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Top tips on holiday décor, dining and drinks from the experts

One of the creations Cory Christopher showed off at this year's Christmas in November event held at Jasper Park Lodge.
One of the creations Cory Christopher showed off at this year's Christmas in November event held at Jasper Park Lodge. Trish Kozicka, Global News

Wondering what to serve your guests this Christmas? Or how to spruce up your home for the holidays?

Look no further. We talked to a couple celebrity chefs, a top decorator and a veteran bartender, who shared their expert advice with us at this year’s Christmas in November.

The three-day event, held for the past 27 years at Alberta’s Jasper Park Lodge, has become a staple for Christmas lovers and foodies. Guests get treated to decadent meals in between sessions that offer the chance to cook with your favourite Food Network stars, sip on spirits, or learn the art of holiday crafts.

And this year, we’re bringing the pros’ top tips to you. Hopefully they can help make this holiday season one of your best.

Christmas décor

Even if you’ve already adorned your home with your usual ornaments, it’s not too late to kick things up a notch — especially if you plan to host a holiday dinner.

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Edmonton-based professional decorator Cory Christopher has some advice for how to get the most bang for your buck.

  1. Go through what you have already

“In so many people’s houses,” he says, “things are gathering dust and they’re perfectly good to be brought out for the holiday season, and you can spend your money on something else.”

He always look for trays, platters, and different types of vases.

Even if they don’t seem “Christmasy,” try to think outside the box. It’s amazing what some faux snow (cotton batting) and a touch of green can do alongside some figurines.

Christmas in November
Some table decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
Christmas in November
Some table decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
Christmas in November
Some holiday home decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News

It’s also super easy to transform your vases into festive table accents.

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“Spray paint is your best friend over the holiday season.”

Christmas in November
Some table decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
  1. Have a “wow” piece

Find the focal points of your house — perhaps it’s a kitchen table, a dining room or the fireplace — and focus your decorating efforts on those.

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“Helps with the budget,” Christopher says, “and it’s better than having a whole bunch of stuff everywhere.”

If you have a few possible focal points, find one colour you can pull through each room to pull it all together.

Christmas in November
Some holiday mantle inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
Christmas in November
Some holiday mantle inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News

And don’t forget the outside. If you have a large entrance, Christopher likes the idea of a large planter that can make a statement.

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Stuff the bottom two-thirds of your planter with packing peanuts and fill the rest with logs, faux berries and branches. Finish off with a pop of green.
Stuff the bottom two-thirds of your planter with packing peanuts and fill the rest with logs, faux berries and branches. Finish off with a pop of green. Trish Kozicka, Global News

“If someone’s jaw drops before they walk up to your house, you’ve got it made.”

  1. Be creative
“We sort of get stuck in the idea that we got to do something because we’ve done it so many times,” Christopher says.  “I [like] really shaking things up, being playful.”

A cookie cutter can easily be a great napkin ring, he suggests.

Three candy canes, meanwhile, can be glued together to make a placeholder.

Christmas in November
Some table decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
Christmas in November
Candy cane placeholder. Trish Kozicka, Global News
Christmas in November
Some table decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
Christmas in November
Some table decor inspiration courtesy of Cory Christopher. Trish Kozicka, Global News
  1. Create an experience

As wonderful as decorating is, try to think of it as a way to connect with your guests, Christopher says. It’s something he feels is often missing in today’s day and age.

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For instance, you can build a winter terrarium for a unique DIY present. Or place a little “wishing dust” on people’s plates; then after dinner, have everyone go outside and make a wish with it.

Christmas in November
Cory Christopher’s “Christmas wishing dust.”. Trish Kozicka, Global News

“Things like the wishing dust brings everybody together…I think that takes us back to the true meaning of it.

“I feel those are the most cherished memories and things that happen during the holiday season.”

Holiday drinks

A holiday party wouldn’t be complete without some spirits to help get you in the spirit.

Bartender Micah Drew recommends stocking your bar with just a few staple items that could be used for different cocktails.

“A great Christmas cocktail should be something that’s easy to make so it doesn’t take you too long,” he says.

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“Something like a warm drink, you can put it in a slow cooker, you can put it in a pot and let it simmer ahead of time, fill your room with the (smell) and then it’s really easy to pour out.”

Here’s a recipe he provided for a great toasty cocktail that will warm you up, along with 14 of your guests.

  • 6 x355 mL bottles of Angry Orchard Hard Crisp Cider
  • 375 mL Canadian Club Chairman Select 100% Rye Whisky
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tbsp. nutmeg
  • 3 oz. maple syrup

Heat all the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

For those who want a virgin drink, Drew suggests mixing up apple juice, ginger ale and cinnamon.

Food

Christine Cushing of the Food Network shares her culinary philosophy for the holidays:

“Don’t do any crazy or insane things that you haven’t tested.”

But do something that will wow your guests and leave them talking, she says, either using a unique ingredient or technique.

She likes to use quince, which she compares to an apple that you have to eat cooked. It goes great with pork and can usually be found in specialty produce stores. If you can’t find it, you can replace it with pears.

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Here’s her recipe for a Serrano Wrapped Quince Appetizer:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil (30 mL)
  • 2 quinces – peeled, cored and cut into even wedges
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 cups late harvest Riesling or similar (500 mL)
  • 8 slices Serrano ham, very thinly sliced, or Prosciutto

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the quince wedges and toss until golden (about 5 minutes). Add the honey, rosemary and a third of the wine. Bring to boil. Cover and put it in the oven.

Bake the quince wedges, adding a third of the wine at half hour intervals. Remove the lid and continue baking the quinces ½ hour longer (quinces should bake for 1.5 hours total). Cool the quince wedges, wrap each in a half slice of serrano, and skewer with toothpicks.

Serves 8.

Fellow Food Network star Roger Mooking‘s holiday entertaining tip?

“Have a potluck,” he says with a laugh.

“It makes everyone’s life so much easier.”

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