Each year we host a holiday party. This tradition started about 5 years ago. And we like to make it fancy, with glass plates, and real wineglasses, and printed and mailed invitations, and RSVP's (which, strangely, people never respond to, so every year it is like a total guess on how many people are attending), and lots and lots of champagne. The big highlight (at least in my mind) is the table of desserts I create (which means that this is pretty much the one time of year I actually put my fancy pastry school degree to good use).
We had our party on Saturday, the day after my hooding (not something I recommend, by-the-by. It is nice to be able to clean the house the night before).
It was a little more low-key this year for the sake of my sanity- fewer people invited, fewer desserts (I passed on things that only I appreciate, like the homemade marshmallows, the champagne ice bucket made out of actual ice, and the "torch-your-own" creme brulee) and kept it (fairly) simple in order to avoid being stressed out. Which I did (avoid being stressed out, I mean). I wore high heels and a fancy dress and drank champagne and had a wonderful evening.
A few of my (personal) thoughts on throwing a great holiday party:
1) Put the desserts in rows. This is a trick I learned in culinary school. It looks so much more professional for some reason. And put "risers" under your dessert platters. I love height, and think that having raised trays makes for a much more interesting tablescape. I use all manner of things under my tablecloth- boxes, cake pans, casserole pans, truly whatever I have lying around.
2) Put cranberries in the glasses. It adds color. And seems festive. And is a small detail that about a million people comment on.
3) Send guests home with a goodie. I always send mine home with an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffin. I do it because I imagine that it must be magical to go out to a party, have a great time and a lot of champagne, perhaps drinking a tad too much, and wake up the next morning with a home-baked, fresh muffin for breakfast. Doesn't that sound wonderful? So each year guests leave with these muffins (which are kind of like an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie in muffin form, and get all gooey with just 10-seconds in the microwave). They have become a kind of tradition for party guests (and bonus- you don't even need a mixer, so the morning of the party I just line up 3 big bowls and make 3 big batches with just a whisk and a spoon). Then I put them in bags, tied with raffia, and voila...
4) Leave the baby at home. Or, in this case, send the baby to someone else's home. We had Tate spend the evening with a sitter, which was great. Although we missed him, and guests asked about him constantly, I liked not having to leave the party to deal with a hungry or fussy baby, and it just being Zach and I dressed up in formal clothes seemed so much fancier. (Also- it made the last hour before guests arrived so much easier).
5) Start early. I usually start about 3 weeks ahead of time with things that I know freeze well. In particular: french buttercream (just defrost on the counter overnight), cakes (chocolate, almond jaconde, coconut-bourbon, oh my) tart doughs (thaw in the fridge a day or two before rolling), cheesecakes (makes life so much easier to bake them in mini silicone muffin pans, freeze, and then just pop them out the morning of and let thaw in the fridge), brownies (I actually think these are better after having been frozen) and a few other items (like ice-cream if you are making ice-cream sandwiches, or other good, freezable treats). I typically make all my cookie doughs about 3-4 days in advance. And then the day before is my official bake day, where I bake all the cookies, tart shells, etc., and I make all the custards, mousses, creams, etc. The day of I get up early, make muffins, and assemble all the desserts. (Also, I try to have the whole house set up the night before, with the glasses out- covered with cling wrap, or they can get dusty- the champagne in the buckets, etc. This didn't happen this year due to graduation but it still worked out ok).
5) Have a ham. And warm, yeasty, yummy rolls. Although the invite always says "dessert and drinks", Zach and I feel that as party-throwers, it is our responsibility to provide some rib-sticking, alcohol-absorbing food. So we always order a ham from Honeybaked, and put it out with good mustard and soft rolls. Trust me. Do this. It is hugely popular, and so, so easy, and really festive. And Honeybaked hams are delicious. Especially the next morning when your husband makes you a ham-and-cheese omelette.
6) Have chocolate mousse in shot glasses. With tiny spoons. I can't really explain why people love this so much, but they do. And it is super easy because you can make the mousse ahead of time.
See the little chocolate mousses with the tiny spoons up there?
7) Don't sweat the small stuff. Because here is a list of a few of the things that happened (or didn't) the day of the party: I didn't clean the floors. I stuffed the mail that I couldn't find a place for under the bathroom sink. I didn't have candles lining the mantle like I wanted. A picture I had previously removed from our wall did not get put back up, so there was a blank hole where a picture used to be. We didn't get Christmas lights hung on the outside of the house. And a whole lot more things. But you know what? No one cared. Or even noticed.
And a festive time was had by all.