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    Candy Cane Martini
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    Irene Young of Irene Young Events.
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    Dressler's pan-seared grouper with sauteed Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, apple wood smoked bacon, and shallot-hern buerre blanc.
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    Choplin's Sweet Potato Casserole
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    Kandi Ranson and Jody Clark of Simply Southern Events of Lake Norman.
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    Cafe 100'S Turkey Panini
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    Yvonne Davis

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    Karen Lawrence of It's My Affair

Party Time

By Elisabeth Arriero | Photography by Tonya Price

Posted: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013

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If you’re looking for inspiration on how to host the ultimate holiday party, you’ve come to the right place. We chatted with several noted restaurateurs and event planners for some expert entertaining tips—from favorite recipes to decorations—that are guaranteed to help you treat friends and family to a wonderful experience they’ll never forget.

Planning Makes Perfect

Have a Signature Drink to Offer

Kandi Ranson and Jody Clark, owners of Simply Southern Events of Lake Norman, stress that offering a signature drink makes an event feel special. One of their favorites for the holiday is a peppermint stick martini (recipe right). Another approach is to ask everyone to bring their favorite beverage and put them all in a common location. This will serve as a great conversation starter if, for instance, two people share a similar taste in cocktails.

Tasteful Decorations Go a Long Way

Ranson and Clark recommend setting the tone of the party through artfully placed and selected decorations. They note that shabby chic is a popular trend and sparkle is a holiday essential. They also recommend gathering your favorite ornaments and placing them in silver bowls. Twinkling lights on your tree or garland wrapped around your door and on your mantle is a must, they add.

The Right Invite Sets the Tone

Use a creative invitation to set the tone for your party, says Irene Young, owner of Irene Young Events. The more personalized the invites are, the better. Set the expectation for your guests by providing such details as whether it’s adult-only or kid-friendly, what the dress code is, and whether it’s a cocktail or dinner party. “Your guests need to know what the expectation is so they feel comfortable and there are no unpleasant surprises,” says Young.

Make Your Guests Feel

Special With Thoughtful Dishes

You want your guests to feel like you hand-selected the dishes just for them. “The worst thing is to get to a party and find that there’s nothing on the menu that suits your needs or tastes,” says Young. So make sure there are dishes for your gluten-free friends, the meat-lovers, and those with a sweet tooth. “It makes everyone feel special that their needs are covered and that will go a long way with your guests.” Finally, always plan for more food than you need, says Young. Better to have leftovers than to run out of food mid-party.

Decide on a Party Theme

Karen Lawrence, owner of It’s My Affair, says she’s a big fan of themed parties. They generate ideas for your décor, food, beverages, and entertainment. Try to find a theme that will engage all five of your guests’ senses. Lawrence says she once helped organize a holiday party where the hosts wrapped the kitchen table with oversized ribbon to make it look like a present. They placed the serving dishes within the ribbon squares and the table became the central focus. “It was a big hit with the guests,” says Lawrence.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy the Party Too

All the experts agree the host should have just as much fun as everyone else. If the host is stressed, guests will feel that vibe and it will impact their experience. And if you’ve planned ahead and stayed organized, you shouldn’t have any last-minute fires to put out. So let go and enjoy the party. After all, it’s the holidays and you’re with the people you care about. What’s not to enjoy?

Get the Dish

A key ingredient to a great party is great food. The owners of three popular restaurants offered up their top picks for a memorable holiday dish.

Dressler’s pan-seared black grouper with sautéed Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, apple wood smoked bacon, and shallot-herb buerre blanc

Jon Dressler, who co-owns Dressler’s in Huntersville with wife Kim, recommends his pan- seared black grouper. “It’s very popular and very well-received,” he says. Not only that, but this delicious plate is fairly easy to make.

Ingredients for fish:

2 8-ounce fillets of grouper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 sprigs of thyme

2 ounces butter

Method for fish:

Season the grouper fillet on both sides with kosher salt. In a medium hot pan add olive oil. When the oil is hot, place fish in pan and cook on one side until a golden brown crust has formed. Flip the fish over and turn heat down to medium. Now add the shallots, chicken stock, parsley, and thyme, reduce the stock to half then turn off the heat. Add the butter and stir in until a nice sauce has formed.

Ingredients for Vegetables:

8 ounces Brussels sprouts

8 ounces fingerling potatoes

2 ounces smoked bacon

Blanch Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes in salted water until tender. After they are cooled, cut the Brussels sprouts in half and slice the fingerling potatoes into slivers. Brown the bacon in a sauté pan then remove. Keep the fat in the pan and add the Brussels sprouts and potatoes. Cook until sprouts and potatoes have brown crispy edges, and then add the cooked bacon.

To Plate:

Arrange vegetables in the center of the plate. Put the sautéed fish on top and spoon the sauce over the fish and vegetables.

Choplin’s Sweet Potato Casserole

Wes Choplin, owner of Choplin’s in Cornelius, says his restaurant serves a sweet potato casserole that is very similar to what his grandmother made. Unlike most recipes that call for marshmallows on top, this dish features a delectable flaky crust. “It was one of my favorite things to eat growing up,” he says.

Fillings

4 40-ounce cans sweet potatoes (drained)

5 eggs

1 pound brown sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1/2 pound melted butter

Topping

2 cups corn flakes

2 cups chopped pecans

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 pound brown sugar

For the filling, combine all ingredients in filling column and mix with hand mixer until smooth. Place filling in a deep 13 x 9 baking dish. For the topping, combine all ingredients in topping column. Mix with spoon until the mixture is moist and holds together slightly when squeezed by hand. A little more melted butter may be added to achieve this. Sprinkle the topping over the filling and press gently. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until internal temperature is 165 degrees.

Café 100’s Turkey Panini

Jay Hill, owner of Café 100 in Huntersville, says chef Matthew Lynch created his restaurant’s easy-to-make turkey panini dish, which is always a hit during the holidays. “You can try it at home without being a professional chef,” Hill says.

2 slices thick cut sourdough bread

2 slices provolone cheese

6 ounces roasted turkey

2 ounces cranberry relish

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup dried cranberries

Submerge 1 cup dried cranberries in boiling water to reconstitute, let stand for an hour. Drain and add 2 tablespoons honey. Pulse blend in food processor until spreading consistent. Spread cranberry relish evenly on sourdough bread and butter both sides of panini. Add turkey. Place press for 5 minutes at 420 degrees.

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