It's Christmas Eve on Santa Fe's well-known Canyon Road. Thousands of farolitos, twinkling like fallen stars, light the way for strollers who've come to enjoy this traditional procession. And as the neighborhood glows, parties flourish.
Michael McLaughlin and Christopher Hill, who have homes that share an adobe-walled courtyard, cohost a double open house. Farolitos, 500 in all, line their compound's walls. And a bonfire in the center keeps guests warm as they sing carols, then wander from one house to the other to enjoy New Mexican specialties from two buffets.
McLaughlin, a food writer and avid cook, prepares seven dishes ahead and then allocates each of them to one of the buffets, rounding out each menu with purchased items and edible gifts he and Hill receive.
This flexible menu grows or shrinks to fit large or small groups. You can make all these dishes and serve a grand buffet for 24, or cut the party in half ― for 12 guests, select one appetizer, one soup, and one cookie, and offer either tamales or turkey for sandwiches.
Follow McLaughlin's design and serve a big party from two buffets, or to encourage guests to move and mingle, set up each self-serve course at a different location ― coffee table, one end of a buffet, dining room table, even the patio if the weather is mild.
The party planner countdown
UP TO A MONTH AHEAD
- Make the chutney.
UP TO 3 DAYS AHEAD
- Make the posole, bean soup, gingersnaps, and bizcochitos.
UP TO 2 DAYS AHEAD
- Make the sesame-nut crunch.
- Purchase a selection of tortilla chips, salsas, and dips, including refried beans, guacamole, and Latino creams such as crema Mexicana agria (salted sour cream) and crema Centroamericana (thick and tangy) ― they're sold in Latino food markets.
- Buy a cooked smoked turkey or two boned smoked turkey breasts.
- Buy tamales from a Mexican restaurant or food market.
- Buy hot sauces, mustards, mayonnaise, ingredients for the Chimayó punch and Mexican hot chocolate, and supplies for the beverage bar, such as beer, wine, soft drinks, and ice.
UP TO 1 DAY AHEAD
- Make the muffins.
- Buy sandwich breads and rolls.
PARTY DAY, IN THE MORNING
- Set out serving pieces and arrange buffets or small tables.
- Put hot sauces where bean soup will be served.
ABOUT 2 HOURS AHEAD
- Arrange sesame-nut crunch; chips, salsas, and dips; and the beverage bar.
ABOUT 1 HOUR AHEAD
- Slowly warm posole and bean soup, then keep warm in tureens for guests to ladle into mugs.
- Steam tamales (or heat in batches in a microwave oven); keep warm in steamer until ready to serve.
- Carve turkey, or present whole and let guests slice portions to make into sandwiches. Accompany with the chutney, mustards, mayonnaise, and breads.
- Assemble Chimayó punch ingredients: Heat apple cider and keep warm. Guests ladle cider into mugs or glasses and enhance with tequila and a light touch of crème de cassis.
- Make Mexican hot chocolate: chop chocolate flavored with cinnamon, almonds, and sugar (sold in many supermarkets and most Latino food markets), and heat with milk. Keep warm.
- Reheat muffins and keep warm.
- Set out cookies, and as guests arrive, add any sweet house gifts ― fruitcake, chocolates, or cookies.