Category Archives: entertaining

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
Crudités
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.

New Year’s Eve pictures and links

With the spiced nuts and chocolate-covered buttercreams already done in advance, almost everything else could be made the day before the party and assembled or baked the day of. Before

Hey, 2011

Welcome to the new blog austerity. Rather than write out special feature posts for all the recipes I used for our fourth annual New Year’s Eve party, I’m just going to post pictures and links with brief annotations about how I modified them (if I did) or how I’d do them differently if I make them again. They’re all finger foods, so they’re perfect for entertaining or taking to an open house party where people will be grazing rather than sitting down with plates & silverware.

Clockwise from the bottom right:

Marshmallows with Toasted Coconut
Smoked Trout Pâté
Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds (represented by the empty dish)
Goat Cheese & Pine Nut Canapés
Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels
Spiced Nuts
Bourbon Balls
Assorted Cheesecake Bites
Fig and Blue Cheese Crackers
Scallop Mousse in Phyllo Cups
Chocolate-covered Buttercreams
Candied Cranberries
Crudité Platter with Harissa Dip

After

More pictures and recipes after the jump.

Marshmallows with Toasted Coconut

These were kind of like little poufy macaroon bites.

I used Alton Brown’s Homemade Marshmallow Recipe with almond extract in place of the vanilla, and I coated the pan in toasted coconut, sprinkled more on top, and rolled the sticky edges of the cut marshmallows in yet more. That required about 3 cups of sweetened shredded coconut, which I toasted by spreading it on cookie sheets and baking it for about 15 minutes in a 300F oven, stirring it every 5 minutes or so until it was golden brown. If you want to know more about the history of the marshmallow, that’s here.

Smoked Trout Pâté on Baguette

Would also make a lovely molded dish for a buffet served with crackers or toasted pita.

Based on a Good Housekeeping recipe, which only has 2/5 stars even though the sole reviewer says “AAA+” which seems a little hyperbolic, but maybe that’s just the nature of ebayspeak. For the party, I served it on homemade, sourdough-risen baguette. I plan on making it again the next time I make bagels because it evokes the lox & cream cheese thing, but smokier and creamier. I used regular cream cheese and mayonnaise and added a tablespoon of capers and a pinch of cayenne. The only other thing I’ll change the next time I make it is to scale it down, probably to 1/3 of the original, because the original recipe makes a kind of epic amount of pâté. Quoth Brian, who was in charge of spreading it on the baguette slices: “This is so boring. I don’t remember when I wasn’t spreading pâté on bread.”

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds

It turns out if you decide to secure the bacon with toothpicks and then you broil the dates instead of baking them, the toothpicks may go up in flame just like matchsticks and be basically useless for serving. Live and learn: soak the toothpicks in water first.

You don’t really need a recipe for this, but here’s one from Martha Stewart. In the past, I’ve stuffed them with either chorizo or goat cheese, which usually required cutting the dates in half and was kind of a pain, which is why I went with almonds this year. I’ve also heard of people using pistachios, blue cheese, cream cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, or ricotta. Last year, I served them in a sweet & sour pineapple/balsamic reduction sauce, which I kept warm in a chaffing dish. You could also make a spicy chorizo-laced dipping sauce. Or you can forego the stuffing and/or sauce entirely and they’ll still be pretty delicious.  

Herbed Goat Cheese with Toasted Pine Nuts on Baguette

This might also work as a vegetable and/or cracker dip, possibly thinned with a little cream.Not based on anything—really, the recipe is in the name. I combined a big log of goat cheese (10 oz) with the zest of a lemon, two cloves of garlic zapped for 15-20 seconds in the microwave just to tame the bite a little, and about tablespoon of fresh thyme and rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of cayenne. You could substitute a head of roasted garlic instead of raw, use 1-2 t. dried herbs instead of fresh, add a pinch of smoked paprika, some lemon juice, some olives or capers, or whatever you like. I toasted the pine nuts (about 1/3 cup) in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until they were fragrant and beginning to brown. You could also use toasted almond slices or chopped pecans or top it with something else, like roasted cherry tomatoes or pimentos. Like the trout pâté, this was served on slices of homemade sourdough-risen baguette.

Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels

I got this from a Southern Living recipe posted on Myrecipes, and after making them three or four times I think I’ve decided they’re prettier than they are tasty. Perhaps they needed more cheese or something? The idea’s not bad, especially because you can make the filling and roll the puff pastry logs months in advance, and then it takes less than a half an hour to slice and bake them, and that’s including the time it takes to pre-heat the oven. I may try it again with pimento cheese instead of the spinach-artichoke spread. That wouldn’t provide as much of a visual contrast, but I think the spicy, tangy cheese filling would be a better foil for the buttery puff pastry. Or maybe I just need to add more/better parmesan and a hit of cayenne to the spinach-artichoke filling.

