A Festive (But Easy!) Menu for Impromptu Holiday Guests

It’s even got a punch.

5 min read

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Welcome to Make/Buy/Zhuzh, a series where we plan a dinner party with three components: one thing you make from scratch, one thing you buy straight off the shelf, and one thing you accessorize to completion.

Like the endurance of eggnog, impromptu hangs with family, friends, and neighbors are just part of the holidays. This season brings people to your door more than any other. Recently, I’ve embraced these moments of spontaneity and have learned to spring into action whenever folks show up unannounced — and hungry. 

With the make-buy-zhuzh approach, it’s easy to pull together a last-minute spread that’s a little more impressive than cheese and crackers. To ensure everyone feels welcome and well-fed, my go-to plan includes a fruity, fizzy holiday punch paired with two crowd-pleasing appetizers.

Make: Holiday Punch


When guests step through the door this time of year, I like to offer them a cup of cheer. And this one only takes a couple of minutes to mix up. The recipe — born from my love of ginger beer and the dynamic holiday duo of cranberry and orange — hits both tart and sweet notes, with an added warming ginger zing.

  • 2 cups of cranberry juice

  • 1 cup of ginger beer

  • 1 cup of pulp-free orange juice

  • 1 cup of vodka

  • 1 cup of frozen cranberries

Combine cranberry juice (use 100 percent juice here, not cranberry cocktail, which is overly sweet), ginger beer, orange juice, vodka, and frozen cranberries in a large punch bowl and stir.

Ladle into glasses and serve immediately — no ice needed since you’ve got the frozen berries. This recipe serves four and can easily be scaled up if needed. Got guests that don’t drink? Omit the vodka. 

Buy: Toasted Ravioli


Toasted ravioli, which I consider the sophisticated cousin of mozzarella sticks, are always a big hit. For the uninitiated, they are breaded and deep-fried ravioli, a St. Louis invention that’s made its way into freezer aisles all over the country. I’m a fan of Louisa’s four-cheese toasted ravioli, but you can also find it stuffed with all kinds of savory fillings like seasoned beef or mac ’n’ cheese. To prepare toasted ravioli, simply pop them in the oven or air fryer and cook according to the package instructions, usually about 8 to 10 minutes in the oven and 5 to 7 minutes in the air fryer. Serve them with your favorite marinara sauce — Rao’s is mine. If your guests can handle a little heat, Rao’s arrabbiata sauce, which is basically marinara with red pepper flakes added, is the way to go. 

Zhuzh: Cocktail Meatballs


All you need is a bag of frozen meatballs, chili sauce, and grape jelly to make this old-school holiday party appetizer. I learned this recipe from my grandma, who hosted a big party every holiday season for her big German family, spending weeks preparing dozens of appetizers, casseroles, and cookies from scratch. Out of all the things she made, these low-lift meatballs were always the first thing to disappear from the apps table.

Grab a 32-ounce bag of any frozen meatballs you’ve got in the freezer — beef, pork, Italian-style, turkey, and vegan meatballs are all acceptable options — and add them to a large saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add in a 12-ounce bottle of Heinz chili sauce and a 12-ounce jar of grape jelly — I like Bonne Maman best  — and toss to coat. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally to keep the sauce from burning, for about 20 minutes or until meatballs are heated through. Serve with frilled toothpicks for the full throwback effect.

Feeling festive? Want to throw a holiday shindig? Learn how to host a cheese ball or tree decorating party!


  • Photographer: Paul Quitoriano

  • Food Styling: Lena Abraham

  • Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros Gomez