Holiday Appetizers

Three-Cheese Mini Macs from Food & Wine magazine 

On Saturday night Jim and I threw our annual holiday get-together. We made most of the food ourselves, from a mix of new recipes and old favorites. As always, the night had its share of winners and disappointments:

Three-Cheese Mini Macs from Food & Wine, December 2007
These small starbursts of elbow macaroni and cheddar, American, and parmesan cheeses were the hit of the evening, and were picked off their Pittsburgh Steelers tray faster than I could make them. Most of the labor was done ahead of time, as I prepared the pasta and cheese mixture on Saturday morning, then filled my mini muffin tin and placed it in the fridge until guests started to arrive. After 10 minutes in the oven, then 5 more on the cooling rack, they were ready to go. And I was easily able to cook more of these comfort-food favorites as the night wore on.

Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange and Black Pepper Marmalade, from Bon Appétit, December 2007
For these labor-intensive crostini I spent Friday afternoon painstakingly peeling blood orange sections from their papery membranes. But the result was worth it: a tangy yet sweet jam that perfectly complemented the creamy goat cheese spread. Unfortunately I made a grave error regarding the bread. In the past I have sliced and toasted my bread an hour or so before the guests arrived and then frantically assembled the crostini. I feel silly even writing this, but this year I prepared my bread the afternoon before and sealed it in an airtight container. Of course it didn’t work. The crostini were too hard and crunchy on the night of the party.

Mark Bittman’s Polpetti from the New York Times, November 29, 2006
In this week’s New York Times Dining section, Mark Bittman provides ideas for 101 simple appetizers; where was he when I needed him last week? In any case, for two years in a row I have made his fantastic polpetti (little meatballs) to tons of acclaim. Last year I used ground beef and pork; this year I used ground veal and pork. I doubled the recipe and made them a few hours before party time, then quickly warmed them up in the oven. The veal-based polpetti didn’t brown as much as I expected, but the taste was gentler and more subtle than last year’s beef version. On Saturday night they disappeared so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to take a photo of them.

White Bean Puree from Time Out New York, March 4-11, 1999
I have made this bean dip for the past eight years. For previous parties I used canned white beans as the base for the puree. But last week I bought a bag of dried white beans and soaked those little guys for 8 hours. After another hour or so of simmering on the stove with an onion and some garlic, then a swirl in the food processor with a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil, my bean dip had a fresher taste and lusher texture than ever before. A 15-minute infusion of fresh rosemary completed the task, and added a kick of natural herb flavor.

Holiday Table with Appetizers

We also made some fresh mozzarella, basil, and sundried tomato skewers from Giada’s Family Dinners, a second round of pizzelles, and brownies. And we can’t forget Jim’s awesome homemade egg nog. Just to be sure we had enough food, we also ordered a fresh vegetable plate and some wraps from the gourmet grocery down the block. Interestingly, no one touched the wraps, but the rest of the food was gone by 11 pm. Since the best evidence of a successful party is the absence of leftovers, I’d have to say that things went very well.

Now, what should we make next year?


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