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THE HOLIDAYS

Party Perfect

Ed Macri's friends call him the consummate host. Drop in on his streamlined holiday cocktail bash, and you'll know why.

Priya Tahiliani and fiance Craig Haas (right) toast another couple at Ed Macri's party.
Priya Tahiliani and fiance Craig Haas (right) toast another couple at Ed Macri's party. (Photo / Heath Robbins)
Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERY: The Perfect Holiday Party

AS THE HOLIDAY SEASON NEARS, AND YOU consider hosting a merry gathering of friends and family, pause and repeat this mantra: Keep it simple. Just ask Ed Macri. The 34-year-old-Boston software marketing professional has a reputation for putting together great parties. His secret, he says, is based on these four essentials: uncluttered decor, romantic lighting, simple food, great music.

The first thing Macri's guests see upon entering his South End apartment for a holiday cocktail party is a cache of presents, all wrapped in corrugated cardboard with a kiwi-colored ribbon. Each guest will find one marked with his or her name. The presents not only provide a warm welcome, their packaging echoes the simple yet chic decorations in the apartment. A wreath created by the floral-design shop Ilex hangs on the brick wall above the fireplace. The wreath, vertical rather than circular, is made from cedar, magnolia, pine cones, berries, and seedpods, chosen by Ilex's Andrew Anderson for their natural, minimalist effect. Anderson's table centerpiece conveys the same restrained message: It is a frosted-glass cylinder filled with a mix of white flowers punctuated by a touch of green from rosemary and olive branches, with texture supplied by seeded eucalyptus, lamb's ear, and dusty miller.

Shimmery silk-taffeta cloths cover the table and the nearby bar, where martini glasses are arrayed alongside clear glass plates. "This is the anti-tchotchke approach," guest Elliott McEldowney, 37, says of Macri's style.

The apartment itself sends an edited design message: wood floors, white walls, and carefully selected furnishings - a black-leather sofa and ottomans, a few side tables, and glass shelves that hold books. Photographs, taken by Macri, feature friends and places he loves.

For lighting, Macri turns to candles, lots of candles, to create a soothing ambience. "It's one of the things I like most about Ed's parties," says Craig Haas, 28, a special-education teacher. The bar is lit by tapers in silver-plate candlesticks of varying heights, while the stairs to the roof deck of Macri's top-floor unit are illuminated by sturdy, reusable wax luminarias fitted with votive candles.

Food choices meet two standards: easy to prepare and easy to eat standing up. The menu includes seared scallops, mini sweet potato pancakes, tiny quiches, and rosemary pecans and almonds. The signature drink for the evening is a kir made with prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, and cassis, served in champagne flutes.

But what's a party without music? "The challenge is to have new music for each party," says Macri, "so I create a playlist just for that party." The music is carried through speakers, wired throughout the apartment, that play off his iPod. The choices he makes are purely for listening, not dancing.

What makes Macri's parties so successful, say his guests, is that they seem so effortless. "Ed makes everyone feel comfortable," says Kathryn Starzyk, 33, who has known Macri since they both attended Dartmouth College. "There's always an everyone-is-welcome attitude."

PARTY PLAYS

Music is an essential ingredient at Ed Macri's parties. The iTunes directory on his computer is proof positive of the care he takes with his music: Summer BBQ, Summer Dinner Party, Late Summer Deck Party, and Twilight House Party are just a few of the custom playlists he has created. Selections from Cocktail Party include "Newborn Friend," "Get it Together," and "Crazy," by Seal; "Fluffer Nutter," "Bobble Daze," "Sandbox," and "Electric Jelly," by Steve Porter; and "Dynamite," "Starchild," and "Time Won't Wait," by Jamiroquai.

MINIMAL FLORA

Andrew Anderson of Ilex (ilexflowers.com, 617-422-0300) takes a nontraditional view of flower arrangements for holiday gatherings. "Think about combinations of texture and color," he says, "and with a minimal number of materials." For a centerpiece, he chose textures first: relatively harsh seedpods and olive branches, softened by lamb's ear. Then he chose a color - white - for the amaryllis, parrot tulips, and roses. He set another arrangement, a dramatic loop of beargrass surrounded with white roses and amaryllis, in a frosted-glass bowl on a leather ottoman. Now we know: Minimalist can be luscious.

RESOURCES: Custom silk-taffeta tablecloths rented from Table Toppers of Newton (ttnewton.com). Silver-plate candlesticks by Vera Wang, five for $200, at Bloomingdale's. Custom wax luminarias, $32 each at Ilex, Boston.

