No-Stress Holiday Parties

By Chef Judi Gallagher –

‘Tis the season — the season when the days get shorter, the temperature gets cooler and the holiday party invitations get sent out with gusto. The middle of November seems to mark the start of the holiday social season, and it makes sense, with Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching and a focus on food in full swing.

If you’re hosting a party, the first thing you’ll want to think about is how much food and drink to have for each guest. Bon Appetit published a handy guide to cocktail parties a few years back and I refer to it whenever I throw a party. If your party takes place outside of a meal time figure that guests will have two hors d’ouevres and you should have about five choices. If your party takes place during a meal time hour and is actually supper-by-the-bite, most guests will want three or more canapes and you should be offering at least eight different kinds. Here are some other things to consider.


Seasonality. Think about what’s growing right now;  Fresh and local will always have appeal.

Experimenting. Why not try out a new recipe, especially if you’re making a bevy of different options for your guests? Just make sure the rest of your appetizers are tried-and-true classics. And try the new dish on your family a few weeks before the party. Your cocktail party isn’t the place for surprises.

Vegetarians. Try to ensure that at least 20 percent of your menu is vegetarian-friendly. Bonus points if it’s vegan.

Advance prep. You’ll breathe easier if at least 75 percent of your menu can be prepared in advance. Trust me. And if you’re having a large, more than 20-person fete, reduce the number of items that are required to be served hot.

And a couple of other quick tips:

Keep your hot food just that: hot. No one likes food that’s gone cold when it’s meant to be warm. Hot food works best on smaller trays that can easily be refreshed. (And speaking of trays—it goes without saying, but make sure they’re clean.)

Set up your snacks in advance. Nuts, olives, food that doesn’t have to be hot or cold—set it all up early. This will give you time to work on other projects and greet your guests.

Serve pricier items as passed hors d’oeuvres. Here’s a secret: Food that’s served buffet-style will be eaten with more gusto. If you’re on a budget, serve pricier items passed butler-style on trays.


Cocktail receptions do not have to include a full bar. Prepare one special festive cocktail and serve wine along with a non-alcoholic drink such as a spiced cider and sparkling soda with fresh mint and a peppermint stick.

Do you have any cocktail party tips to share with me? Leave a comment and let me know!

Puff Pastry Straws

Puff pastry  (find in the freezer section of grocery store)

All-purpose flour for dusting

4 tablespoons butter (I prefer Irish or French butter for its richness)

5 ounces grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 large beaten egg

Poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place unthawed chilled puff pastry on a floured surface. Roll out pastry until it is about ¼ inch thick. Trim edges of puff pastry. Brush the pastry with melted butter and use half the Parmesan.

Roll into twists.Brush with egg wash and top with salt and reserved Parmesan.Brush puff pastry with egg wash, sprinkle with poppy seeds and grated Parmesan, then cut into strips and twist.Bake as soon as the sheet is filled for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool about 3 minutes. Also try using crushed peppercorns, cumin lightly dusted or oregano for various flavors

Also try wrapping the baked puff sticks with prosciutto and fresh basil leaves


Mixed Olives

8 to 10 ounces assorted olives, such as Nicoise, Kalamata and Picholine

½ cup caper berries

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 head roasted garlic cloves, peeled

1 sprig fresh thyme, pluck leaves off stem

1 sprig fresh rosemary pulled off stem


In a large bowl combine olives, caper berries, red pepper flakes and roasted garlic. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh herbs.




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