My Last Holiday Party

Well it wouldn’t be December without my holiday party, although this was my last one for reasons I’ll explain.  My Pinterest board shows the menu.  You can see it by clicking here.

I had to make those amazing meatballs again, the ones I served at the baby shower.  They disappeared, again.  I also did some old favorites—goat cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates.  The Columbia restaurant’s 1905 salad.  And an international cheese board. 

The new dishes I tried.  One was mini stuffed twice-baked potatoes.  Very easy and holiday-bakedtatersvery inexpensive to make.  You buy those little creamer potatoes at the warehouse club in a big bag, bake them in the oven, then scoop out the insides with a small spoon.  The rest of the story is just like full-sized twice-baked potatoes.

holiday-cheeseballAnother new dish was the jalapeno popper cheese ball.  I did not make it look like the football that’s shown on Pinterest, I just did it like a non-sports-related cheese concoction.  It was pretty well-consumed.

I also tried my hand at Cuban sliders.  Basically you take a package of King’s Hawaiian Rolls and you use them to make a pan of ham and swiss cheese and pickle sandwiches.  Then you melt some butter, stir in some mustard and drizzle it holiday-slidersover the sandwiches, then bake and serve warm.  They are equally good when they cool off.

For dessert this year I made a fruit galette.  I made it with apples, holiday-galettepears and blackberries and it was also a big hit.  It was easy as pie (no pun intended… well, maybe a little).  I took a packaged pie crust, I put in sliced apples and pears, with a few blackberries, a little sugar and some lemon zest.  Baked it.  Sliced it.  Served it.  Watched most of it disappear.

I also served a Christmas sangria that was a big hit.  It’s basically white wine with some holiday-sangriasparkling cider, granny smith apples, halved fresh cranberries and sprigs of rosemary.  It was also a big hit.

My best friend came in from out of state for the weekend and helped me with food and clean up.  We had a great time together.

But, I was disappointed in the turnout.  I set the date months in advance and tell people when it is for them to put it on their calendars.  And, without fail this year, lots of my regulars made other plans and then said, “Oh, we have a conflict.”  I wanted to say, “No, you don’t have a conflict.  You don’t want to come to my party so you made other plans.  There’s a big fucking difference.”

And that, my dear readers, is why I’m done hosting a holiday party.  I had the worst turnout in 8 consecutive years.  The people who were there were a lot of fun, and I was honored by their presence, but I just don’t think I want to spend $300 on food and décor next year to have people find “conflicts.”  Either my party isn’t as fun as I thought it was, or the food isn’t as good as I thought it was, or maybe both?  Either way…there’s a certain amount of freedom that comes from knowing I’ve let myself off the hook for next year.

I am, however, a social creature.  So that doesn’t mean I won’t want to do something.  I’ve already decided that IF people request a party or event, I will possibly organize a community dinner, in which everyone brings something and makes a commitment to attending.  I’m not doing days of food prep only to have half the food I make go in the trash.  But we’ll see if there are any requests.

Anyway, I want to wish all my readers a happy everything.  Happy Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!  And of course, Happy New Year!  May the turnout for all your holiday functions exceed your wildest dreams!  Thanks for reading BWAV!

 

 

Holiday Party 2015: The End Result

Gallery

This gallery contains 11 photos.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my Holiday Party 2015 food plans.  I just wanted to share the results and show you the “real” pictures versus the stock photos I found on Pinterest. Everything went off without a hitch … Continue reading

Recipes Sometimes Need Fixin’: Rosemary Roasted Cashews

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Ina’s cashews, as depicted by a food stylist.

My holiday party menu includes Ina “The Barefoot Contessa” Garten’s Rosemary Roasted Cashews.  I thought the concept of them sounded very delicious and I wanted to put them on the menu for the upcoming event.  Being one of those recipes you can make days in advance, I decided to go ahead and make them tonight (Sunday), for next Friday’s party.

