Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cocktail Party | 2013

So this is a recap of our cocktail party from 2013. Because... why not?
Every year, we host a Christmas Cocktail Party on December 23rd. We picked the 23rd because we figure most people don't have to work on Christmas Eve and it doesn't impede with office parties, etc. This was our fourth year hosting it... making this year our fifth year of doing it, which seems crazy! I make it semi-formal because I think it is a special occasion, deserving of appropriate effort into everyone's attire! I loooooove Christmas and entertaining is my love language. I always think I will have time to take photos of everything ready before people arrived - wrong. I should know better. There's always a mad dash to the finish line!! This year, I got smart(er) and asked my girlfriend Christine to come a bit early and snap some photos, so photo cred goes to her!

So for the bar I decided to do a "build your own bubbly" for non-alcoholic drinks - pellegrino, raspberries, pomegranates, maraschino cherries, basil, mint and simple syrup were the accoutrements. I always do mulled wine for a cocktail treat. I make it in my crock pot so it stays hot all night and it doesn't clutter up my eensy weeny kitchen. It's always a little different year to year - mostly because I've never written it down. Ha. Committed to memory, friends. Or not. I also have glassware and the typical barware available... I love having our fauxdenza as extra surface area for all the cocktails! We fill several big coolers with ice to keep on our deck right outside the sliding door for the cold bevvies to keep the traffic out of the kitchen (plus my fridge is always full to the brim for parties!), as well as bins for empties.

For appetizers, I made the following:
  • Veggies & Dip
  • Spinach Dip (Best of Bridge cookbook) & Sour Dough Bread
  • Hot Artichoke Dip (Best of Bridge cookbook) & Wisecrackers
  • Layered Crab Dip (Winners cookbook) & Wisecrackers
  • Prawn Cocktail
  • Jalapeño Poppers* (I double the recipe)
  • Mushroom Caps (My sister made these for me... shhhhhh)
  • Charcuterie platter
  • Triple Creme Brie served room temperature with Pears & Red Pepper Jelly
  • Smoked Salmon, Cream cheese, Capers and Baguette slices
I pretty much stick to classic appies that are savoury and filling. I have made all of them before and know they are crowd pleasers. I save the hot ones for a little later on in the evening to bring out some variety. For those ones, I always make the rounds and serve them to people myself so everyone has the opportunity to get 'em while they're hot!! I also label all my dishes and included any possible allergens on the labels, as I have several of guests with dietary restrictions. *Without fail, the jalapeño poppers are gone in 5 minutes - they are so good. I have switched the recipe that I linked to use jarred/pickled jalapeños because they are quite a bit hotter than fresh - so if you like it mild, stick with fresh jalapeños or the tamed jarred ones. If you like a little kick, go with the regular jarred ones. The cream cheese really quiets a lot of the heat anyway - trust me, I can't handle much spice but I can devour these.

I also put food in the garage/man cave so that when the boys sneak off, there are still some snacks down there. I keep it simple - cheese, meats, pickles & crackers, a veggie platter and chips. Side note: I have been doing this party long enough that I have learned to cheat where you can. Buy Costco platters and re-plate them. Seriously. Save yourself a little grief. I always use their veggie platters - the less washing and prepping I have to do, the better!

I used my local wholesaler for the florals again, Westcoast Gardens. Fresh flowers for entertaining are really important to me and something I love to pick out. I went with peonies, wax flowers, hydrangea, mums and ranunculus along with eucalyptus and other greens. Then I just spread them around the house in vases. The other thing that I love to do when entertaining is light all of my candles. I am a candle burner, people. That's what they're for. I love the ambience. There may have been a wax incident in the bathroom though last year. Maybe some spillage. The important thing is to make sure that they aren't close to anything flammable (duh). I always do several rounds through out the evening and feel the surroundings to make sure they aren't getting warm. I also had mason jars with tea lights out front, it was so pretty.

The truth is... hosting parties like this isn't for everyone. We spend days preparing, cleaning, setting up, shopping, making food. I love doing it but by the end I'm exhausted. Perhaps the problem links more to my quest for perfection, but either way - it's a lot of work. We really look forward to it though, love seeing our friends over the holiday season and love the annual tradition of it. I think everyone else enjoys it too, it's a nice time to get together and really celebrate the season.

