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This year marked our 21st Gelsomini Extravaganza - an annual Christmas celebration of family and food!! This year's feast was delicious and decadent and I am sharing the secrets to a well-balanced buffet that will knock your guests' socks off.... and have them secretly unbuttoning the top button of their jeans for relief after dinner!

Every buffet needs a balance of foods so that there will always be something on the table that each of your guests will enjoy... even those picky eaters and kids. I try to include at least one chicken, one seafood, and one beef dish, along with several salads. I also just a about always make meatballs (who doesn't love a meatball??) and a pasta dish - my husband, Nick and his family are Italian (as if you couldn't guess from the name) and you are risking life and limb if you don't have pasta on the table!

So here was the spread this year! You can click on the photos of the individual dishes to bring you to each recipe on the blog.

My chicken dish this year was Chicken Saltimbocca with Shiitake Mushrooms in a Marsala Cream Sauce. This was a new creation for me and received rave reviews. Tender chicken breasts topped with sage and wrapped in prosciutto. Then, lightly floured and pan seared in butter and olive oil. Topped with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and a velvety Marsala wine cream sauce.

For a seafood dish, I made my Two Fishes in Mustard Cream Sauce over Rosemary Potatoes. This dish was inspired by a trip I made to Hamburg, Germany for business several years ago. I had the weekend to myself to explore the city, which is one of my favorite parts of traveling. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and I wandered into a random restaurant. The menu was in German and my waiter had a very small English vocabulary (and my German was even worse). I tried to tell him I wanted some type of seafood to no avail, until I drew a picture of a fish on my napkin. He put his finger in the air with excitement and went into the kitchen. He came back with the most amazing fish dish and this is my re-creation.

For a beef entree, I decided on Braised Short Ribs over Creamy Herbed Cheese Polenta. Short ribs are a great option for entertaining because you don't have to baby sit them. Just put them in a Dutch oven early in the morning or even the day before and most of the work is done before your guests arrive. The meat is super silky and just falls off the bones. My recipe for the Creamy Herbed Cheese Polenta is a perfect compliment and also super easy and crazy good.

As you can imagine, with anywhere between 40-60 guests, this annual dinner is a big undertaking! I always try to make at least 2-4 appetizers that can be frozen ahead of time and I ALWAYS make my Eggplant Parmesan, which not only can be frozen a month in advance, but I believe it is the secret to the most tender and luscious eggplant texture!

The PASTA! This year I made a very rich and very delicious Rigatoni and Pink Vodka Sauce with Sausage. Super easy sauce and a great weeknight meal that can be whipped up in 30 minutes or less. Again, super for a buffet or dinner party because I make the sauce the day before and only have to heat it up and cook the pasta the day of the event!

Eat your veggies! Even the pickiest kids will love this Veggie Gratin with luscious cheese sauce. I used a mix of broccoli, white and purple cauliflower and butternut squash, but any veggie mix is delicious drowned in this creamy cheddar madness.

MEAT-A-BALLS! Need I say more? Always the first dish to go! And another great opportunity to prepare in advance as I make a whole crockpot of meatballs in sauce and put the whole thing in the freezer several weeks in advance of the party. Just remember to take out a day ahead and defrost for the bash.

Salads! Just to make yourself feel better about the fact that your plate is bending in half and you've only made it half way around the table...

After dinner there are 2 competitions - DESSERT and THE GRAB! Both are taken very seriously and offer lavish prizes to the winners.

I make all of the savory food for the day, but each family brings one sweet treat. The most delicious and creative dessert wins the prize ...and bragging rights, of course...

THE GRAB!! Each year there is a theme and the top 3 most creative and clever executions win big!! This year the theme was 'Famous Lines' and everyone brought their A-Game.

And here are a few more fun images from this year's Extravaganza fun... Wishing you all a happy holiday and amazing eats!! XOXO

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