This is one of those times that I have to just say “Ina, what was your barefooted brain thinking….????”  As soon as I started making the recipe, I noticed some problems.  And, after I finished it I went back to see that it got a 1.5 star rating out of 5 stars.  Please tell me why I didn’t check that out before?!?

 

Let me start by showing you HER version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. cayenne (ground red) pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. On 18-inch by 12-inch jelly-roll pan, arrange cashews in single layer. Roast 10 to 12 minutes or until nuts are toasted and heated through.
  3. Meanwhile, in large bowl, stir together rosemary, butter, sugar, salt, and cayenne until combined.
  4. Add hot cashews to bowl with rosemary mixture; toss until nuts are well coated.

Problem #1:  Very few places sell raw cashews by the CUP.  Maybe Ina finds them that way at a fancy gourmet shop in the Hamptons, but the rest of us poor common bastards have to buy them by the 1 pound bag at Trader Joe’s.  So why not just say “1 pound” of cashews?  Coincidentally, the bag’s label says that the bag contains 3 and 3/4 cups.  So whatever.

Problem #2:  The butter she calls for is not specified to be melted.  Step 3 says to stir together the butter,rosemary, etc.   You can’t stir and combine unmelted butter, Ina.  Even I know that.

Problem #3:  How is 1 tablespoon of butter going to coat a POUND–er… 4 cups–of cashews???

Problem #4:   You’re putting in 1/4 as much cayenne pepper as you are salt?  REALLY????  That is one metric buttload of pepper, Ina.

Problem #5:  Do cashews really get done in 10-12 minutes?  Uh…. no, they don’t.  Not at the called-for temperature.

What I immediately did to the recipe was double the butter called for, and, I melted it.  I combined it with the other ingredients and created a lovely sauce that I drizzled over the nuts and then I stirred them together vigorously until they were all thoroughly coated.

I did fall for her recommendation on how much cayenne pepper to use and I regret doing that.  I like hot food but dang these things are hhhhhhoooootttttt!!!!!!  I could cut the cayenne in half next time.

My finished product... not as pretty as her picture but they're still pretty good. Hot enough to give Satan indigestion, but still pretty good1

My finished product… not as pretty as her picture but they’re still pretty good. Hot enough to give Satan indigestion, but still pretty good!

So, here I am officially publishing MY recipe for Rosemary Roasted Cashews, and, it goes like this…

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne (ground red) pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a 9×12 roasting pan, arrange cashews in a shallow layer.  Roast 7 to 8 minutes, then shake them around in the pan.  Roast another 7 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir together rosemary, melted butter, sugar, salt, and cayenne until combined.  Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to make sure the sugar thoroughly melts and combines with the butter.
  4. Remove cashews from the oven.  Pour the butter mixture over the cashews in the pan and stir vigorously to combine until nuts are well coated.

Holiday Party 2015: Your Thoughts?

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Dessert shooters. I wonder how hard it will be to make mine look like this?

Well, it’s time again.  Time for me to plan my holiday party for my office pals.  I love doing it.  I look forward to it all year long, but don’t really start the serious planning until November 1.   The evites have gone out already and now it’s time to think about menu items.

I wanted to just start fresh this year.   Every year I do certain “standard” items and this year I just refuse to do them.  So, take a look at my Pinterest board and see what you think. Keep in mind it’s a work in progress but as I am writing this I’ve tentatively decided on the following:

Rosemary Roasted Cashews for a unique munchable.

Fig and walnut cheese ball for something both sweet and savory.

1905 Salad for some delicious veggies (I usually do veggies and dip but this year I can’t stand the thought of doing that again).

Individual 7-layer dips with homemade chips and salsa.  I am ordering the cutest little 2 ounce disposable shot glasses for these!

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Deviled egg bar. How many cool toppings can I come up with for these?

A deviled egg bar, where people can build their own deviled eggs!  I will make a couple of fillings and put them in the eggs, these will be pretty bland and basic, then put out toppings–bacon, chives, capers, olives, cheeses, peppers, etc–that people can top them with.  I got the idea from a recent episode of “The Chew.” I thought it was kind of different, and unique, and best of all pretty cost-effective.  Eggs are super cheap compared to most proteins, and the amount of various toppings required will be miniscule.

