December 22, 2010

Opening the Doors Wide: Our Annual Open House Extravanganza

Fifteen years and counting.  With the exception of 2008, when we had just finished the kitchen reno and were still covered in plaster dust and debris, every year at this time we host our annual Open House. It started in our tiny apartment with a kitchen barely the size of a closet, and an idea that it would be nice to have a few friends over to celebrate the season.    
 Apartment sized fridge to the right, where the kitchen ended; to the left a window and no more counter space.  Truly a closet sized kitchen!

Since then, it’s mushroomed into a gathering of close to a 100 people, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to cook up a storm.  Yes, we cook all of the food, served buffet style – all savoury apps, no dessert, please and thank you – ranging from house-cured gravalax to mini tourtieres; the three-cheese fondue that caused an uproar the year it didn’t appear on the table, and the always new entrees, some successful, some not.

Mini toutieres, with the best pastry dough

Carmelized tomato tatins

Cutting the rosemary-garlic infused grilled leg of lamb
It’s the time of year we dip into my cache of cookbooks, the back issues of Donna Hay, Bon Appetit, Gourmet and the countless other food magazines that I’ve accumulated over the years.    Do-ahead is a big factor; “able to freeze” moves a recipe high up on the consideration list.

We think we have it down to a science, and yet every year there’s that moment when panic sets in – at least for me.  Will we have enough food? Will there be a snowstorm that day?   Did we order enough plates and glasses?  And – of course – what should I wear?

Reconnections are made with friends old and dear.  We see the kids growing older, and then stop coming altogether; we witness the friendships that have been formed at our house and get renewed at this once a year gathering.  And more than once throughout the day we’re told that this is the party of the season, the one they wouldn’t miss for the world.

Tools of the trade

And while there’s no doubt that every morsel is savoured – guests know to come hungry – the one thing that is the “icing” is the party favour everyone leaves with: homemade personalised gingerbread cookies.  It’s the one bit of baking I do, and I have to say I love the smell of those cookies baking and spending the better part of a Sunday slowly rolling out dough and decorating each cookie.

Letting your cookie dough rest for an hour in the fridge makes for easier rolling

Several of the dozens of cookies made 

Having an assortment of ribbons and dragees on hand makes for easy decorating

Rolled wax paper subs in for a proper icing bag - Santa, are you listening?

Nothing more magical than seeing your own name...

 Bagged and ready for giving

Everyone has a favourite holiday cookie recipe, and not all are fans of gingerbread.  So, instead of sharing that recipe (which is a bit of a closely guarded secret) instead I’ll share my foolproof recipe for Royal Icing, which can be use to decorate not just your Christmas baking but really any cookie or sweet treat you wish.

As you bake and decorate, be sure to add a sprinkle of love on top - I guarantee you it's the one ingredient your family and friends won't be able to identify but won't be able to do without.

Royal Icing
makes 2 cups
The icing hardens as it dries, so it’s perfect for decorating cookies or baked goods that will be stored. 

2 lg egg whites, at room temperature
1 lb icing sugar, sifted, and more as needed
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp water, or more as needed

1.      Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat at high speed with a hand-held mixer until the icing is fluffy, thick and shiny, about 3 minutes.

 2.      Test the consistency of the icing by holding up the beaters.  If the icing drips off the beaters in a slow steady stream, it's the right consistency for piping.  If too thick, beat in a little water; for a stiffer icing that holds its shape, add more confectioners’ sugar.  The icing can be coloured with food colouring, which can be beaten in at this point.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

The icing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


  1. I hope our annual Gluhwein party will reach the 15-year mark someday!! So far we're at 2! The food looks great-- my party has mostly desserts with a few savory dishes thrown in, but same concept: have a lovely holiday get-together with friends!!

  2. How fun looking at pictures of the cookies and recognizing all the names!

    You and Richard are the hosts with the mosts.


  3. What an inspiration! I want to entertain more. I'm not sure we even know 100 people, though...LOL. But what a wonderful idea. Savory apps and no desserts sounds like my kind of party.

    I can only relate to making that many cookies now. Yours are beautiful!

  4. RHome, with your crowd you're not far off... :-)