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Holiday open house

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The Cranberry Salsa with Warm Brie and Pistachios

The Cranberry Salsa with Warm Brie and Pistachios is so colorful that it looks festive even on a simple plate.

Cooking Buzz is produced in partnership with the Junior League of Houston, a women’s charitable and education organization founded in 1925.

With the holidays right around the corner and retail outlets already starting to display holiday decorations, it is time to start thinking about planning a festive get together.

My husband and I have had a busy year with our wedding in April and moving into our new house in September. Months later, after much purging, packing, storing and moving, we are getting settled in our new space. Our friends and family are excited to see our new home, so we are planning a holiday party.

My favorite kind of holiday party is a cocktail and appetizer open house. Guests can come and go as they need and dress as they are. It is so fun to see my favorite people mingling, some in black tie on the way to formal affairs and others in jingly, adorned sweaters (hopefully on the way to an “ugly sweater party”).  

The first step is to choose a date. Friday and Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons tend to yield the best turnout. Just pick what is best for you and let the folks on your guest list know as soon as possible. I love using a fun, informal Evite or Paperless Post. The invitations look great, are easy for people to respond to, and help you keep up with the number of people planning to attend.

The next and most important step is to choose the menu. So many people these days have dietary restrictions and preferences, so I like to make sure I have at least one dish that meets each group’s needs.  

Start with a signature cocktail. I love having a pitcher of something fabulous ready to serve when my first guest arrives. My favorite for the holidays is the Pomegranate Martini from the Junior League of Houston cookbook Peace Meals. It is a little sweet, a little sour, and so very pretty served in my grandmother’s vintage coupe glasses.   

Next, pick four or five appetizers. You can adjust the quantity as needed, and this is so much easier than trying to make a lot of different items. Also, make sure you do not choose all dishes that must be served hot. You want to be able to put out the food and enjoy mingling with your guests.   

I am planning to serve some of my favorite recipes from the Junior League of Houston cookbooks Stop and Smell the Rosemary and Peace Meals. I love that both cookbooks have plenty of photos, so you can be sure your dish looks the way it is supposed to and get ideas on presentation.

For holiday parties, the Cranberry Salsa with Warm Brie is always a hit. The bright red cranberries and green pistachios make it look like a decoration, so I serve it on a simple crystal platter as not to take away from its naturally stunning presentation. Pair with plain water crackers to showcase the flavors of the salsa and cheese.

I make the Dates Stuffed with Manchego Cheese from Peace Meals for nearly every occasion. They are not the prettiest, but your guests will be hooked from the first bite. These are best served warm right out of the oven, but taste great at room temperature too.

Your guests will love the Peppercorn Marinated Shrimp from Stop and Smell the Rosemary. My book club gals are still raving about this shrimp years after I made it for our annual party. You do need to plan ahead since this needs to marinate for 8 to 10 hours, but that time allows the flavors to meld and create something really special. Serve the shrimp cold in a crystal bowl with a pretty spoon.

The Mushroom Pate is divine and a great option for your gluten-free friends. It looks a little plain on its own, so I usually create a wreath to go around it. Mix white corn syrup with granulated sugar and brush onto rosemary stalks. Arrange them around the pate to give the appearance of an icy evergreen wreath. 

Finally, have a little surprise for your guests as they are leaving. I love to send people on their way with a favor, especially an edible one. The Gourmet Pecans from Stop and Smell the Rosemary are yummy and beautifully presented in cellophane bags with colorful ribbon.   

Good luck with your holiday party planning, and best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful season!

Editor’s note: To buy a cookbook, see or call 713-871-6608.

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