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FESTIVE, FUN AND FABULOUS KEEP IT SIMPLE FOR A HOLIDAY GATHERING THAT EVERYONE WILL ENJOY.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

'Tis the season for holiday parties -- and if you're hosting one, here's how to get through it in style with a little advice from well-versed party gurus.

``Entertaining should be fun,'' says Diane Phillips, author of the new ``Happy Holidays From the Diva of Do-Ahead: A Year of Feasts to Celebrate With Family and Friends'' (Harvard Common Press; $14.95).

``Build your reputation with a few great dishes then add to your repertoire one recipe at a time; then everyone will think you're a great cook,'' says the San Diego cooking teacher, who loves a great party. ``People want simple but delicious.''

Phillips suggests a cold or room-temperature buffet for holiday cocktail party grazing. It's a confidence builder for people who don't entertain very often. ``All the selections should be items guests can pick up (with hands or a pick) and walk around with -- no knife and fork needed.''

A good variety

Go with three dips or spreads and five bite-size individual things -- cocktail shrimp, puff pastry bites, cranberry brie bites and something a little more substantial to fill people up, like chicken skewers, she advises. Plan on items in a variety of colors and shapes.

``I don't pass hors d'oeuvres, as I don't think it helps with the flow of the cocktail party. I think it's an intrusion into the conversations that are going on.''

Give yourself permission to buy some items -- and have someone else do the work, she adds. The Costco vegetable platter is probably one of the best buys around, as it contains items like asparagus and red and yellow peppers that other stores don't use. She tosses the accompanying dip and makes her own.

Don't overlook the possibility of gussying up supermarket ingredients to save time and effort. For instance, buy hummus and stir in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme to punch up the flavor. Or, doctor up softened cream cheese with Worcestershire sauce, garlic, chopped onion and chopped shrimp for a great seafood dip to spread on crackers. Buy thinly sliced salami at the deli, roll it up with a cream cheese mixture inside and then cut the rolls in half.

Easy fare

Or present a crostini bar, letting guests top small, thin baguette toasts as desired with an array of ingredients like store-bought tapenade, sun-dried tomato or basil pesto mixed with cream cheese, crumbled goat cheese, wild mushroom spread, roasted red peppers and such.

Event planner and caterer Randy Furhman, owner of Randy Furhman Events in Studio City, also believes in simplicity and ease. ``Make Trader Joe's your best friend for the holidays,'' he advises, because they stock many new fresh and frozen products this time of year that are made for entertaining.

He suggests molding store-bought port Cheddar cheese into one or two pine cone shapes on a white platter, then topping with whole almonds (with skins on) to simulate the look of a pine cone.

Freshen up the flavor of store-bought meatballs by sauteeing them in a little garlic and butter, then baking in a favorite marinara sauce (or use Prego doctored up with fresh basil or Italian herbs and red wine). Or bake them in a combination of your favorite barbecue sauce mixed with a can of whole berry cranberry sauce, a 4- or 5-ounce jar of sweet and spicy mustard, a touch of Southern Comfort or Grand Marnier and a bag of dried orange-flavored cranberries, he adds.

Assorted pates or a prepared brie en croute are other convenient buffet-table choices. Or wrap cooked Jody Maroni sausage pieces in strips of defrosted, frozen puff pastry, making crisscross ties. Bake until golden, then serve at room temperature with a variety of mustards. Or make sausage lollipops by popping sausage rounds on lollipop sticks.

Fuhrman also likes to add a sweet or two to the savory buffet assortment. Spread a medium brie cheese round with melted and cooled bittersweet chocolate and a layer of raspberry jam or macadamia nuts. Wrap in puff pastry and seal with an eggwash, then bake a few minutes and serve with gingersnaps.

Another favorite sweet: Mock truffles, made by beating together a half a pound of cream cheese, half a pound of melted bittersweet chocolate and three tablespoons wild berry liqueur, Grand Marnier, Amaretto or Kahlua. Refrigerate until cold, then shape into balls and roll in unsweetened cocoa.