Mini grilled cheese sandwiches.  Again, very cost effective and I can always fancy it up by adding some ham and calling it “mini croque monsieur.”

Finally, for dessert, I’m going to make some dessert shooters in those little disposable shot glasses (hey, I have to buy a case of 240, so I might as well use some of them).   I love key lime pie, I think it’s the best thing ever!  So one will be a no-bake key lime pie concoction, with layers of graham cracker and lime coulee.  The other will be something chocolate, and I’m thinking about going out of my comfort zone and doing maybe a chocolate mousse with a hint of chili in it.  Layer that with whipped cream and maybe some toffee bits?

What do you think?  Will you come to my party?

 

 

Holiday Party Planning: Hot Appetizers

Let’s keep going with this party planning stuff and talk about hot foods!   This is where you get to flex your creative muscles plus you are accomplishing something very important for the party atmosphere:  the general aroma in the room!  No matter what candles or fragrance you have going, the smell of hot, fresh food will definitely be there for your guests if you choose good appetizers.

As I have said, you need two to four hot dishes that are served hot.  Either keep them warm on the stovetop if your party is intimate enough that people can serve themselves from the kitchen, or, use chafing dishes and/or hot plates.  I have bought the disposable chafing dishes at my local warehouse club before and they are perfect.

Disposable chafing dishes/warming trays.

Disposable chafing dishes/warming trays.

Selecting the dishes is going to depend somewhat on your theme.  If it’s a holiday party for sure, then you can focus on a balance of flavors and textures and aromas.   There’s no shortage of ideas on Pinterest and on the internet in general.  As one example, here’s  Martha Stewart’s Holiday Hot Appetizers.   Most of her offerings are easy enough to make, but have some sophistication to them.   And, here’s the Williams-Sonoma hot apps guide.  It’s also filled with sophisticated offerings.

Of course, you don’t have to pick from just one site.  Grab the best looking recipes from all over the place and combine them into your own appetizer spread.  Just follow these rules (and I’m applying them to HOT appetizers only but in general they are pretty good rules of thumb to follow for the entire spread, including your basics and cold appetizers):

  • Just because you love it that doesn’t mean it needs to dominate the spread.  If you love meatballs, great, but the entire buffet should not consist of meatballs in various sauces (unless your theme is “Behold!  My Many Balls,” in which case, go for it).
  • Many people have allergies to seafood and peanuts.  If you put those ingredients in everything, you’re going to leave someone with nothing to eat!
  • Be very careful with foods that have very strong smells.  For instance, broccoli.  If you put out a broccoli flambe’ you’re going to drive me right out of the room because I cannot stand the smell of it.  For a nice gathering foods with savory delightful aromas that aren’t “too stinky” are best.
  • Be careful with spicy foods.  Not everyone has an asbestos lining in their esophagus, even if you do.  No more than 2 of your dishes should be really hot and spicy.
  • Avoid messy foods unless it’s a sit-down affair where people can get a napkin ready to wipe off their faces easily.  Seriously, nobody wants to eat chicken wings while standing and trying to balance a cocktail glass and a plate.

My Favorites

What I serve varies from year to year… it really does.  Sometimes it’s dictated by what I have in the fridge–if I have 7 packs of cream cheese then you can bet I’ll be leaning towards a hot dip.  If I have access to good fresh crab or shrimp, then I’ll be doing something with seafood.  Here I’m listing some items that I’ve actually made and served (and would sere again), or, that I wouldn’t hesitate to try.

Hot Dips

Dips are always good.  People love them, they are expected party fare and you get to make a lot of servings with relatively little effort.  Serve hot dips with something stiff enough to really scoop them up and hold them safely between the dip bowl and the guest’s mouth.  Seriously, you don’t want someone getting a lap or beard full of hot dip because you gave them a limp dipping instrument!  Toasted pita chips are a favorite, so are good tortilla chips.

