The Perfect Party
One of the great pleasures of fall and winter is getting everyone together for the holidays. At the center of every great get-together is delicious food, whether it’s a sit-down dinner or a dessert party.
If you’re planning to entertain this year, perhaps you’ve already penciled in a day and sent out a save-the-date to friends and family. Now comes the challenge of piecing together all of the elements to ensure a flawless holiday party. Count on local specialists to make your holiday party planning a joy — and resounding success — this year.
Hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, canapés, finger foods — whatever you call them, offering a variety of tiny noshes is the perfect way to welcome guests to your holiday soiree before your main course is served. Or, skip dinner completely and serve a tapas-style feast.
Hot and/or cold hors d’oeuvres may be served as a part of a sit-down meal or prior. Hors d’oeuvres prior to a meal can be stationary or passed. 3 Chefs Catering (380 W. Virginia St., Crystal Lake, 815-788-1333, www.3chefscatering.com) recommends serving appetizers buffet-style or via a wait staff.
For large groups, small plates, build-your-own tapas bars and “tasting spoons” are popular options, according to owner Mark Hudak.
“Tasting spoons are spoons with single-bite portions of items like smoked trout mousse or ahi tuna ceviche,” he said. “A tapas bar might include crostini — baguette slices — with toppings like fresh mozzarella and plum tomatoes.”
The Main Course
If you’re planning a holiday meal, turkey usually comes to mind for the main course, particularly for Thanksgiving. Though most caterers offer traditional fare, holiday party hosts are becoming more adventurous, Hudak said.
“We do a lot of menu customization,” Hudak said. “A holiday party menu might feature a carving station with beef tenderloin, blue cheese-stuffed potatoes, poached asparagus with smoked turkey and jumbo shrimp trays, for example.”
Though 3 Chefs can turn a party around with one week’s notice, Hudak advises hosts to book holiday parties as soon as possible to reserve a date. “A December party should be booked by November,” he said. “Early planning is especially important for first-time hosts. They should know their budget and number of guests so the caterer can build the menu around it.”
For companies — especially those that are too busy around the holidays to plan a party — January and February holiday parties are increasingly popular, Hudak added, and take the pressure off of competing for a December weekend date.
The Centerville Café, the catering arm of Tarts and Truffles (124 Cass St., Woodstock, 815-338-8278, www.tartsandtruffles.net), develops catering events that are unique to each client and budget.
“We have done some beautiful luncheons in clients’ homes with holiday themes,” said Susan Younger, catering sales manager. “We do offer a very typical Thanksgiving menu of roast turkey with pan juices and dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh-baked rolls, candied or fresh cranberry sauce, and the client’s choice of pumpkin pie or crème brûlée.”
The Centerville Café caters to any size party. The larger the party, the earlier the planning needs to start for a successful event, Younger said. “For our drop-off Thanksgiving orders, we generally take orders until two days before Thanksgiving,” she added, “as we make all of our pies and rolls on the day before we have some leeway with ordering.”
To first-time hosts, Younger recommends setting a budget and an open dialogue with the caterer. “Bring your own ideas to the table as we love to work with you to incorporate hosts’ personalities into the event,” she said.
“We did a party where we took very inexpensive glass ornaments and wrote the guests names on them with gold permanent marker and then filled the ornament with water and put a flower in it — it was beautiful, elegant and very affordable. Sometimes it is the simplest things that make the party and give your party such flair.
“Enjoy your party and sharing your hospitality with your guests,” she continued. “For the first time hostess, you can have a very elegant appetizer party where you aren’t required to do as much preparation and the guests will love it. Don’t be afraid to be a hostess, let your caterer help.”
Party organizers on a budget have options, too. Younger suggests a buffet rather than plated sit-down dinner to cut down on expenses.
“Hosts can also choose fewer courses and reduce the dessert choices, which help with budgets,” she recommended. “For corporate clients, consider holiday lunches for cost effectiveness or a catered breakfast. Both can cut costs of a holiday party considerably.”
For those wishing to host their holiday party off-premise, The Centerville Café’s venue in the Woodstock Square seats up to 50 people. “This takes the stress out of having a party in your home,” Younger added.
The holidays are the time of year we tend to allow ourselves to indulge more than usual. When it comes to desserts, the more decadent, the better, especially when you’re entertaining.