SEARED SCALLOPS WITH RED PEPPER RELISH
SERVES 12

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1/2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and black pepper, to taste
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds sea scallops

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the bell pepper and onion. Pulse the mixture until finely chopped. Add the vinegar, sugar, cilantro, mint, red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Pulse again until finely chopped.

Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the scallions and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and red pepper if you like. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

In a large heavy-based skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until very hot but not smoking. Sear about half of the scallops for about 1 minute on a side or until they are golden brown and cooked through but still moist. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and sear the remaining scallops in the same way.

Serve the scallops with the red pepper relish.

PROSECCO KIR
SERVES 12

Cassis is a black-currant liqueur; to make kir, it is usually combined with French champagne. Here, Italian prosecco, a light bubbly, is used. You can also pour the Spanish sparkler cava.

6 ounces creme de cassis
2 bottles (750 milliliters eac+h) prosecco, cava, or other light sparkling wine
1 lime, cut into 12 wedges (for garnish)

Have on hand 12 champagne glasses. Put 1 tablespoon of cassis in the bottom of each glass.

Fill the glasses with sparkling wine and garnish with lime. Serve at once.

TINY QUICHES ON TOASTED BRIOCHE
MAKES 24

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 brioche or challah loaf (1 pound)
4 slices bacon
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Gruyere or other Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate
seeds (for garnish)

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand 2 mini muffin tins with 12 cups each. Using a pastry brush and the melted butter, generously butter all of the cups.

Cut the brioche or challah into 6 slices, remove the crusts, and cut each slice into quarters. Lay the squares on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast them for 10 minutes, turning once, until they are golden on both sides.

In a skillet, render the bacon until crisp; transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. When it is cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon into small pieces.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, and pepper for half a minute. Add the cream and whisk to blend it well. Transfer the egg mixture to a 2-cup measuring cup or a small pitcher.

Divide the bacon among the muffin-tin cups. Pour enough of the egg mixture to fill each cup 3/4 full. Sprinkle some cheese on top of each.

Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes or until the centers are just set. Loosen the edges of the quiches with the tip of a knife. Lift them out and set each one on a piece of toast, sprinkle with parsley and pomegranate seeds, and serve at once.

MINI SWEET POTATO PANCAKES
SERVES 12

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground cloves
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Canola oil (for frying)
1/2 pint sour cream
1/4 red onion, finely chopped

Set a vegetable steamer in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add several inches of water and bring it to a boil. Add the sweet potatoes and cover the pan. Steam the potatoes over high heat for 15 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a skewer. Remove the potatoes from the pan and set them aside.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, mash them in a large shallow bowl with the yellow onion and eggs. Stir in the flour, baking powder, cumin, allspice, cayenne, cloves, salt, and black pepper.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet and barely coat the pan with oil. When the oil is hot, use a tablespoon to spoon the batter into the pan. It will not spread much. Cook the pancakes over medium-high heat for a few minutes on a side or until they are golden brown and crisp. Transfer the pancakes to a plate lined with paper towels. Blot off any excess oil.

Continue to fry the batter until it is all used, adding more oil to the pan, sparingly, when necessary. Arrange the pancakes on a large platter, add a tiny dollop of sour cream to each one and sprinkle with red onion.

Note: To prepare in advance, store the cooled cooked pancakes between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight container; refrigerate for up to 2 days. Just before serving, set the pancakes in 1 layer on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and reheat in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until hot.

LAVASH STICKS
SERVES 12

2 packages (14 to 16 ounces each) lavash
Olive oil (for brushing)
Kosher salt (for sprinkling)

Set the oven at 375 degrees. Have on hand 2 rimmed baking sheets.

With scissors, cut the lavash into 1-inch-wide strips. Set them on the sheets. Brush with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake the strips for 10 minutes or until they are toasted. Pay close attention to the strips at the edges of the pan, as they may brown sooner than those in the middle. Remove the browned strips and continue toasting until the remaining strips are light gold in color. Serve with a selection of cheeses.

ROASTED ROSEMARY PECANS
SERVES 12

You can also make this with unskinned almonds, using the same amount of nuts and seasonings.

2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound pecan halves

Set the oven at 300 degrees. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet.

Mix the rosemary with the cayenne pepper, sugar, nutmeg, and salt.

In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the butter, and when it melts, stir in the rosemary mixture. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the pecans and stir to coat them all over. Transfer the nuts to the baking sheet to make one layer. Roast them, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or until they are golden brown.

Remove the nuts from the oven and set them aside to cool. Serve at once or store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERY: The Perfect Holiday Party
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