Holiday Hosting Recipes and Tips

We recently threw our 5th (should have been 7th) Annual Fakesgiving. The tradition started back in 2009 when I was faced with hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. I decided that having a friend version would be a fun way to do a test-run of recipes and practice hosting a large group for a sit-down dinner.


After that first year (or maybe it was after the second?), we switched it up and made it more of a cocktail party, with Thanksgiving-themed appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. We have missed two years along the way, once because Nolan had a stomach bug and once because Will was born. Kids…

I quickly learned that anything you can make ahead, or at the very least prep ahead, is key to enjoying yourself during a party. The catch is, the hours and days leading up to the party are totally consumed by preparation. For this year’s Fakesgiving I did everything ahead of time, and with the exception of making cocktails and taking a few things out of the oven, I ate and drank and chatted the whole party. But…not including the grocery shopping, I spent two ENTIRE days, cooking and prepping. I didn’t take any shortcuts in most cases, so I’ll indicate below where you could save time by doing that.

Here are a few recipes I used. They would be great year-round but they’re especially good for fall and winter parties.

Baguette with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey – adapted from Epicurious

1 baguette, sliced into half-inch slices (about 36)

6-8 ounces of goat cheese, (remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before using)

1/2 cup of chopped walnuts

honey, for drizzling

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Cover a large baking sheet with foil. Spread goat cheese on each bread slice and line up on baking sheet. (NOTE: Don’t be skimpy with the goat cheese here.When these cook in the oven, the cheese loses some of its strong flavor and it melts into the bread a bit.)   Sprinkle the walnuts and a little salt and pepper over all the slices and then bake for about five minute until everything is warmed and the walnuts have started to toast.

Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the honey over each piece. Serve immediately.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: Cut the baguette the day before and store the bread in a ziploc bag, Chop the walnuts and store in a tightly closed bag or container. This dish was probably the only one I made that required any right-before-the-party steps.

Spinach, Bacon, and Onion Dip – Martha Stewart

Over the years, I’ve made a few different hot and cold spinach dips.  I think this might be my new favorite. It was gone very quickly, so I think in the future I would double the recipe and just use a larger dish. I followed the recipe exactly and wouldn’t change a thing! I served it with pita chips, which I made the mistake of making myself. While they’re tasty, it’s a step I would probably skip next time.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I prepared the dip early in the day (up to the oven step) and stored it in the fridge. I removed it from the fridge about an hour before I cooked it so it could come to room temperature and then followed the cooking instructions.Because it was probably still a little cold, I baked it for a few extra minutes before turning on the broiler.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms – Barefoot Contessa

Let me preface this recipe by saying I don’t like mushrooms and I’m not crazy about sausage. That being said, I think these are ridiculously good. The recipe calls for 16 extra-large white mushrooms and I purchased 24. Apparently they weren’t as large as they should have been, because I increased the amounts by 1.5x and I had so much filling left over. A  party guest took the rest home to enjoy. With the exception of leaving out the marsala wine (I think it’s disgusting) and lining the pan with foil (easy clean up!), I follow the recipe exactly.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I made the filling the day before and stuffed the mushrooms a few hours before baking them. Again, remove everything from the fridge around an hour before cooking so it can warm up a bit.

Apple Thyme Martini – Adapted from The Stripe

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Makes 2 cocktails

4 ounces vodka

4 ounces apple juice or apple cider

2 Tablespoons thyme simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake for 20-30 seconds and serve.

*Simple syrup is the best way to sweeten up a drink. It can be flavored in so many ways! This thyme simple syrup is perfect for a fall drink. Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and boil for two minutes. Add a few sprigs of thyme and boil an additional 2-3 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

I hope you can use some of these recipes at your holiday gatherings this year. I have a few more up my sleeve that I’ll try to share before Thanksgiving!





Chicken with Goat Cheese and Basil

One of the fastest, easiest meals to prepare is a split chicken breast stuffed with_______  (insert your favorite ingredients here). A split chicken breast is on the bone and roasting it that way helps keep the meat moist. Even if you’re being good and not eating the skin, it’s still important to buy the chicken breast with the skin on so that you have something to hold the stuffing in while it cooks.  When it’s done, you can decide to discard the skin (Oh, the horror!).

A delicious combination I saw featured in House Beautiful is goat cheese and basil. The original recipe comes from Ina Garten (big surprise) and can be found here.

When you cook goat cheese it loses some of the strong flavor so even if you’re not a huge fan, you may still like this. Matt doesn’t love GC like I do, so for his chicken breast I use half the amount and supplement it with part-skim ricotta cheese.


1 skin-on, split chicken breast per person

2 slices of goat cheese, plain or herbed, per person (about 2 ounces per person)*

2 large basil leaves per person

black pepper and kosher salt

olive oil

*1-2 tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese if you want to use less goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 and line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper. This makes clean-up a lot easier!

Gently wiggle your fingers under the skin of the chicken breast  to make a pocket for the cheese. Place two pieces of goat cheese and two basil leaves under the skin of each chicken breast. Pour about a teaspoon of olive oil on each chicken breast and season generously with salt and pepper.

Cook for 35-40 minutes. Allow the meat to rest for about ten minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite veggies and enjoy!