Host a City & Country Holiday Party
The holidays often conjure images of a huge candlelit table loaded with massive, family-style dishes. While this may be your fortunate reality, many Americans celebrate in venues that are tight on space.
Want to throw a memorable party, regardless of the size of your location? We’ll show you how to host a wine-driven holiday celebration with maximum style and minimum stress, including quick tips on how to make the most of your space.
Your apartment may be small, but a big heart, generous spirit and smart planning can make up for that. Push back the furniture, hang some lights and host an adults-only bash that will make everybody glad that you stayed in the
city this holiday season.
Number of guests: 4–24
The vibe: At this upscale sparkling-wine party, what your
space lacks in size, it makes up
for in style.
Wine: Figure on at least half a bottle per person, more if your friends will count on a taxi or Uber to get home. Choose a sparkling wine that fits your budget, be it Champagne, Cava or Prosecco, and load up. If you’re expecting a big crowd, scrub the tub and fill it with ice and bubbly (plus bottled water). If it’s just a handful, splurge on a nice wine bucket and place it center stage. Good-sized white wine glasses are more stable, so they’re less likely to tip over than flutes, but either is fine.
Menu: Gorgeous and warming lobster bisque (recipe on following page) and three-cheese spinach-artichoke toast (visit www.winemag.com) give your holiday party a homemade feel without needing to expend all your energy in the kitchen. Start things off with an easily prepared snack: homemade popcorn sprinkled with truffle salt. If your friends are big eaters, add a charcuterie platter and assortment of cheeses. When things are wrapping up, surprise your guests with platters of pistachio-studded chocolate sablés.
Décor: Glass and metal serving pieces create a sleek urban ambience and add light to the room without clashing with your furnishings. A nice stainless-steel or brushed nickel platter can do double duty for the bisque and sablés. Toss a few jingle bells or silver ornaments on the bar or buffet, but don’t go overboard. Let your beautiful food and foil-topped sparkling wine bottles be the stars of the show.
Stand Up: Standing allows guests to meet and mingle and keeps the energy level high throughout the night. A few people will gravitate toward the sofa, but the fewer seats, the better.
Push It: Move your furniture closer to the walls to allow more space to mingle. Move unnecessary furniture, including end tables and dining chairs, into the bedroom for the evening.
Double Duty: Use your bookcase as a bar, or your entertainment center for the buffet. Every flat surface in your apartment is a potential serving area.
Divide and Conquer: Place food and drinks in more than one spot (dining table, coffee table or cleared bookcase shelf) to avoid bottlenecks.
Dim All the Lights: Keep lamps and overhead lights off. Set the mood with tea lights, lanterns and sophisticated strings of white holiday lights.
Give Them a Hand: Foods that can be eaten without utensils, or with just a spoon or fork, are much easier to handle at a standup party.
Deck the Walls: Don’t clutter your floor space or serving surfaces with decorations. A hanging swag or wreath takes up a lot less space than a Christmas tree.
Save Space: If you have no room for a tree, spray paint some birch branches silver and place them in a heavy vase.
Sumptuous lobster bisque served in heatproof glass is heart-warming, colorful and luxurious. Wait until you’re ready to serve to spoon warm bisque into cups, and garnish each one with a meaty lobster claw. The bisque can be prepared ahead, which frees up your kitchen for the party.
Pro-tip: Foods that can be eaten without utensils are much easier to handle.
- 4 live lobsters (1¼–1½ pounds each)
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
- ¹/₃ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 6 medium tomatoes, diced
- ½ cup tomato paste
- ¾ cup brandy
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1¾ cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
- 8 sprigs thyme, for garnish
Make sure 4 lobsters can comfortably fit into your largest pot. Place lobsters in freezer (as it puts them to sleep). Add 2 inches water and 1 tablespoon kosher salt to pot. Bring to rolling boil. Using tongs, quickly transfer lobsters into pot and secure the lid tightly. Steam for 14–16 minutes. Remove from pot and let cool slightly; do not discard cooking water.
Carefully remove lobster meat from claws and tails; reserve all liquids, shells and lobster bodies. Cut tail meat into chunks, then place the whole claws and chunked tail meat in refrigerator.
Bring three-quarter gallons of water (including liquids from lobster steaming process), 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, lobster shells and bodies to a rolling boil. Cook until reduced by one-third. When finished, pour stock through colander. Set aside, discarding any solids.
Add olive oil and butter to a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Sauté garlic and onions until translucent, then add celery, tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook for approximately 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with brandy. When evaporated, add white wine until warmed through. Add 2 quarts of the prepared lobster stock, and boil approximately 20 minutes. Lower heat, and whisk in cornstarch. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, then add heavy cream. Season with tarragon and dried or fresh thyme. Remove from heat.
Using a hand blender, process until very smooth. Prior to serving, add chunks of lobster tail meat, and simmer over medium heat.
To serve, divide bisque into 8 clear, heatproof glass coffee cups. Garnish each with lobster claw meat and sprig of thyme. Serves 8.
Note: Recipe may be doubled or tripled, but cook lobster in batches of 4.