A party pleaser is always hot crab dip, but, you’ve got to have really good crab meat and not that crap out of a can.    You need fresh crab meat if possible, and, whenever possible, unpasteurized is even better (that doesn’t mean it’s not sanitary, it just means it’s very fresh).  Plan on spending at least $15-$20 per pound on your crab meat, which may make this dip unattractive to you.  For my party this year I’m probably going with Chef Emeril’s recipe for hot jalapeno crab dip.  But, just as highly rated on the Food Network site is Paula Deen’s hot crab dip recipe, which is also worth a try.

Another hot dip that’s popular at parties is hot onion dip.  This has the added bonus of being super cheap to make compared to crab dip.  The most common recipe I’ve seen is the one for hot Vidalia onion dip.  The only problem is finding Vidalia onions at certain times of the year, in which case you can substitute another type of sweet onion.  Just make sure you are using a sweet onion, and not plain yellow or white onions.

Fairly new on the party scene is buffalo chicken dip.  Here’s the recipe for that.

Finally, a lot of people have grown fond of spinach and artichoke dip.  Here’s a good recipe for that.

Emeril's stuffed dates.

Chef Emeril Lagasse’s stuffed dates.

Stuffed Dates

These require a little finesse and prep work, but they are so freaking good and quite unusual.  Most people just don’t serve them because they do take some effort to put together.  They also smell delicious when cooking, and have that fancy, handmade, “wow!” factor.

Personally I like Emeril’s recipe for stuffed dates, which you can get by clicking here.   You get a very sweet, salty, smokey combination with his recipe that’s easy to  make.  Just buy a few extra dates for munching on because they are goooood!

As much as I love Emeril’s recipe, I think this year I may try Chef Anne Burrell’s recipe for stuffed dates.  It’s a little different and also sounds promising.

Bread Sticks

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Bacon-wrapped breadsticks (by Paula Deen)

Talk about a nice aroma… these definitely have that.  They are also pretty cheap to make.  The recipe is here, and from Paula Deen.   I will say this…. although I’m usually a stickler for freshly grated parmesan cheese in this particular recipe you can use the parmesan in the green can and it will be fine.  (I tend to avoid any cheese that can survive outside of refrigeration for an extended amount of time like that stuff does, but hey, it’s a party and nobody is going to necessarily care when they bite into one of these savory sticks!)

Crock Pot Meatballs

Almost every holiday party calls for meatballs of some description.  People love them and they are hearty enough to stand around and make a meal off of at a party.  There are a ton of recipes on the internet for these, and they all start with “buy a bag of frozen italian style meatballs.”  From there, it’s really just a question of what you prefer in terms of the sauce they go in.  You can make your own meatballs if you like, but if you put the right ingredients in the crock pot with the frozen ones from the bag you’ll still have a winner.

The most popular and well-known recipe is “the grape jelly” recipe.  You simply combine, in your crock pot:

  • 1 bag of frozen meatballs (about 80 pieces)
  • 2 12 ounce jars of Heinz Chili Sauce OR 1 24 ounce bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray’s)
  • 1 32 ounce jar of grape jelly

And there you have it!  It doesn’t sound that great, but trust me it’s addictive.

I found a wine-based recipe that I plan on trying at my holiday party this year.  It goes like this:

  •  1 (1 lb 10 oz ) bag Italian Style Meatballs
  • 1 (16 oz) can whole cranberry Sauce
  • 1 c. brown sugar, packed
  • 1 c. Pinot Noir wine
  • 1 tsp spicy brown mustard

I think these will be best if you brown the meatballs in a pan with a little oil first, just to give them a nice outer crust.  Then combine the other ingredients along with the meatballs in the crock pot and keep them warm.  If it looks like there isn’t enough liquid in the crock pot to keep the meatballs from drying out I would add another can of cranberry sauce and of course, another cup of wine!

