Food Network star Tyler Florence loves to entertain, so trust him when he says he’s developed some foolproof guidelines when it comes to throwing a low-key holiday social at home.
“People drop by our house all the time,” the California-based chef tells PEOPLE of the home he shares with his wife, Tolan, and their three kids, Miles, 15, Hayden, 4, and Dorothy, 3. “My wife and I love to host wine and cheese parties. They are simple and elegant and you don’t have to put a lot of effort and time into it.”
To throw a great party, Florence recommends picking a region and featuring three cheeses and a variety of wines (about seven bottles for a party of 10) from the area.
“Choose a theme like California, France or Italy or Spain,” he advises. “They all produce fantastic cheeses and wines and provide a simple guideline for what you should buy.”
And a quality party doesn’t have to break the bank. “You can make an inexpensive wine taste like a $100 bottle just by serving it cool and decanting it,” Florence says.
Once the main attractions are set, the chef fills out his decadent spread with fresh or dried fruit and small bites like asparagus grilled cheese, potato puffs and fancy bread, like his pumpkin bread (recipe below).
“You want your holiday party to stand out from all the others and be something people will talk about,” says Florence. “This is so easy to put together and look impressive.”
• Pumpkin Bread (see below)
• Walnut Honey
Makes 2 loaves
• 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
• 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
• ¼ tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. allspice
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
• ½ tsp. ground clove
• ½ tsp. finely ground black pepper
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
• 1 (15 oz.) can solid-pack pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
• 4 eggs
• 1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
• ¾ cup water
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease two 9-inch loaf pans with 2 teaspoons of the melted butter.
2. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and pepper. Using an electric mixer, beat together brown and white sugar, pumpkin, eggs and remaining melted butter at medium speed. Add water, vanilla and ginger and mix, scraping sides of bowl down as needed.
3. Add sifted dry ingredients, and mix together on low until batter is combined, then fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin seeds.
4. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans and sprinkle with reserved pumpkin seeds. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.
5. Let bread stand in pans for 5 minutes before carefully removing and transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 2½ cups
• ¾ cup walnuts
• 2 cups orange blossom honey
1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
2. Roughly chop walnuts and spread evenly onto baking sheet. Toast walnuts in the oven, stirring often, until golden brown, about 7 to 8 minutes.
3. While still warm, fold toasted walnuts into honey in a large mixing bowl and stir well.
4. Transfer into an airtight glass jar, cover loosely and cool completely so the walnuts infuse the honey.
5. Cover tightly. Honey can be stored at room temperature for a week and in the refrigerator for up to a month.