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Throwing the Perfect Party (Posted On: Wednesday, November 22, 2006)

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Although there are many times of year that brings the excuse to throw a shindig, Christmas is one where it’s unavoidable to have your best. Whether your guest list is made up of family, co-workers or old friends, having a holiday get-together draws pressure with even the best of hosts and hostesses.

Now don’t get your Christmas booties in a bunch there’re ways to make that perfect party a reality without exhausting yourself in the process. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years from throwing many a bountiful bash. I’ve also added a few great ideas from some local business owners who’ve put in their precious time to help make your Christmas celebration a success.

First and foremost – FOOD!

Definitely one of, if not the most important element of any party is the food, but preparing food can be a lot of work and at times, a very difficult obstacle for some. Here are some tips to help bring fabulous food to the table, without feeling overwhelmed.

First, if you’ve chosen not to have your party catered, don’t make things too complicated.  Choose to prepare foods you’ve made before so you don’t have to worry about a kitchen disaster. Don’t make something fancy for your first time, it’s better to give the guests something simple and guaranteed to please their palates.

Second, choose some hors d’oeuvres you can prepare in advance so you don’t leave everything to the last minute. Dips like ‘Spinach and Artichoke’ are best prepared a day in advance to optimize and infuse flavour. Planning ahead also gives you extra time to put your heart and soul into the main course. Remember your guests came to see you, not just your wonderful creations. Don’t get stuck cooking when the guests are coming in the door and you should be greeting them.

Also, something us carnivzres don’t often think of is to offer a veggie alternative for the vegans. There may not end up being any vegans present, but if there is it saves you the embarrassment of digging through your fridge in the middle of the party. Even an abundance of veggie platters and dip can’t hurt; we could all use the extra Vitamin-C anyway. The main message here is to know your guests. Knowing the crowd could save you from an allergy catastrophe. Include a comment portion on your invite so your guests have the opportunity to give you a heads up, but if you know for sure your guests are fuss free bring on the meat and seafood. 

Lastly, when it comes to food, don’t put to much pressure on yourself to cook the perfect meal all by yourself - ask your friends for help. Plan ahead and if your party is calling for a lot of preparation, enlist your friends as assistant chefs. That’s what friends are for right? From my experience the best parties were the ones where everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets a little dirty. For small get togethers with old friends moving the party into the kitchen and preparing a meal together is a great way to make everyone feel right at home.

Who wants all that work?

Now this all sounds great, but participation isn’t for everyone. If your crowd expects to be served and not by you, there are alternative routes you can take. You can plan to hold your Christmas party away from your home altogether, avoiding all the work and mess. The Bistro on First Street in Collingwood offers Christmas party bookings – you can view their delectable offerings on their website. But, if you still would like to keep things personal and show off your latest decorating skills, Café Chartreuse on Hurontario Street provides full catering right to your home. You could also take on a little of the responsibility and pick up your food.  Dags and Willow have a full in-house catering menu with far more than just cheese. Their surprisingly plentiful menu includes salads, platters, wraps, sides and mains and is also available to view on-line.

Hors d’oeuvres made easy

Now for those of you who insist on doing it yourself here’re three easy ideas for some great party snacks – they’ll get those tummies warmed up for the main course.

 

Roasted Spinach and Artichoke Dip

1 Cup Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip

1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

1 Package Frozen Spinach

1 Large Jar of Marinated Artichoke Heats (About 14 ounces)

1 Diced Red Bell Pepper

1 Cup Grated Monterey Jack Cheese

Mix parmesan and mayo well in mixing bowl. Defrost spinach under cool water and squeeze out moisture.  Add spinach, red pepper and artichoke hearts to bowl. Mix with a hand processor or in your food processor until you reach your own desired texture. You can add the artichokes last and leave larger pieces for a more chunky texture. Place in an oven safe casserole dish and cover with grated Jack cheese. Refrigerate for a day if needed and place in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes when ready. Broil for the last 5 minutes to brown the cheese on top. Serve with pita points, nacho chips or your favourite breads.  Important tip…don’t walk away from your oven to pour yourself or a guest a drink when you are Broiling…those 5 minutes go by very quickly and the last think you need is for the fire alarm to go off and kill the mood.

