Pack Your Bag for Holiday Party Season!

Food industry pros Shannon Mustipher, Dan Pelosi, and Matt Ross stay ready for all the last-minute holiday gatherings with the simplest game plan.

December 18, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

For the last couple of years, the holidays have looked a little different. If you’ve decided to travel to be with your loved ones this season, you’re simultaneously trying to keep track of whom you’ve bought presents for, which ones you’ve wrapped, and where, oh where, did you stash them?

Inevitably, you’ll also be invited to a few “last-minute, low-key gatherings”—sometimes, more than one in a day!—where the host insists that you don’t have to bring anything, but you can't possibly show up empty-handed. You'll need something un-fussy that can be prepped in big batches, toted around from day to night without spilling or souring, and plenty crowd-pleasing so there's none left over to bring back home. We've been there!

To give you one less thing to worry about, we teamed up with a few of our friends in the food and drinks spaces to whip up some recipes that fit the bill exactly. The best part is, you can stash them all in a sturdy bag and take 'em all on the go, no sweat. So grab the goods and let’s pack:

Dips On-the-Go

Dan Pelosi (aka Grossy Pelosi) developed a dip recipe that isn’t delicate and travels well: his festive Golden Beet Dip. “I carry the base dip in its own large container, then the toppings (olive oil, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds) each in their own vessel,” says Pelosi. Ever the host, he also brings his own serving dish as well. “Once I get to the party, I just give the dip a stir and plate the whole thing up!”

Although garnishing the dip at the party may seem like extra work, it keeps everything in place. “Adding them at the last minute ensures they are in all the right spots to make the dish shine. Doing it any other way would be like putting ornaments on your Christmas tree before it's in its stand.” Can’t argue with that!

Big-Batch Beverages

Rather than just bringing a few bottles of wine and a case of beer to a party, prep a big-batch cocktail that you can pack up and bring on-the-go. Your friends will never expect it and will be wildly impressed. Shannon Mustipher, a bartender, spirits education expert, and author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails created two big-batch cocktail recipes that travel well: one for daytime holiday parties, and one for later on, when the lights go down.

In order to carry both beverages safely to your soirée, Mustipher recommends transferring the cocktail mixtures to a couple smaller bottles, under 500 milliliters. “There are two advantages here—one, it is easier to chill the bottle rapidly, and second, the size is easily editable. In the unfortunate event that the recipient is not overly fond of the drink, they are not saddled with an inordinate amount of an unwanted drink,” she says.

Worried about the bottle tipping over and shattering? Me too. To prevent breakage on the train or in the car, Shannon recommends packing the bottles in a neoprene sleeve, which is a nearly foolproof way to travel with a glass bottle.

Grocery Staples

You’ve made a big-batch cocktail and whipped up a dip, but you need something to round out the bag. That’s where these small-batch staples come in, courtesy of the grocery store. “I think a crowd-friendly snack needs to be something that people recognize immediately, but then slowly become surprised by as they eat it,” says Matt Ross of Court Street Grocers and The HiHi Room in Brooklyn, New York. Matt recommends that you spread local love with Houston-made Hobi's Bites Crackers, which are the perfect accompaniment for Dan’s golden beet dip (or literally anything).

You can also fire up the party with a couple of additional condiments that'll play nice with a cheese and charcuterie board. Jam is always a safe bet, but you don’t want something that looks or tastes boring. After all, this is your big contribution! Bring a jar of Trade Street Jam Co.'s Strawberry, Chipotle, & Fig Jam to the party for something sweet, spicy, and complex. For something a little less sweet, but no less special, Shaquanda Will Feed You's Mx. Green Sass hot sauce or Fly By Jing's Sichuan Chili Crisp are great options. Any way you go, the host might want to put these out right away…or they may rather hold onto 'em for themselves to enjoy at a later time once their guests have left.

What is your favorite food or drink to bring to a holiday party? Share your most spirited ideas in the comments below!
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Former Food52 Staff Editor