How to Throw an All-Ages Soirée Everyone Will Enjoy

Winter wonderland got a chic makeover with soft palettes of peach and seafoam green juxtaposed with deep coral and burgundy accents. It’s the holiday party you want to attend: The one with inventive appetizers and bubbly cocktails, and your child isn’t tugging at your sleeve every five minutes asking to leave.

Holiday Party  

Vanessa and Adam Smith of Blue Ribbon Cooking are masters of throwing wow-factor parties that engage everyone. Hosting a successful soirée of any size can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to. Vanessa, the director and owner of the culinary school and catering business, said one of the keys is designing kid and adult spaces. Vanessa likes to create an environment that makes the kids feel just as special as the adults and gives them the same delight when they walk into the room.

Holiday Party  Holiday Party

A Fresh Take on Holiday Color

Offset pink and seafoam green pastels with bold shades, like burgundy or deep coral, to make an elegant color scheme.


Sushi Donuts

with edamame wasabi sour cream

Holiday Party

Sushi Donuts

  • Sushi rice (see recipe)
  • 18 paper-thin skin-on slices of cucumber
  • 18 paper-thin slices red radish
  • 5-ounces raw sushi-grade salmon, thinly sliced into 18 rectangles
  • Wasabi-edamame sour cream (see recipe)
  1. Using damp hands (to prevent sticking), mold 6 rice “donuts” using a nonstick mini-donut baking pan. Without the pan, you may create and shape donuts with your fingers, taking care to not overwork and damage the shape of the rice grains. Place each rice donut on a separate small plate.
  2. Splay 3 salmon slices, molded to the shape of the rice, so they cover about ¼ of the donut. Follow suit with each donut. Splay the radish slices to one side of the salmon slices, molded to the shape of the rice, covering another ¼ of the rice donut. Follow suit with each donut. To the other side of the salmon, splay 3 cucumber slices, molded to the shape of the rice, so they cover another ¼ of the donut. Follow suit with each donut. There should be ¼ of the rice donut visible that is not covered.
  3. Decoratively pipe wasabi-edamame sour cream over each donut. Serve immediately.

Sushi Rice:

  • 1½ cups short grain white rice
  • 1¾ cups water
  • 3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar, more or less to taste
  1. Put the rice in a large bowl, and wash it with cold water. Strain, and repeat washing until the water becomes almost clear. Place in a colander, and set aside for 30 minutes.
  2. Place the rice in rice cooker and, add water. Start the cooker. When rice is cooked, let it steam for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Spread the hot steamed rice into a large bowl. (Use a nonmetallic bowl to prevent any interaction with rice vinegar.) Sprinkle about half of the vinegar over the rice, and fold the rice quickly and gently with a broad spatula or flat-edged spoon, taking care not to smash the rice. It is best to stir the rice as little as possible, preventing unnecessary damage to the rice grains from the stirring motion.
  4. To help cool and to remove the moisture of the rice well, use a fan as you mix sushi rice. When the vinegar has been absorbed, the rice grains begin to clump together. Allow to sit and cool on its own for few minutes. Sprinkle in a little more vinegar, and fold that in. Taste rice, and add additional vinegar to taste, stirring gently after each addition.
  5. The rice is ready and best to use when it has reached room temperature. If not using immediately, cover with a well-wrung damp cloth. Do not refrigerate before using.

Wasabi-Edamame Sour Cream:

  • 1 teaspoon wasabi powder
  • 3 tablespoons cooked edamame beans
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream

In a mini food processor, puree all ingredients until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.



Food for Kids

Holiday Party  Holiday Party

The hosts are also parents of three, so making food their kids love and giving it a twist is their passion. Their 2-year-old daughter, Penelope, is obsessed with sushi, so, of course, they had to have sushi donuts. Vanessa said these “intricate” bites are actually quite simple to execute with a mini donut mold, and most kids like rice and anything that resembles a donut.

“Try not to overthink it,” she said. “You can spend so much time thinking about feeding your whole audience, but you’re not going to appease everyone. Think about what you’re going to be proud to put out versus being like, ‘Oh, no one is going to want to eat this,’ or ‘Kids are going to be scared of this.’ Because the kids might love it.”



Holiday Party

Cookie decorating is a slam dunk. Individual palettes of candies were laid out for each child — no fighting over who has the blue sprinkles and less mess if one of the plates gets knocked over.

Quick Serving Tip

Instead of using big bowls of supplies for cookie decorating, opt for individual palettes, which are easier to clean up if spilled.

Holiday Party

Something for everyone

While the kids are busy smearing frosting on sugar cookies, the adults get a minute to lounge with friends.



Holiday Party  Holiday Party

Head Chef Adam likes to surprise his audience with stunning appetizers that can be made ahead of time. And here is the best part — that strategy will work for the home chefs, too. “Everyone is in that party atmosphere when they come in and have their first drink and their first bite,” he said. “They’re just like, ‘Wow!’ Then, you sit down and have a family meal where you have a roast or a braised meat you can just throw in the oven and forget about for a while. I like to impress people right off the bat.”