Toast is one of the hottest food trends at cafés and restaurants, and it’s easy to understand why. Raquel Pelzel’s Toast: The Cookbook offers 50 recipes for sweet and savory toast to fit every season. This three-cheese spinach artichoke toast is a sophisticated take on the traditional artichoke dip that’s a holiday-party staple.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon plus pinch coarse kosher salt, divided
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ⅔ cup grated Gouda cheese
- ⅔ cup grated mild Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 6 marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
- 8 cups roughly chopped baby spinach
- For the Toast:
- 8 slices country-style bread, ¾-inch thick
- Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
- Kosher or coarse salt (optional)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Preheat oven to 375°F. In medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion starts to brown, 3–4 minutes. Scrape onion into medium bowl. Stir in sour cream, mayonnaise, Gouda, Cheddar, 4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon zest, garlic powder and remaining salt. Stir in artichokes and spinach. Transfer mixture to medium baking dish (dip should be 1–1½ inches deep). Sprinkle top with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake until mixture bubbles and starts to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 20 minutes.
Brush bread with olive oil and add salt, if desired. Toast bread until medium brown in toaster oven or under broiler. Top each with some of the artichoke mixture, and sprinkle with chives. Serves 8.
Recipe from Guittard Chocolate Cookbook by Amy Guittard (Chronicle Books, 2015)
Appealing to both the eyes and taste buds, these cookies offer a refined balance of sweet and salty flavors heightened by a salted caramel dipping sauce and are tasty with a sparkling wine cocktail (give the Poinsettia a try!). Because this is a slice-and-bake cookie, you can freeze the dough for up to two months, which gives you more time to mix and mingle away from the oven.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup light rye flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup Guittard Cocoa Rouge (Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder)
- ½ cup room temperature butter
- ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup shelled, chopped unsalted pistachio nuts
- Fleur de sel, for sprinkling
In a medium bowl, combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside.
Using a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until combined. Fold in the pistachios.
Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a log, about 2 inches wide by 10 inches long. Wrap logs tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze in airtight container for up to 2 months.
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove dough from refrigerator. (If frozen, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.) Unwrap dough and cut it into ½-inch-thick slices. Set slices on baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies. Sprinkle each cookie with fleur de sel.
Bake for 11–13 minutes, or until centers appear set. Transfer cookies to wire rack. Let cool for 10 minutes. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Makes 24 cookies.
For the caramel dipping sauce:
Continue the decadence by slathering a layer of salted caramel on the Chocolate Pistachio Sablés. Serve it in small ramekins tied with a glistening metallic ribbon, and provide a cheese knife for spreading.
2⁄3 cup superfine sugar, divided
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
Pour 1⁄3 cup of the sugar into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the saucepan around as the sugar starts to melt. Do not use a spoon or spatula at this point. When the sugar is almost melted, add the remaining 1⁄3 cup sugar and swirl the saucepan until all of the sugar is melted. Slowly and carefully add the cream. The caramel will bubble up. Add the fleur de sel and continue to cook over medium heat until a candy thermometer reads 225°F or the sauce has turned medium brown. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
When you’re ready to use the caramel, let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and reheat over medium heat until warm, 2 to 5 minutes. Divide into two small ramekins and serve immediately.
Each December, millions of Americans return to their family roosts to celebrate with those they love. Recipes handed down for generations and filed away for most of the year make their way to the holiday table, where there’s plenty of space for another member of the multigenerational extended family.
Number of guests: 6–16
The vibe: A laid-back meal filled with cherished family recipes (either your own or from a well-known chef), served family style.
Wine: Keep it American, and, if possible, look to area wineries. We’ve discovered bottles we really like from New York, Colorado, Virginia, Texas and Michigan, and our friends and family are always excited to sample our latest finds. Pair a rich, hearty red with the osso buco, and serve an aromatic white like Viognier or Pinot Gris with the kale and squash salad (recipe on page 54).
Menu: Root vegetables and hearty greens are in season, so make the most of beets, cauliflower and kale. Start with a round of hot and cold vegetable appetizers that includes cauliflower gratin, roasted beets, and kale and squash salad, followed by a beautiful, robust osso buco. Place these robust platters on the table and let guests serve themselves, unless you choose to showcase the osso buco by plating it individually. When it comes to the perfect holiday dessert, go for a delicious bread pudding with rum sauce.
Décor: Rustic linens and a mix-and-match ethos say “country,” whether you’re in rural France or in the American Midwest. Heirloom china and sturdy stoneware, combined with woven napkins and placemats, offer
elegance and rural charm without heading into kitsch territory. Reserve space in the center of your table for a crock or two of fresh-cut flowers, set the buffet out on your kitchen island and keep the glassware chunky.
Layer it On: You can never have enough layers on a winter
table. Atop a tablecloth or woven placemats, toss a few enamel stars or antique glass ornaments on the table to add some holiday feeling, but be sure to leave
room for wine glasses.
Mix and Match:Combine antique family china and crystal with clunky flea-market finds for an eclectic table setting.
Tie it Up: Whatever your color scheme, wrap your chairs in festive grosgrain or satin ribbon. Tie a bow on the back of each.