One of my favourite and easiest hors d’oeuvres

– Smoked Salmon

You can buy the salmon ready to serve at your local grocers or specialty foods stores. Arrange on a serving platter with crackers, cream cheese and capers. Your guests do the rest!

Cheese please!

Stop by Dags and Willow and pick up a few of your favourite gourmet cheeses. You can serve them on a platter or one of their hand crafted cheese boards with some specialty jellies and olives or just on their own. Cheesy and easy.

Beyond your belly

Beyond food there are so many elements that can make or break your holiday bash. Part owner and Manager of Copper Blues Restaurant at Blue Mountain, Dustin Lashambe is a self-prescribed entertainment connoisseur. Dustin has offered up some party dos and don’ts to get the disco ball rolling.

Do – SET THE ATMOSPHERE WITH MUSIC THAT FITS YOUR CROWD

Dustin says music can make or break the atmosphere at your party whether it’s soft jazz or swing music. On that note…pun intended, make sure it fits the scene. Live music is great but if your wallet is a bit tight, a few personally selected CDs will do just fine.  Queue up your CDs in advance so that when your hands are full of other things you are not racing to the CD player to start the tunes and the mood rolling again.

Don’t - GO OVERBOARD WITH THE CHRISTMAS JINGLES

Nobody wants to hear Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer after 11 o’clock.

 

Do – KNOW YOUR GUESTS AND THEIR FOOD HABITS TOO

Dustin agrees - try to serve what they love best, avoid allergy mishaps and provide an array of choices to please everyone.

 

Don’t – WAIT TO SERVE YOUR DELICOUS CREATIONS

Guests who know their coming to eat likely didn’t snack before hand. Have the snacks ready for them when they arrive. Hungry guests aren’t happy guests.

 

Do – SPREAD THE FOOD OUT

Placing the food in one central location often makes guests hesitant to sneak a bite. Arranging food around the party in different areas will get the guests moving and mingling.

 

Do – HAVE FUN!

Remember it’s your party too.

 

Don’t – GET CAUGHT UP IN BEING PERFECT

A good host or hostess is the life of the party not the stress case shouting in the kitchen.

 

Do – PLAN ALTERNATE WAYS HOME

With this time of year it’s hard to avoid some stern cocktail drinking. Offer your guests another way home; and if your party’s sure to bring some serious fun, try taking their keys on the way in instead of struggling to get them on the way out.   Have some extra cash on hand in case you need to call a cab.

 

What to bring to the table

 

Now that you’ve got a handle on being the perfect host or hostess, what about being the perfect guest? Sure everyone appreciates the staple bottle of wine or box of chocolates, but try bringing a gift your host or hostess will never forget. Here are some simple gift alternatives available right in Collingwood sure to help your hosts have an even more perfect holiday celebration. 

 

Try picking up a bag or a beautifully wrapped basket of Ashanti Coffee

Their roastery located at 14 Ronnell Crescent in Collingwood offers the best of Zimbabwe Estate’s origin green coffee roasted on site. Your host and all the guests will thank you when they’re downing desert with a gourmet and distinct cup of East African heaven. 

 

Some more great ideas for the kitchen

Try choosing from Dags and Willow’s selection of gourmet olive oils; a must for every cook and a gift one often lacks in purchasing for themselves. If you want something more party ready Dags and Willow also has a selection of beautiful bread dippers and plate sets. Add a scrumptious fresh loaf of bread to the mix and your gift is ready to hit the table. There’s also always their specialty; choose from a selection of gourmet cheeses and take a peak at their hand crafted urban recycled hardwood cheeseboards. The boards are distinct, beautiful and unique; no doubt they’ll add beauty to any table.

 

If you’re taste in gifts is more on the solid side

If you thinking of something your host will have forever, Three Herons Antiques on Hurontario has a great selection of gifts to help set the mood at your next shindig. Choose from small festive table top oil lanterns, candles and sterling silver snuffers, unique tree and table ornaments or a beautiful mug set to accompany a can of Organic Dark Hot Chocolate. If these gifts aren’t quite your style either I’m sure you’ll find something wonderful here.

 

So now you’re equipped to throw your perfect holiday party while being the perfect guest too.  Have fun, drink responsibly and happy holidays!

 

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