Imperfections make it interesting (and spicy pulled pork).

In the end, our holiday bash turned out to be perfect. But that’s not to say there weren’t a few bumps in the road to Party Town.

Feeding a crowd can be intimidating. When the guest list for our party last Saturday reached around 20 people, John casually suggested that we look for a reasonable caterer so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. With our annual summer fiestas in mind, I dismissed the idea. I’ve got this, I thought. Plus, I’d rather not spend that extra money this time of year. We’d sent the Evite out before Thanksgiving, knowing how hectic the holidays can be (and how hard it can be to find a babysitter). We expected many of our friends to have work parties, family in town, or other obligations. By the time we returned from our Turkey Day trip, the “we can’t wait!” responses were piling up and I was wishing I’d jumped on John’s offer. Two weeks before the party in the height of the holiday party season meant it was too late to find a caterer. And how would 50 people fit in my house? Eeek.

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Determined to keep this party from becoming a giant source of stress, I opened an Excel worksheet and started making lists. (Yay lists!) With a little planning and organization, I knew we could pull it off. I pinned make-ahead recipes and made big batches of freezable food. I hit my local Michael’s craft store and tapped into a long-hidden “do it yourself” part of my personality. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve planned a big event; my corporate job involved putting together trips and parties for far more people. But then, I had a staff to help. And a significant budget. And a venue that wasn’t my home.

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Fifty people drinking freely during the holiday season were going to need food, and plenty of it. I had to keep our vegetarian friends in mind, too. I’ve got a couple of no-fail recipes in my back pocket that I knew would be perfect for this group, tried a few new crowd-pleasers, and finished it all off with plenty of treats. Over the next week, I’ll be sharing some of these recipes with you!

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Here’s what we served (with links to some of the recipes):

  • Sweet/spicy mixed nuts
  • Layered Greek Dip with pita chips
  • Caprese skewers with balsamic drizzle
  • Classic shrimp cocktail
  • Whiskey bacon jam with baguettes
  • Asiago spinach dip with tortilla chips
  • Grapes, blackberries, and strawberries with honey
  • Fresh veggies with an avocado-cilantro dip
  • Bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers
  • Spicy Asian meatballs
  • Baked brie with fig jam
  • Spicy black bean chili
  • Three kinds of cookies: peanut butter cup sugar, espresso chocolate chunk, and cranberry hootycreeks
  • Chocolate pecan rum balls

Let’s not forget the libations! In addition to a big batch of John’s secret family recipe eggnog, I mixed up some cranberry vodka sparklers, set up a basic bar area, and had plenty of wine and champagne on hand.

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Taking a note from the Barefoot Contessa (a fabulous entertainer), my goal was to have the food, drink, music, etc. under control so I could actually enjoy the party and spend time with our friends. I set up a holiday photo booth area with plenty of Christmas-y costume props (stay tuned for the how-to and the resulting photos!). An impromptu dance party broke out later in the evening. The party ended with a handful of late-nighters, high heels kicked off of sore feet, games of bumper pool, and lots of vinyl on the record player.

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Remember those bumps in the road I mentioned? I forgot to put a few things in the oven when I was supposed to, so they were late to the food table. The holiday playlist wouldn’t play. Drinks were spilled. The glass dispenser holding the vodka punch leaked all over the floor. A LOT. And a big one was that the double batch of pulled pork I’d made the week before the party had to be trashed! I’d frozen it, and apparently let it thaw too long out of the refrigerator. We caught it just as the guests were arriving, thankful that our holiday party wouldn’t involve bussing people to the hospital with food poisoning! These were all small issues that our guests never even knew about. Even without the pork, there was plenty of food, drink, and merriment- and with a house full of people, you simply have to roll with the punches.

And take another sip of nog. 

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Tell me about your no-fail party tips! Ever have an almost-disaster at a get-together?

**One year ago: I showed you how to make the delicious bacon jam we served at the party!

(And…even though the pulled pork didn’t make it to the party, I’m sharing the recipe. We ate it for dinner the night I made it, and it was simply scrumptious!)

Super-easy Chipotle Pulled Pork (adapted from the Pioneer Woman)

You’ll need:

  • A 7-8 pound bone-in pork shoulder/”butt”
  • Two large onions, quartered
  • 1 large can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 2 cans of coca cola or stout beer
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
  • Garlic salt and pepper

In the bottom of a large crockpot, layer the onion quarters. Place the pork shoulder on top of the onions. Generously salt and pepper the pork. Pour the entire can of chipotle peppers over the pork. Add the brown sugar, the jalapeno, and pour in the soda or beer (I tried both, and the soda made it a tad sweeter and was my preference). Turn the crockpot on low for 6 hours and let it do its thing, carefully flipping the pork shoulder one or two times during the process.

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When the meat is falling off the bone, remove the pork shoulder from the crockpot and place it on a large cutting board. Using two forks, pull apart the meat until it’s all shredded.

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Gently skim the layer of fatty oil from the top of the leftover liquid in the crockpot. Using a hand blender (or carefully using a food processor or blender), puree the chipotles, onions, and jalapenos into the sauce. Add the meat back into the sauce and combine well. Serve on soft buns with a tangy coleslaw, if you like. YUM!

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*Apparently, it freezes well- just DO NOT allow it to thaw on the counter too long! Nobody wants trichinosis for Christmas. 

13 replies »

  1. What a Great Party – thanks so much for sharing! The key for me is planning and organizing beforehand, so I CAN ENJOY THE PARTY TOO!!! I love your pup sticking the nose right in the wreath – ha:) I have hosted a B&B at my house from 11/27 to 12/16 – love having family here and glad it happens every few years and not every year. Happy Holidays:)

  2. We had our annual Christmas party on the 7th, so I can relate to this post so well, Amber! We had only about 25 people, but still—my boyfriend and I were scurrying around the apartment to try and have all the food out in time just minutes before our guests arrived. I definitely made it a bit stressful with the day leading up to the party, and we spent waaaay too much money. Next year, I realized we need more savory finger foods and way less sweets, which went largely untouched. And I’m going to start prepping sooner! It was still a blast, as it looks like your party was too 🙂

  3. I have a fun group of friends that love to get together regularly. Over the years, it seems to have morphed into a standard schedule of who has the Halloween party, the Cat/Griz game, Super Bowl, etc. I have laid claim to Christmas and had 23 people in my little house this year! I laugh now at how concerned I was about what music to play and was it too loud, etc but it didn’t take long before the volume of the party itself was so loud you couldn’t even hear any music! Like you said, the prep work helps greatly with your enjoyment level as hosts. Every year I serve Baugna Cauda which is olive oil, butter, anchovy and a dangerous amount of garlic – SO yummy! I provide that but then assign items to my guests to bring to dip in it like you would a fondue. We have mushrooms, shrimp, red peppers, provolone, genoa salami, etc – all eaten with French/crusty bread. Everyone loves it and is happy to bring something which makes my stress level much more tolerable! Happy Holidays!!

    • Marni, that sounds delicious! So do you dip the veggies and shrimp into that mixture, or just sop it up with crusty bread? Wow- yum.
      It’s so fun that you have a good group who all likes to host! I usually prefer smaller groups (23 is a lot, and 46 was A LOT) so that you get a chance to spend time with people. You’re so right about the music- there were times when it couldn’t be heard.
      Have a wonderful holiday- thanks for reading!

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