I absolutely love to entertain. But, it seems my generation has lost the desire (and, honestly, the aptitude) to do so, and I find myself being one of the only shows in town to roll our the red carpet and don an apron and sparkles to make a fun evening for friends, neighbors and family. And the holiday season is no exception. That said, every year for the past seven, I’ve gotten a motley crew of friends together to share some holiday spirit(s) and entertain ourselves with a slightly outlandish white elephant exchange. (Exchange rules are listed below!)
Every year the party gets a little bigger, but some of the cast of characters remain the same, as do some of my favorite (and my guests’ favorite) recipes. The staples for years have been my bourbon meatballs (I’m asked for the recipe so often that I put it on a letter board this year!), sausage cheeseballs, Neiman Marcus Dip, and my Cool Weather Punch. I also always am sure to keep plenty of cheese on the table for easy snacks. All of these recipes are below!
My main bar (usually set up in my kitchen) always has at least one batched drink-usually my cool weather punch, base liquors (bourbon and rye whiskey, rum, vodka, tequila, scotch, etc.), a bottle of bitters, simple syrup, mixers, and citrus. I also ice down bottles of beer, cider, and splits of sparkling wine and leave them on my porch. Needless to say, no one ever has to look too hard for booze at my parties. I was once told by my badass boss, Flip, “No one cares about much at a party if there’s plenty to drink and great music playing.” … it stuck with me, so I sweat the details a little less now. I order all of my drinks online on a site like https://totalbev.com/ so I don’t have to go out and lug everything back, and it usually means I have more choice too for those picky drinkers.
A fun twist I add each year is having a “make your own” bar of some sort. This year it was a hot chocolate bar that was a HIT. The base hot chocolate I made (if I do say so myself) was incredible. So good, in fact, that I may have to make it a new staple. The recipe is below, but the fun part was outfitting the table with plenty of goodies to add so each person’s drink was different. Giving guests plenty of options for creativity is key, but make sure to have things that just make sense. My favorite of the boozy additions was the Smirnoff Peppermint Twist vodka, which made for the perfect peppermint hot chocolate!!! (I may or may not have moved the rest of the bottle beside the stove … just in case I get a craving.) I also ordered plain coffee cups with sleeves so people could write their names on their cups. (And you also know who doesn’t throw their cup away. ?)
While I learned how to entertain from the best (my mother threw some of the most amazing events when I was a child and I was always in awe of her ability to make everything from scratch and entertain everyone at the same time), I have found, much to my chagrin, that I can’t do it all. My wonderful mother always makes an item or two for the table, and I sometimes go for items I can pick up to save a little of my sanity. I love getting cupcakes from Trailercakes, cake balls from Savor Pâtisserie, and this year I went with some of the absolutely adorable iced and Linzer cookies from La Madeleine. Store bought doesn’t have to mean throwing in the towel!
While I’m sad paper invitations for informal events have gone by the wayside, I’ve found a decent replacement is Paperless Post. It gives a nice user experience, is relatively inexpensive (check RetailMeNot for coupons to purchase credits), and it allows you to track RSVPs. There are also some damn cute designs to use!
For entertainment, I make sure to have music playing (as mentioned above) and I’ll put a Christmas movie on TV on mute for a little extra texture. I’ve been compiling a Christmas party playlist for years with some slightly unconventional holiday songs. Find it on Spotify and give it a listen.
I hope that my party lives on, though every year it seems to get harder to find a date to make it work. The gift of hospitality is so important, and I hope you’ll join me in trying to keep it alive!
1 pound frozen meatballs (I prefer Trader Joe’s brand)
½ cup ketchup
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon whiskey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients except meatballs in a bowl. Pour over the meatballs in a crock pot. Heat on high for about an hour (then turn to warm) or low for at least three hours.
2 cups Bisquick
1 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound hot or medium ground sausage
1/4 cup water
Mix all ingredients together with your hands. Ball up a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and place it on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 22-25 minutes at 350 º.
COOL WEATHER PUNCH
1 part white rum
1 part ginger ale
1 part apple cider (non-alcoholic)
a heavy dash of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients, stir. Garnish with a thin slice of apple and cinnamon stick if desired. This recipe can also be served warm.
NEIMAN MARCUS DIP
5 green onions, chopped
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup Greek yogurt
6+ slices of crispy cooked bacon
½ cup slivered almonds
Combine all ingredients and chill for at least two hours. Serve with Ritz crackers.
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
10 cups whole milk
2 ½ cups heavy cream
12 ounce can evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon salt
topping ideas: marshmallows, chocolate shavings, soft peppermint sticks, peppermint snow, sea salt, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, cookie sticks (like Pirouettes), whipped cream (homemade if possible), toffee crumbles
boozy additions: Smirnoff Peppermint Vodka, Disaronno, Irish cream, hazelnut liqueur, coffee liqueur
Either in a crock pot or a large pot, whisk cocoa powder with hot water until mixed. Add in chocolate, milk, heavy cream, evaporated milk, and pinch of salt.
If using a crock pot, cook for 4 hours on high OR low for 6 hours and stir occasionally. Keep on warm to serve.
If using a pot on the stove, heat for about 15 minutes on medium and stir often. Then, keep on simmer and continue to stir occasionally.
Makes about 20 servings.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT EXCHANGE
Over the years, we’ve fine tuned the exchange … and we’ve seen gifts anywhere from booze (so much booze) and live lobsters to unicorn Snuggies and phallic paraphernalia.
– All attendees are asked to bring a gift with certain specifications. Some people choose themes like booze or food, but I keep it open. This year the price cap was $35.
– Everyone gets a number. (I usually just count the number of people participating and write them on little bits of paper and allow people to draw out of a bowl.)
– The person with 1 begins and opens a gift. Then, go through the numbers consecutively, and each person has the choice to either open a new gift or steal a gift that is already open.
– Continue until all the gifts have been opened.
– After this is done, the last person who has the chance to steal or open is able to steal ANYONE’S GIFT, whether it’s frozen or not.
– Each gift can be stolen twice. (Meaning, the third person who has in his hands is the final owner.) Anyone whose gift is stolen cannot steal the same gift back immediately; they must wait for their number to come back up.
– Encourage everyone at the beginning to nice. Some people think that their gifts are clever and other may think they’re stupid, so encourage people to be kind.
All pictures by Aaron Hendrickson
Special thanks to Smirnoff, Amavi Cellars, and Segura Viudas
Hair and makeup by BAM Blowouts + Makeup