I've entertained a lot over the years, but my favorite event to host is the Winter Sleighride Gathering that I used to do -- before global warming made New England winters almost tropical! :) The evening would start off with my friends and I taking a moonlit horsedrawn sleighride, accompanied by lots of blankets and flasks of blackberry brandy to keep warm. And then...good food, good drink, good friends and a great evening!
Unfortunately this gathering requires a lot of last minute preparation and assembly, so be sure to gather your best friends in the kitchen as soon as you return!
Ambiance and setting:
- Before you leave on the sleighride, set some mulled or spiced cider on low in the crockpot (spiked or not -- your choice). When you return, turn the crockpot to high, take off the cover and enjoy the aroma as it wafts through the house. (Make sure to keep a ladle and cups near the crockpot as everyone will be enjoying this drink.)
- No bright lights for this gathering. Turn on a few lamps with low wattage (40 or 60 kw) bulbs. Candles should be everywhere, and be sure to leave plenty of matches out in the open so your guests can help to light the scene.
- Everything should be ready to light a fire in the fireplace. You don't want to be messing with kindling when your guests are waiting for food!
- Baked brie with fruit and crackers - There are many, many variations on baked brie. I generally do one on the sweet side and one on the savory side. Serve with plenty of gourmet crackers and pear and apple slices. (Be sure to toss the pear and apple slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.)
- Cheese fondue (or Fondue au Fromage) with chunks of baguette or French bread for dipping. You can make the fondue before you leave and simply heat it in the fondue pots.
- Croques Monseiur - Ahhh....I miss you, Julia Child!!! I make this by splitting a baguette or loaf of crusty french bread lengthwise and arrange the toppings. This can be done ahead of time and simply popped under the broiler when you are ready to serve. Leave this open-faced and cut into 1" slices.
- Cheese and fruit platter - Use a variety of cheese and winter fruits (apples. pears, grapes). For a nice winter effect, use purple grapes. Keeping them in bunches, moisten them with cold water and then sprinkle granulated sugar on them to give the effect of ice or snow.
- Chocolate fondue with strawberries and 1" cubes of poundcake for dipping
- Spiced nuts
- Mulled or spiced cider (see above)
- Mulled red wine
- Good quality Scotch to make Rusty Nails
- Hot chocolate spiked with Chambord
- Good quality vodka for some Crantini's.
- Winter movie charades: Team up and act out movies whose main theme is "winter" such as "Home Alone", "Groundhog Day", "Fargo", "The Shining", "Snow Day", "Misery", "While You Were Sleeping", "Serendipity"...you get the idea!
- Who Am I?: Have index cards ready with lots of winter items written on them such as "ice skates", "snow plow", "snowman", "shoven", "mittens", etc. Tape one to each guest's back. During the evening, they have to ask the other guests to give them clues as to what they are. Whoever figures it out by the end of the evening gets a prize!
But whatever you do, celebrate winter instead of dreading it and have fun!