(Nov. 23, 2018) There is no question the pressure of the holiday season can be trying. The combination of cooking, entertaining and family can push one to the edge.  

But when company arrives with little notice, one has to come up with a totally new plan. A few reliable recipes and entertaining tips can make the last-minute visit a memorable occasion.

There is nothing more beautiful than a home adorned with fresh flowers; just a simple bouquet can make a huge difference. 

The current trend for flower arrangements is to mix flowers with fresh vegetables, fruits or herbs. The combinations are endless and should be assembled according to the season and occasion. 

For example, a clear vase that showcases a mound of fresh peas for support and celery stalks that are encased with fall colors is gorgeous. Your guests will be impressed.

Adult beverages are another consideration. Beer, wine and hard liquor are the norm, but thinking out of the box produces superlative results. Champagne punches are delicious and adds a sense of elegance.

An ice sculpture as opposed to small ice cubes keeps the champagne fizzy and helps prevent it from getting water logged. Amazon has a large selection of ice sculptures. 

The following champagne punch recipe is a favorite in our home during the holidays.

The recipe follows: ½ cup each light and dark rum, ½ cup fresh lemon juice, 1 cup fresh orange juice, 1 cup pineapple juice, ½ cup sugar, 1 bottle of champagne or sparkling wine (750 ml), and orange and lemon slices for a garnish. 

Chill all liquid ingredients. Remove seeds from lemon and orange slices. 

Carefully lower ice mold into the punch bowl. Add all ingredients except for the garnish. Mix well. Add slices of lemon and oranges and serve immediately.

Cheese balls accompanied with crackers are always a crowd pleaser. But homemade cheeseballs are far superior than store bought ones. 

A cheeseball encased with crispy bacon and toasted pecans is the piece de resistance. The following recipe is delicious and can be frozen for spur-of-the-moment occasions. 

Cheese balls with bacon, pecan crust includes: 1 ¼ pounds of bacon that has been cooked, drained and crumbled, set aside. 

In the same pan, sauté 1 cup halved pecans in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter until crunchy. Set aside. When cooled, finely chop. 

Also, in the same pan, sauté 1/3 cup minced scallions and ¼ cup minced parsley in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Set aside.

Place 12 ounces whipped cream cheese and ¼ cup whole milk in a medium bowl. Whip until blended.

In a large bowl, combine ½ cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese, 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheese, cream cheese mixture, scallion mixture, ¼ cup finely chopped roasted red peppers, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, ½ of the bacon, ½ of the chopped pecans and kosher salt to taste. Mix thoroughly until fully incorporated.

Place the remaining bacon, nuts, 3 teaspoons black sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds and 1 ½ tablespoons very coarse ground black pepper on a sheet pan. Make sure ingredients are mixed well.

Divide cheese balls into 3 equal balls. Carefully roll each ball in the bacon mixture until completely coated; using your hands, press the bacon mixture onto the exterior of the cheese ball for added texture. 

The cheese ball will be soft but will harden when refrigerated. Wrap each ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 ½ hours. Serve with favorite crackers.

If your guests are going to be staying overnight, consider offering a good quality frozen pizza with personalized toppings. Roasted garlic, sliced heirloom tomatoes, fresh pineapple, or bacon are just a few options. 

Breakfast casseroles are simple to make and quite mouthwatering. A Mexican breakfast casserole that includes picante sauce, poblano peppers, chorizo sausage, fresh cilantro, sour cream and lots of cheese will be a hit with kids and adults.

The holidays are a special time. Planning ahead is a must, but when last minute company shows up, a few simple innovative ideas can alleviate the stress and take your get-together to the next level.

Secret Ingredient – Thinking Ahead. “Plan ahead: It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” 

– Richard Cushing

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