During the wintery months, he favors warm, satisfying flavors like sweet potato, butternut squash, and apple cider. Vanessa said clients request elevated comfort foods, so they decided to serve a bite-sized gingerbread buckwheat pancake appetizer with a maple and orange sweet potato puree.

“To me, it’s a lot of color contrast, composition, height, texture, and things that just make sense,” he said, of putting together a menu for a party.


Miniature Cobb Salad

with Dungeness Crab and Pork Belly

Makes six salads

Holiday Party

Cobb Salad:

  • Fried egg slices (see recipe)
  • 1 head bib lettuce
  • ½ pound Dungeness crabmeat, jumbo lump
  • ½ avocado, sliced ¼-inch thick into half-moons, cut around circumference of avocado width
  • 12-ounce pork belly, sliced into 6 1-inch squares, about ½-inch thick, seared on both sides
  • ½ cup Sweety Drop peppers
  • 3 slices Gorgonzola, 4 to 6 bites each

In 6 small bowls (approximately 1 cup volume), place a full leaf of bib lettuce. Artfully arrange all other components on the bib lettuce, equally dividing each component between the bowls. Drizzle with Semillon vinaigrette, and serve with additional vinaigrette on the side.

Fried Egg Slices:

  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup panko
  • Salt and freshly-milled pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups canola oil
  1. Freeze eggs in shell until solid, about 6 hours in freezer.
  2. In a small shallow bowl, mix flour and panko, seasoned with salt and pepper. In another small bowl, whisk egg, adding a few drops of water.
  3. In a small saucepan heat canola oil to 375° degrees.
  4. Remove shell of frozen eggs by quickly running under cold water. Slice each egg into 6 sections horizontally, discarding round ends. Each will yield 4 flat cross-sections of egg.
  5. Using a fork, carefully bread egg sections in flour. Then dip in egg, followed by a panko coating.
  6. Fry in oil until golden, and then set aside on paper-towel-lined tray.

Tarragon-Poppy Seed Semillon Vinaigrette:

  • ½ bottle Semillon
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 fresh tarragon stem, plus 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon
  • 1 lemon zested, then juiced
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper, to taste
  1. In a saucepan with shallots and tarragon stem, reduce the semillon to about ½ cup. Remove stem, and allow to cool.
  2. Whisk or blend semillon with honey, Dijon, lemon zest, and juice. While whisking or blending, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Mix in fresh chopped tarragon and poppy seeds.


Holiday Party  Holiday Party

Quick Cooking Tip

Grilling is a great way to keep some of the cooking mess out of your kitchen. Head Chef Adam Smith grilled the pizza, because it creates beautiful marks on the crust.



“This time, we focused on the teepee tent and having this special area for the kids to cozy up and also having an activity,” Vanessa said. “Bored children are trouble, so having some sort of thing for them to do that’s positive and that they’re supposed to be doing always creates a successful environment for the party.” Make your own — find an inexpensive canvas tent, and wrap it with decorative curtains for an extra layer of texture.

Holiday Party  Holiday Party

Faux Snow

Plush snowballs from Amazon are indoor-safe and are tons of fun for a kids-against-adults snowball fight.

Holiday Party  Holiday Party

Family-Style Table

This communal table with floor seating is perfect for all ages (no fussing with high-chairs or boosters) and creates an intimate vibe.


Gingerbread buckwheat pancakes

with sweet potato puree, pomegranate gastrique, and vanilla chai crème fraiche

Makes 12 appetizer portionsHoliday Party

Buckwheat Pancakes:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 tablespoon pure
    maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a measuring cup, combine the milk and apple cider vinegar, then set aside. In a large bowl, add the buckwheat flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Sift together, and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg until blended. Pour the milk into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Add the egg, molasses, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and olive oil. Stir to combine. Set aside to sit for five minutes while you warm the skillet.
  3. Lightly grease a skillet, and warm over medium-low heat. Pour about 1 tablespoon batter for each pancake. Cook for a few minutes until edges appear firm. Flip with a spatula, and continue to cook for a couple minutes on the opposite side, until cooked through. Set aside.

Maple Orange Sweet Potato:

  • 1 medium sweet potato, skin on (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 orange, zested and then juiced
  • ¼ teaspoon maple extract
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a fork, poke about six sets of holes around the sweet potato. Place in the oven on a small baking sheet or foil. Roast for about 30 to 45 minutes, until a knife is easily inserted through the flesh, and when the skin is poked (quickly), an indentation remains.
  2. Remove from the oven, and cool. Remove flesh from the skin, and purée in a food processor, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary to produce a smooth purée. Add the orange zest and maple extract to the puree. Then add the orange juice 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each addition before adding more. A texture is needed that will easily pipe but that still has some body to stand on its own once it is piped. Place the puree in a piping bag, and set aside.

Pomegranate Gastrique:

  • Makes three tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate juice

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and white balsamic vinegar, and reduce for about 2 minutes. Add pomegranate juice, and reduce by half.

Vanilla Chai Crème Fraiche:

  • Makes six tablespoons
  • 1/3 cup crème fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/16 teaspoon ground cloves

Whisk all ingredients together, and set aside.

is an assistant editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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