Instead of planning a formal dinner party, throw a casual open-house-style cocktail party that's low on stress yet still full of sparkle and style. No stuffiness involved here -- just finger foods, quick cocktails, easy decorations, and plenty of holiday spirit.
Set the Mood
Next, it's time to dress up your home a bit. With our help, you can decorate for this party without even breaking a sweat. For this elegant project, fill a garden cloche with ornaments, and you're done -- easiest holiday decoration ever!
1. Turn a cloche upside down and balance it inside a teacup.
2. Place ornaments, then invert a plate over the open end. Carefully turn cloche and plate right side up, and display.
3. Carefully turn cloche and plate right side up, and display.
Metallic Tray Liner
No special trips to the craft store needed for this one -- simply line a tray with gift-wrapping paper to make it holiday-ready.
Rimmed Serving Tray
1. Measure the interior base of a rimmed serving tray. Cut wrapping paper to fit. If desired, have paper laminated (at a stationery store or with an at-home kit) for longer wear, cutting paper slightly smaller to allow laminated edges to fit tray.
2. Insert into tray; secure with double-sided tape if needed.
Easy Goat Cheese Appetizer
When it comes to crowd-pleasing appetizers, goat cheese is a sure thing. You can buy the ingredients well in advance and whip up this warm, hearty starter in no time.
Break 8 to 12 ounces of marinated goat cheese or feta into large chunks, place in a small ovenproof dish, and bake at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove the dish from the oven, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with fresh thyme (if desired) and 1/2 teaspoon whole pink peppercorns. Serve with sliced baguette or crackers.
Puff Pastry Sampler
This appetizer combines sophisticated flavors and super-simple prep work.
Thaw and roll out store-bought puff pastry according to the package instructions. Place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cut into 4-inch squares. Brush with olive oil. Add toppings, bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, and serve.
Ground marinated peppers, baked and topped with white anchovy
Thinly sliced fingerling potatoes and thyme, baked and dotted with caviar
Thinly sliced orange, sage leaves, and salt, baked and drizzled with honey, Gorgonzola, and sliced scallion
For a fun all-ages treat, whip up a batch of hot chocolate and set up a table with all the fixings, like marshmallows, caramels, candy canes, whipped cream, and flavored syrups.
Delight your guests and fragrance your home with a spicy pot of mulled wine. This recipe will fill your home with warm holiday notes and have your guests feeling toasty.
1 large orange
2 cardamom pods
6 whole clove
6 allspice berries
6 whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, plus 4 for garnish (optional)
1 bottle (3 cups) fruity red wine
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brandy
1. With a fine grater, zest, then juice the orange.
2. With the flat side of a knife, press firmly on the cardamom pods to bruise them. In a large pot (not aluminum), combine zest, juice, cardamom, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, cinnamon, wine, sugar, and brandy. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to low; simmer until flavors have melded, about 30 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve; garnish with cinnamon stick, if desired. Serve immediately.
Eggnog Cheesecake Bars
Here's a handheld-treat version of a favorite holiday flavor -- eggnog. These are a cinch to make and require no forks, knives, or fuss.
Vegetable oil cooking spray, for pan
12 graham crackers, finely ground (1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup eggnog
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brandy
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Stir together graham crackers, 3 tablespoons sugar, and the melted butter. Press into bottom of pan. Bake until crust is just brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
2. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, the eggs, yolk, eggnog, flour, brandy, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt; beat until smooth. Pour filling over crust. Set pan in a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to come halfway up sides of baking pan. Bake until just set, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove baking pan from water bath, and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool slightly, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
3. Cut into 1 1/2-by-3-inch bars. Lightly dust tops of bars with freshly grated nutmeg just before serving.
More from Martha Stewart Living:
15 Kitchen Shortcuts That Will Change the Way You Cook
19 Tips for Perfect Laundry Every Time
47 Ways to Maximize Space in Your Kitchen
20 Super-Efficient, Super-Effective Ways to Clean All the Things
These easy thumbprint-inspired cookies bake up fast and feed a crowd -- a perfect party snack or favor.