Many appetizers can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated. And lots of items can also be frozen, points out Phillips, adding that the quality doesn't suffer. However, she advises against freezing seafood creations.

Plan ahead

When it comes to parties, you need to have a plan. Plug in the date of the party on a calendar, then go back and mark each task like ordering and shopping times, cleaning the house, setting the table, arranging flowers and such for the appropriate day. That usually relieves some of the stress.

``Don't challenge your culinary ability'' noted Phillips. ``You need to do things you're comfortable preparing.''

If you do everything ahead, arrange items beautifully on platters and put them out before the guests arrive, the only thing you have to worry about is replenishing trays -- so you can enjoy the party.

``Holiday parties are all about celebration and remembrance: They should be fun, filling you with joy, excitement and love for the people who will be coming and the knowledge that you will be creating happy memories. It's all about bringing people together you really care about.''

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

natalie.haughton@dailynews.com

SHRIMP WITH SMOKED PAPRIKA

1 1/2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

12 cups water

Kosher salt

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 lemon, thinly sliced

10 sprigs thyme

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

24 medium shrimp (1 to 1 1/4 pounds total weight) in shell

Put paprika, cayenne, lime juice and oil in a medium bowl and mix together. Set aside. Pour water into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add 2 tablespoons salt, wine, lemon slices, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaves, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp, remove pot from heat, cover and let stand until shrimp are firm and pink, approximately 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove shrimp and set aside to cool. When cool, peel and devein shrimp, add to bowl with paprika-cayenne oil and toss to coat them. Season to taste with salt.

Cover shrimp and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. To serve, decoratively arrange shrimp on a platter and pass with toothpicks alongside, or skewer them on cocktail forks and present the forks on a plate or platter.

Makes 6 servings

(4 shrimp EACH)

From ``Artisanal Cooking: A Chef Shares His Passion for Handcrafting Great Meals at Home,'' by Terrance Brennan and Andrew Friedman.

CHAMPAGNE COSMOPOLITAN COCKTAILS

1 1/2 cups Cointreau

1 1/2 cups cranberry juice cocktail

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

16 fresh raspberries

1 (750-milliliter) bottle chilled champagne

In a large pitcher, mix together Cointreau, cranberry juice and lime juice. Refrigerate until chilled. At this point, you can refrigerate up to 4 days. When ready to serve, pour 2 tablespoons of juice mixture into each champagne flute, add 2 raspberries per glass and fill with champagne. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 cocktails

From ``Happy Holidays From the Diva of Do-Ahead, A Year of Feasts to Celebrate With Family and Friends,'' by Diane Phillips.

ROASTED TOMATO AND PESTO CHEESECAKE WITH POLENTA CRUST

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup boiling chicken broth

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened

2 large eggs

1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup basil pesto, homemade OR store-bought

2 cups Herb-Roasted Tomatoes (recipe follows)

Sprigs of fresh basil, for garnish

Pine nuts, for garnish

Combine butter, cornmeal, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Pour in broth, stirring to blend. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and mix to combine. Line inside of a 9-inch springform pan or a cake pan with foil and spray inside with nonstick cooking spray. Press cornmeal mixture onto bottom but NOT up the sides.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and mascarpone together in a large bowl until smooth and creamed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then mozzarella, beating until light. Pour into prepared pan. Drop pesto by tablespoonfuls onto batter and, with tip of a knife, swirl it through cheesecake for a marbled effect. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven 45 to 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out with some cheesecake on it but is not liquid. Turn off oven, with cheesecake remaining inside, and leave door ajar 30 minutes (to prevent cracks from forming).

Allow cheesecake to cool completely, then remove from the pan and peel away the foil. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate up to 3 days, or freeze up to 6 weeks. Defrost in refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. Decorate top of cheesecake with a layer of Herb- Roasted Tomatoes and sprinkle with basil leaves and pine nuts. Serve with baguette slices, crackers or European cucumber rounds.