Now... here's the photo dump! I've included lots of detail/decor shots because I never did any Christmas posts last year. If I get really organized, maybe I'll post photos of this year's soiree before a year passes? Probably not.
First year with our new apartment sized (skinny) tree! I loved it. Hope you like our basket. Kris almost divorced me over setting that up. And we might need new flooring. #worthit
Remember when I made these cotton ball garlands last year (well, 2012 last year)? Also, yes, I do find it super annoying that the stockings are flipped in different directions. #typeA
Gallery wall (read about it here)... just switched out that top left frame to put in that cute Rifle Paper wrapping paper.
This was one of my crafty moments - I made paper chains with gold, silver and white glitter paper. #painstaking
Made that "Pop Fizz Clink" banner too! #evenmorepainstaking
 On to the good eats...
Oh... you see that mason jar with cash inside? We collect cash donations for the food bank. Our friends are lovely and generous, and we feel it's a nice way to give back and appreciate our blessings.
My mulled wine sneaks up on you. #boozy
Some details...
Can't leave out the garage/man cave! If you've been reading for awhile, you'll know that we like to maximize our small space which includes putting our garage to work!
It's kind of funny to see that wall without the builtin! Anyone ever notice how quickly things change around the house sometimes? Always funny to look back a year in photos.
Just a few shots of people... clearly before the party got rockin. Once it does, the house is packed with people!
Well, that's that! We are in full swing party prep mode already, so time for me to move on with cleaning. I can only procrastinate so much. Since I probably won't be posting again before Christmas, Merry Christmas to you & yours and thank you for checking out my little corner of the interwebs from time to time! xoxo

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner 2014 | Still usin' what we got...

I am popping in with a photo dump of our Thanksgiving Dinner (albeit crappy iPhone photos, but meh). I've talked about what we do for our spread here, and how we set up our garage dinner here. Since we didn't change many things this year, no explanations required! EXCEPT... you will not see any pictures of a big, beautifully cooked turkey, because we didn't do it this year. Instead of buying a turkey and dealing with a couple days of prep, mess, etc., we decided to buy turkey breasts (lots of them)... we still brined it and then barbecued it. Best.decision.ever. Cooking time was only 20-30 minutes max, no big roasting pans and it was so flavourful and delicious. Gravy was experimental without any drippings! I used this recipe from Bon Appetit and used GF flour for the roux and turkey stock. I think I'll try cornstarch in future and experiment a bit more to work on the texture. You'll see that just about everything we made was gluten free this year, as I have family with Celiac Disease. It really didn't affect our usual menu that much.

Without further ado, here's the prep process:

Bought my flowers from Westcoast Gardens again this year...
 Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce - this smelt incredible while cooking! So yum.
 Turkey brine....
The fleurs are my very favourite thing to do... this year I picked up:
  • Feather Eucalyptus
  • Seeded Eucalyptus
  • Skimmia (those gray berry looking things)
  • Silver Bell Eucalyptus Pods
  • Capiscum Black Peppers
  • Brunia
  • Hydrangea
  • Dahlias
  • Spray Roses
  • Kale
  • Wax Flowers
  • Magnolia leaves
As usual, I went overboard. Ooops.
Super simple appies (and all gluten free) - carrot and celery sticks, vegetable chips and rice crackers, red pepper hummus and chipotle cheese dip. We try not to serve anything heavy because dinner is a feast!
Regular stuffing and gluten free stuffing as per my usual recipe (bread crumbs, celery, onions, craisins, apples, broth, white wine, fresh sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper)...
 Front door and entry...

And now for dinner in the garage (pardon our garbage cans still being in the first pic... must have been early in the day still)! We expanded our rentals this year and decided to rent all white matching chairs just to make it a bit more cohesive (and reduce our stress from having to borrow, pick up and drop off).
We've expanded Kris' gallery wall since last year, and we still have more to add! You can also see the raw pine builtins that Kris built this summer (his real motivation was so he didn't have to vie for the TV during World Cup). It's also a perfect spot for all his beer paraphernalia. That guy loves his craft beer, and loves to brew it too. For dinner, it was the perfect place to put the wine and coffee mugs.
 Dinner Time!
Dessert Time! We had less people than expected due to some illnesses so we actually set dessert up at the end of the table. That way, none of the dinner food had to be moved upstairs, everyone dished up their leftovers and put it in the garage fridge (which is a massive lifesaver if you are serving dinner in your garage, just sayin'). We also have a bucket under the food table where we put all the dishes. That way, we aren't worried about getting everything out of the way - we can sit, relax and enjoy each other's company!
 After dinner, we took down part of the table and pulled out the giant jenga... many laughs ensued (I think Kris was doing some ninja moves to challenge J lol)
That's it people! If I have missed anything, shoot me questions in the comments :)