Chef Sandra Lee's secrets to hosting a dazzling holiday dinner
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When it comes to hosting for the holidays, Sandra Lee knows how to make dinners that dazzle guests without exhausting herself — and one of her secrets just happens to be hot chocolate. She calls it a “five months a year” kind of drink, and an easy way to add a bit of joy to any event. As she offers some of her best tips to help everyone join her as a “hostess with the mostess,” Lee also shares a few of her favorite ways to incorporate the beverage into this year’s celebrations.
Lee’s first tip shows off her practicality: “We do the exact same meal for Thanksgiving and Christmas.” Even though it means they repeat the foods, it mostly consists of things they only eat those two times a year — like turkey and stuffing. “We might add a prime rib,” she says for Christmas, though, and they always add her favorite fruitcake. She came up with her fruitcake recipe the same way she recommends that everyone find their own way to make each holiday food: comb through a bunch of recipes and see what each does similarly that you like, then put that together into your own version.
Then she gets the shopping done early — even before Thanksgiving, she already bought the neighbor kids their cookie kits. “Stores don’t order a lot of specialty items,” says Lee, so when they get them in, they go fast. But she’s also toning down gifts this year. “I am looking forward to relaxing,” she explains, “because it’s been one heck of a year.” She plans to focus on simple gestures, with beautiful cards and a little something for the savings account of each of the special kids in her life. “Maybe with a big bow,” she adds — to make it festive.
Making things festive is part of Lee’s goal, and she finds hot chocolate to be one of the best ways to do that. When she pours it as a welcome drink, she adds little touches like the snowman-shaped marshmallows she found at the store, or makes it an outside drink by adding marshmallows and a sprinkle of graham crackers as a spin on S’mores. Either way, she recommends adding cute little holiday gift tags with each guest’s name on them to the mugs so that everyone can remember which one is theirs. “Like winter wonderland in a cup,” she says.
If you have people over for hot chocolate one night, she suggests that you can make extra and stick it in the fridge overnight — the next day it will be pudding — ready for dessert. Alternatively, you can mix it with ice to make frozen hot chocolate — and buy a multipack of straws so everyone can have a different color and keep track of their cup.
“It’s the nostalgia,” says Lee of why hot chocolate makes everything so special. “It makes everyone feel good and warm.” The key, she says, is to customize it and use your imagination — adding butterscotch for a cozy re-watch of Harry Potter, or add it to coffee for a morning drink in place of cream or milk. Most importantly, she says, “Have fun with it!”
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