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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011 8 years ago

Planning for the holidays

Recipe for perfect party
by: Beth Visconti and Kim Pearson

As fall starts to settle in, a lot of us start thinking about planning holiday parties. From the simple Saturday afternoon get-together to the formal company dinner party hosted in your home, your event can be enjoyable for everyone if you plan ahead.

An afternoon get-together is a pretty simple affair. You can simply ask your guests to come over and bring something to share, or you could even send out an Evite with a sign-up list. However, as you start to think about holiday parties, things become a little more detailed.

Plan food to fit the affair

(submitted by Beth Visconti)

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon bourbon

Side of salmon or 10 (6 oz) salmon filets

Mix all ingredients, pour over salmon and roast for 18-20 minutes, depending on thickness at 375 degrees.

When planning your holiday party, start by thinking about your guest list and how many people you can accommodate comfortably in your home. You can do a simple “nibble and nosh” with easy room temperature appetizers or a full buffet with an action station. Some easy do-it-yourself food items could include Brie cheese with warm raspberry jam drizzled over the top and served with gingersnaps, Boursin cheese with a pepper jelly drizzle or a simple cheese presentation to include larger wedge cheeses along with bite-sized pieces. Fruit and vegetable presentations are also fairly simple to assemble and also make a centerpiece that is aesthetically appealing.

Desserts are one of those items on which you could base your whole party. Whole cakes and pies, cookies and candies help to make a party appear decadent. Some simple yet unforgettable items are chocolate cake, pumpkin and pecan pie, and fresh fruit served with chocolate fondue.

Try to keep it simple when planning beverages for your party. Choose one signature drink based on your theme or type of party. A flavored martini, mojito or even a champagne cocktail are a nice choice to greet guests. Having only a few choices of beer and wine are highly recommended. Trying to have everyone’s favorite drink on hand will have you spinning your wheels.

Decorate less, plan more

When thinking decorations, think less is more. Your house and style should shine when you have a party, so you simply want to accent what you already have. Simple floral arrangements and small plants such as bromeliads are always a nice way to accent and round out the feel for the party.

The best way for you to enjoy your party is to start preparing a few days ahead of time. Make a thorough list of all the items you’ll need one week before, shop at least two days before and prepare and stage all the food and drink items you can the day before. The day of the event, you simply need to put the finishing touches on everything. You should not be searching for missing items the day of the party. Get them all together the day before!

If all of this seems like more work than you want to take on, the time to call a caterer is now. It’s always best to call early and reserve your date. Friday and Saturday nights fill up fast! If you get booked before Thanksgiving, it will mean less stress and planning during that hectic time. With food, drinks, china and silverware and chefs, service staff and bartenders to set up, breakdown and clean up, you can really enjoy your guests and not have to worry about a thing. Caterers can be a nice choice for parties in your home or in your office, as well as community centers.

—Beth Visconti, a resident of Baldwin Park and the service manager for Arthur’s Creative Events & Catering. She and her husband, James, have three children; Madison, Ben and Kennedy. She enjoys cooking and running.

<brGive the gift of homemade food items this holiday season

By Kim Pearson

Guest Writer

(submitted by Kim Pearson)

Prepared pie crust to fit 13 x 9” baking pan


11oz goat cheese

1/2 cup of whole ricotta cheese

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened

3 egg yolks

1/3 cup unbleached flour

1 shallot finely chopped and sautéed

4 tablespoons total of mixed chopped fresh herbs of your choice - basil, rosemary, thyme, or 2 teaspoons total of dried herbs.

1/4 cup of finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes. The ones packed in oil will release their oil during cooking time so be sure to use the dried tomato.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and pre-bake pie crust so that when complete, the tart will be crispy and cooked through. Remove from the oven and let the pastry cool before you pour in the filling. Reduce the oven to 375 degrees. Process goat cheese, ricotta and butter until smooth. Add egg yolks one at a time, processing after each egg to be thoroughly incorporated. Add flour, salt and pepper until blended. Pour into tart shell. Sprinkle the top of the tart filling with herbs. Bake until brown 25-30 minutes. Cut into small squares or bake in small tartlets for appetizer. Makes about 70 small tartlets.


• Sauté mushrooms and fold into tart

• Drizzle plate with basil pesto and top with tart, or drizzle on top and finish with a sun-dried tomato for a holiday garnish

• Add chopped bacon or crumbled cooked Italian sausage

• Spinach and chopped red peppers

This year’s holiday food trend will be a throwback to tradition when foods were lovingly made by hand. This trend is also indicative of a desire for simplicity, value and comfort. Filling gift baskets or decorating your party table with old fashioned cookies, cakes, pies and sweet breads brings back some of the “comfort” that comes with smelling and eating food from our childhoods.

Holiday party ideas

Homemade food items also make an excellent centerpiece for a buffet or traditional family holiday dinner. For example, a whimsical gingerbread house or tower of decorated cookies or cupcakes will especially delight the children at the table. Simplicity, value and comfort can still be elegant. Varying the heights of food on a buffet table adds interest and is a great way to showcase a pretty serving bowl or to make sure everyone notices a special treat you’ve prepared.

For adults, wrap one of your favorite sweet breads in clear cellophane wrapping secured with an elegant holiday ribbon and name tag as a welcome or parting gift for holiday party guests. Remember to keep your menu manageable and not overcomplicate your party or you will be overwhelmed and miss out on the fun.

I am getting married in December, and I am not only planning my own wedding, but catering my own reception, too. I use magazines to help inspire me with ideas that are fresh and ignite my imagination. You can do the same for your holiday parties. For finding recipes and decoration ideas, Southern Living and Food Network magazines are useful. The recipes are simple, good and reliable.

Gift baskets

The key to a memorable holiday gift basket is to fill it with items made from scratch with the freshest ingredients in their purest forms. If you are making your own baskets, make sure to include a complementing beverage, such as a bottle of wine with a chocolate or Italian-themed basket; or coffee, teas and hot cocoa mix for sweet breads and cookies. For example, sweet holiday breads, handmade with the sights, smells and taste of tradition, from a fragrant raisin-filled pumpkin bread, to a really decadent cocoa-based kirsch-infused bread loaded with chocolate chips, and bing and maraschino cherries.

So often gift baskets are filled with pre-packaged cookies and crackers from Europe which, I guess, is supposed to make the item appear special or somehow worth more. However, most people find these items less than tasty and often these foods are packaged weeks or months in advance of them appearing in your gift basket, hence they are dry and sometimes stale.

—Kim Pearson, an executive chef with a culinary arts degree from Johnson & Wales University and the owner of Pearson’s Catering.

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