Crowd-pleasers: Dreading party season? Take these tips from a pro

Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

Whether you’re hosting or attending, A Pimento Catering owner Gay Beery has a few ideas on making the most of your holiday fanfare.

Drinks

Don’t worry that you don’t have a full or “properly stocked” liquor cabinet. Decide what you’d like to serve and do it well. A single cocktail offering is fine, as long as you have a good second go-to, like beer and wine, available for those who maybe have a poor history with martinis, if that’s your feature.

It’s always nice to have some non-alcoholic beverages on offer, too. Juices and fruited Italian sodas are great and easy, and if you have sparkling water on hand, with a few garnishes like citrus and mint, you’ve done it. Fall and winter give us a good supply of fresh apple ciders, and they make beautiful drink foundations (my favorite is an apple-ginger sparkler with smoked ginger syrup base, lemon juice, cider and sparkling water to top off). Have fun—and if you’ve got something extra lying around, like other herbs or citrus fruits or even fresh figs, play with those, too.

Balance

Whatever you do, think about those guests who won’t go to dinner after your party. This does not mean you need to serve dinner, but it does mean you should think about balancing the offerings (not a bad idea, anyway).

Think of hors d’oeuvres as a meal, in that you might serve some meat-based items, some dairy, some vegetables, some carbs. You’ll all feel better later.

Appetizers

Pick up a few favorite or seasonal cheeses, charcuterie and bread and crackers. Grab a bundle of seasonal fruit, which will be beautiful and delicious with those cheeses.

Look to your cabinets at home for those thoughtful gifts of local jam and honey you tucked away.

Make a couple simple spreads, and ask your best friend who’s begging to help host if she’ll bring along something no-fuss.

Set the table

Keep it simple. Just some beverage napkins and cups, and perhaps little plates to keep things neat for those folks squeezed together on the sofa. Or, get out all those cool little glasses you got from the last few years’ yard sales and enjoy using them!

Remember: It’s about sharing time with your friends, not worrying. Once you open the door, relax.

YOUR NEW GO-TO

Here are two of Beery’s sure bets for holiday party treats.

Savory

Beet borani

“Easily the most beautiful colored dish you’ll ever put on your table (but don’t offer it in a room with white carpeting). This recipe can actually be used as a base and utilize other roasted root veggies you happen to love or have an abun-
dance of, as long as it roasts up sweet and moist enough to purée (i.e. carrots or sweet pota-
toes),” Beery says. Serves four to eight guests

1 pound of beets

3/4 cup thick yogurt

2 or 3 cloves crushed, chopped garlic

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. (or more) ground cumin (ideally from freshly toasted cumin seeds)

Dash of cayenne (to taste)

Olive oil

Wash the beets, rub all over with a bit of olive oil, wrap in a pocket of foil (or place in covered glass dish—just not too big) and roast at 350 degrees for about 60 to 90 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Allow the beets to cool a bit until you can handle them. Using a paper towel to shield your hands (this is where it gets messy/beautiful), slip the skins off the beets with a paring knife until the beets are cleaned of any skin (and stems).

Place the beets in a food processor and purée. Then add garlic, yogurt, lemon juice, cumin and just a pinch of cayenne (if desired), and purée until smooth. Add a bit of olive oil if you like.

To garnish, add a handful of toasted walnuts, drizzle with olive oil or add fresh dill. Serve with toasted pita or flatbread.

Photo: Rammelkamp Foto
Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

Sweet

“When it comes to sweet spreads, I think chocolate, fruit, nuts and combinations thereof. However much I may adore gianduia and its easily accessible cousin, Nutella, I still tend to love fruit and simple cream- and cheese-based spreads best.

“Because this is winter, I like the idea of things like caramel to serve with apples and pears, or with pound cake, ice cream or with my mom’s sourmilk pancakes,” she says.

Warm Brown Sugar-Bourbon Sauce

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

2/3 cup cream

3 tbsp. bourbon

Bit of fleur de sel or Maldon salt (to taste)

Over medium to low heat, melt butter with sugars, stirring gently. As sugar melts, raise heat a bit and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue stirring and boiling for three to five minutes, or until the sugar has completely melted and become syrupy. Add  the cream and stir to combine. Stir over medium to high heat until it’s bubbly (the mixture will reduce a bit). Pull the pan off the heat and stir in the bourbon (it will sputter a bit, so be careful), then return it to the heat for about a minute. Add salt and serve.

If you should have any left over (!), leave at room temperature and use within a couple of days, reheating gently if you like.