Category Archives: festive

New Year’s Eve 2012

Happy last year of the Mayan calendar! Here’s how I welcomed it: 

punch and jello shots just barely visible in the upper left corner

How the spread looked around 8pm

not pictured: meatballs, hummus, and quinoa-blackeyed pea bundles, all of which were delicious, but none of which I made so I can't tell you/link you to the recipe

Cheese Balls Three Ways: Cheddar-Cranberry, Roquefort-Shallot-Walnut, and Herbed Goat Cheese
Sourdough-risen Baguette
Sourdough-risen No-Knead Bread
Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Shrimp Cocktail
Cheddar-Ale Gougères
Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi 
Candied Cranberries
Dulce de Leche Crisps
Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries
Dark Chocolate Truffles rolled in Coconut or Spiced Nut Crumble
Spiced Nuts
Admiral’s Punch

Mostly crudites and cheese balls left.

How it looked around 2am

Everything linked above was a repeat. New things I would make again: the mini-crab cakes, the champagne Jell-O shots, and the cheddar-ale gougères. All three were easy, delicious, and gone by the end of the night. Things I probably won’t make again: the dulce de leche crisps, which were kind of boring—neither sweet nor salty enough to be interesting, the truffles, because the nut butter made them a little grainy, and the cocktail sauce, which was exactly like cocktail sauce out of a bottle so why bother? Nothing else exceeded or fell short of expectations. Cheese balls are cheese balls. Caviar deviled eggs are caviar deviled eggs. Details on all of it after the jump.

Cheese Balls Three Ways (from Martha Stewart)

I think swiss cheese with rosemary rolled in crushed potato chips might be pretty good. Or a pimento cheese version with american + pimentos, rolled in...I don't know, maybe pecans?

These are tasty, pretty, and super simple: all three use the same cream cheese base and then you just fold in the different cheeses and roll them in different coatings. They’re also infinitely adaptable and can be made a few days in advance. Don’t like blue cheese and walnuts? How about pepper jack and pecans? Hate cheddar? Try swiss. Vehemently opposed to fruit and cheese combinations? Sundried tomatoes would be just as festive as the craisins. The one thing I might do in the future is halve everything: 3 lbs of cheese ball is a little much, even for a pretty big gathering. 

Candied Cranberries (from the Boston Examiner)

I keep thinking these would be a good garnish for something, but I'm not sure what...maybe some kind of custard? Eggnog creme brulee?Last year, I cooked the simple syrup to the hard ball stage, and the cranberries were almost impossible to extract and separate. This year, I followed the instructions exactly and they were much easier, but retained a lot more tartness & bitterness. I loved them anyway, but not everyone will. If you want them sweeter, you might try cooking the syrup to thread stage (230-235 F) before letting it cool and adding the berries.

Dulce de Leche Crisps (from Food and Wine)

I think unless "a grown-up twist" means "with booze in it," it's probably a bad thing.

Food and Wine described these as a “a grown-up twist on the classic Rice Krispies Treats,” which I guess is accurate in so far as adulthood is generally harder and less enjoyable. The rice gets toasted and combined with dulce de leche and sliced almonds, shaped into little mounds, sprinkled with salt and more dulce de leche, and baked. I think the main problem is they’re not quite sweet enough to provide a good counterpoint to the salt and just end up kind of “meh.” It’s possible that a drizzle of chocolate, a handful of butterscotch chips, and/or a pre-sweetened cereal would improve them, although those are probably all ways of regressing back to a less grown-up treat. Maybe the lesson here is that Rice Krispies, unlike cheddars and wine, don’t get better with age.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries (from The Food Network)

This was another one of the things we had a lot of leftovers of. It's possible I should have only made 1 lb of strawberries.

You don’t really need a recipe for this: melt some chocolate, dip strawberries in it. But the link above is useful for providing guidelines about how much chocolate to melt. I added some shortening because it prevents the chocolate from blooming without the fuss of perfect tempering and doesn’t change the taste/texture all that much. I also used a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off for drizzling, which is especially useful for the white chocolate which doesn’t really get runny enough to drizzle even when melted.

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds

pro-tip: use not-thick-cut bacon

After trying these with chorizo, goat cheese, blue cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, marcona almonds, and parmeggiano+almonds together, I think my favorite filling is still the first one I tried: chorizo. But they’re all pretty good. This year, I made the mistake of buying bacon that was too nice—really thick and gorgeously smoky, but it kept splitting as I tried to wrap the dates. Normal, not-thick, not specially-smoked bacon or proscuitto is the way to go.

