Plan the perfect holiday party

A proper cheese platter includes at least four different cheeses. PHOTO: Submitted

Nibbles, snacks, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, tapas – call them what you will – these mini-bites of deliciousness are central to holiday entertaining. Whether your party is a casual affair at home where friends drop by or a more formal cocktail party, here are some organizational hints:

Be ready to welcome your guests at the door and have a plan for coat and boot storage. At present, our weather looks balmy but if we get the old-fashioned winter we are promised, you will need organization for warm outerwear and boots. (Cloth pins, name tags and bags for each pair of boots make sense not to mention a selection of boot trays.)

Set up available space with different stations for food and drink. This ensures guests move about and mingle. It also makes clean-up easier. Have an ample supply of napkins available at each station and an equally generous supply of glasses at the bar. Make the most of ready-made food items to supplement your own recipes so that you can enjoy your own party!

In addition to setting up help-yourself-stations, consider passing trays of appetizers and drinks yourself. This allows you to mingle with all your guests.

Suggested Stations:

  • Fish station with smoked fish, shellfish and condiments: Dill mustard sauce follows.
  • Cheese station with a selection of at least four cheeses: one old cheddar, one blue such as Stilton, one creamy such as Brie or Camembert and one or more favourites with fresh fruit, chutney, jelly complementary to cheese, fresh sliced baguette and salt free biscuits (some should be gluten-free).
  • Charcuterie station with pates, dip, veggies and breads (remember to have some gluten-free on hand too).
  • Drinks station – wine, beer, water and soft drinks with a bartender in attendance. This station needs a person who is friendly, organized and good at keeping things clean and tidy (a handy inconspicuous garbage can is a great asset).
  • Finally, the grand finale, a coffee, tea and dessert table with an enticing array of Christmas goodies. Make some of your favourites and supplement with quality commercial kinds. (Baking recipes next issue.)

Smoked salmon is a real crowd pleaser whether hot smoked (available at Seaport with shellfish too, 1101 Victoria Park, (416) 755-9960) or cold smoked (Kristapson’s, 1095 Queen Street East, (416) 466-5152). It is wise to call ahead and pre-order during the busy holiday season.

Both kinds of smoked salmon lend themselves to preparing single portions on a tray to be passed as well as a large presentation with the condiments where your guests can help themselves.

For both of these presentations, you will need good quality rye bread thinly sliced, an abundance of lemon wedges, fresh black pepper, soft cream cheese, sliced green onions, a bowl of capers and fresh dill sprigs, a personal favorite.

For the large presentation where guests help themselves, display a salmon side on a generous platter, garnish with lemon slices, dill sprigs and cucumber slices.

Have small bowls of the condiments nearby with a basket of the sliced bread.

Similarly, for individual servings, spread the rye bread with cream cheese and arrange the sliced salmon on top garnished with a lemon wedge, a sprinkle of green onion and capers.

Shrimps have always been popular. They can be poached, shelled and served cold on a wooden skewer with the following dip which does double duty for seafood and crudites.

But make sure you prepare separate sauces for each station. (Remember, some people have shellfish allergies, no cross-contamination please!)


Citrus Aioli for Fish and Veggie Dip (2 separate bowls please)

1 cup (250 mL) mayonnaise (may be full fat or lower fat)

1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh lemon juice (usually 1 lemon will do it)

2 tbsp (25 mL) extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) each, grated orange rind and lemon rind

1 large clove garlic, crushed

In a food processor or with a whisk, beat together mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, orange and lemon rind and garlic until smooth. Spoon into serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. May be made one day ahead of serving. Discard any sauce remaining after party.


Dill Mustard Sauce (Excellent for smoked fish, cheese and cured meats. Be sure to prepare separate bowls of sauce for separate stations)

1 bunch fresh dill, washed, dried and stems removed

1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (125 mL) Dijon mustard

1/2 cup (50 mL) white or red wine vinegar

In a food processor or blender, combine dill, sugar, mustard and vinegar until smooth. Spoon into serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until serving time. May be made a day ahead of serving.

Oh, one last thing – organization is key to enjoying your own party!

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