Spiced Nuts

new years 2011 063

That’s nearly 4 lbs of spiced nuts, approximately 50% of which are cashews. The imbalance was Brian’s doing, but I’m in favor because whenever I encounter a bowl of mixed nuts that includes cashews, I have to exert stupid amounts of willpower to be nut-blind and eat whatever happens to be on top, even if that’s a peanut. And sometimes, when I see other people near the bowl, I eye them suspiciously to see if they’re picking out the cashews the way I really want to. Which has resulted, more than once, in me catching someone else in the act of cashew-preferential nut consumption, and momentarily thinking uncharitable thoughts about them…before rushing over to join them before all the cashews are gone. My nut preferences are more or less moot once they’re all coated in a crunchy cinnamon and cayenne-spiked meringue—at which point, they’re all like crack—but it certainly doesn’t seem like you can go wrong by tipping the balance in favor of cashews.

Bourbon Balls

Much of the alcohol evaporates, so the booze provides more flavor than bite. Still, best to use something you like the taste of--apparently rum is a good alternative if you're not a fan of bourbon From Melissa Clark on Food52, these are basically balls of bourbon-soaked chocolate cookie crumbs studded with pecans. I let the “dough” sit, covered, for about 8 hours and thought it was a little dry when I began to shape the balls. In retrospect, I probably should have just added another glug of bourbon, but I thought maybe that was the texture it was supposed to have. I didn’t actually measure the cookie crumbs, because one package of Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers seemed like about 2.5 cups, but maybe the recipe is actually designed for a little less cookie? They were good, but definitely not super moist, so if I make them again, I’ll follow my instincts and add the extra bourbon.

Assorted Cheesecake Bites

new years 2011 047

This was the one thing I thought was pretty mediocre. I used an eHow recipe, halved. The original calls for only 1/2 cup sugar for 24 oz. cream cheese. I added a little more, but they still weren’t nearly as sweet as I usually expect cheesecake to be. I also wasn’t crazy about the vanilla wafer crust—if I make them again, I’ll do a more traditional graham cracker base. I also didn’t get especially creative with the toppings. Maybe in the future, if I make these again, I’ll flavor half of the cream cheese mixture with pumpkin & spices or melted dark chocolate and make little marbled cheesecake bites. As is, these are just kind of boring.

Fig and Blue Cheese Crackers

My friend Sara recommends eating them upside down so you taste the sweetness of the fig first, otherwise it can be overshadowed by the blue cheese.

This recipe from Food52 is similar to classic southern cheese straws—essentially a pastry crust recipe substituting cheese for some of the butter—but instead of cutting them into sticks, you cut them in  circles, make a tiny depression in the middle, and fill it with a dab of fig preserves. The result is like a little, buttery, bite-sized version of one of my favorite salads. I imagine you could use any kind of cheese/fruit pairing you like—goat cheese and raspberry, sharp cheddar with cherry or apricot, etc. Additionally, you can make them a day or two in advance, but make sure they’re fully cooled before you store them between layers of waxed paper or the fig preserves will stick.

Scallop MousseIf you have access to an Asian market or grocery store with a decent selection of Asian foods, you can probably get roe for about $2/oz rather than $20/oz. Another one from Food52, this one from ChefJune. Brian made this, and we both thought it was really amazing…until he added the vermouth-soaked gelatin. After that, it was polarizing. Brian thought it was so bad he didn’t want to serve it, but at least one person at the party said it was his favorite thing. I thought it was good, but not as good as it was before adding the vermouth. In the future, I would use white wine instead of the vermouth. The recipe shows it molded into one big shell, and also suggested using madeleine molds for individual serving-sizes. We just chilled it in a bowl and then scooped it into pre-baked phyllo cups with a melon baller.

Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

new years 2011 053

I’ve already posted about these, but a special message to the haters out there: don’t knock my flavor choices until you’ve tried them. I’m not “chasing the next thing.” Peppermint, cinnamon, orange, lavender, almond, and rose are all traditional candy flavorings. Lavender and rose aren’t very common in the U.S. today (although many gourmet chocolatiers and several national brands do sell lavender-flavored chocolate) but they have been popular at other times and places. In the words of a kindergartener: Don’t yuck my yum.

Candied Cranberries

If you don't overcook the syrup, they'll be prettierWhole, fresh cranberries coated in a hard candy shell and rolled in more sugar for sparkle—they pop when you bite into them, tart and sweet and totally delicious. I sort of followed Leah Bloom’s recipe on the Examiner, but I let the simple syrup cook to hard ball stage. That turned out to be a terrible idea, because it began to set into one big sauce-pan sized chunk of cranberry brittle almost before it was cool enough to try to separate the cranberries out and roll them in sugar. So next time, I’ll actually follow the recipe. These would make a lovely garnish for a holiday dessert, too—they’re like little edible jewels.

Harissa Dip with Crudité Platter

Rippley carrots and cucumbers courtesy of my new mandoline, which was a Christmas present.

I just kind of made this up as I went along: a jar of roasted red peppers, a half-pound block of feta cheese, 2 or 3 ounces of cream cheese, 3 or 4 teaspoons of harissa, a pinch of cayenne, a handful of fresh cilantro, the juice of about half a lemon, and salt to taste—all whizzed in a food processor until smooth. Creamy, briny, tangy, spicy. Thinned with a little more lemon juice and perhaps a little olive oil, this might make a nice salad dressing, too.

Happy New Year, everyone!