Queso Dip

I always serve queso if I’m also serving chips and salsa.  You absolutely MUST have a crock pot or chafing dish to serve this in, I don’t care what recipe you’re using.  Queso dip is not good when it’s lukewarm and congealed.  Start with this basic easy recipe:

  • One can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and chiles
  • 16 ounces of Kraft Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes

img_2693_512Melt them together either in a crock pot or a microwaveable bowl.  There you go.  Seriously, that’s really all you have to do to have a very good dip.  If you want a great dip, though, you will embellish that a little bit by adding the following items:

  • 1/2  pound of browned spicy crumbled sausage
  • 1/2 cup of diced onions, sautéed and carmelized in olive oil or bacon grease (or in the sausage grease from the previous ingredient)

Once you add the sausage and onions you actually have a dip hearty enough to make a meal off of.  For years when I would go to my mother’s for Thanksgiving she simply made me a crock pot of this dip.  What can I say, I don’t like turkey!!!

Quesadillas

Quesadillas

Quesadillas

Again, if I’m serving chips and salsa, homemade quesadillas make sense as a hot appetizer (along with the queso).  They are best made fresh and hot with really good tortillas from the taqueria or your local latin market.  You can use corn or flour tortillas, although I’d say most people expect flour.   Choose smaller tortillas over larger ones to keep portions sane and to make it easier for guests to eat with their hands.

First, decide what you’re putting in them.  You can go with plain cheese, in which case I would use a 4-cheese Mexican blend (you want something like that which, even when melted, doesn’t become runny or hard to manage).  You can add in finely chopped jalapenos for a spicier fare, chopped cooked chicken, diced bell peppers, mushrooms, olives, onions, green onions, etc.  My advice is to do at least a few that are plain cheese for kids and picky adults.

Second, you’ll need to set up a station for making these once you decide what to put in them.  Prepare all your ingredients (cheese, peppers, etc) and get ready to work an assembly line.  Have a bottle of good olive oil ready for the pan… you’ll want to brush a thin coat of it on before every quesadilla is cooked to make them really savory and well-prepared for the warming pan they go in between preparation and serving (otherwise, they dry out pretty bad).

Third, get one saute or frying pan or griddle pan hot over medium heat.

Fourth and finally, cook away!  Start with one tortilla and put cheese on HALF of it.  As soon as the heat softens the tortilla and makes it flexible, fold it over so it’s now a half moon shape.  Watch the heat, make sure you aren’t browning the tortilla too fast, or else you’ll end up with a brown exterior and still unmelted cheese in the middle.  When the cheese is starting to melt flip it over to brown the second side.  When you’re finished, remove the quesadilla and start the next one.  (If your pan is big enough, and your tortillas are small enough, you can work in batches of two or three at a time).  Slice into 3 or 4 wedges each and arrange in a chafing dish pan to serve.

Onward to the Party!

Well, I hope this has given you some ideas about what to serve for hot appetizers.  Nothing here is particularly complicated or time consuming, except maybe stuffing the dates.  You can check out the other recipes I’m considering for this year’s party on my Pinterest Holiday 2014 Party board.

Holiday Party Planning: The Basics

I promised you I would be telling you more about my party planning food selections otherwise known as “the Basics” and here it is.  It’s officially November now and that means it’s definitely time to start thinking41958915ca66754d9ffb50b0dfe159dd about what you’ll serve at your holiday gathering.  You can catch nonperishables on sale this month, and, you can also do some of the prep work at Thanksgiving (saving bread crumbs, making extra homemade mayonnaise) when you’re in the kitchen.

“The Basics,” as I call them, are the core party food items I put out at just about every event.  Crudites and dip, and, usually a selection of cheeses with accompaniments.  You can put these all together on one platter, or, you can divide them up into two separate items.  Let’s start with the veggies and dips.

