Make it a family affair
Instead of holding several events (one for friends, one for family, something child-friendly), get everyone together for one big, holiday bash. Amanda suggest a menu that features sophisticated items for adults, plus fun stuff for kids like corn dogs, mini sliders and Chinese take-out containers filled with pasta salad. If there will be several children in attendance, consider hiring a babysitter for the evening and set up an area (basement or spare bedroom) where they can watch holiday movies or play games.
Bet on brunch
Not all get-togethers have to take place in the evening. Brunch can be a great way to get smaller groups together for a low-cost, big flavour afternoon. Have champagne and orange juice on hand for mimosas and serve items that can be prepared en masse, such as roasted white and sweet potatoes, goat cheese and roasted red pepper strata and an array of quick breads and muffins you can either make or buy, plus jams, jellies and butter.
Cookie exchange parties
Let’s face it, the cookie monster in all of us comes out around the holidays so why not host a cookie exchange? Have guests choose their favourite cookie to bake (or buy) and bring it over. Set up a treat table so everyone can sample the sweets. Beverage options include hot chocolate, flavoured coffees and dessert-based cocktails involving creamy liqueurs like Baileys or Kahlua.
Who needs appetizers and mains when you can go right to the best part? A dessert party is a sure winner. Set up a station with your desserts of choice. A general guideline: choose items guests can hold and eat easily while mingling. Mini cheesecakes, brownies, cupcakes and even containers of different types of candy make fun options. Provide small tins or cellophane bags so guests can take home leftovers.
Organize an open house
If you have a lot of people to see over the holidays, an open house can be a good way to get them all to your home without the added pressure of cooking for a houseful of people. Keep it manageable by giving guests a four- to five-hour window to drop by. Offer simple snacks such as fruit skewers, crackers, cookies and candied nuts and have cranberry juice and sparkling water on hand, along with a small selection of red and white table wines.
With so many heavy meals to eat, it can be a good idea to the take focus off of food and instead focus on one-bite appetizers and cocktails. To really kick things up a notch, make it a dress-up affair. But instead of formal duds, have guests get playful with their attire – think vintage kitsch or pick a theme (Mad Men, for example) for an evening full of fun. Set up drink stations featuring one beverage per station and choose items that are only featured for a short amount of time, such as winter beers or ciders.
Wine and cheese party
A wine and cheese party is another good option that inspires mingling and takes the focus off of heavy meals. Set up several stations with one wine, paired with one cheese. Place a card on each table explaining tasting notes, why the pairing works and what to expect. Alternatively, you can have guests each bring their wine and cheese of choice and set up all the offerings at one station.
Festive food and drink ideas
Amanda provides some ideas for interesting appetizers and cocktails.
Maple bourbon tiger prawns
Grilled tiger prawns, wrapped with bacon brushed with maple bourbon glaze
Fig and ginger snap
Compôte of Turkish figs, on a traditional ginger snap piped with mascarpone, garnished with crystallized ginger.
Classic French Canadian tourtière with savoury filling in buttery biscuit crust served with Cumberland sauce
White chocolate polar bear
1 oz - vodka
1.5 oz Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur
1.5 oz peppermint schnapps
Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake to blend, and pour into a stemless martini glass. Garnish with shaved white chocolate curl.
1 oz - vodka
1.5 oz advocaat
1.5 oz Frangelico
Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously to blend, and pour into a stemless martini glass. Garnish with sprinkle of cinnamon or toasted cinnamon stick.
Additional hosting tips
Hire a caterer
A caterer can do everything, from setting the table and cooking to cleaning up, which means you can host without all the added stress.
Set up a photo station
Buy a compact photo printer that plugs right into your camera. Have guests pose for a photo as they arrive, print copies out and give them out as parting gifts. Don’t forget to print out copies for yourself to make a holiday album.
Decorate with nature
Use seasonal greenery for decor. Birch bark, cedar boughs and pinecones costs nothing but are festive and easy to obtain.
Offer interesting products
Instead of buying the most expensive of everything, keep your budget in check by offering interesting, but affordable beverages. Barefoot makes a bubbly pinot grigio that is under $15. Bubbly connotes celebration but it doesn’t have to be champagne. There are also several winter beers and ciders available during the holiday season.