Open House: a casual way to entertain (photo gallery)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” insists the department store and the television jingles. But entertaining during the holidays can be the most stressful time of the year too.

BrutBrutti ma Buoni means ugly but good

BrutBrutti ma Buoni means ugly but good

It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” insists the department store and the television jingles. But entertaining during the holidays can be the most stressful time of the year too.

After spending some time with Edmonton’s decor diva, Stasia Nawrocki, as well as professional home economist and television food personality, Emily Richard, and National Mixxit manager of Beam Global Canada, Shoana Jensen, at Jasper Park Lodge during their annual “Christmas in November” event, I have concluded that the stress-free way to entertain during the holidays is to have an open house.

A holiday open house is a casual way to entertain during the Christmas and New Year’s season that’s easy on the host and fun for all.

“Once you have decided the date and time for your party, pick a theme, stick to it, and use it repeatedly,” suggest Nawrocki. For instance, you can cheaply buy glass votives and carry the votive theme throughout your party.

Nawrocki often gets her inspiration for the theme to her party from nature. “Outside, there are pine cones, pebbles, and cedar,” she says. “Mountain ash can be a theme. Oranges can be a theme. Anything can be a theme.” Use seasonal fruits, such as pomegranates, clustered with berries and fresh-picked greenery on white serving dishes and cake platters to create colourful decorating accents.

Once the guests are settled, one of the first thing we ask is “what can I get you to drink?” According to the mixologist, that’s the wrong question. Instead, suggests Jensen, “let your guest know what you are offering. This eliminates the ‘what do you have’ or ‘I don’t have this or that.’”

Jensen suggests two or three cocktail mixes at the drink station, while offering wine and beer. Frame cocktail recipes with readily required ingredients and tell guest that they are welcome to make it themselves. Take your cue from your guests. Making your own drink may be fun for some while others may prefer to have the host make their drink.

Make sure you have non-alcoholic drink with a fun name served in a fancy wine or martini glass, instead of directing them to the cooler packed with soft drinks. “This way those who do not drink feel festive, special and part of the party,” suggests Jensen.

The best thing about hosting an open house during the hectic holiday season is that guests can come and go. That’s why it’s important to offer a selection of finger foods that don’t need a lot of last minute fussing and don’t need to be served right out of the oven.

The food expert Emily Richard feels, having open house party is an opportunity to showcase delicious food .

“Do a variety of appetizers and desserts that are bite-size and easy to pick up and pop into your mouth,” suggest Richards.

For savory bites Richards recommended her Malaysian sesame chicken and shrimp and crab cakes with tropical salsa. The chicken is served in single serving size on bamboo skewers while the crab cakes have a crunchy cornmeal coating which makes them perfect to pick up and pop into your mouth. Neither require utensils but both are convenient to eat while mingling.

Richard feels that every party should have cheese dip. “They are quick, easy and always elegant served at the table. Just set a platter of crisp breads and crackers alongside so guests can help themselves.”

For dessert the individual serving theme is carried when serving her “brutta ma buoni “ (ugly but good) cookies and her butter tarts.

Another advantage of hosting an open house is that you have a distinct start and finish time for the party. But if you do have some guest that don’t want the party to end, consider having a goodbye shooter with your guests.

“This is the polite way to tell your stragglers that it is time to go,” suggests Jensen. But don’t send your guest off empty handed. According to Nawrocki, you should always send your guest off with a party favour. Packaging a cookie that you baked and wrapped festively will not only make you feel good but also make your guests feel special.

Malaysian Sesame Chicken

2 large single breasts, cut into 1/2 inch strips

1 tbsp (15 mL) white sesame seeds

24 short bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes


2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated

1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated ginger root

1/4 tsp (1 mL) finely grated lime rind

1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp (30 mL) ketjap manis

1 tbsp (15 mL) canola oil

1/2 tsp (2 mL) dark sesame oil

Marinade: In large bowl, stir together the garlic, ginger, lime rind and pepper. Stir in the ketjap manis and canola and sesame oils. Add the chicken to the marinade, turning the strips gently to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Set aside. Thread the chicken strips onto the skewers Place on greased rack in roasting or broiler pan; broil about 4-inches (10 cm) from the heat, turning once, just until juices run clear, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seed.

Dipping Sauce:

If desired, you can serve the Malaysian Ginger Chicken with a ketjap manis dipping sauce. Combine 1/2 cup (125 mL) ketjap manis with 2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lime juice and 2 tsp (10 mL) finely minced hot pepper or 1/2 tsp (2 mL) hot pepper sauce. Makes about 24 skewers.