Veggies & Dips

America is a fat ass country and you know it.  We all need to eat more vegetables and less fattening stuff.  So, in my mind a vegetable and dip tray is absolutely essential party fare. You need good fresh veggies and lots of them, and, at least one really good dip.   Vegetables to consider:

  • Carrot sticks
  • Cucumber sticks or slices
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower florets
  • Broccoli florets
  • Snow pea pods
  • Endive leaves
  • Jicama sticks
  • Celery sticks
  • Asparagus spears
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Radishes
  • Zucchini sticks or slices
  • Squash sticks or slices

As far as dips go I swear by ranch.  Almost everyone loves it.  The secret, though, is to make really good fresh tasting ranch dip at home, and not buy some pre-made stuff that’s been sloshing around in a bottle or carton for months.  And today, I am going to reveal my secret ranch dip recipe.  Everyone raves about it at parties and it’s about the easiest thing in the world to make:

  • Daisy brand sour cream (don’t buy a cheap store brand and do NOT use “light” sour cream)
  • Hidden Valley Ranch powdered dip mix.
  • Fresh chives and italian parsley

555876d95526922a7b59ca7ef4a04612Now, mix the dip up according to the package directions, but you are going to use at least 50% more dip mix than it calls for.  If it calls for one packet, start with a packet and a half and taste.  If it can stand more, kuse more.  Then finely chop up about a tablespoon of each of the herbs and stir to combine.  Make this at least a day ahead of time.  It’s much better that way.

Sure, there are homemade dip recipes you can use, but this is easy and it works.  Trust me.  You can serve it in a hollowed out cabbage, if you like, as shown in the picture.

Another dip I really like is green goddess.  It’s very retro but super delicious and easy to make.  The recipe I use is from Williams Sonoma and you can click here to get it.  It’s very fresh tasting and a nice change of pace from or in addition to ranch.

Hummus is also a very popular dip and one that I think could easily be added to this spread.  Homemade hummus is really easy to make, but like everything else its flavor will depend on the quality of the ingredients.  If you’re going to use cheap olive oil, you’re going to have nasty dip, in which case you are better off with store bought or just forgetting about the hummus altogether.  Alton Brown of Food Network has a really popular hummus recipe.  I haven’t tried it but if I were going to attempt hummus it’s the one I would use.  Your vegetarian friends will thank you for including this source of protein for them at your shindig.

Cheese & Charcuterie

Now personally I enjoy putting together a really sophisticated cheese board with five or six kinds of cheese, nuts, olives, etc.  I’ve already written one post on this.  Not everyone wants to go to that expense.  If you don’t, don’t sweat it!  Just hit a homerun with the crudites and dips above and you’ll do fine.

If you’re going to do a cheese board, you need 3 to 5 good cheeses.  By good I mean not pre-processed into cubes or slices from the manufacturer (that’s a sure fire sign of cheap cheese).  I would go for variety–you don’t want five tangy cheddars or five stinky blue cheeses.  Balance is key.  I would suggest a cheddar, a brie, and a blue, and then maybe a gouda and a goat.  Or a parmesan!  I’ve also seen this formula for choosing cheeses:

  • Something stinky (blue)
  • Something sharp (cheddar)
  • Something nutty (aged gouda or a parmesan)
  • Something creamy (brie)
  • Something fresh (goat cheese or ricotta)

Serve these with 2 or 3 kinds of crackers and breads, some good mixed olives from the deli (the ones that come in oil, not the ones in jars of vinegar on the grocery store shelf), some green and purple grapes and red and green apple slices.

For added variety, you can add in a couple of cured meats.  I love capicola and prosciutto but salami works great, too.

Now, what’s really fun and adventurous with these things is to mix them with a few other goodies that, combined, can take the cheese to a new level of taste.  Choose two or three from this list:

  • smoked almonds
  • candied pecans or walnuts
  • raw honey
  • bacon
  • candied bacon
  • honeycomb
  • fig preserves
  • whole cranberry sauce
  • dried apricots
  • fresh or dried figs
  • chutney
  • mustard
  • artichoke hearts
  • pickles
  • hearts of palm
  • pistachios

Let your cheeses sit out at least two hours before serving to come to room temperature.  Plan on 3 to 4 ounces of cheese per person total, unless it is a wine and cheese party where cheese is the main focus.  In that case, plan on 8 ounces of cheese per person.