While baking has long been a tradition in the holiday kitchen, when time is in short supply, nothing comes closer to homemade than Sugar Hills Bakery (644 S. Main St., Algonquin, 847-658-8765, www.sugarhillsbakery.com). Owner-operator Anna Majewski said her bakery’s capabilities are limited only to a client’s imagination. From traditional European desserts to contemporary pastries, Sugar Hills has something for every taste.
During autumn, Sugar Hills sells a lot of pumpkin pies and cheesecakes, and its fresh cranberry sauce is perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. For Christmas, it offers gingerbread houses, yule logs, peppermint cheesecake, German fruitcake and spice cookies.
“Popular holiday party options include strawberry trees and trays of cookies or mini pastries,” Majewski said. “We also create holiday gifts such as cookie tins.”
The bigger the order, the earlier a client should place it, particularly around the busy holidays, Majewski added. “A three- to five-day notice is usually enough time,” she said. “For very large orders, I recommend setting up an appointment to discuss options and budget.”
Sugar Hills has been so busy — averaging 30 events each weekend — that it is soon opening a location in Wheeling, Ill.
For hosts looking for unique, upscale desserts, Tarts and Truffles offers a variety of handmade pastries, mini tarts, cookies, cakes, brownies, candies and hand-dipped strawberries.
For Thanksgiving and the fall season, the company does a lot of crème brûlées inside of mini pumpkins, which are “gorgeous,” according to Younger.
“Guests love to see their dessert inside a small pumpkin,” she said.
During the holidays, mini desserts are popular, including cheesecakes, key lime pies, pumpkin pies, pecan pies and cream puffs. “Hostesses enjoy offering their guests a variety of dessert choices and it looks very spectacular when we stack them on our trays and make them the centerpiece of the table,” Younger said. “We also do very traditional bûche de noel, which is a cake made to look like a log with mushrooms.”
Tarts and Truffles also caters afternoon dessert-only parties, “which people love,” Younger said. “Imagine an elegant cheesecake party with six kinds of cheesecake. We also have many types of Christmas cookies which you can have delivered or pick up which make a great dessert during the holiday season.”
Woodstock-based Jaci’s Cookies Inc. (www.jaciscookies.com, 815-790-5634), operated by Jaci Krandel, offers unique holiday cookies like Pumpkin Harvest with walnuts and cranberries; Hint O’ Orange, a natural orange-flavored cookie with dried cranberries; The Leah, a chocolate cookie with candy cane; and the Holiday Doodle, a sugar cookie in the holiday colors of the client’s choice.
Whether you’re the host or a guest, wine is a great complement to a holiday dinner. Savvy hosts will pick the perfect wine to pair with their holiday feast, according to John Macrito, owner of Corkscrew Pointe (1402 North Riverside Drive, McHenry, www.corkscrewpointe.com, 815-578-8360). For the following meals, he recommends:
- Roasted Turkey – “A soft, almost jammy, light-bodied red. This year, we are recommending a fruity Shiraz, namely Razor’s Edge Shiraz from South Australia. This is not your typical bold spicy red, rather a very fruit-driven wine.”
- Roast Beef – “Go with Steel Creek, a soft, elegant pinot noir from Monterey, Calif. Both the wine and the food will taste better.”
- Honey-glazed Ham – “Try Bauer Haus Dornfelder. Imported from Rheinhessen, this is a fruity, somewhat sweet German table wine. For those that cringe at the thought of a sweet-style wine, consider a soft, elegant pinot noir or even the fruity Shiraz.”
- A Dessert Party – “Pair with a Moscato d’Asti — a wine from the mountains of Northern Italy. This soft, bubbly wine will quickly become a crowd pleaser. There are many brands to choose from, but for the money, Patrizi Moscato D’Asti is hard to beat.”
- Appetizer Party – “New Gewurz Gewurztraminer from Alexander Valley Vineyards of California features simple spice and almond tones.
- For the red wine drinker, a Mediterranean Sangiovese Monte Degli has a good mouth feel. It’s a light-bodied, earthy, Italian red from Puglia.”
A thoughtful guest will bring a bottle of wine or liquor as a way to give thanks and show appreciation for the hospitality. You needn’t be an oenophile to impress your host, however. “Vin Glögg from Glunz Winery has a nice warm and spicy profile,” Macrito said. “Chocolate wine,” he added, “pairs greatly with pecan pie.”