface.
For dramatic displays of single foods, such as deviled eggs or single-bite tarts, wash and dry uncooked beans and use them to fill a platter.
A “crostini bar” elevates the chips-and-dip concept but is supremely simple. As culinary-arts instructor Amy Spence pointed out in today’s story, it’s cost-effective to make these toasted dippers yourself.
Then blend up a few unusual dips, rather than buying commercially prepared versions that never taste truly fresh, anyway. In the hummus vein, I like lemon-flavored white-bean dip. Edamame “pesto” is another inspired twist. You can kick the old spinach-artichoke dip up a notch with this recipe from “Savory Sweet Life,” by Alice Currah.
1 garlic clove, peeled
1⁄4 cup Marcona almonds
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, defrosted
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
In a food processor, mince the garlic and almonds. Add the edamame, parsley, cheese and lemon zest; pulse until coarsely blended.
With motor running, add the olive oil a slow, steady stream, blending until emulsified but some texture remains. Season with the salt and pepper. Pesto may be prepared up to 1 week ahead, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated. Serve with crostini.
Makes 1 1⁄2 cups.
— Recipe from “Seriously Simple Parties,” by Diane Worthington.
Spicy Bacon-Spinach-Artichoke Dip
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
1⁄2 cup sour cream
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan (see note)
1 cup shredded mozzarella (see note)
Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat the frozen spinach in microwave for 5 minutes. Carefully squeeze out as much water as possible and set aside.
Microwave the cream cheese for 1 minute. Combine cream cheese with the mayonnaise, sour cream, cayenne and garlic powder in a large bowl and blend well. Add spinach, the bacon, artichoke hearts and cheeses. Stir together.
Spread in a pie plate or small casserole dish (or small ramekins or baking dishes). Bake in preheated oven until bubbling and slightly browned on top (30 minutes in a small casserole dish or pie plate; less time for smaller ramekins).
Serve hot with crackers, pita chips or vegetable sticks. Makes about 6 cups.
NOTE: Instead of grating cheeses, substitute 2 cups total of an Italian cheese blend sold in supermarkets.