Deviled Eggs with Caviar (from The Splendid Table)

we always have to have something with caviar, even though by "caviar" I usually mean cheap, frozen capelin roe

I added a few tablespoons of Dijon to these because eggs just don’t taste “deviled” to me without any mustard. You could probably use all sour cream or all Greek yogurt instead of a combination. The idea of sour cream + dill + caviar combo seemed vaguely Baltic to me, but they basically just tasted like deviled eggs with caviar. Good, but nothing all that special.

Shrimp Cocktail (from Smitten Kitchen)

ice in the bowl kept these nice and chilly all night I roughly followed poaching method described by Smitten Kitchen—simmered the shrimp shells and strained them out to make a stock, and then added a hefty glug of white wine, a dozen or so peppercorns, some tarragon and thyme and a lot of salt and sugar. Brought it all to a boil, threw the shrimp in, took it off the heat and covered it, let it sit for 8 minutes. Simple, tasty, but as mentioned above: the homemade cocktail sauce is not different or better than the prepared kind.

Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries (aka “Champagne gelée” per Saveur, Epicurious, and Martha Stewart)

You could also use an 8x8 or 9x13 and just cut them into "shots"

These were definitely one of the highlights of the evening. I didn’t really follow any of the recipes linked above, although they provided the inspiration. Instead, I sprinkled two envelopes of plain gelatin over 2 cups of champagne and let it soak for 5 minutes while I boiled 1 cup of champagne with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial. I stirred the hot champagne syrup into the bowl with the soaked gelatin, stirred until the gelatin dissolved and then poured it into mini-muffin tins and plopped a raspberry in each one. I chilled them for about an hour. To unmold them, I set the mini-muffin pan in a shallow baking sheet filled with lukewarm water for 30-45 seconds and then inverted the pan over another baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. I had to shake it a little, but they popped out pretty easily.

I was really hoping some bubbles would get trapped in the gelatin, but no such luck—the champagne fizzed up when I sprinkled the gelatin over it and the boiled stuff also released all its gasses long before chilling. Based on this article, I think you’d have to add some champagne at the very end. Blumenthal dissolves the gelatin in about 2 1/2 oz champagne + 3 1/2 oz liqueur and then adds the rest of the champagne directly to the molds. So I think next time I’ll try dissolving the sugar in 1/2 cup champagne + 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial (or another liqueur), sprinkling the gelatin over 1/2 cup champagne, stirring those two together and letting them cool to room temp, and then pouring in the remaining 2 cups of champagne just before pouring it into the molds.  

Cheddar-Ale Gougères (from 101 Cookbooks)

gougeres are kind of like un-filled cream puffs, and might be tasty filled with something like a Greek or mayonnaise-based salad

I took Heidi’s advice to make these in advance up to the baking step and then freeze them—worked perfectly. They still puffed up like magic in the oven. I under-baked them slightly, so a few of them collapsed just a bit and they were a little doughy inside but still tasty. Like the cheese balls, you can flavor these however you like—any kind of cheese/herb liquid will work. I used a chocolate ale, sharp cheddar, and thyme. Maybe next time, I’ll try gruyere, white wine, and rosemary.

Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi (from Always Order Dessert)

I think these were my favorite

Easy, delicious bite-sized crabcakes that don’t have to be deep-fried and are tasty even at room temperature. Can be baked in advance and held at room temp or re-warmed just before people show up.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (adapted from a Gourmet recipe)

in retrospect, I should have made a truffle yin-yang. my thirteen-year-old self is disappointed in me for failing to realize that at the time.

These were just okay. I used cashew butter in place of the almond butter, but neither that nor the dulce de leche came through much. So they just tasted like chocolate and the coatings, which wasn’t bad or anything, just nothing special. Plus, the centers weren’t nearly as smooth as traditional ganache-filled truffles. Instead of rolling them in cocoa powder, I did half in white chocolate with shredded coconut and half in dark chocolate with spiced nuts and chopped sliced almonds—the latter of which was great, and I would do again. I know I’m kind of doing the: “this recipe is mediocre. I didn’t follow it at all” thing, but I don’t think following it exactly would have yielded significantly better results.

So, there you have it: a merrily excessive farewell to the old and hello to the new. Wishing everyone a 2012 precisely as productive, pleasurable, meaningful, irreverent, nourishing, exciting, and relaxing as you want it to be.

Jell-O Jiggler Shots Part II: Star-spangled Photo-tutorial

This is how you say "America, Fuck Yeah!" in Jell-O shots

For this year’s patriotic, alcoholic Jell-O Jigglers, I decided to cut stars out of the bottom layer of Jell-O, fill the holes with a white gelatin mixture, and then replace the stars on the top layer and pour white gelatin around them. So the top and bottom layers both have blue and white stars and they sandwich a layer of red. Here’s the bottom, before I inverted it:

it was actually a little prettier this way--I accidentally dissolved it a little too much in the process of unmolding.

