This easy punch can be made right before serving. To keep the bees from buzzing around the punch pitcher, tiny water balloons anchor a cloth cover: Clip them to the corners of a handkerchief; hang larger ones along the tablecloth to keep it from blowing away.
In Season: Popular for centuries in Spain and Italy, blood oranges are now being cultivated in the United States. Look for blood oranges in specialty supermarkets from November through May. What to Look For: Blood oranges are somewhat smaller than navel oranges, and often have pitted skin mottled with hints of red; the interior flesh is deep crimson. The flavor is sweeter and less tart than other oranges, and may have hints of raspberry or a slightly bitter edge. Choose firm, plump oranges that are heavy for their size. How to Store: Blood oranges will keep at room temperature for several days, kept in a bowl or basket where air can circulate freely. To store oranges for up to two weeks, put them in an airtight bag or container and place them in the produce drawer of the refrigerator.
Why not try a new take on the old cocktail party? By stocking the pantry and making hors d'oeuvres ahead of time, you can pull off a festive affair in only an hour or two. This easy-for-the-hostess menu is ideal for an impromptu after-work party with friends in the midst of busy holiday preparations. Start with one idea, such as a signature drink, and build on it. Cheese balls are a retro nod as well; one base recipe and some add-ins later, you have three enticing variations. We've updated bacon-wrapped dates with tart apricots and salty pistachios, and stirred up a beautiful orange punch. Savory lemon-parsley gougeres and crisp radishes with salt and olive oil for dipping round out the flavor-texture canvas. Have best-quality breadsticks, olives, and nuts ready to supplement the menu in case your guest list grows at the last minute.
Neither dinner nor cocktail party, this holiday gathering borrows the best of both, taking the substantial foods of the former and serving them in the bite-size portions and buffet style of the latter. This menu splurges on special ingredients: Baby lamb chops, sliced from a roasted rack, make delicious finger foods, with the bones acting as utensils. Densely packed mini crab cakes with Asian flavors play the exotic role in an otherwise traditional menu. Salted, honey-roasted figs can be eaten with the savory foods or with sweet grapes, working two ways on plate and palate, and flexibility is what a buffet is all about. Don't be afraid to mix and match flavors, tableware, and approaches to entertaining for a gathering that truly reflects your style.