Sunday, December 18, 2011

Afternoon Open House

Hot Spiced Cider with or without Rum (Pum Pum Pum)
    An afternoon open house is the perfect party ...  No main course.  Everyone's gone by dinner time...  And folks show up because  other commitments are for evening.  Few dishes to wash.  Food that's easy to prepare ahead. Your goal:  everything out and ready for guests to help themselves.  Your reward:  To be able to enter your own party! 
Ginger cookies, Chocolate Snowballs, Date bars--Made ahead and frozen


 






















 A couple of perfect festive drinks (Sparkler and Hot Cider), as well as a pot of strong coffee and some thick cream (for those who must dunk cookies or are heading to a serious evening party), make set-up much easier than a cocktail  or dinner party.  People come dressed comfortably.  Yes.
A festive few dishes and a candle or two.  Not much more needed.
            Your best cookies,  a couple of great nibbles...Always vegetables...A bit of cheese-
Lots of vegetables--some fresh, some grilled. Herb Garlic Cheese Dip with Pine Nuts
Something they'll remember later...like my taste-like-jelly-filled-donut shortbread sandwiches:

                         Raspberry Shortbread Sandwiches


Crowded is ok. They'll come and go.

 All set up ahead leaves time for visiting and listening to the great Christmas playlist you put together for the party.  Everything from Revels to Tony Bennett to Harry Connick, Jr. to Cambridge Singers.
 Something  filling for those who skipped lunch.  Here, a great tapenade.  Don't skimp on the olives; buy the best you can find.  Grill your sliced baguette on the stove if it's too cold outside.
Spicy Tapenade with Crostini
 Spanish Cava is a lovely, inexpensive sparkler.  Whatever's leftover can be used for New Year's or for
mimosas for brunch.  There's usually a discount if you buy a case.  Think ahead.
Cava and Cranberries.  Back-up bottles  all chilled in the frig.

Leave flutes set up with cranberries and folks will pour the sparkler over them.

David Lebovitz famous Pretzel and Nut Mix.  No Chex Mix needed.
 Something crunchy is a must.  Nuts, pretzels, chips...for the salty people.

      My take on  Eli Zabar's shortbread recipe..Bittersweet chocolate and sea salt..  I like Valrhona chocolate for dipping, but could only find Callebaut locally this year.  Makes excellent hot chocolate, too, by the way if you've any leftover from dipping.  Valrhona is French chocolate; Callebaut is made in many places, but is basically Belgian-French in origin.

Menu:

*Hot Cider with or without Rum (I leave the rum plainly marked in a pitcher on counter.)
*Pot of strong coffee and Hot Water for tea.  The best cream you can find.  Lemon, sugar.
*Cava (or your favorite bubbly)--Add a couple of  fresh cranberries to the $1. glasses
*Cookies--4 of your favorites.  Homemade or beg from friends-even buy at great bakery.
*Garlicky Rosemary Cheese Dip with Pine Nuts and  Lots of Veggies (Recipe below)
*Spicy Tapenade and Crostini (Grilled Bread) - Recipe Below
*Cranberry Almond Bars with Tangerine --You must have chocolate. Make it yourself.
*Alyce's Go Nuts!   Salty, hot, and sweet pecans.  Great protein.
*David Lebovitz Pretzel and Nut Mix--gotta have something that crunches.

                                  Other Recipes

 Herb Garlic Cheese Dip with Pine Nuts 
12 oz goat's cheese (chevre), softened
32 oz (4 c) ricotta cheese
Zest of one lemon
Hot sauce- a few drops
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
2T fresh dill, minced  (Can choose just one herb if you like.)
2T fresh basil chiffonade
2T fresh chives, minced
1T fresh thyme, chopped (plus a few sprigs for garnish)
1T fresh Rosemary, finely minced
1/2 t coarsely ground black pepper (or more to taste)
Pinch of kosher salt
Garnishes:
1/2 cup of pine nuts
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced
Rosemary sprigs 


Place all ingredients except garnishes in the food processor and pulse until well-blended.  Taste and readjust seasoning.  If making the day before, the garlic will settle down a lot overnight in the frig. Store in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Spoon into serving bowl and garnish with pine nuts, peppers, and sprigs of rosemary  Serve with fresh vegetables or crackers.  If too thick, add a few drops of milk and stir well before serving.

Spicy Tapenade  (Basic recipe courtesy Tyler Florence)

2 cups pitted mixed olives
3 anchovy fillets
2 small garlic cloves
Generous pinch of crushed red pepper
Big handful of flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tiny pinch  ea kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Process all ingredients in food processor using steel blade.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Serve with crostini (Many people make this in the oven, but I am fond of grilling the bread on a large, stovetop grill if the weather is inclement.  Grilled crostini is luscious with salt and pepper, but none is needed here when serving with tapenade.)
Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the 'Hood

This week, we're buying a few small gifts, making a vat of barbequed brisket,  going to a choir party, taking some friends out to dinner and to a Rose Ensemble concert, baking a manger scene (yes!) and stollen, watching every Christmas movie we can, and picking up my sister at the airport.    Emily and I are getting our hair done together tomorrow, so we'll be all cleaned up for the whole deal.  Work is slowing down, though I still have a couple of pieces to rehearse and direct.  Probably need to get that Rutter out and practice!  Dave's week will be intense and then crawl, alternately....as co-workers world-wide try to get ready for Dell's week-long break, but still make time for Christmas parties.

We'll be at church on Christmas Eve, of course...it's my favorite service.  If there's time, we'll stop by a couple of open houses, but we'll come home to cookies and eggnog in the wee early hours of Christmas morning and fall into bed to listen for the sleigh bells.

Christmas Day is a different story:

For years, I never even made Christmas dinner and I'm an avid cook.  By the time Christmas Eve services were done, I was done, too.  No one's happier to see Christmas day arrive than a church musician.  A great meat tray and the perfect basket of croissants sounded good to me.  Maybe a big bowl of shrimp and sauce and fresh veggies.  But one year Dave began cooking on Christmas Day and that continues.  I do a mean pan of cinnamon rolls and stollen and and an egg casserole for brunch after presents and he's in the kitchen the rest of the day often cooking up something out of Tyler Florence's books. It's a hoot for him to get me out of that kitchen and to just putter on his own.  No timetable.  I stay in my jammies and watch movies.


   
Last year's Christmas Day rolled flank steak with roasted tomatoes.



Christmas Day.  Toys, movies, the pups.



Gabby and Tuck have been good all year, but they're still worried there'll be  nothing in their stockings.

Maybe there are others with the same fears....


                                                                courtesy Share Our Strength

                         Want to feed some kids before the end of 2011?


No Kid Hungry this Holiday Season

With your help this holiday season, we can connect hungry children with nutritious meals all year long! Every $1 you donate to Share Our Strength helps connect a child with up to 10 meals. Through December 31, our No Kid Hungry Partners are matching the first $500,000 donated during the holiday season.   Click here to donate.



John O'Donohue is fond of talking about "entering your own life," but I love the idea of entering your own Christmas.  It's time.

Merry Days to you!   Do the fun things.
Alyce

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