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How to Throw a Holiday Party Like Martha

  • Photos by Justin Walker
  • Recipes by Lauryn Tyrell

Whether for a small soirée or big bash, here’s our blueprint for entertaining with elegance and ease.

There’s an art to throwing a holiday soirèe that really sparkles, and it’s easier than you think to master. Whether you want to gather friends for spirited drinks and good bites or host a big open house, here’s our blueprint to partying like Martha.

Kick It Off with Chic Cocktails

Pour an intimate round or mix a whole pitcher of these modern variations on classic sours. Just follow our foolproof formula: 2 parts spirit, 3/4 part sour, 3/4 part sweet. Our infused simple syrups are just that—a cinch to make—and lend sips a sophisticated, je-ne-sais-quoi quality. 

Rosemary Gimlet: A fresh herbal syrup gives gin and lemon juice a floral finish.

Get the Rosemary Gimlet Recipe

Bitter Bee: Add dimension to tequila on the rocks with honey and grapefruit.

Get the Bitter Bee Recipe

Cinnamon Sour: This sweet-and-spicy bourbon drink can be topped with red wine.

Get the Cinnamon Sour Recipe

Make Ahead, Then Bake in Some Bliss

Hot hors d’oeuvres send the warmest message: Leave your cares at the door; we’re here to spoil you. Assemble feta-stuffed shishitos in phyllo, tomato-jam pinwheels, and pimiento-cornmeal croquettes in advance and freeze them. Then slide them in the oven while you fancy up a few crowd favorites from the market (think spicing up olives and toasting corn nuts).

In a Crunch: Our test kitchen is hooked on Torres Selecta 100-Percent Extra-Virgin Olive Oil premium potato chips.

Say Salut Simply: This no-recipe Italian icebreaker is just red vermouth on the rocks plus a splash of soda and a twist of orange peel.

Get the Feta-Stuffed Shishitos in Phyllo Recipe

Get the Tomato-Jam Pinwheels Recipe

Get the Pimiento-Cornmeal Croquettes Recipe

Get the Warm Olives with Cracked Coriander Recipe

Complement a Big Cheese

A gorgeous hunk of blue deserves a better sidekick than a basic cracker. Here, creamy, mildly sharp Bayley Hazen finds a fruity counterpart in our apple-membrillo tart, which layers jammy Spanish quince paste (membrillo) atop a savory, rosemary-flecked crust. Marcona almonds—another Iberian specialty—add salty crunch, and juicy green grapes keep things fresh.

Make a Grand Gesture

There are crudités, and then there is le grand aioli, the Provençal feast of raw and steamed vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, and chilled seafood served with a side of garlicky, homemade mayonnaise. Our version takes some liberties with Grandmère’s egg, oil, lemon juice, and garlic recipe; we doctored jarred mayonnaise with anchovies and oil-packed tuna. We also supplied a vegan avocado-based green-goddess dip. But the end result sparks that same convivial feeling of clustering around an overflowing platter.

Do a Double: This clever system, using two metal bowls (with a smaller vessel of ice centered inside a larger one), prevents soggy shellfish and makes replenishing a snap.

Polar Express: A quick bath in icy water crisps sliced raw vegetables and gives leaves an alluring curl.

Head North

Snowbound Scandinavians know their way around a winter feast. To wit: this Swedish-inspired juniper-and-gin gravlax. Curing a side of salmon isn’t complicated: Just buy high-quality fish (and have the pin bones removed), slather it with a salty-sweet spice mix, and let it hang out in the fridge. For a mini mixer, pick up a smaller, premade version. Just don’t skimp on the accompaniments: crème fraîche, hearty crackers, capers and onions, and our new go-to flavor bomb: fennel-tinged Meyer-lemon relish.

Roast, Then Play Host

This pomegranate-glazed ham with jammy cipollinis needs little more than a mouthwatering glaze and an hour and a half in the oven to achieve caramelized nirvana. While the meat heats and develops its stunning sheen, the tiny onions around it soak up all its smoky drippings, melting into a sticky-sweet condiment for ham and mini-pickle-biscuit sandwiches.

Dry Idea: Pair this spread with a crisp white that has just a hint of sweetness. We like Hofgut Falkenstein Riesling, from Mosel.

Zing Fling: Tangy with a pleasant pop, whole-grain Dijon cuts the mustard—and the meat’s richness. Our pick: Trois Petits Cochons Moutarde a l’Ancienne.