Makes 1 (9-inch) cheesecake,

12 to 16 servings

HERB ROASTED TOMATOES: Line a jelly-roll pan with foil or a silicone baking liner. Cut tomatoes from 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, drained and juice reserved, in half and place in a large glass bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 2 teaspoons dried basil, 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, crushed, 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, being careful not tear the tomatoes. Pour onto the prepared pan, spreading mixture out in a single layer. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until tomato liquid is absorbed and tomatoes have firmed up and turned a deep red color, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking to make sure that the tomatoes and garlic don't brown. Transfer the tomato mixture to a clean glass bowl and let it mellow at room temperature for about 6 hours. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days, or freeze up to 3 months. Defrost in refrigerator overnight and bring to room temperature before using. Makes about 4 cups.

This recipe makes a lot more than you will need for the cheesecake, but it freezes beautifully, providing you with a great topping down the road for bruschetta, grilled chicken, fish or meats, or a sauce to toss with fresh pasta.

From ``Happy Holidays From the Diva of Do-Ahead, A Year of Feasts to Celebrate With Family and Friends,'' by Diane Phillips.

ROASTED PECAN-BLUE CHEESE DIP WITH CRUDITES

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Crudites of your choice

In a food processor or medium bowl using an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, blue cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve, stir in 3/4 cup pecans. Place dip in a serving bowl and garnish with remaining 1/4 cup pecans. Serve with crudites.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups dip

From ``Happy Holidays From the Diva of Do-Ahead, A Year of Feasts to Celebrate With Family and Friends,'' by Diane Phillips.

OLIVE APPETIZER TREE

1 (10-ounce) bottle small pimiento-stuffed olives

1 (10-ounce) bottle large pimiento-stuffed olives

6 ounces pitted Kalamata OR ripe olives

1 (1-pound) block Colby cheese

1 (125-count) package round toothpicks

1 cone shape (9 inches tall) green OR white floral foam

Rosemary sprigs, if desired

Drain olives. Cut block of cheese horizontally into 2 pieces, each about 1/2-inch thick. Cut cheese with a 1-inch star-shape canape or cookie cutter. Cover cheese stars with plastic wrap.

Break toothpicks in half as needed. Starting at bottom of cone, insert toothpicks in random order until they stay securely in place. Push each olive onto toothpick half. When placing olives around the tree, vary the olive sizes and leave spaces for the cheese stars. For stability of the tree, place most of the larger olives near the bottom.

Push each cheese star onto a toothpick half; insert into cone among the olives. Top tree with a cheese star that has been inserted horizontally on toothpick between points of star. Insert rosemary sprigs randomly among olives and cheese. Serve immediately, or cover loosely and refrigerate no longer than 8 hours before serving.

Makes 30 servings,

3 pieces EACH

From ``Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook.''

GREEN HERB DIP

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream at room temperature

1/2 cup good mayonnaise

3/4 cup chopped green onions, white and green parts (3 green onions)

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, green onions, parsley, dill, salt and pepper in bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse 10 to 12 times, until just blended, but not pureed. Serve at room temperature with cut-up vegetables or crackers.

Makes 2 cups

From ``Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again,'' by Ina Garten.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Shining stars

Easy hors d'oeuvres make holiday party planning a snap

Photo by Becky Luigard-Stayner from ``Happy Holidays From the Diva of Do-Ahead,'' Harvard Common Press

(2 -- color) GREEN HERB DIP

Photo by Quentin Bacon from ``Barefoot Contessa at Home,'' Clarkson Potter/Publishers

(3 -- color) OLIVE APPETIZER TREE

From ``Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook,'' Wiley

(4 -- color) SHRIMP WITH SMOKED PAPRIKA

Photo by Christopher Hirshheimer from ``Artisanal Cooking,'' John Wiley & Sons
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Nov 28, 2006
Words:2362
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