This article is brought you by our friends at Stella Artois.
Hosting a dinner party during the holidays can be a huge undertaking—from menu planning to figuring out the guest list (no, Aunt Harriet can not be seated next to your cousin Roger’s vegan girlfriend)—it’s no small task. Friends and family are overscheduled and already struggling to fit in quality time with loved ones, let alone attending the mandatory office holiday party. So now that it’s almost the end of the year, change it up and host one to remember this holiday: with less prep work and more fun, it’s an easy way to get in the holiday spirit.
The key to hosting a stellar holiday after-dinner party is making sure you stock up on seasonal beverages and snacks to sate your guests. Jeanine Donofrio, author of the cookbook Love and Lemons: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking based on her blog, has some great suggestions for your informal fête: “Keep things simple by serving a nice sparkling wine, a festive drink, a few snacks and a few sweet bites.” Serving snacks allows guests to mingle, and doesn’t require much work aside from keeping some store-bought items on hand that you can jazz up with additions like homemade dip and unusual toppings. Simple family recipes like spiced, savory nuts, and classic party mix are all great choices for party noshes that guests can enjoy with a seasonal beverage or better yet, an ice-cold Stella Artois.
If you’re looking to serve something more substantial (not quite dinner, but more than a snack), think about making these mini croque madames, which are mini ham and cheese sandwiches toasted and served with béchamel sauce and a fried egg. Cut the sandwiches into bite-sized portions and serve with an individual fried quail egg.
Another way to host a more collaborative after-dinner party is to share the love by assigning your friends some dishes to bring along and contribute to the evening. Jeanine suggests: “Make it a pot luck! Assign each couple/family to bring the remaining side dishes and a couple of desserts.” Without the pressure of a sit-down meal and main course, guests can feel free to bring their own favorite side dish, appetizer, snack, or dessert for an excellent mix-and-match buffet.
While you’re sitting fireside, there’s no excuse not to go all out and put that fireplace to good use with an epic s’mores bar that allows you to bring the spirit of the party indoors. Set up topping on a festive silver tray or platter and let your imagination go wild: candied bacon, salted chocolate, flavored marshmallows, peanut butter, Nutella, the sky’s the limit. Use different flavors of graham cracker like cinnamon and chocolate (or if you’re feeling adventurous, try making your own from scratch).
For a treat that doubles as a decoration, this sugar cookie recipe will delight your guests. If you want to add a DIY component to your evening, think about setting up a decorate-your-own edible ornament station at the kitchen table complete with an array of sprinkles and colorful frostings. If you’re able to resist eating all of these sugared holiday shapes, you can hang them on the Christmas tree as decorations or give them out to friends and neighbors as a holiday gift.
At the end of the evening, surprise your fellow partygoers with an unexpected dessert-to-go and goodie bags that they can grab on their way out the door. Jeanine Donofrio recommends “sweet and spicy popcorn as a great late-night nibble…and for a little sweet treat, make this dark chocolate avocado mousse.” You can serve the chocolate mousse in individual glass jars and tie with a festive holiday ribbon, complete with a traditional holiday gift tag (be sure to include a spoon!).
After-Dinner Party Recipes
Slow Cooker Party mix
It’s hard to find someone who isn’t a fan of party mix—and our slow cooker recipe makes it easy to plan ahead and get the party started earlier in the day. Soy sauce and hot smoked paprika add a kick to this rendition, but feel free to substitute spices and add some cayenne pepper for some added heat. Get our Slow Cooker Party Mix recipe.
Spiced Candied Pecans
These spiced pecans from New Orleans chef Donald Link are just as good eaten by the handful as they are sprinkled in a salad or crumbled on a savory yogurt combination. If you’re not a fan of pecans you can substitute any other kind of nut. Get our Spiced Candied Pecans recipe.
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Caitlin M. O'Shaughnessy is a New York City–based food writer and editor at Penguin who has worked on and recipe-tested several cookbooks. She is currently in search of NYC's best ramen, and is one of the few people who admit to disliking brunch.