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Last night was the kind of night I live for because it was filled with great friends, great food and great fun. I had some girlfriends over for my second annual Christmas gathering and I was so happy to have some new friends (plus a dog!) join this year. I forced everyone to take a group picture; we’re special.

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I knew my friends would be bringing things to share, so I didn’t fuss over making a lot like I usually do. Instead, I decided on a couple of sweet and savory dishes and one signature drink instead of a bunch of bottles of wine. For a savory dish, I made pea pesto crostini, a Giada de Laurentiis recipe. It was incredibly easy to make and had a fantastic taste and presentation – the vibrant green spread topped with bright red tomatoes was perfect for Christmas. I usually make more than anyone can eat, but there was not a single crostini left standing. That recipe is definitely going on repeat. On the subject of repeating recipes, I also made The Pioneer Woman’s easy peppermint fudge, which I first made as a gift for other friends last week. I won’t tell you how simple that one is to make (there are just three ingredients!) – instead, I’ll direct you to the recipe so you can see for yourself.

Here's the full spread before my guests and their goodies arrived. I'm forever obsessed with striped straws.

Here’s the spread before my guests and their goodies arrived. I’m forever obsessed with striped straws.

And here's a close-up of the fudge. Beautiful, just beautiful, and nearly impossibly to stop sampling as you make it .

And here’s a close-up of the fudge. Beautiful, just beautiful, and nearly impossibly to avoid sampling as you make it.

I made a red sangria last year, so I decided to do a white sangria with festive cranberry and rosemary this year. This is another simple recipe as all it requires you to do is chop some apples (I used all green apples because I love how they look against the red cranberries), pour everything in a pitcher, and let it sit and meld for an hour or longer before serving.

So pretty and full of booze!

So pretty and boozy!

My friends really came through with the dishes they brought. I wish I had taken photos, but we were too busy eating, drinking and laughing. There was chocolate chip cheesecake dip (I wish I didn’t know there was a stick of butter in it), different cheeses and rosemary crackers from Trader Joe’s, a gooey baked brie and sundried tomato crostata, the most incredible cannoli filled with candied orange from a bakery Little Italy, and Fireball Jello shots (courtesy of the mom of the group)! Better than everything there was to eat, though, was seeing how much fun everyone had together. A few of the girls met for the first time, yet everyone got along perfectly. I love it when that happens. With friends like these, I have everything I could want for Christmas.

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Cranberry and Rosemary “White Christmas” Sangria

Recipe adapted from www.cookingstoned.com

  • 4 Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary
  • 2 bottles Pinot Grigio
  • 1 cup white grape juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cans club soda

In a pitcher, combine all of the ingredients and stir well so the sugar begins to dissolve. Put the pitcher in the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour – during this time, the sugar will dissolve completely and the rosemary will infuse the mixture, as well as cut the sweetness. If you’d like, add sprigs of rosemary that have been moistened and rolled in sugar (it should resemble snow in pine trees) to each glass as garnish.

Serves 8.

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