By the numbers:

  • 2 small (3 oz) or 1 large (6 oz) box Berry Blue Jell-Othe lime Jell-O ended up in a separate pan, infused with limoncello
  • 2 small (3 oz) or 1 large (6 oz) box red Jell-O (I used Strawberry)
  • 8 packages (7 g each, about 2 oz total) plain gelatin
  • 14 oz. (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 2/3 cups water (about 37 oz)
  • 2 2/3 cups vodka (about 21 oz or 630 ml)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) blue curacao
  • 1 cup (8 oz) raspberry pucker
  • 2/3 cup (5.3 oz) triple sec

That means it’s 11-12% alcohol or ~23 proof (107.3 oz total, 12.4 oz of which are alcohol—21 oz vodka @ 40% + 16 oz liqueur @ 15% + 5.3 oz liqueur @ 30%). So it’s roughly comparable to most wine or mixed drinks and approximately 18-27 servings of alcohol.

Layer #1: BLUE

Jell-O and gelatin combined like a blue, boozy reflecting pool: behold my kitchen shelves!

Whisk together the first color of Jell-O (6 oz.) with 2 packages of plain gelatin. Add 2 cups boiling water and stir to dissolve. Cool slightly (10-15 min) and add 1 cup vodka and 1 cup clear or matching liqueur up to 40-proof (I only had 2/3 cup blue curacao so I added a little of the red pucker, which gave it a slightly midnight hue, and some triple sec). Chill until set—at least 30 minutes.

If your refrigerator isn’t level—mine isn’t, you can stick flat things under the corners to try to get the Jell-O to set in an even layer. I used pieces of individually-wrapped American cheese. 

i know, it's "fake" cheese or "plastic" cheese or what have you; I still think it melts better than anything else I've found

Layer #2: WHITE

 gelatin mixed with cold water after a few minutes, "bloomed" meaning the gelatin has absorbed the water and softened

Empty two packages of plain gelatin into a bowl and add 6 Tablespoons of cold water. Let it “bloom” for 5 minutes.

Then add 2/3 cup boiling water, 1/3 cup vodka, 1/3 cup triple sec (or other clear liqueur), and 6-7 oz. sweetened condensed milk (about 1/2 a can). Let it cool.

Meanwhile, cut shapes out of the first layer and return them to cold storage.

I used a cookie cutter dipped in water to make the shapes and then lifted them out gently by easing each corner out one by one with a butter knife

Pour the white gelatin into the star-holes and then in a thin layer across the top of the entire blue layer. Chill until set, at least 30 min.

or just fill the stars i wanted a thin white layer separating the blue from the red

Layer #3: RED

Repeat step one with the second color. This time it really has to be cool so it doesn’t melt the other layers when you pour it on top. So, combine 6oz. Jell-O mix with 2 packages gelatin, add 2 cups boiling water, let cool 25-30 min, add 1 cup vodka and 1 cup liqueur.

Pour gently (I pour over the back of a spoon to distribute the impact a little more) over the set layers. Chill until set—at least 30 min.

red Jell-O and gelatin dissolved in water I thought about making the red into 2 thinner layers separated by white layers...y'know, like stripes on a flag. but that seemed like too much fuss, even for me.

Layer #4: WHITE

Repeat step two: “bloom” 2 packages gelatin in 6 T. cool water for 5 min, add 2/3 cup boiling water, add 1/3 cup vodka and 1/3 cup triple sec or other clear liqueur. If you want a thin white layer separating the colors, pour 4-6 oz of the white mixture over the set layers, tilting to get it to cover the surface of the colored layer, and chill that until set before preceding.

you can still see the red through the white the return of the stars

Then, place the cut pieces on top of the set layers and gently pour the rest of the white mixture around them. Chill until set.

I am completely unenthused about how Jell-O tastes, but I really love how it looks. I suppose I could improve the flavor by making my own with fruit purees or juices and gelatin, but I haven't gotten that ambitious yet. 

Cut and serve directly from the pan. Or, to invert and see the opposite side, immerse the pan in warm water for a few seconds (5-10 should be plenty). Not too hot or too long, because it will start to melt quickly—10 seconds in near-boiling water was too much. Place a serving platter upside down over the pan and flip. Immediately return to the refrigerator to re-firm.

Dipping the knife in hot water before cutting helps make cleaner cuts, but ultimately it’s still Jell-O. It wants to be wiggly and a little uneven, clearly “homemade” even if it comes from a box.  happy birthday, america, bottoms up!