The Perfect Get-Together

How food and drink can create memorable moments

holiday-dinner

Flavorful food and drinks are the foundation for memorable holiday gatherings, whether they’re for colleagues or close family and friends. Culinary and entertainment expert chef Vanessa Cantave and mixologist Colin Appiah say that your gastronomical selections should suit your environment and the tastes of your guests to provide an engaging, comfortable atmosphere. Cantave and Appiah outline three specific settings:

Traditional For some, a holiday meal is not the same if it doesn’t include many of the food staples associated with the season. But even for the die-hard traditionalist, Cantave suggests serving richly flavored alternatives: butter basted free-range turkey with lemon and herbs; macaroni and cheese made with Gruyère, Fontina, and Parmesan cheeses, and a cereal crust; and mashed potatoes with brown butter and snipped chives. Instead of boiling collard greens, Cantave often removes the hard stem and sautés them with smoked turkey. “The leaves are very hearty,” she says. For dessert, serve sweet potato pie with cardamom spice and brown sugar hazelnuts. Cantave always uses place cards for formal, sit-down meals; the cards create opportunities for guests to get acquainted. “As the hostess you know everyone, so make sure no one’s sitting next to their husband who they talk to every day.”

Small Spaces Consider a cocktail party where the warming flavors of the season are provided by drinks such as warm pear cocktails or brandy-spiked eggnog accompanied with turkey meatball skewers in mushroom gravy garnished with celery and sage. “It’s incredibly seasonal, but it doesn’t have to be traditional,” says Cantave. “It can be just cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.” Other dishes could include organic deviled eggs with crispy shallots; bite-size cheddar buttermilk biscuits with ham and cranberry relish; and ice cream sandwiches made with pumpkin-cinnamon cookies. Place these dishes on serving tables throughout your apartment, Cantave suggests, to create fluidity and prevent guests from crowding in one area.

Creative Holidays are great times to experiment with texture and flavors, says Appiah. Cantave recommends making sure that you invite those who would appreciate a more exotic offering. The menu could include butternut squash and leek soup with buttery croutons; roasted duck with sour cherry sauce; brioche stuffing with roasted chestnuts, mushroom, and sweet sausage; sautéed asparagus with caramelized onions and toasted almonds; and an apple-cranberry-pear tart with spiced pastry cream for dessert.

“Most people don’t give much thought beyond stocking the bar with a variety of spirits,” says Appiah, “but cocktails can add a nice touch—for greeting your guests on their arrival, for cleansing the palate, and as a social addition to the evening.” Specially mixed cocktails, including holiday favorites such as vanilla bean eggnog, can nicely complement a range of preparations in addition to offering champagne, a dinner wine, and an after-dinner spirit such as port or cognac. “A non-alcoholic cocktail also provides something special for guests who don’t drink.”

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