Back to Nature: Slip small pine branches or rosemary sprigs into napkin rings, or roll your napkins in miniature grapevine wreaths.
Reach for the Sky: Food looks more appetizing and attractive when it’s served architecturally, so position your osso buco to show off the bone.
Double Up: Place at least two wine glasses—one each for red and white—at each place setting, as you’ll be serving a variety of wine.
Swing From the Chandelier: Decorate your dining
room chandelier or kitchen light fixture with ornaments and holiday lights to add to the seasonal spirit.
Set It Off: Christmas crackers (traditionally used in countries like Britain and Australia but also popular in the U.S.) are a fun way to start the meal with a bang. Plus, the paper crowns and/or toys/confetti will add to the fun at the table and in family photos.
Time for Family: The television goes off when dinner is served. Accept that folks will post food pics on Instagram and Facebook, but otherwise, make it known that phones are off limits at the table.
Recipe from Food 52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Migliore (10 Speed Press, 2015)
It seems we can’t get enough of kale, the hearty, vitamin-packed green that keeps popping up in gardens and restaurants everywhere. This bright-colored salad is from Northern Spy Food Co. in New York City.
- 2 cups peeled and cubed kabocha, butternut or other winter squash
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup halved almonds
- 4 bunches kale (preferably lacinato or dinosaur kale), ribs removed and leaves finely sliced (about 10 cups)
- 1 cup crumbled or finely chopped aged Cheddar, like Cabot Clothbound (or substitute Parmesan)
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 ounce pecorino or other hard cheese, for shaving (optional)
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss squash cubes in just enough olive oil to coat (about ½ cup). Season with salt and pepper. Spread cubes on baking sheet, leaving space between each. Roast until tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes, tossing with spatula every 10–15 minutes. Toast almonds on baking sheet in same oven until they begin to smell nutty, about 10 minutes, tossing once. Let cool.
In large mixing bowl, toss kale with roasted almonds, cheddar and squash. Season to taste with lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.
Serve family style in large salad bowl. Garnish with shaved pecorino cheese (optional). Serves 8.
Recipes, like talent, often skip a generation. Trying to recreate my grandmother’s osso buco, I had to rely on my sense of taste and memory to know if I got it right. According to my mother, I did! One of the best things about this dish is that, for the most part, it cooks unattended until just before you’re ready to serve, leaving more time to mingle with guests. You can serve this osso buco with a variety of sides, from pasta to polenta, rice or potatoes, but the traditional DeSimone plating calls for fettuccine.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Sea salt and coarse ground black pepper, to taste
- 8 veal shanks, 10–12 ounces each
- ¹⁄₃ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 ribs celery, sliced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1½ cups dry red wine
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 8 rosemary sprigs, for garnish
- 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 4 cups beef stock
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1½ pounds cooked fettuccine (optional)
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Pour flour into a large shallow bowl. Add small amounts of salt and pepper. Dredge veal shanks in flour mixture, coating evenly. Shake off excess flour.
Add olive oil to a large cast-iron or enamel Dutch oven, and warm over medium-high heat. Brown veal shanks 2 or 3 at a time, turning once, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer veal to a large plate.
Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots, celery and onion. Stir occasionally until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in tomato paste and garlic. Continue to stir for about 1 minute, until paste begins to bubble. Add wine, stirring intermittently until wine begins to reduce. Adjust heat, if necessary. Add canned tomatoes, beef stock, dried rosemary, thyme and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Using tongs, arrange veal shanks in pot. Cover pot, place in oven and cook for 2½ hours, or until veal is tender.
Transfer pot to stovetop. If sauce is thin, simmer over medium-high heat until sauce thickens. Stir occasionally.
To serve, place each shank in a shallow bowl or on a wide plate over optional fettucine. Ladle sauce over top and around the sides. Garnish each serving with a fresh rosemary sprig. Makes 8 servings.
Recipe from Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes, by author and chef John Besh,
Bread pudding is a cold-weather classic, and John Besh serves his mother’s recipe with another favorite, hot-buttered rum sauce. Baking it in a bundt pan makes it appealing both to the eye and the taste buds. In Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes, Besh presents easy, time-honored dishes that celebrate his hometown’s culinary heritage.
- 4 cups milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 11 eggs
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 orange
- 4 cups cubed, stale French bread
- 2 tablespoons butter
- For the Rum Sauce:
- 8 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup dark rum
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk together milk, cream, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest in large mixing bowl. Stir in bread cubes. Let soak at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour bread mixture into buttered bundt pan. Bake until crispy and golden, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until light brown, with a rich, nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Add corn syrup, sugar, rum, cream, vanilla and salt. Reduce sauce until thick enough to coat back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Turn bundt pan over on large platter. Carefully unmold bread pudding. Pour buttered rum sauce over pudding. Serves 8–10.
- 1City Celebration
- 2Elegant Lobster Bisque
- 3Three-Cheese Spinach-Artichoke Toast
- 4Chocolate Pistachio Sablés
- 5Country Homecoming
- 6Kale and Squash Salad
- 7Grandma Termini’s Osso Buco
- 8Mamma’s Bread Pudding with Hot Buttered Rum Sauce