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Learn the how-tos of holiday hosting jolly good time


February 19. 2013 6:48PM
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Now that it's November, the holiday entertaining season is here. But the idea of entertaining at home can be overwhelming. Some young parents complain about being too busy and too stressed to clean house and cook for others, even though they long to fill the house with friends and the aroma of home-cooked foods. And some older folks say they don't have the energy to pull out the fine china or bake cookies for a holiday exchange.


But others say it's never too much trouble to open their homes to friends during the holidays. Here are some of their holiday entertaining menus, recipes and suggestions.


Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love Christmas decorating and entertaining, said Tina McMahan, of Lexington, Ky. For many years now we have hosted an open house every other year. It's been very successful over the years. An open house on a Friday or Saturday night in December has worked well. This allows some to visit longer (and) those that have other parties to attend an opportunity to drop by for some Christmas cheer.



Food/drinks: The menu has stayed about the same: Honey-baked ham with biscuits and cranberry sauce, cheese balls/logs, shrimp, tortilla rolls, veggie tray, crab dip, a dessert table that includes her husband's famous bourbon balls. Bar with mixed drinks, wine, beer, coffee and mulled cider.



Servers: We hire a bartender and server. This keeps my husband from tending the bar and me from refilling trays and plates. The server also helps with greeting guests and taking coats.



Decorating: McMahan decorates inside and out on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Each room in our home receives a touch of Christmas.



Food prep: I begin baking Christmas treats several weeks in advance and freeze them. Two days before the party I make the cheese balls. One day before, I prepare and bag vegetables and tortilla rolls, decorate tables and mark trays with which item is to be placed on it.


Because of her mother-in-law's illness, Mary Smoot said the holiday season will be different this year. She has shared meal preparation with her mother-in-law, Ann Smoot, for many years.


She showed me how to make favorites out of her ‘Bourbon County Homemaker Clubs Cook Book,' published in the early 1970s, Smoot said. Our preparations for Thanksgiving always include a jar of blackberry jam from Reed Valley Orchards. It's used in a jam-cake recipe that Ann's father, Russell Heaton, used to make for them at Christmas each year.


Smoot, of Lexington, also makes dressed eggs, using home-canned sweet pickles. She uses a recipe for sweet pickles from the first cookbook she ever owned, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Cooking.


The first year we lived on the farm we hosted 37 family members at a Thanksgiving meal served on tables scattered throughout our living room and kitchen. Although we have not hosted another family group as large as 37, we enjoy sharing Thanksgiving with whichever family members come from my seven siblings scattered across the country.



MARY SMOOT'S



JAM CAKE


1 cup butter or shortening


2 cups white sugar


5 eggs


3 cups flour


½ teaspoon cinnamon


1½ teaspoons cloves


1½ teaspoons allspice


¼ teaspoon salt


1 teaspoon baking soda


1 cup buttermilk


1 cup raisins or dates


1 cup chopped nuts, optional


1 cup blackberry jam


5 pecans for decoration


With a mixer, cream butter and gradually add sugar. Cream together until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat eggs well and add to butter mixture. Sift flour before measuring and add spices and salt. Dissolve soda in buttermilk and add it to flour mixture alternately with egg and butter mixture, beating after each addition. Lightly dredge raisins and nuts with a small amount of extra flour and add to mixture. Add jam, stirring well.


Grease a Bundt or angel food cake pan or line it with parchment paper. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. (Test with knife to make sure it's done; it should be removed cleanly from cake.)



CARAMEL FROSTING


½ cup butter


½ cup brown sugar


¼ cup milk


3¼ cups confectioners sugar


Melt butter in pan. Add brown sugar and bring to boil. Stir about 1 minute, until it begins to thicken. Cool slightly, add milk, and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar, until icing reaches spreading consistency.


Spread over top and sides of cake. Icing will thicken up quickly. Dipping the spreading knife in warm water will make it smooth. Place 5 whole pecans around sides for decoration.


On a limited budget, hosts often rely on imagination


Virginia Long, of Lexington, Ky., finds that holiday entertaining doesn't have to be time-consuming, costly or require gourmet cooking skills.


I am a senior in a modest home with limited assets, but I find entertaining fun and rewarding, particularly during the holidays. Though eating out is usually enjoyable, dining at home involves no waiting or background noise, and no need to rush through the meal.


Shortly after Thanksgiving, I set aside a few hours for a little extra tidying up, and then I am ready to decorate. I usually invite a few friends for a couple of dinners and plan a ‘girls only' lunch or two. I have accumulated an assortment of dishes, napkins and centerpieces, but a table can be set attractively on a small budget with any dishes, flatware and a little imagination. I use tea lights in varying containers and have soft music playing in the background.


Long keeps her menu simple.


I personally think dessert should be one of the highlights, and I select one that can be prepared ahead. Colorful and flavorful is the key. Warm bread is a must for me, and I use my bread maker. I offer wine, but that's not a must for everyone.


For overnight guests, she prints out a menu offering the Long bed and breakfast menu, and everything is a la carte. That's been a big hit for years, especially with children.


On Christmas Eve, because there is a crowd, a buffet of hot and cold finger food works best, and my family likes to share their favorite dishes. Last year, almost half my guests were not related to me.


If a home is warm, friendly and inviting, it is a place where folks want to return year after year. With a little planning and imagination, anyone can make it happen.



HAM AND CHICKEN



LASAGNA


9 lasagna noodles


1/3 cup butter


1/3 cup flour


3 cups milk


1½ cups Parmesan cheese, divided


4 ounces fresh or canned mushrooms


¾ teaspoon dry basil


½ teaspoon salt


¼ teaspoon pepper


½ cup cream


2 cups cooked chicken breast


2 cups cubed ham


Paprika and fresh parsley for garnish


Cook noodles according to directions. In a skillet, melt butter, add flour and stir to make a roux. Add milk and cook on medium until slightly thickened. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, basil, salt, pepper and cream. Cook another minute. Add chicken and ham.


Layer as follows: ¼ of the sauce, 3 noodles; repeat two more times. Top with remaining sauce and cheese. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Garnish with paprika and fresh parsley.




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