Now is the time to erect the Christmas tree. Even those who choose the minimalist approach to holiday decorating usually admit the glorious evergreen into their home to adorn that carefully chosen spot where it will welcome all throughout the holiday season. Whether you make an annual family pilgrimage to select and cut down a live tree because you welcome the pine scent - and the pine needles - in your home, or you choose to go green and bring down the artificial spruce from the attic, once you have set the tree up in its designated space, you now have to trim it. It looks rather naked and sad without all of the twinkles and sparkles of lights and ornaments. This is how many people choose this task as an informal and casual opportunity to gather family and friends for an afternoon of festive cheer.
Preparing for a tree-trimming get together should not be a massive endeavor. This is a casual gathering, for people to hang out, chat and catch up, all the while strategically placing the occasional ornament on your tree. The nibble offerings should be just as relaxed. Whether you decide on a dessert buffet or an array of savory bites, my recommendation is to make just one thing, two at most, and purchase the rest. In recent years, with all of the gourmet markets which have opened up, offerings of quality foods to pick on are plentiful.
Let us consider the dessert route. Between the appearance of gingerbread mansions in shop windows, the mention of sugar plums dancing in the heads of children tucked in their beds, cookie recipes that infiltrate every magazine on the store rack, candy counters brimming with candy canes, and holiday variations of ice cream flavors and hot chocolate combinations, Christmas is the season of sweets. So having a dessert buffet seems a fitting menu for such a yuletide pastime as trimming the tree. In following my recommendation to keep your sanity intact, bake one item, such as a holiday cake. One of my favorites for such an occasion is a cranberry-orange-pecan bundt cake. Everything is mixed in one bowl, poured into one pan, baked, cooled and presented. The end result is a festive cake, studded with holiday red cranberries and dusted with snowy white confectioners sugar. Whatever you choose to bake, rely on the best bakery in town for a couple of different varieties of cookies. A trip to a good quality candy counter will result in some truffles. Arrange all of these things around the cake on a table in the same room as the tree, add a crystal pitcher or a punch bowl of egg nog, and arrange some candy canes in between the platters for added sweet tooth-themed decor. All you need to complete this buffet, since the sugar rush just might not be enough to get your guests to work on your tree, is a carafe of good coffee, a kettle of water ready to boil and an assortment of tea bags. If you want to provide a cocktail for your guests, a chocolate-peppermint martini is a perfect option for the holiday season.
Now we examine the savory spread. An offering of several appetizers is ideal, since this is not a sit-down dinner. Again, make one or two things, such as stuffed mushrooms and a homemade dip, or bruschetta and clams casino, for examples. Buy everything else. Put out a platter of three or four different varieties of cheese with some crackers and either grapes or slices of apples or pears. A bowl of pistachios or cashews would be another good choice, and you could round this all out with a bowl of olives from the olive bar. In the way of beverage to accompany this finger food feast, keep it simple and offer a red wine, a white wine, and some good seasonal craft beer.
Homemade dips are so easy to make and are infinitely better than corporate packaged dips. Here is one to get you started for all of your future entertaining needs.
White Bean Dip
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
Place beans, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary into a food processor bowl and process until well blended. Scrape into a small serving bowl. Stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a lemon slice. Serve with pita chips. Recipe can be doubled.
You will have an enjoyable time relaxing with your friends at this party, because you didn't condemn yourself to being tethered to your kitchen. All you have to do is visit a couple of gourmet shops, prepare a couple of things before your guests pull into your driveway, have the buffet table ready to feed, put some holiday tunes on for background ambiance, light up your tree, and as your guests arrive you can greet them with a smile and an ornament to put them to work. Deck the halls!