Ask A Connecticut Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

December 4, 2013 7:00 AM

(photo credit: Thinkstock)

Holiday feasts and parties can be predictable to the point of becoming routine – especially for those who go to multiple parties or dine one day at one side of the family’s house and perhaps the next at another’s. Chef, caterer, party planner and former actress Cindy Hartog believes that all parties should be fun and memorable – and that goes double for the holidays, whether it is just a family dinner or a big get-together.

Cindy Hartog, Chef/Owner
Cindy’s Sous Chefs LLC
(203) 221-1177

Cindy Hartog knows how to throw a party. A chef, caterer and mother – two of her daughters are now her sous chefs – this ex-teacher and former actress understands how to entertain a house filled with guests. Although birthday parties are her particular specialty – and kids’ birthday parties even more so – to this accomplished multi-tasker, a party is still a party – and Christmas, after all, really is a birthday party of sorts, is it not?

In addition to her diploma in culinary arts from The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Cindy also has a Masters in Educational Theater and is unique among her peers in that she can draw on both disciplines. With the help of daughters Danielle (a student at the Culinary Institute of America just across the state line at Hyde Park, New York) and Deanna, Cindy puts on parties that are as magical as they are memorable. Here are three tips on putting together a holiday party from this master of culinary entertainment, and one of her favorite – and simplest – recipes to add to the fun.


A great dinner like a great party starts with a theme, with decorations and food to match. For the holidays, how about a Victorian Christmas with scones, tea, hot chocolate and chocolate-dipped fruits? A roasted turkey or goose at one carving station and a roast beef at another would make even Ebenezer Scrooge drool with anticipation. Whether as a sit-down meal for a family or as a buffet for a house full of guests, a Victorian Christmas will be one to remember – and one to be remembered every time one of the guests hears or sees “A Christmas Carol.”

If a Victorian Christmas party is too formal, how about an Italian holiday party? Christmas and Hanukkah are both celebrated in Italy, and what holiday doesn’t go with squares of lasagna, slices of fresh warm Italian bread or a bowl of pasta? These are easy dishes for partygoers to carry around and eat while standing up or sitting on the sofa, as well as to fill up a plate for a sit-down feast.

Not all holidays have to have a European theme. Mexico and Japan, for example, offer many options for main courses to fill a holiday table – whether for a sit-down dinner or to tempt mobile party-goers (sushi and dumplings, or tacquitos anybody?). There is also the old joke about how it seems that Chinese restaurants are usually the only ones open on holidays – so why not turn that around and do Chinese at home?

Related: Top Pumpkin Dishes In Connecticut


Not all parties need to have a main dinner-type course. How about an all-dessert party? Or better yet, a holiday cookie party? Cookie cutters come in all shapes for all occasions, so whether it is Santas or Stars of David the host wants to feature (or both), there are plenty of options for holiday cookies. Variety is the key here, and especially for parties where kids are present, a decorate-it-yourself station with little tubes of frostings, jars of sprinkles and other colored sugar toppings can be quite charming.

Sometimes it seems that every holiday party has the same desserts. This year, mix things up a little with a light, refreshing treat that complements as well as offers an option not found on traditional trays of sweets. Cindy recommends a home-made gelato. It is inexpensive, quick and easy to make, and best of all, can be made well ahead of time, thus freeing up the stovetop and the chef as party time approaches. The gelato can be served in holiday cups or ice cream dishes, and can be dressed up with fruit, sprinkles and other toppings – which can be displayed in a toppings bar alongside the gelato so that partygoers can top their treat to taste.

Related: Top Apple Pie In Connecticut

Vanilla Gelato Recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Vanilla to taste

Heat the first three ingredients until the sugar is absorbed. Cool the mixture. Add vanilla, and freeze in an ice cream machine.

Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at

Listen Live