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While the holidays are all about reliving family traditions, sometimes the same old songs and snacks can get a little stale. For tips on how to freshen up the annual holiday party, we asked Ted Allen, entertaining guru and host of Food Network's Chopped for his take on this year's holiday party trends. Whether you want to overhaul your usual festivities (Chex Mix exchange, anyone?) or just add a few new elements (replace cupcakes with mini pies), here are his favorite tips.
1. Surprise Ingredients
"This season, hosts will look for ways to jazz up traditional recipes with interesting ingredients using flavors such as bacon, blood orange and mint. Let your creativity flow and try making a blood orange vinaigrette for salad, a blood orange-bacon-cheddar spread, or baked pears with cardamom syrup on top."
2. ‘Round the World Flavors
"Food trucks have certainly brought exotic flavors to nearly every street corner. And, now hosts will be bringing worldly dishes to holiday tables. For instance, empanadas, mini falafel pitas and Indian spiced vegetable fritters are easily transportable and a treat for crowds. Hosts will also experiment with new flavors such as Indian, Spanish and Chinese five spice. They’ll even jazz up dishes with spicier versions of traditional flavors, like using smoked paprika instead of the plain spice."
3. Traditions With a Twist
"Try putting a modern spin on holiday cookie exchanges by hosting a super easy Chex Party Mix-Change – think traditional cookie swaps with a delicious twist. The concept is simple: host a party, asking friends to make enough of their favorite Chex Party Mix recipe to exchange. Once the recipes are completed, place the treats in fun, festive DIY packaging to send guests home with an assortment of goodies to share."
4. Re-Mixed Holiday Playlists
"I am a huge, huge music person, and I am always building my collection — I don't like to hear the same stuff over and over. So when the holidays roll around, it gets tough for me to take hearing the same Christmas songs over and over. Many of them, I love — especially the sweet, sad, "Merry Little Christmas" — but for my holiday parties, I like to mix holiday music with non-holiday music, so it's not so oppressive."
5. Hors d’oeuvres and Desserts on a Stick
"Putting food on a stick isn’t just for the state fair anymore. Hosts are adding height and flair to serving tables with everything from cake pops to kabobs. Or try deep fried ravioli, mini corn dogs (can be storebought or homemade, like pigs on a blanket), smoked shrimp with snow peas, brownies and chocolate-dipped fruit."
6. Signature Cocktails and Mocktails
"Use fun ingredients to create unique-to-you drinks. Mix champagne or Prosecco with a little peach nectar and add in some fresh basil leaves. To make a non-alcoholic version, simply swap sparkling grape juice with the alcohol. And don’t forget to get creative with your drink names!"
7. Pies Galore
"Cupcakes are out, pies are in. More and more hosts will be serving pies and even recycling their cupcake pans to make mini pies for guests. Mini cheesecakes work really well here. You can also make mini savory pies if you don’t want something sweet, try a shepherds pie or, for a breakfast option, try roasted vegetable frittatas."
8. Natural Decor
"Just go outside and gather various sticks and twigs to put in a vase for a centerpiece. Pinecones also work well. And you can’t go wrong with simple bowls of lemons, apples, pomegranates or persimmons. Food is beautiful."
9. Skip the Themes
"I’m not big into themed parties or group games like charades. For me, the theme of every party is this: friends getting together to eat and share each other’s company. Just make sure you have plenty of food and drinks, and never let the music stop."
For more holiday party advice, check out 10 Frugual but Fabulous Holiday Party Ideas.
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