Thursday, December 20, 2012

24-Hour Christmas Party People

Me and the drink station. I'm wearing a sun dress,
because it was 80 degrees that day.
Very Christmassy...
I love holiday parties!

I usually throw some sort of soiree during the holidays, but I often decide the when and the where at the last minute. The day after Thanksgiving, I decided that I was going to have a holiday happy hour two weeks later.

Oh yeah, and in the middle of those two weeks, I was throwing a conference for 600 people.

So the whole affair had to be low stress - I wanted to enjoy the night with my friends - not spend the night dealing with food or making drinks.

I know you're thinking: what are your hostessing secrets, Catfish?

Let me contact my inner Martha Stewart, and I'll tell you.

The Drink Station
Now, I love to make fancy cocktails when two or three friends come over. But when I've invited a crowd, I like simple - and sangria fills the bill. Isn't sangria a summer drink? you might be wondering. Why should sangria be relegated to summer parties, when it has everything you want at Christmas? It's bright red, and filled with seasonal citrus fruit. It's also incredibly simple. Mix up some sangria. Put it out, along with some non-alcoholic bevvies and some beer, and you've got an easy drink station.

How to make sangria
For about 20-25 people:
On the morning of the party: Slice up a couple of oranges, a lemon, a grapefruit, and a Granny Smith apple. Put those in a bowl and pour brandy over to cover (you can use the cheap brandy) and put it in the fridge.

About 2-3 hours before the party, put about a half cup of sugar in a half cup of water and microwave it for 1-2 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved - you've got simple syrup. Spoon the fruit and about a cup of the brandy into a large pitcher or punch bowl. Add the simple syrup. Add 1 1/2 cups orange juice, and 2 large bottles of a cheap, dry red wine (like St. Genevieve Cabernet Sauvignon). Put the whole thing in the fridge until shortly before party time. Just before the guests arrive, add a liter of club soda. Here's the deal - you don't have to be exacting with the proportions or ingredients. You can use different kinds of fruit, substitute cranberry juice for orange juice ... whatever you want.

The sandwich bar - with chips and dips
The Buffet
When I was a kiddo, my best friend gave me a gigantic PINK copy of a Miss Manners etiquette book that she found on the sale rack at Waldenbooks. Aside from Little Women, it may have been the book with the single biggest influence on my childhood. To this day, I still stand by many of the etiquette rules I learned from that book. Foremost: if you invite people over, you are responsible for feeding them.

Now, my friends are lovely and I know they will all ask to bring things, so I usually make Miss Manners shiver in her knickers and mention in the invite that people are welcome to bring snacks and drinks - it saves a step, since I know that they will anyway. However, I plan as if no one will bring anything - to run out of food at a party is my worst nightmare.

So, to feed the multitudes, I've discovered a simple solution: a sandwich bar. And THIS sandwich bar is both low effort and classy-seeming.

Turkey Sandwich Bar
You need:
Hawaiian rolls (2 per guest)
Condiments (Mustard, Cream Cheese, Cranberry Sauce or Relish -- although I wouldn't put all those together)
A turkey roast, cooked and ready for slicing

How to make a turkey roast in your crockpot - 15 min. of effort + 8 hours of cooking time = the most delicious turkey you can imagine. It's also excellent for family holiday dinners.

You need:
An onion
A turkey roast (these are in the freezer section at the grocery store, and are either all white meat or white/dark combo)
A half stick of butter, slightly softened
1 tbsp. of thyme
1 tsp. salt, pepper, rosemary
2-3 crushed cloves of garlic
1/4-1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth

Step 1: Chop the onion into large chunks (quarters or eighths) and place in the crock pot.

Step 2: Mix the butter with the herbs, spices, and garlic

Step 3: Unwrap the turkey roast. Take the herb butter and rub it all over the roast. If your roast has skin, rub it under the skin. If your roast came with a netting over it, remove the netting first. 

Step 4: Stick the roast in the crock pot, on top of the chopped onion. Pour the broth over the top. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Step 5: Using a meat thermometer, make sure that it's 160 degrees, at least. Then remove from the crock pot and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before serving. I served it by simply putting it out on the sandwich bar on a cutting board and let people slice their own pieces.

Finger food on the coffee table - mixed nuts, cookies
truffles, and cherry tomatoes.
The Flow
When setting up your party, you want to think about how guests will relate to one another. A good rule of thumb is that you want slightly more people than seems reasonable given the amount of space you have. Why? Won't it be crowded? Exactly. Your guests will be closer together - a party that's just a teensy bit crowded means more talking and interacting.

You also want people to have to move around. That means food shouldn't be all clustered in one place. At this party, I had drinks in the kitchen, buffet on the dining table, and an array of small snacks on the coffee table that didn't demand any utensils or plates.

The Music
I've spent years "curating" (as my pop culture soulmate, AVClub writer Todd VanDerWerff, says) my ideal holiday playlist - a mix of Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter songs. And now I share it with you.

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