Simple, Seasonal Celebrations, Gatherings & Get-togethers
Ah, November. While lots of us look forward to this cool-weather month, it’s easy for this Christmas precursor to get a little lost in its own shuffle. Halloween has happened and Thanksgiving seems to absorb what’s left of the month. Then, before you know it, it’s Christmas parties, Hanukkah celebrations and, soon enough, the New Year.
Our advice? This November, celebrate the season and not just the turkey and trimmings. While Thanksgiving definitely tops our list as far as eating occasions are concerned, there’s lots more to November—and lots more reasons to party!
THIS MONTH’S ENTERTAINING MUST-TRY
November is the official kick-off of the holiday season—so why not use it to brand your own season-long tradition? Choose a signature cocktail or dessert and serve it every time you have guests or bring a potluck dish. This must-try will quickly become your holiday signature, and friends and family will start looking forward to it every time they see you.
- Think about seasonal flavor influences like apples, cranberries and cinnamon
- Aim for a festive look or color—reds, browns, oranges and other deep hues are clear-cut signs of the season
- Focus on how you plate and serve your dish—a simple red pie plate, copper pitcher or leaf accents will give your drink or dessert a festive twist
Plan to kick off your signature drink or dessert at your first get-together this month, even if it’s just brunch with a few friends. Between now and New Year’s, you’ll have ample opportunities to serve and share—cheers!
Stumped for a signature dish? Consider these…
CRANBERRY CHAMPAGNE COCKTAILS
Mix 1 ounce of cranberry, frozen cranberries and a wedge of lime with champagne and prosecco—voila!
HOT CHOCOLATE CAKE
Baked right in a mug and topped with roasted marshmallows, these mini cakes are the sweetest way to wind down a holiday get-together. Get the recipe here.
We’d be remiss if we DIDN’T include November’s biggest holiday. But the reality? Everyone “gets” Thanksgiving—the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the pumpkin pie and everything in between. That’s why this year, we’re putting our own twist on Thanksgiving, with an eye on updating some classic must-haves and creating a fun and deliciously modern occasion everyone will want to dig right into…
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Make it a POTLUCK! Invite guests to bring a dish to complement your key sides and staples. Got out-of-towners? “Loan” them your kitchen for a few hours so they can get in on the action! If your guests are up for a little friendly competition, don’t be afraid to host a post-dinner “cook off” with eaters rating their favorite sides, apps, desserts and drinks. Layer in categories like “Most Colorful” and “#1 Leftover” so every dish is a winner.
Plan an activity. It’s easy to CRASH after all the cooking and eating, but that can quickly end the holiday weekend. Have a few simple party games mapped out that guests can get in on even if they’re stuffed (i.e. NOT Twister…). Games like Heads Up, Apples 2 Apples and the Newlywed Game (FAMILY edition) are perfect.
The alternative? Gear up for what’s NEXT. Often Thanksgiving is the last time you’ll see friends and family until the next round of holidays. Take this opportunity to get a move on those festivities. Some suggestions?
- Draw Secret Santa names
- Get your Christmas tree up and start decorating
- Make holiday decorations or ornaments together
- Build out your holiday menu and start assigning potluck-style
- Bake and decorate holiday cookies together (be sure you have the perfect OVEN MITTS—we’ve got you covered…)
LEFTOVERS! This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself to go beyond the good ol’ turkey sandwich and try other twists on tradition. Some of our favorites?
- Turkey Pot Pie, packed with leftover turkey, veggies, gravy and pie crusts
- Turkey Shepherd’s Pie, again using turkey and veggies plus all those mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes
- Turkey Milanese using everything from leftover biscuits as the breading to leftover gravy and mushrooms to finish the dish
- Stuffing Bites made from fried balls of stuffing and topped with leftover cranberry sauce
Still love the sandwich? This year, assemble your turkey/stuffing/cranberry sauce masterpiece and put in a panini press or fry up grilled cheese style for a more grownup version of this holiday classic. Be sure to have plenty of gravy on the side for dipping!
DON’T FORGET… With all the cooking and baking, be sure you have sturdy and reliable oven mitts on hand. Our pick? These silicon oven mitts, available in grey or black.
#2. BACKYARD CAMPFIRE PARTY
Too often, once the cold weather hits we all settle in for weekends and evenings inside. But, really, why? Unless there’s snow on the ground, there’s no reason NOT to get out and enjoy the crisp, cool fall weather—especially if you and your friends can light up the night at a fun, festive backyard campfire party.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Guests gather around your firepit with a mug of hot apple cider (spiked, perhaps?) for a relaxing night under the stars. Make sure you enough chairs, picnic blankets or, even, sleeping bags so guests can cozy up around the fire and enjoy. Another must? Ample light. If the fire isn’t enough, make sure you have outdoor lighting, glow sticks and other illuminating pieces to ensure everyone can see everyone and everything.
