For me, holiday parties always impart a warm, cozy feeling of getting together with friends, family and neighbors. But hosting such a party can be stressful, expensive and time-consuming, which defeats the whole warm and cozy philosophy.
My solution is a holiday open house. The idea behind this easy-to-pull-off gathering is that there is no pressure on neither the host nor the guest. Food and beverages are easy and prepared ahead of time. Guests can come and go within the time allotted for the open house depending on their schedules. And there is no need to plan things to keep the party flowing. The revolving door of guests coming and going offers new introductions and conversations that keep things interesting.
This is all you need to make your holiday open house a success: A grazing table, a hot chocolate bar, a stunning dessert and a beverage bar.
Here, step-by-step, is your guide to guaranteed easy entertaining this holiday season:
Grazing tableGrazing tables are all the rage right now, and for good reason. They’re visually impressive. They can be modified to offer guests everything from light appetizers to a full meal. And, while you might not believe me as you read this, they’re super easy to put together.
Decide where your grazing table will be. It could be your dining room table. (I have a round dining room table that works well), or your kitchen counter or island. Cover your chosen space with butcher or parchment paper. (You can find rolls of this at most craft stores or online.)
Begin building your table by adding serving trays, bowls and plates. Add height with pedestal serving trays and bowls. If you don’t have any, you can create them by turning a bowl over and placing a plate on top. The idea of different heights is to add additional space to your grazing table and to create visual interest.
Plan on about 5 ounces of meat and 7 ounces of cheese per guest. Adding a crockpot or two to your grazing table with appetizers like barbecue meatballs or smoked mini wieners is a great idea if you’re planning heavy hors d’oeuvres.
Other easy food ideas for your grazing table: Cheese, crackers, meat, bread, jams and mustards, pepper relish, nuts, olives, pickles, dips and spreads, fruit (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes and raspberries), vegetables such as grape tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, chocolate truffles and Christmas cookies.
You shouldn’t have to do much prep work to start building your table. This time of year, local grocers offer a plethora of beautiful foods that are ready to serve.
Last year, I made dessert charcuterie plates for all of our neighbors, who couldn’t believe I hadn’t spent hours baking and putting everything together. Nope — a trip to the grocery store and about 20 minutes per plate. See? Easy.
About two hours before your guests arrive, begin adding your food to the table. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Look at Pinterest to find beautiful food presentation examples that will inspire you.
Don’t forget small plates for your guests to use as they graze, and napkins and serving pieces such as toothpicks, tongs, spoons and cheese knives. Check your local dollar store for these items, and as long as you’re there, check for any additional glassware, plates or serving pieces you think you might need.
Hot chocolate bar
A hot chocolate bar is a fun idea, particularly if your open house is family-friendly.
There are a couple of ways you can present your hot chocolate. You can prepare it ahead, then keep it warm in a crockpot and let guests ladle it into mugs, or you can keep hot water in a thermos or beverage dispenser. Be sure to use one that will withstand the hot temperature and offer a few varieties of cocoa powder for guests to mix.
A variety of mix and match mugs add some visual interest. Even if you’re not a coffee or tea drinker and don’t have a lot of mugs in the house, Goodwill or a local thrift store will provide you with plenty of them for not a lot of money.
Fill small bowls with hot chocolate toppings like mini-marshmallows, candy cane pieces, chocolate chips, sprinkles, toffee chips, cinnamon sticks, whipped cream and whatever else you might dream up. Don’t forget delicious syrups like caramel, dark chocolate and vanilla.
Wooden spoons, chocolate-dipped spoons and stirrers, along with cocktail napkins, will complete your hot chocolate bar, which is sure to get plenty of compliments from your guests.
The easiest and most impressive dessert I’ve ever made is a trifle — a layered dessert of British origin. There are different ways to make a trifle, but the idea is that it is created in a large glass footed bowl so the beautiful layers can be seen.
Making it even easier, you don’t have to bake a thing. You can if you want, but this is all about easy. Use pound cake, angel food cake, brownies or any other kind of cake, along with prepared whipped cream. (You certainly can make your own.) Jars of jellies, jams or curds, and fresh fruit offer a nice touch as well.
Google “trifle dessert” and take your pick from more than 14 million results you’ll get.
Depending on what you want to serve, a beverage bar can be as simple as cans of soda plunged in ice in your kitchen sink or as varied as Christmas cocktails.
If you’re going all out with hard liquor, a fun activity is to let your guests mix their cocktails. Choose specialty drinks (the internet is your friend) and print out the recipes. I found six holiday-themed drinks, along with dozens of others, on Jack Daniels’ website. Visit the sites of your favorites, and you’re sure to find a few recipes for holiday libations.
Display the recipes on your open house bar with all the ingredients needed for guests to try their hand at being a mixologist.
Wassail (hot mulled cider), eggnog and mulled wine (spiced wine) can all be bought already prepared or are easy to make ahead of time and heated before serving.
It is easy to host a holiday open house, and it’s likely that once you do it, it will become an annual event that your friends, family and neighbors will look forward to attending.
Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.