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Hosting a holiday party

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share food and drink with loved ones

’Tis the season to decorate and share food and drink with loved ones. (Photo: The Junior League of Houston)

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

I look forward to the holidays all year long, counting down the days once temperatures begin to fall. The season begins with Thanksgiving, that cornucopia of food, friends, family and football. Then we move into Christmas, my favorite holiday, with a brief four weeks or so to get ready for all of the festivities.

What I cherish most about the holiday season is the opportunity to pause and reconnect with family and friends. Though I love to host, I don’t do it as often as I would like. The holiday season is an exception. Every year, my husband and I throw a Christmas party, with lots of food and beverages, culminating in a white-elephant gift exchange. I began this tradition while I was still a student at Texas A&M University, inviting a handful of friends to celebrate the season. I have always had too much food, too many beverages and an exchange of funny gifts. 

What has changed is the food and drinks served and the number of guests. We now have around 40 people who join us each year. Given the number of people, I’ve learned that to truly enjoy myself, I have to be willing to release some of the tasks to others. I am a typical control freak (just ask my husband), but sometimes it is best to outsource.

I embrace decorating the house and still do it all myself, with my husband bringing boxes in and out of the room as I unpack them. I decorate every nook and cranny I can find and add to the decorations each year. We still display a live tree because I can’t resist the fresh smell, which permeates the house.

On the beverage and food side for the party, it’s a different story. We hire a bartender to serve drinks, as we do not like our guests to go thirsty. And while I love to cook, it is nearly impossible to cook all the appetizers and desserts for 40 people. So, I’ve learned to outsource some of that as well, but I always like to make a few of my favorite dishes myself.

Each year, my husband and I are fortunate to have the opportunity to travel. We create a theme for our holiday party based on the country we visited that year. This year, we traveled to Italy, so we’ll be celebrating with Italian wines and some of our favorite Italian foods. Always on the menu is a bubbly drink, and this year, that will be a Bellini, a delicious mix of peach puree and champagne that is light and refreshing. A great recipe that you can make ahead and put into the freezer is the Frozen Bellini recipe from Stop and Smell the Rosemary. About 30 minutes before serving, take it out of the freezer so it becomes slushy and easy to pour. 

One of the most delicious and easiest appetizers I have made is the Pancetta Medallions with Goat Cheese and Pear from Peace Meals. This is a simple recipe that looks elegant. The saltiness of the pancetta is beautifully offset by the creaminess of the goat cheese and the sweetness of the pears. To amp up the holiday spirit, I use red- and green-skinned pears.   

To top off the night, we offer a variety of desserts. I like to make desserts that are easy to make but impressive to view and eat. True winners are the Chocolate Toffee Brownies from Stop and Smell the Rosemary. The brownie is chewy and rich, and the toffee bits add a bit of crunch that put this dessert over the top. You can make the brownies up to 12 hours in advance and keep them in the refrigerator. Just make sure to take them out 30 minutes before you want to cut them. The recipe indicates the brownies should be cut into 24 small brownies; this is because these are very rich and a couple of bites are all that’s needed to satisfy a sweet tooth. 

With full bellies and full glasses, we’ll sit down for the white-elephant gift exchange. And we’ll savor this special night until we gather again next holiday season.

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

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