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3 fabulous holiday party plans to wow your guests

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To balance the luxurious tones, Garza gives the table a rustic feel with mossy-hued fresh herbs, like thyme and sage, which she stuffs into vases placed around the table. The herbs almost glimmer against the amber glow of candlelight and the other gilded details — so much more beautiful than loud Christmas green. Bring in red hues with a few port and hibiscus poached pears or stems of pink peppercorns, which make an appearance in Hurt’s pink peppercorn pear preserves, a condiment served alongside the quail.

Add a silvery jade green velvet table runner and a few bowls of pomegranates, and your guests will swear they’re looking at a Flemish painting, not your holiday dinner table. Turn on some moody jazz, hand them a pear-infused spiced bourbon cocktail, and they may never leave.

Blood Orange Negroni

2 ounces Charbay Blood Orange Vodka

1 ounce Carpano Antica

1 ounce Campari

Combine all the ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake, then strain into a martini glass and garnish with a blood orange slice, or serve it over ice in a tumbler.

Serves » 1

Note » This cocktail can be made ahead in batches and served over ice or straight up. Taste Catering pairs this with an appetizer of citrus-cured gravlax, avocado mousse and pickled radish on olive biscotti.

Exotic Manhattan

2 ounces Templeton Rye Whiskey

1 ounce Punt e Mes (Italian vermouth)

1 ounce fresh strained orange juice

Cardamom bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, using just a drop or two of bitters to give the cocktail its unique spin, but not upset the integrity of the drink. Shake, then strain the cocktail into a martini glass and garnish with a strip of orange zest.

Serves » 1

Note » This smoky, spiced holiday cocktail can be made ahead in batches. Punt e Mes is an Italian vermouth. Both it and the bitters can be found at BevMo and other liquor stores. Taste Catering pairs this cocktail with a smoked chicken salad, served in red endive leaves, and topped with a green apple-black cardamom compote, puffed rye berries and hazelnut oil.

Source: Taste Catering

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Homemade popcorn

1/4 cup popcorn kernels

Place popcorn kernels in a lunch-sized paper bag. Fold bag over tightly a few times, and tie a piece of kitchen twine around the bag to hold the fold down.

Microwave on high for about 2 minutes, or until the popping slows. Time may vary depending on the microwave.

Southwest Spice Mix

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chile

Toss ingredients together. Use 1 tablespoon of mix, or to taste, for every quart of fresh popcorn.

Curry Spice Mix

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon chile powder

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Toss ingredients together. Use 1 tablespoon of mix for every quart of fresh popcorn.

Servings » Yields 2 quarts

Source: Recipe courtesy Barbara Llewellyn Catering & Event Planning

Homemade Snickers bars

Bottom chocolate layer

1 1/4 cup milk chocolate chips

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Nougat layer

2 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups marshmallows, melted

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 1/2 cups salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Caramel layer

14 ounces firm caramels

1/4 cup heavy cream

Top chocolate layer

1 1/4 cups milk chocolate chips

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Grease a quarter-sheet pan or 9-by-13-inch pan; line with parchment.

Bottom layer: Melt the chocolate and peanut butter in the microwave on 50 percent heat, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Spread into bottom of pan; chill for 30 minutes.

Nougat: In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add sugar and evaporated milk, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; add marshmallow, peanut butter and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Fold in peanuts, then pour over chocolate layer. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes, until set.

Caramel layer: Combine caramel and cream in a saucepan over medium heat; cook for about 4 minutes. Pour over nougat layer; refrigerate another 30 minutes.

Top layer: Melt the chocolate and peanut butter in the microwave on 50 percent heat, stirring every 30 seconds. Spread over caramel, creating swirl marks with a spatula for a textured look. Chill for a final 30 to 60 minutes, then cut into bars. Serve immediately.

Yields » 36 bars

Source: Barbara Llewellyn Catering & Event Planning

Brown buttered pear soup with fennel oil and pomegranates

1 stick unsalted butter, divided

4 unpeeled Comice or D’Anjou pears, cored and sliced

1 small white onion, thinly sliced

2 cups vegetable stock

Salt, pepper

Fennel oil (recipe below)

4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter, allowing it to bubble and foam. When brown bits form in the butter, add the pears and sliced onion. Reduce heat, cover pan and sweat the onions and pears until semi soft.

Add the vegetable stock and bring to a slight boil. Cook until pears and onions are very soft.

Transfer to a blender and carefully start to puree the mixture. With the blender running, add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with fennel oil, garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve

Serves » 6

Fennel Oil

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

6 tablespoons grapeseed oil

1/4 bunch Italian parsley

Combine ingredients in a blender and puree. Let rest for 20 minutes, then strain through a coffee filter.

Source: David Hurt, chef de cuisine, Paula LeDuc Fine Catering

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