Almost everybody does some entertaining at the holidays. With all those events on the social calendar, how do you make your party stand out from the pack?

We asked local chef Rebecca Reichardt, owner of Tazzina Bistro in Woodland, and floral designer Shannon Cosgrove-Rivas, owner of Flourish, to design a party thats both elegant and easy. They came up with a foolproof plan for a buffet supper with a French twist. Now you dont have any excuse not to throw a party this holiday seasonso get out your address book and start inviting!

Wild-Mushroom Cream Puffs
Mixed Greens with Roasted Pears and Champagne Vinaigrette*
Poached-Pear Galette*
*Recipe provided


Greet your guests with a glass of Champagne — the real stuff, from France. Champagne goes with everything, and its so festive, says Reichardt. With the meal, she suggests serving a Pinot Noirshe particularly likes the wines from Lemelson Vineyards and Iron Horse Vineyards. Pinot Noir is not too bold or overpowering, she explains. Its got a delicate flavor that works well with the cassoulet. For underage guests and those who dont drink, offer nonalcoholic apple cider.

The Menu

Keep it simple, says Reichardt, who devised a menu with just a handful of elements.

She starts off with wild-mushroom cream puffssmall choux-pastry rounds that are split and filled with sauteed mushrooms and goat cheese. Its a festive and fancy hors doeuvre, she explains. People will feel like you went to a little trouble.

For the main course, she serves cassoulet, a classic French bean stew. Cassoulet is the epitome of comfort food, Reichardt says. Its rich and filling. She pairs the stew with a simple salad of mixed greens tossed with roasted pears, pomegranate seeds and champagne vinaigrette, and assorted rustic breads. And for a comforting finale, she ends the meal with a homey poached-pear galette, or tart. With cassoulet, you dont want to serve anything heavy like chocolate, she advises. Stick to fruit.

Stations, PleaseTo keep your guests circulating and to avoid bottlenecks, set up food and drink stations in different parts of the house: the bar in one spot, the buffet table in another, the dessert table in a third. For instance, set the bar on a desk in the living room, coffee and dessert on a sofa table or ottoman.

French Lesson

Cassoulet (ka-soo-LAY) is a traditional dish from the Languedoc region of southern France. Its basically French baked beans, says Reichardt. Every town has its own recipe. Cassoulets mystique comes from the fact that there are so many variations.

Cassoulet consists of white beans, sausage, pork and preserved duck or goose, called confit (kohn-FEE), which is made by slowly cooking the fowl in its own fat. The meat, covered in its cooking fat, will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months.


Cosgrove-Rivas says your decor is just as important as the food. Its how you show your guests that you care about them, she explains. It makes them feel special.

Cosgrove-Rivas serpentines a fresh cedar garland entwined with red satin ribbon and something unexpecteda black feather boadown the center of the buffet table and pops red roses and Christmas tree ornaments into the greenery. The floral arrangement is a big bowl of red roses accented with cedar boughs and magnolia leaves. She scatters rose petals on the table and adds votive candles for sparkle.

Once youre done setting the buffet table, dont stop, says Cosgrove-Rivas: Use fresh greenery to decorate your chandelier, windows, doorways and mirrors. Take it another step and do the whole room, she says. Itll give your party that wow factor.

More Tips

No time to cook? Assemble an appetizer, say a cheese board, and buy a dessert from your favorite bakery. If you’re really pressed for time, outsource the cassoulet from a caterer or gourmet takeout.

For an easy decoration, pile winter fruits such as tangerines, pomegranates or persimmons in bowls.

For a little extra glitz, tie satin bows on lamps, sconces and candlesticks.

On the buffet table, use a velvet or faux-fur throw instead of a tablecloth.

Add sparkle to the bar or buffet table with beaded placemats.

For visual impact, group small objectsornaments, picture frames, a collection of antique toyson side tables.

*For the rest of this article, pick up a copy of Sacramento Magazine’s December issue.