5 Alternative Holiday Party Ideas
With all due respect to Christmas and Hanukkah, sometimes the smaller soirees are the most fun -- and have the best food! From tree-trimming to post-yuletide get-togethers, here are the parties five of our favorite hosts look forward to all year long.
Christmas Eve Eve
When Katie Lee began hosting Christmas at her home in Water Mill, New York, nearly 10 years ago, she was faced with a dilemma: What to feed out-of-towners who show up before the holiday? "I love lasagna and I'll take any excuse to eat it," Lee says. Thus, Christmas Eve Eve dinner was born.
"There's no chaos, no presents to be unwrapped. I call it the calm before the store," Lee says. She whips up a big, beefy lasagna with a chili-powder kick, serves it with salad and garlic bread, and invited guests to help themselves, buffet style. The best part? "I get to eat cold lasagna right out of the pan for breakfast the next day."
"Calm Before the Storm" Lasanga
Gear up! To cut down on cleanup time, Lee suggests making the lasagna in a disposable foil pan. Less mess, more time for merriment!
Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli is a fierce competitor, a steely judge on Chopped and a top restaurateur in NYC. But her favorite holiday tradition -- tree-trimming with her folks in the Manhattan apartment where she grew up -- is decidedly laid back.
Hard Work Pays Off
After her family snacks on cookies and eggnog while decorating the tree, they sit down for the main event: juicy roast beef with baked potatoes. "Tree-trimming is the work you have to do to get dinner!" Guarnaschelli says.
Roast Beef with Smashed Garlic Gravy
Give it a rest: Letting the meat come to room temperature before roasting cuts down on oven time and results in an evenly cooked roast.
Don't forget these easy 3-ingredient potatoes!
Feast of the Seven Fishes
When Michael Lomonaco was growing up in Brooklyn, his family kicked off Christmas Eve as many Italian-Americans do, with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the last meatless meal before Christmas. While the seafood spread has religious symbolism, ultimately it's about the food. "My mom was a great cook," Lomonaco recalls. "She'd serve linguine with clams, followed by shrimp scampi -- we never repeated a fish."
A Modern Take
These days, the chef and his wife host the meal and serve lighter, more modern dishes, like herb-crusted salmon. "Last Christmas we were just four, but I still made a seven-course fish dinner," he says. "No one complained!"
Herb-Crusted Roast Salmon
Easy does it: Lomonaco likes the center cut of the salmon because of its uniform thickness (uneven pieces closer to the tail are prone to drying out). To save yourself some work, as the folks at the fish counter to debone and skin the fillets.
Sometimes you need a little party after the big parties are over, just so you get to actually talk to your friends. That's the idea behind Lauren Purcell's Boxing Day bash, which she, her mother, Michele, and her sister, Anne, host at their mom's home in Florida the day after Christmas. "Every year, we invite the same close family friends," Purcell says. "It gives us a chance to trade the gossip we all gathered!"
Finger Food with Flare
Though Boxing Day was originally the day the aristocracy gave gifts to their servants, the Purcells' take is far more casual: finger food and cocktails around the coffee table. One go-to dish is baby lamb chops with rosemary-mustard sauce. "We're meat people -- Mom raises cattle," Purcell says. "Since we can't eat steaks with our hands, these are the next-best thing!"
Baby Lamb Chops with Rosemary-Mustard Sauce
Make it ahead: The mustard sauce can be made up to two days before the party and kept covered and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
Three Kings Day
In Puerto Rico, Christmas festivities last well beyond December 25. Evette Ríos remembers flying from her home in New York City to her grandparents' in Mayaguez for Three Kings Day on January 6, a holiday that marks the three wise men's visit to the baby Jesus. But as her parents become more Americanized, the custom fell by the wayside. That is, until recently, when Ríos revived it.
A Prize with a Price
"There are some quirky traditions that are part of it," she says. One of them involves king cake, a pastry ring with a sweet cream cheese filling, which has a tiny doll symbolizing Jesus baked in. Whoever finds the baby gets good luck. "But," warns í, "that also means you're throwing the next party."
Cream Cheese King Cake
Bedazzle it: Ríos usually decorates her king cake with a simple icing, but you can add all kinds of pizzazz -- like colored sanding sugar or any leftover cookie decorations.