‘Tis the season for social get-togethers like house parties, dinners, and more. To make things easier for you, the SWAGGER team asked me to put together these tips, trips, treats and cocktails recipes to make your entertaining easier — and more effective too. You’ll be the talk of the town, or the social circle, after hosting with these holiday hosting tips this year.
What are some easy tips to help take the stress off the holiday host?
Prep ahead! Everybody strives for it but not many actually do it. Think of things you can do the day before such as clearing out the front closet so you have coat hangers and space available for jackets as people arrive. Set the table the day before, arrange the bar with glassware, red wines, and other items that can sit out overnight. Same goes for food prep, see what you can do in advance so your prep is done and you can focus on finishing each course instead of making it from scratch. For example, mashed potatoes can be made the day before and reheated. Also as an alternative to turkey which seems to consume the whole day, why not try braised beef? You can sear and cook it the day before with carrots, onions and stock then reheat and garnish with herbs for dinner.
Any tips for setting a gorgeous table but one that doesn’t require you to be busy doing it while your guests are there?
I personally love a simple holiday dining presentation that focuses on a single theme. In this case we used ‘outdoors in’ as the concept using wood slices as chargers, a garland running the length of the table with apples, pomegranates or persimmons which are a beautiful orange displayed as décor around the greenery.
The great thing about this décor is real garland looks fresh for up to a week as opposed to cut flowers so you can set the table the day (or even two) before and save time. You can also print a dinner menu to elevate the overall experience and create a more polished look for the table. The theme could also be a single colour such as white or a peacock blue which is quite popular and then you add different textures of that colour – for example – feathers, glass ornaments, satin napkins, plate ware, etc, and layer to add depth.
What’s are some quick, easy and delicious holiday recipes to serve your guests?
More times than not, something sweet is the way to your guests’ heart. Here are a couple of my favourite holiday recipes to share:
Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifles
- 12 Biscoff Cookies, crushed into crumbs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup pure pumpkin purée (easily made by placing pumpkin in your Vitamix)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 large tub (12 oz.) whipped topping thawed, divided
In a medium bowl, combine Biscoff Cookie crumbs and butter. Divide the crumbs into the bottoms of your trifle glasses. Gently press crumbs to form an even layer of crust. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add pumpkin, vanilla, sugar and pumpkin pie spice. Beat until well combined and creamy.
Use a spatula to fold in half of the whipped topping. Gently combine ingredients until no streaks remain.
To Assemble the Trifles:
Pipe or spoon a layer of pumpkin cheesecake onto the Biscoff crust followed by a layer of whipped topping. Repeat layers until your trifle reaches the top of your glass or jar. Store trifles in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If desired, garnish with Biscoff cookie crumbs.
Mason Jar Tiramisu
- 1 box French vanilla cake mix
- 1 cup brewed coffee
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 (8 ounce) package Neufchâtel cheese, softened (can substitute with cream cheese)
- 1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
- 6 ounces Greek vanilla yogurt
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup of Nespresso Vertuo coffee, or substitute brewed coffee
- 2-4 ounces semisweet chocolate
- 8-10 7-ounce mason jars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place muffin tin wrappers in a 12 muffin tin pan. Prepare cake mix substituting coffee for water. Add oil, eggs, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Bake according to package directions, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan and then transfer cake muffins to wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, cut muffins in half horizontally. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat together Neufchâtel cheese, 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream, yogurt and 4 tablespoons of the sugar on medium speed until blended and fluffy. Beat remaining 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream with 1 tablespoon sugar in another small mixing bowl to make homemade whipped cream. Set aside.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of Neufchâtel cheese mixture into bottom of Mason jars. Grate about 1 teaspoon of chocolate over cheese mixture. Top with a cupcake half. Spoon 1 tablespoon of freshly brewed coffee over cupcake half to soak into cake layer. Top with another tablespoon of Neufchâtel cheese mixture, followed by another teaspoon of grated chocolate, cupcake half and tablespoon of coffee. Top with another tablespoon of Neufchâtel cheese mixture, followed by grated chocolate and a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Add more grated chocolate to the top. Repeat with each Mason jar.
Refrigerate Mason jars until serving.
What’s an easy welcome drink or prep ahead holiday cocktail?
I like to prep two – both a lighter, fruitier holiday cocktail using gin or vodka plus a heavier cocktail using bourbon or whiskey. That way your guests will likely be satisfied with the holiday cocktail options, in addition to the wine and bubbly available.
For the fruitier option (see recipe below) I like to use pink grapefruit juice, gin and elderflower which I’ve been told is a Frenchie … appropriate since I’m half French! It has that sweet & sour balance with the freshness of the botanicals in the gin nicely complementing the drink.
Grapefruit & Elderflower Cocktail
- 4 oz gin or vodka
- 4 oz pink grapefruit juice
- 2 oz elderflower syrup or St. Germain elderflower liqueur
- rosemary sprig (garnish)
Yields: 2 cocktails
Combine the gin or vodka, grapefruit juice and elderflower syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
For the heavier option, I like to mix bourbon in a punch. Why? Because it’s strong enough to hold flavours well and not be overpowered. Here’s a Maple Bourbon Chai Punch (see recipe below) which is perfect to serve in the colder months.
Oh, and make batches! That’s another way you can save time is to make pitchers or a punch bowl of the holiday cocktails and then pour five minutes prior to guest arrival and assemble on a tray and you’re done! No quick hello and then morphing into a server taking drink orders it’s all there for guests to serve themselves.
Bourbon Maple Chai Punch
- ¾ cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup chai tea
- 1 cup apple cider
- ¾ cup maple syrup
- 1 ½ cup Maker’s Mark bourbon
- 2 cups sparkling water
- 2 gala apples cut into chunks
- lemon slices (garnish)
- cinnamon sticks (garnish)
Yields: 4-5 cocktails
Combine lemon juice, maple syrup, chai tea, apple cider and bourbon into a large pitcher or punch bowl. Immediately before serving, top with sparkling water and ice.
What are some great holiday party favours you can send away with your guests?
I always love to give candles, especially in the winter months when they’re used more often. Now there’s so many online candle retailers where you can actually create a custom scent so it’s personalized to your preference and it’s not the typical cinnamon or vanilla.
Also individual ornaments make a great takeaway but add a DIY element to it to make it a bit more thoughtful. You can buy clear lightbulbs and make mini snow globes using small trees and fake snow from a craft store as an option or even fill it with your own steak spice or loose leaf tea for guests to use when they get home.
Get even more creative and make your own marbled ornaments! Check out the how-to step-by-steps below:
DIY Marbled Ornaments
Have fun, and cheers! Try any of these for yourself? Share them with us via email or on social @swaggermag.