Novel ideas for holiday entertaining may be as close as your Christmas songbook.
About a dozen years ago, I turned to a holiday favorite to create a theme party for 18 guests. The result was easy enough to use any day of the week. The fact that my guests were members of a musical group added to the fun.
I based the dinner party on “The 12 Days of Christmas,” the song that has captured the imagination of musicians and artists. This merry tune with its ever-so-long verses has inspired Christmas china, ornaments, and been depicted on holiday wrapping, cards, and ornaments.
The dinner party menu had 12 items, including beverages and food. With a little stretch of the imagination, each verse of the song correlated to a menu item.
For example, the first verse — “On the first day of Christmas / My true love gave to me / A partridge in a pear tree” — lends itself to a Partridge-in-a-Pear-Tree Pie. The filling is made with canned pears topped with a cranberry orange filling; it's a one-crust pie that is baked with a pastry decoration resembling the partridge (use a cookie cutter or a paring knife to trace your own pattern on the dough).
The idea is simpler than it sounds, especially if you use refrigerated pie crust.
The important thing about this menu is that it's inexpensive, great for a crowd, and can be pulled together fairly quickly if you have company coming on just one or two days' notice. The menu can also be used for six or 12 guests.
With a larger crowd, it is best served buffet-style. Not every-one will eat every course. There's plenty of variety to appeal to all ages.
Best of all, everybody loves it. The food is great, it's fun, and your guests will love guessing how each course relates to the song.
If your guests are musical and/or you have a piano or guitar in the house, the grand finale is singing the song.
As I looked back on my menu, I found myself comparing it to my Christmas dishes, which have the same theme. To my surprise, I found two different versions of the song; my dishes made in England and dated 1996 have nine drummers drumming; my menu based on the song had 12 drummers drumming. I found an even older version of the song that did not mention drummers.
Whatever version of the song you have, you can adapt the menu items to a verse.
On my menu, “Three French hens” corresponded to French bread and croissants. But you could serve Cornish game hens instead.
Don't be discouraged if a verse doesn't seem to correspond to any food. “Ten lords-a-leaping” was a stretch of the imagination with hors d'oeuvres: shrimp cocktail or cheese logs fill the bill.
Here's my culinary version of “The Twelve Days (Dishes) of Christmas”:
Much of this menu can be made the day or night before, except for the chicken, potatoes, and asparagus.
The pie can be made the night before. I use canned pear halves, but if you have fresh pears of the season that you have poached, cut those in half for the pie. I also opted for white raisins rather than dark. The original recipe called for a cranberry orange relish, which is no longer sold; I used regular whole berry relish and added 1 tablespoon of orange zest. Note that the pastry decoration can be used on a pear tart, a pecan pie, or a pumpkin pie.
Turtle Dove Cookies are basic sugar cookies. I found an antique “dove” cookie cutter among my grandmother's cookie cutters, but any birdlike cookie cutter could be used.
The gelatin salad can be made in the morning. Golden Ring Carrots are marinated overnight for a heat-and-serve vegetable.
Punch, wine, and eggnog are purchased, as well as steamed shrimp or cheese logs or any hors d'oeuvres you select.
Use a festive serving plate for Chicken Drumsticks and Twice Baked Potato Slippers. If you have a toy drum, use that as your table or buffet centerpiece and place the serving dish on top. (I used a basket decorated as a drum.)
Another option is to feature one menu item each day leading up to Christmas or through the holiday.
Just like the holiday song, this menu is timeless and it can make entertaining fun.