Shrimp and Crab Cakes with Tropical Salsa

The texture makes these flavourful little cakes perfect to pick up with your hands and pop in your mouth. The cornmeal adds a little crunch to the coating that is made to enjoy with the sweet ripe tropical fruit.

1 egg

1/4 cup (50 mL) mayonnaise

1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard

1/3 cup (75 mL) seasoned dry breadcrumbs

Half sweet red pepper, finely diced

1 green onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped fresh Italian parsley or coriander

1 tsp (5 mL) chopped fresh thyme

3/4 cup (175 mL) each snow crabmeat and finely chopped cooked shrimp


1/4 cup (50 mL) seasoned dry breadcrumbs

1/4 cup (50 mL) fine yellow cornmeal

3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil

Tropical Salsa:

1/2 cup (125 mL) finely diced mango

1/2 cup (125 mL) finely diced ripe star fruit

2 tsp (10 mL) seeded and diced jalapeno pepper

1/2 tsp (2 mL) grated lime rind

1 tbsp (15 mL) lime juice

Combine egg, mayonnaise, Dijon, breadcrumbs, red pepper, green onion, parsley and thyme in bowl. Add crabmeat and shrimp and mix well. Using moistened hands, shape 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the mixture at a time into small patties.

Coating: Combine breadcrumbs and cornmeal in shallow dish and coat patties evenly on both sides.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook cakes in batches for about 8 minutes, turning once or until golden on both sides. Remove to paper towel lined plate and repeat with remaining crab cakes.

Tropical Salsa: Combine papaya, star fruit, jalapeno pepper, lime rind and juice in bowl. Top each crab cake with some of the salsa before serving.

Makes about 20 crab cakes.

Sundried tomato and Artichoke Dip

1 can artichoke heart, drained and chopped

1pkg cream cheese, cubed

1/2cup(125mL) each sour cream and mayonnaise

1/4cup (50mL)grated Parmesan cheese

1/4cup (50mL)chopped oil packed sundried tomatoes

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4tsp (2mL) freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoon (30mL) green onion parts or chives

Combine all ingredients in a 1.5 quart slow cooker. Cook on low, stirring twice, until melted, blended and hot. About 2 hours. Sprinkle with green onions.

Brutti ma Buoni

4 egg whites, from large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar

1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla

3 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour

2 cups (500 mL) coarsely chopped nougat milk chocolate bar (Toblerone)

2 tbsp (30 mL) icing sugar

Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a large heatproof bowl whisk together the egg whites and granulated sugar. Set over a slightly smaller saucepan of simmering water. Cook, whisking occasionally, until opaque, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; beat at high speed until cooled, thickened and glossy, about 7 minutes. Fold in the vanilla and flour; fold in the chocolate. Drop the meringue batter by heaping tablespoonfuls (15 mL), or smaller if desired, about 2 inches (5 cm) apart onto the prepared pans. Bake 1 sheet at a time, in centre of 350°F (180°C) oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Let cool on racks.

Mini Walnut Butter Tarts

Phyllo Cups:

1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted

5 sheets phyllo pastry


1 large egg, at room temperature

1/2 cup (125 mL) packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup (125 mL) corn syrup

2 tbsp (30 mL) butter, softened

1 tsp (5 mL) cider vinegar

1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla or 1/2 tsp (2 mL) maple extract

1/3 cup (75 mL) walnut halves

2 tbsp (30 mL) dark chocolate chips

In medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cider vinegar and vanilla; set aside. Spread walnuts on heatproof plate; roast in 350°F (180°C) oven or toaster oven until fragrant and slightly darkened, about 6 minutes. Let cool; chop coarsely.

Keeping unused phyllo layers covered with a barely damp tea towel, arrange 1 sheet of phyllo on work surface. Brush lightly but thoroughly with butter. Cover with second sheet; brush with butter. Repeat layers, finishing with brushing the fifth layer with butter. Cut the phyllo into 24 pieces, as close to 3-inch (7.5 cm) squares as possible. Gently but firmly, ease each square, buttery side up, into the mini tart/muffin cups, pressing the pastry along the bottom and up the side. Divide the walnut and chocolate chips among the phyllo cups. Using a spoon, fill the cups no more than half full.

Bake in lower third of preheated 375°F (190°C) oven until pastry is crisp and golden, about 12 minutes. Let tarts cool in pan on rack. Remove tarts from cups, easing up any filling melted on the surface of the pan to include with the filling. (Make-ahead: Store in single layer in shallow airtight containers for up to 4 days.) .

Makes 24 mini tarts.

Snowflake Shooter (The goodbye drink)

1/2 oz Peppermint Schnapps

1/2 oz. Banff Ice vodka

Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a glass

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on

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