Food & Entertaining - Party Planner

Secrets for planning the perfect party with poise and panache.

Chances are, many holiday events you attend this season will involve sit-down dinners. While this system of seasonal socializing is a long-standing tradition, why not spice things up with some fresh ideas for festive entertaining? Amanda Casha of Toronto-based Urban Source Creative Catering offers us some whimsical ways of getting friends and family together over the holidays, plus fun food and drink ideas beyond the tried-and-true basics.

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.

Dessert parties
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.

Cocktail party
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.

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