November 17, 2010 12:00 PM

The Menu

• Cheese boards

• Antipasto platters

• Selection of rustic breads and crackers

• Assorted crudites and fruit

• Roasted red pepper pesto

• White bean and rosemary puree

• Lemon herb roasted chicken

• Roasted winter root vegetables

• Candied spiced nuts

• Chocolate tasting station

• Pear butter

• Honeyed hot tea toddy

• Orange peppermint water

Preparing a menu for a holiday party doesn’t have to feel like one relentless, quick-fire challenge. “There have been times when it was all about who could do crazier things with ingredients,” says David Stark, who has designed events for Beyoncé and actress Ali Larter. But now “the ingredients are the star.” Which is why Stark created an afternoon open house where guests can graze on fresh produce, hunks of cheese and savory cured meats or dig into roast chicken and seasonal vegetables for a heartier meal-all with little stress on the part of the host. “For a seated meal, you’re working the whole time. The best thing about this party is that the prep work is simply shopping and placing. Just lay out the bounty and let it speak for itself,” says Stark. “People will feel welcome to help themselves and everyone relaxes-especially the host.”

White Bean and Rosemary Puree

MAKES ABOUT 1½ CUPS

Ingredients

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed

1/3 cup grated pecorino-romano cheese

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. chopped rosemary

½ tsp. black pepper

½ tsp. kosher salt

Directions

1. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

2. Add garlic and rosemary sprigs to oil and cook 2-3 minutes, until garlic cloves are lightly browned.

3. Cool oil to room temperature, then strain into a measuring cup, discarding garlic and rosemary.

4. Place beans, 1/3 cup flavored oil, pecorino, lemon juice, rosemary, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

MAKES ALMOST 2 CUPS

Ingredients

1 (16-oz.) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained

3 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup chopped fresh basil

¾ cup freshly grated

Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

Directions

1. In a blender or food processer, puree peppers, garlic, basil and Parmesan cheese until smooth.

2. With motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil, then add vinegar, salt and pepper.

celeb inspiration

MIX & MATCH CHINA

JON STEWART

Stack mismatched plates on each table with forks for a “homespun look,” says Stark, who used different pieces of vintage dinnerware at Stewart’s wedding.

set it & forget it

“The whole point of a cheese station is you put it out and it does not require you to keep checking on it,” says Stark.

• Serve two different hard cheeses and four types of soft cheese.

• Set out five types of meat, ranging from mild to spicy. Preslice a few pieces of hard salami so guests know it’s okay to cut right in.

• Olives and cornichons pair well with sharp, savory cheeses; dried fruit or honey works with milder cheeses.

• Put out a variety of dips, mustards and spreads so guests can create sandwiches and experiment with new flavors.

celeb inspiration

FRESH FLOWERS

Beyoncé Knowles

Fill clean recycled bottles with taper candles and white flowers for a “chic, farm-inspired look,” says Stark, who adds, “Beyonce loves fresh flowers at her parties.”

EDIBLE DECOR

Fill your table with baskets brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

CUTTING BOARDS

Don’t just use platters to present your food. Mix in cutting boards for a rustic feel.

CHALKBOARD SIGNS

To add whimsy to the table, “write a little seasonal greeting,” says Stark. Chalk Board Pole, $4.99; save-on-crafts.com

keep the main course simple

• Prepare or buy one roast chicken for every six guests. Set out two on a cutting board partially carved and keep others warm in the oven.

• Roast winter root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and beets with fresh thyme or rosemary and olive oil for a side dish.

Orange Peppermint Water

SERVES 8

Ingredients

½ gallon (8 cups) water

3 large oranges, sliced into thin rounds

1 bunch mint, rinsed

Directions

1. Reserve 8 orange slices and 8 mint sprigs for garnish.

2. Combine water, remaining orange slices and mint in a pitcher and chill 2 hours.

3. Pour into ice-filled glasses. Garnish each glass with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.

celeb inspiration

FLAVORED WATER

ALI LARTER

“It’s a great way to give a special touch to a nonalcoholic drink,” says Stark, who served infused water at Larter’s baby shower. “She’s into the organic vibe.”

drinks to-do list

• Refrigerate two pitchers of infused water two hours before the party.

• Fill an extra pitcher of ice water to refill guests’ glasses that already have oranges and mint in them.

• Set out a tray of honeyed hot tea toddies in mugs and keep a pot filled with the tea on the stove over low heat.

• Garnish mugs with cinnamon sticks and candied lemon peels.

celeb inspiration

TEA COCKTAIL

GLENN CLOSE

Offer guests this spin on a hot toddy when they come in from the cold, advises Stark, who served a similar cocktail at a winter party Close hosted.

Honeyed Hot Tea Toddy

MAKES 1 COCKTAIL

Ingredients

¾ cup hot brewed tea

1 tbsp. honey

¼ cup scotch

1 cinnamon stick

1 candied lemon peel (store-bought)

Directions

1. Heat honey, tea and scotch in a small saucepan until steaming.

2. Transfer liquid to a mug and garnish with cinnamon stick and candied lemon peel.

THE SHOPPING LIST

APPETIZERS

Cheeses

Brie

Goat cheese

Blue cheese

Mozzarella

Gouda or Manchego

Cheddar

Meats

Prosciutto

Black Forest Ham

Dry aged salami or pepperoni

Sicilian salami

Sopresata

Nuts, Fruit & Olives

Roasted almonds

Pistachios

Walnuts

Chestnuts

Dried apricots

Dried figs

Marinated cured olives

Cornichons

Dips & Spreads

Honey

Pear butter

Mustards (sweet and spicy)

Breads

Rustic loaves (baguettes, sourdough, rye)

Flatbreads

Crackers

MAIN COURSE

Roast chicken(s)

Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, squash, onions (for side dish)

DESSERT

Chocolate

80 percent cacao dark chocolate

Hazelnut

Ginger

Espresso

Milk chocolate

Cherry

DECOR

Pomegranates

Clementines

Pears

Whole artichokes

Fresh cranberries

Whole string beans, blanched

Mini carrots, blanched

Radishes

Whole beets

Whole parsnips

Acorn Squash

Flowers

Paperwhites

White Tulips

Pine Needles

Holiday Berries

Mini Trees

serve chocolate bars for dessert!

• Pick up at least six different flavors to create a tasting station and pair with wines.

• Buy 1.5 oz. per person (that’s about one large candy bar for every two guests!).

• Pick up two or three extra bars of dark chocolate. “It’s so popular because it’s on everybody’s ‘healthy’ list,” says Stark.

Partial profits from the wines sold at onehopewine.com benefit autism, breast cancer and other charities.

the perfect parting gift

• Spoon homemade pear butter into small jars “or just buy it at the store,” says Stark.

• Take a square of fabric, press it over the lid and twist.

• Tie some twine around the lid. “Packaging it this way,” says Stark, “makes it look homemade”-even if it’s not.

Pear Butter

MAKES FOUR 8-OZ. JARS

Ingredients

6 ripe pears (3½ lbs.), peeled, cored and coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)

2 cups apple cider

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 cups lightly packed brown sugar

1/8 tsp. ginger

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. allspice

1/8 tsp. cloves

Directions

1. Combine pears, cider and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft (about 30 minutes), adding water by the ½ cup if necessary.

2. Stir in brown sugar and spices and cook an additional hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

3. Spoon pear butter into jars and close jars tightly. Pear butter will last for 1 week in the refrigerator.

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