Holiday Gatherings Made a Bit More Special

by Laura on December 13, 2009

in Holidays/Christmas, Traditions

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year to reconnect with friends and family. To make that gathering a bit more special, Family Eats presents a few simple ideas on how to make the holiday gathering a bit more special.


Get beyond the chunk of cheddar and peppered jack you typically see on party trays. Have a few great tasting cheeses on hand during the holidays.  After all, they’re easy to serve, when friends drop by. Pour a little wine, sit by the fire, and let the conversation flow.

  • Farmhouse Cheddar – Up the ante with your cheddar selection and choose from the many farmhouse cheddar cheeses available right here in the U.S. One suggestion is the Grafton 4 year cheddar from the Vermont-based Grafton Village Cheese Company. Milk is collected from neighboring farms and pooled to make this creamy raw milk cheddar that is aged for four years. The result is a big spicy tanginess, and a firm, clean bite.
  • Stilton – Britain’s historic blue cheese, Stilton was a traditional holiday cheese in the country (because that was when it was ripe and ready to eat). A creamy cheese marbled with blue veins, Stilton has a rich flavor that is mellowed when aged. Its sharp aftertaste makes it a good complement to many foods. Further its crumbly texture makes it ideal for salads, pasta a pizza.
  • Yorkshire Wensleydale and Cranberries – Creamy white Wensleydale is combined with the delicate fruity succulence of pure, sweet cranberries, making this a great holiday offering. A perfect dessert cheese, its flavor is clean, milk, slightly sweet with a honeyed aftertaste.
  • Garrotxa – Hailing from Catalonia Spain, this semi-soft goat’s milk cheese has a moldy-gray, fuzzy rind. With a firm, snow-white inside the aged goat cheese has a moist texture that melts on your tongue. Its mildly herbal and tangy flavor has a hint of hazelnut aftertaste.
  • Boerenkaas 2 year Gouda – Produced in Holland with the uncooked, washed, and pressed curds of raw cow’s milk, soaked in brine and receiving 4 months of rind-brushing treatment before these wonder wheels finish their 2-year maturation process. Like really good chocolate, its full complexity reveals itself about ten seconds after you place it in your mouth, then the intense caramel flavor of this cheese bursts forth. Serve with fruit, bread and wine, beer, and even Calvados.

Check with your local specialty food store, or order online from some of my favorite sites:



Coffee on the go has become a standard for us. This holiday season take a cue from tea, slow down and enjoy the moment. Sit back with your spouse or your friends and brew coffee using the Chemex brewer. This elegant, one-piece hourglass shaped vessel is made of high quality heat resistant glass. Place the grounds in the cone-shaped filter and pour hot water over them. It is a simple concept, but a method of brewing that produces great tasting coffee, and is a great conversation starter at the end of a meal.

Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate is a must during the cold days of winter. After a romp in the snow with the kids, gather in the kitchen and enjoy a warm and soothing cup of hot chocolate. Ditch the Swiss Miss and opt for some great tasting, high quality hot chocolate. There are some wonderful powdered drinking chocolates available, such as Schokinag, and a delicious ready to drink chocolate from Spanish chocolatier Valorcalled Taza to Go. If you’re in the mood, making the real thing is a simple as melting chocolate and mixing it with hot milk.

Homemade Hot Chocolate

  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1-cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate


1.  Cut the chocolate in pieces

2.  Heat the milk over medium-low heat until it steams.

3.  Add sugar and vanilla, stir until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat.

4.  Ladle out about 1 cup of milk and pour it over the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to melt slowly. Stir it with a whisk.

5.  Continue to add milk

Traditional Holiday Sweets from Around the World

The world has some truly wonderful – and delicious sweets made especially for the holidays. Here are a few that can either be bought in the store, or better yet, made yourself.

Pannetone – This delicate, dome-shaped sweet bread of fruits and nuts is a typical bread of Milan, usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year around Italy.

Lebkuchen (or Pfefferkuchen) – A traditional German holiday cookie that is most like a soft gingerbread cookie, made with molasses and full of warm spices. The glaze provides the perfect complement, a little sweet and with a hint of lemon.

Kolache – Originally a sweet dessert from Central Europe, the Poles and Czechs and Slovaks have their own versions of this pastry filled with fruits and nuts poppyseed, raspberry and apricot.

Buche de Noel – A traditional dessert served during the Christmas holidays in France. It is typically a sponge cake baked in a jellyroll pan, frosted then rolled to form a cylinder, then frosted on the outside. It is prepared and presented to look like a log ready for the fire.

Sufganiyot – A ball-shaped doughnut that is fried then injected with jelly or custard and topped with powdered sugar. A tradition during the Hanukkah holiday, which is part of the Jewish custom of eating fried foods in commemoration of the miracle associated with the Temple oil.



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