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WHETHER it's a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwaanza celebration, festive food and drinks are at the top of guests' wish lists at holiday events. And while waistlines may be on their mind the rest of the year, holiday party-goers are ready to indulge in their favorite dishes, first-class cocktails and decadent desserts. Caterers and event planners share their top tips for tasty treats that will help to make the season bright.

  1. “For those cold winter nights, we serve an alternative to the traditional holiday dessert: the ultimate hot chocolate experience. It's Scharffen Berger bittersweet, semisweet or ultra-rich milk chocolate, shaved from the block at a station and served with steaming milk topped with a choice of floats, including cognac, framboise, Pyrat XO Reserve rum or Frangelico. We serve it in glass coffee mugs with cinnamon sticks.” — Fernando N. Ciurlizza, Melons Catering & Events, South San Francisco, Calif.

  2. “We serve this as a bread course for our holiday plated luncheons and dinners: red and green ‘candy cane’ breadsticks with roasted red pepper-goat cheese spread and avocado dip. It's a festive marriage of traditional red and green.” — Colleen Walker, Catered Affare Cuisine and Event Design, Toronto

  3. “When fresh corn isn't available, we serve a soup made from dried corn with a garnish of roasted red pepper puree, cilantro puree and roasted popcorn. It's always a hit in the winter months.” — David Turk, Indiana Market & Catering, New York

  4. “Nothing says ‘season's greetings’ like the best-kept catering secret, sticky toffee pudding. The English Pudding Co., a Los Angeles-based distributor for the parent company in the village of Cartmel, England, sells the English holiday favorite throughout the United States. They have a wholesale department through their Web site, But be warned: You will run out. On a buffet line, I have seen guests forgo the entree for double servings of the pudding!” — Charles Banfield, Charles Banfield Productions, New York

  5. “For cool holiday cocktails, do twists on the basics: make a Cosmopolitan, but float some holiday fruits in it. It's fine if they're frozen — they won't be for long. Still challenged? Take a simple martini and play a little by adding schnapps or syrup. Or add candy: Garvey Nut near Los Angeles ships worldwide, and their holiday candy assortment is insane. Candy canes come in every flavor and color imaginable — we use them as stirrers. Cinnamon bears are great speared like you would spear fruit for a mai tai, and a million other cinnamon or striped holiday lovelies look and taste great plopped in your favorite libation.” — Marley Majcher, The Party Goddess, Pasadena, Calif.

  6. “Move over, chocolate — the holidays are here, and it's time for your cousin caramel to take center stage! We will reinvent the chocolate fountain this year using rivers of flowing caramel to replace the Belgian treat. Guests will have a blast at a ‘create your own’ caramel apple station. Grab a mini Fuji apple on a stick, sink it into the tiered fountain of caramel, then roll it in toppings such as crushed Butterfingers, Oreo cookie crumbs, chopped walnuts and Snickers slivers. If you're on the ‘naughty list,’ double-dip that apple back into the caramel when nobody's looking!” — Jeff Brown, Someone's in the Kitchen, Tarzana, Calif.

  7. “Many clients appreciate a traditional feeling to their events, but want a fun twist, too. This year, we will be offering our holiday clients oversized gingerbread houses, which are completely edible. They are 3 feet tall on a 3-foot round base, and are accented by a winter garden complete with ice-cream-cone trees, peppermint sidewalks and lollipops customized with the names of the family or co-workers. It's amazing how these appeal to all ages — everyone is a kid when feasting on a huge gingerbread house!” — Cathee Hickock, Renaissance Caterers, Canoga Park, Calif.

  8. “Snacks during the holidays seem to be the least creative fare offered at a party, but I have done this for holiday parties and it was a huge hit: Serve ‘popcorn trios’ of truffle, saffron and garlic popped corn. To make, clarify butter slowly in a saucepan over medium heat. Choose your selected ingredient (do not mix them, but create a variety) and infuse slowly into the butter. Pour the flavored butter into a spray bottle and mist fresh popcorn for a divine treat. It's a daily snack made into an elegant indulgence that guests will speak about for days. For serving, try keepsake miniature vintage tins or parchment cones.” — Dafna Miller, Yifat Oren & Associates, Sherman Oaks, Calif.


Catered Affare Cuisine & Event Design, 416/288-0886; Charles Banfield Productions, 212/851-1181; Indiana Market & Catering, 212/579-3531; Melons Catering & Events, 650/583-1756; Renaissance Caterers, 818/999-0990; Someone's in the Kitchen, 818/343-5151; The Party Goddess, 323/341-7000; Yifat Oren & Associates, 818/981-9950


“Change your glasses or ingredients. Even your standard martini will feel festive when served in a red or green martini glass; these days, larger rental companies have tons of options. If you're stuck with the usual clear glass, change your additive — for Hanukkah, go with blue curaçao or Hyptoniq, for red try cranberry juice or pomegranate juice, and for green go with Midori or crème de menthe.” — Marley Majcher


“This performance station is perfect for a larger corporate event: Hire your favorite local fudge store owners to come to your party and put on a show right in front of your guests. Marble slabs take center stage as guests taste-test to find their favorite flavors. Package samplings of the confection into beautifully branded boxes for the perfect take-home treat.” — Jeff Brown


“We illuminate a lot of our themed tables with red and green lighting. Using food coloring, water and Instalytes [light-up waterproof lights], any buffet can take on a holiday look. It's always best to use food that is consistent with the color theme — lots of whites or reds, for example, if you are featuring red lighting.” — David Turk

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