Simple holiday party can be fun for all


The very thought of throwing a holiday party can turn even the merriest elf into Scrooge.

Some hosts pull out the stops for a blowout they're ultimately too pooped to enjoy.

But holiday entertaining doesn't have to be glitzy to be good. Guests will remember an intimate party centered on an activity -- like a tree-trimming -- long after the holiday feeding frenzies are forgotten.

In this menu, the food is secondary but in no way second-class. Make two or three easy recipes such as layered cheese torta, mulled wine and chocolate Grand Marnier balls. The rest can come from the store.

Layered cheese torta actually improves in appearance and flavor when made several days in advance. The butter-cream cheese base is layered with a flavorful filling and garnished with walnuts. Choose from several fillings, including blue cheese, pesto and smoked salmon.

L Serve it with sliced pears, water crackers and French bread.

Guests who are watching their diet can eat the same fruit, bread and crackers. Serve smoked salmon with capers and chopped onions, and maybe some reduced-fat cream cheese.

Chocolate Grand Marnier balls benefit from a week stashed away before serving. Like their rum ball cousins, these confections need no baking -- just a run through the blender or the processor and they're ready to roll.

Layered cheese torta

Makes 20 servings

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 pound cream cheese, softened

1 to 2 cups filling of your choice (choose from blue cheese, any flavorful store-bought pesto such as basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto, or smoked salmon mixed with capers and finely chopped onion)

Mix the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until well combined. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with 2 layers of dampened cheesecloth with enough overhang to cover the top. You can also use several plastic ricotta or cottage cheese containers.

Alternate layers of cheese mixture and filling in the pan, starting and finishing with a cheese layer. Fold edge of cheesecloth over top and refrigerate at least 2 hours or until firm.

Unmold by turning the pan onto a plate and gently tapping until the torta releases. Remove the pan and the cheesecloth. Torta may be prepared several days in advance and refrigerated.

Serve with French bread slices or water crackers.

Per serving: calories: 288; fat: 30 grams; cholesterol: 84 milligrams; sodium: 261 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 93 percent

Chocolate Grand Marnier balls

Makes 4 to 4 1/2 dozen

1 (9-ounce) package chocolate wafers (may substitute low-fat chocolate wafers)

1 cup almonds

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar plus additional 1 cup sugar for rolling

1/2 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Grind the chocolate wafers and almonds together in a food processor until pulverized. Add 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar and process to combine. Add the Grand Marnier and corn syrup and process until the mixture forms a moist mass. Break off small pieces of the dough and roll them into 1-inch balls.

Place 1 cup confectioners' sugar in a wide bowl and roll each ball in the sugar to coat. Store loosely packed between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered tin. Best if prepared 1 week before serving.

Per serving: calories: 67; fat: 2 grams; no cholesterol; sodium: 29 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 27 percent

Mulled wine

Makes about 32 servings

4 bottles Beaujolais Nouveau

4 cinnamon sticks

15 cloves, whole

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 to 1 cup sugar

2 sliced oranges

2 sliced lemons

Combine all ingredients and heat, but do not boil. Let sit, hot, until ready to serve.

Serve in a heated punch bowl or from a stove-top kettle.

Per serving: calories: 86; sodium: 8 milligrams

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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