One of my favorite traditions my husband and I have begun is having an annual Christmas party. This year was our second annual party and the best yet!
Great decorations are a must. I love classic Charleston decor, embracing fruits and foliage into their floral arrangements. In Charleston, the pineapple symbolizes “welcome.” In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it would be considered inappropriate for even a married woman to entertain males in her home while her husband was away on a trip. But when her husband went on a trip to more tropical regions, he would bring back pineapples, and after enjoying the delicious fruit, the family would place the top of the pineapple outside to indicate they were ready to entertain again. Pineapples have remained a symbol of “welcome” for Charleston.
I also added various fir foliage, apples, and deliciously smelling oranges with cloves stuck in them. They smelled so good!
We also decorated our mantle in our dining room with magnolias, and a faux floral arrangement I had made a few years ago. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to prefer well done faux floral arrangements. They are easier to maintain and in the long run they are cheaper. But of course, I will never turn down a beautiful real floral arrangement.
Plenty of libations are also very important. We had plenty of wine and a cooler full of beer outside, but a low maintenance signature cocktail is a must. I like to premix cocktails to serve in a drink dispenser for everyone to enjoy. For this party I made wassail punch (recipe below).
Do you know the Christmas song “Here We Come A-wassailing?” It continues “love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too.” Know it now? Well, in the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, people would go to their neighbors homes, singing and offering some of their wassail punch (how they carried it around I don’t know), in exchange for gifts. Sound familiar? We still go caroling today, but without wassail punch or the expectation of gifts in return.
Food is also very important for a good party. We are fortunate enough to have the wine and cheese shop, Goat Sheep Cow as our neighbor. If you are ever in Charleston, you must stop by their location South of Broad for a sandwich, and maybe even pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy later. But for all of our parties we always get a cheese and charcuterie board from them, and periodically pick up a smaller board just to share between the two of us.
I also served two appetizers that I made and were subsequently devoured. These two were a hit last year, and so easy to make, most of the work can be done the day before. Here, we have warm Brie cups, and shrimp crostinis (recipes below).
And finally, the absolute most important ingredient for a great party are great friends. These are some of our closest friends in Charleston. The ladies and I are in a book club, and we’re talking about doing a ladies only supper club as well (meanwhile the boys go out and watch sports and drink beer… or something).
Thank you to all of our wonderful friends for coming. We are already thinking about our third annual party. We can’t wait!
- 2 quarts apple cider
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 12 whole cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 pinch growing ginger
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg
In a slow-cooker or a large pot over low heat, combine apple cider, orange juice, and lemon juice. Season with cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer. If using a slow cooker, allow to simmer all day. Serve hot.
Original recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/20577/wassail-punch/
Homemade Apple Cider
- 1 orange
- 10 medium apples (use a variety– I use Honey crips and Granny Smith)
- 3 cinnamon sticks (or 1 Tbsp growing cinnamon)
- 2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Peel the orange and place the segments in the slow cooker. Wash the apples, cut into quarters, and place in the slow cooker. Add the cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, and sugar. Add enough water to cover fruit.
- Cook on low heat for 6-7 hours. (Or high heat for 3 hours.)
- After 6-7 hours, the fruit will be very soft. Us a large spoon to mash the fruit and release its liquids. Allow the cider to cook on low for 1 more hour.
- Very slowly strain the chunky liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a large pot or pitcher. You can discard the solids. Strain the cider one more time to rid any other solids. Serve the cider warm. Leftover cider keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days. Warm up on the stove before serving– or drink it cold!
- Make ahead tip: Cider can be frozen up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator.
Original recipe: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2015/09/26/homemade-apple-cider/
Baked Brie Cups
- 1/3 cup red currant jelly
- 2 (2.1-ounce) boxes frozen mini filo cups
- 1 (8-ounce) wheel firm Brie, rind trimmed, cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped smokehouse almonds
Make-ahead Note: The filled cups will keep up to 2 days in the refrigerator or 1 month in the freezer. If frozen, defrost for 20 minutes before baking.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon jelly into each film cup. Place 1 piece of Brie in each cup and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon almonds. Place fill cups on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until cheese is melted and jelly is bubbly, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm.
Original recipe: https://www.cookscountry.com/recipes/2363-baked-brie-cups?extcode=MCSKD10L0&ref=new_search_experience_1
Gingered Shrimp Toasts
- 1 thin baguette, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/4 small onion
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice plus 1 additional tablespoon
- Table salt
- 1/2 pound cooked medium shrimp, each sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Make-Ahead Note: The cream cheese spread can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. The seasoned shrimp can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush bread slice with 1/4 cup oil. Bake on baking sheet until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Process ginger, garlic, and onion in food processor until smooth. Add cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and process until smooth. Toss shrimp, remaining oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, basil, chive, and salt and pepper to taste in bowl.
- Spread each toast with cream cheese mixture and top with 1 slice shrimp.