A camping themed menu is a great way to complement the night. Hot dogs, kebabs, popcorn, chili and baked potatoes are classics—make sure you have some fun condiments so guests can make their meals their own.
S’mores! While anyone can roast up some marshmallows, to host the ultimate backyard campfire party, build out a simple, delicious S’MORES BAR. Guests grab a stick, grab a marshmallow and go. And when they’re done roasting their marshmallow to ooey, gooey perfection? They can hit the bar to create a wonderfully sweet masterpiece. At your s’mores bar be sure to have:
- Graham crackers—cinnamon AND chocolate, plus buttery crackers (think Ritz)
- Chocolate bars, plus white chocolate or other flavors like oreo bars, Heath bars, Kit Kats, toffee bars and more
- Gooey spreads like Nutella, peanut butter and jams
- Sprinkles and decorative sugars or toppings
#3. TAILGATING PARTY
Who says you need to be AT the big game to enjoy a little tailgating? With the huge boom in tailgating popularity, more and more people are getting in on the action (and the FOOD) without leaving their own backyards, basements and living rooms. Here’s how!
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Set up inside or outside ahead of the big game—make sure you have at least one or two TVs or radios tuned in so your guests can catch all the excitement live.
Like a “true” tailgate, call guests one to two hours ahead of time and don’t be shy about asking them to bring something—a favorite football dish, their famous seven-layer dip or, simply, a few bags of chips or case of beer. With guests assembled, lay out cold snacks first—the chips, cold dips, veggie platters, cheeses, guacamole and other poppable eats. Then, as you get closer to game time, bring out the good stuff—that bubbly spinach dip, spicy nachos, saucy meatballs and, of course, the Buffalo wings.
One of the best things about a tailgating party is that guests expect CASUAL—that means no need to break out the handwash-only dishes or spend the entire afternoon preparing a million sides. Instead, fix it and forget it. The best tailgating favorites are, often, meals, sides and snacks that can be popped in the crockpot, prepared the day before or served room temperature to cold—easy, right? Think…
- Chili in the crockpot
- Grinders and hoagies—or, better, consider a make-your-own sandwich bar
- Pasta bakes—baked ziti, baked mac and cheese and more
- Meatball subs
- Satays or kebabs
Prep, heat (or don’t!) and serve—in most cases, you can serve directly out of the crock pot/pot or casserole dish. Remember, it’s a tailgating party. Casual is par for the course.
A friendly wager (or two)! Who says football pools are just for the Super Bowl—or just for the office? When friends arrive, hand each person a football squares sheet so they can plan their strategy. Then, draw numbers and let each guest choose a box or two. Snap a pic, text to everyone in the room and watch the inner competitiveness rise to the surface. Guests will instantly be more engaged when victory is on the line. To kick things up a notch, consider adding a friendly wager—winner gets the leftover desserts, for example, or that extra case of beer in the fridge.
#4. WINE TASTING PARTY
Fall is the perfect season to sip on a few new reds and whites. By hosting a wine tasting party, you and your guests will get an excuse to get together anytime and find the next great wines to serve at Thanksgiving, Christmas and beyond—bonus!
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE…
Everyone brings a bottle of their favorite wine—or, even, a wine they’ve been eager to sample. It’s your choice if you want to give guests a theme. Some seasonal suggestions?
- My Next Great Thanksgiving Wine
- West Coast Wines
- Wines You Can’t Pronounce
- Wines Under $20
- Spanish Reds
- Perfect for Pairing with PIZZA (or another favorite food)
Alternatively, assign guests to bring a bottle that pairs with a meal course or appetizer you’ll be serving—for example, one person may bring a bottle that pairs with the crab cake app you’re serving, while another could bring a tasty bubbly to pair with dessert.
One final tip: be sure guests bring ENOUGH wine. At these parties, everyone should taste—or be able to taste—every wine available. Assuming a two to three ounce pour per taste, a single bottle of wine has about 10 “tastes.” For a party of eight to 10 people, you’ll want at least two bottles of each type of wine—more if you want to offer guests the option to keep sipping on their picks.
Have tasting note sheets printed out so guests can jot down their thoughts—and their favorites. Bonus points if you can get a list of wines from guests ahead of time so you can include tasting notes from the winemaker. Encourage party-goers to taste each bottle and give their initial reactions—often, wine tastings lead to some interesting discoveries, even from the most experienced and sophisticated palettes.
Easy eats! Even though a wine tasting party feels a little more upscale, there’s no need to go crazy with the food. Wine tasting parties are great as “cocktail parties”—in other words, meal-free fetes. Don’t hesitate to serve appetizers, finger foods and desserts only—just be sure guests know that the menu is “cocktails.” Some simple go-tos?
- Fruit and cheese plate
- Baked brie
- Bruschetta/Bruschetta dip
- Crackers, pita and parmesan straws
- Mini desserts such as chocolates, brownies, fruit tarts and/or cookies
Food should be easy to eat, even with a wine glass in hand—avoid foods that need to be cut and, instead, opt for items that can be eaten in a single bite. Cheers!
#5. PIE PARTY
Is there any dessert that screams FALL more than PIE? From the classics like pecan and pumpkin to harvest-inspired apple to blueberry to twists on traditions—we’re looking at YOU, cookie pie!—‘tis the season to sweeten up your parties and focus on the best part: DESSERT!
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Think of a fall pie party as a desserts-only potluck. The only requirement? Every guest brings a PIE. To avoid duplicates, confirm pie flavors going in—or, even, assign guests a general category their pie should fall into. For example:
- Fruit pies
- Savory pies
- Chocolate pies
- Ice cream pies
- Pies with a surprising ingredient
- Crazy combo pies
- Sweet-and-salty pies
The day of the party, be sure you have plenty of drinks. Our picks?
- Coffee and tea
- Hot cocoa
- Cider and spiked cider
- Wines such as Riesling or Moscato, plus champagne, Cava or prosecco
- Port or brandy
- Sparkling water
Also, don’t forget to have some pie accompaniments available, such as:
- Ice cream
- Whipped cream
- Chocolate syrup
Also, consider having some savory nibbles on-hand—think cheese trays, dips and nuts—to balance the sweet.
When guests arrive, hand them a marker and table card so they can label their pie and include any special notes—i.e. any allergens in the pie (nuts and dairy, for example) or, simply, that it’s “Grandma’s FAMOUS Apple Pie” or “Made with Blackberries from MY GARDEN!”
If pies fall into a few categories, consider serving category by category throughout the night. This will naturally encourage guests to try everything versus simply reaching for their go-to favorites. It will also give some natural pacing to the night—maybe start with savory, move into fruit and end with the most decadent chocolate or ice cream options.
Easy clean up! Have disposable plastic “to go” containers on-hand, then slice up remaining pies and send your guests home with a piece—or two. Everyone loves a delicious party favor, and these slices will be the ultimate take-home. And—bonus!—you’ll have less cleanup and less temptation from lingering morning-after pies…
#6. BLACK FRIDAY BRUNCH
If your gang is all about getting a great deal post-Turkey, then this party is for you. By serving up a savory post-Black Friday shopping brunch, you’ll be able to use loads of leftovers while helping keep the holiday fun going all weekend long.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Hitting the stores at 5AM? While you’ll no doubt snag a few great deals, by 10AM you’re exhausted and ready to refuel. Brunch is the perfect option.
For this laid-back party, encourage guests to “come as they are”—i.e. in the sweatpants, PJ bottoms and t-shirts they hit the mall in that morning. The menu should be equally comfy and cozy—think:
- Breakfast casseroles—french toast casserole and egg stratas are always crowd-pleasers (try THIS CASSEROLE which incorporates loads of leftovers!)
- Egg sandwiches—who DOESN’T want a bacon, egg and cheese post-shopping?
- French toast—bonus for this savory and sweet option
- Omelets—let guests choose their fillings for an easy, delicious brunch
- Pancakes with decadent toppings—fruit, whipped cream, syrup, chocolate and caramel sauce and, yes, ice cream top our list
Thinking more “continental?” If you’re going to be shopping, too, you may not have time to cook up a Black Friday feast. If that’s the case, consider preparing a casserole the night before then, simply, popping in the oven 30 minutes before guests arrive. Alternatively, go “all cold” with yummy breakfast treats you can set out and go—no baking or cooking required:
- Bagels and toppings—think lox, cream cheese, jams, cheese and veggies
- Yogurt and granola
- Fresh fruit
Welcome guests with hot coffee or tea—remember, everyone’s been up for hours and is, likely, still recovering from a massive Thanksgiving Day meal! Encourage guests to get comfortable and settle in—this is the perfect time to kick back, relax and take a breath after all the holiday chaos.
Taking a nap! If guests are staying with you, take a break after brunch—the dishes can wait. If they aren’t overnighters, enjoy a low-key hour or two, then give yourself a post-party break. Black Friday has a way of throwing off shoppers’ schedules—you’re up early doing A LOT of shopping. Take a little time to recharge, then clean up and, maybe, have a little post-rest leftover feast for you, your family and any remaining guests.