Holiday Parties

By: Marcelle Bienvenu

I checked my calendar today and it appears that every weekend in December is booked with parties, but that hasn’t deterred me from thinking about having a relatively small cocktail party. There is nothing that says I can’t have a party during the week or on Sunday evening. And I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to do my inviting via email –although I do love receiving invitations via snail mail.

Decorations can be simple or elaborate, depending on your style and the size of your home, and of course, your budget.  Pots of fresh poinsettias, lots of votive candles, fresh greenery (I love the scent of pine and cedar), and a Christmas tree usually does the trick.

If you plan on having a full bar, you’ll need bourbon, vodka, gin, scotch, rum, white and red wine, and beer.  And, don’t forget the mixers—cola, 7-Up, club soda, tonic, water and such.  You’ll need ice, lots of ice, garnishes such as lime and lemon wedges, and cherries.  Oh, and don’t forget to have plenty cocktail napkins and cocktail glasses as well as wine glasses.

Now on to your menu!  I’m a big believer in finger food—food that doesn’t have to be eaten with a fork, knife and plate.  Offer items that can be served either slightly chilled or at room temperature, or warmed in the oven rather than serving fried foods or items that have to be cooked at the last minute.

TABASCO ROASTED PECANS

Make these ahead of time and store them in an airtight container.  Put them out in small glass, crystal or silver bowls near the bar and around the house.  You can certainly double the recipe to have some handy throughout the holiday season.

Makes 3 cups

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 ½ teaspoons Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups pecan halves

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Stir in garlic, Tabasco and salt.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the pecans and toss until well coated; spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 250°F oven for 1 hour or until pecans are crisp, stirring occasionally.

SMOKED SALMON CHEESECAKE

You can make this a day or two ahead of time.  Cover and store in the refrigerator.

Makes about40 small servings

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 cup dried fine breadcrumbs

1/4 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese

1 teaspoon minced dill

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup minced onions

1 3/4 pounds cream cheese, softened

4 eggs

1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

1/3 cup half-and-half

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound chopped smoked salmon

Assorted party crackers for serving

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan.  Combine the breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup Gruyere and the dill.  Sprinkle into the pan, turning to coat evenly.  Refrigerate.

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, and cover and cook until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Mix the cream cheese in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add the eggs, the remaining Gruyere, the half-and-half and salt.  Mix until smooth.  Blend in the onions and the salmon.  Filling should retain some texture.

Pour into the prepared pan.  Set the pan in a roasting pan.  Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides.  Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Turn the oven off and cool the cheesecake for about 1 hour with the door ajar.  Transfer to a rack to cool to room temperature before removing from the pan to serve.

Put the cheesecake on a decorative platter or cake plate and put the crackers in baskets or serving platter for service.

ASPARAGUS AND GREEN BEAN TRAY

This is so easy!  It’s pretty as well.  Arrange the asparagus and beans on a decorative platter.  Put the dipping sauce in a small glass or crystal container in the center of the platter and you’re ready!

Makes about 30 servings

2 pounds pencil-thin asparagus, trimmed

2 pounds tender green beans, stem ends removed

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Blanch the vegetables in salted boiling water just until tender, about three minutes for the asparagus and two to four minutes for the beans.  Drain and cool in a bowl of ice water.  Drain again and refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk to blend.  Keep chilled until ready to use.

CAVIAR EGGS

Double or triple the recipe because these go quickly.  Arrange them on a bed of mixed baby salad greens to serve.

Makes 12 servings

6 hard-boiled eggs

2 teaspoons snipped chives

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 tablespoon sour cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 ounces black or red caviar

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise.  Remove the yolks and put them through a sieve or pulse them several times in a food processor.  Combine them with the chives, mayonnaise, sour cream, and season to taste.  Mix well.  Spoon the mixture into the egg white shells.  Chill for at least one hour.  When ready to serve, top each with some of the caviar.

SEAFOOD SPREAD

Makes about 20 appetizer servings

2 cups finely chopped cooked lobster and/or shrimp

1 cup finely chopped celery

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1/4 cup finely chopped red bell peppers

1 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon capers

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to mix well.  Chill for at least two hours before serving.  Serve with party crackers or toasted pita bread triangles.

BACON AND BELL PEPPER FINGER SANDWICHES

Make the filling a day or so ahead of time and refrigerate in an airtight container.  Make the sandwiches a couple of hours before the party and cover with a damp kitchen towel or paper towels to prevent them from drying out.  Arrange on a decorate platter to serve.

Makes 80 finger sandwiches

40 thin slices bread of choice

4 pounds fried bacon, fried crisp, drained and crumbled

3 medium green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

8 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped

1 bunche green onions, chopped

Black pepper to taste

Tabasco to taste

Mayonnaise

Trim the crusts off the bread slices.  Mix together the rest of the ingredients, adding just enough mayonnaise to bind the mixture and make it spreadable.  Spread the mixture on the bread slices, and cut into finger sandwiches.

For something sweet, you might want to have your local confectioner or bakery make you bite-size cookies or cheesecakes, but if you have the time, these brownies, cut into small squares, are great.

WORLD’S BEST BROWNIES

Makes about 32 small squares

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 sticks butter

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.  Let the mixture cool for about five minutes.

Place the sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and pour in the chocolate mixture.  With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until blended.  Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add the vanilla and with the mixer on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time, blending after each addition until the yolk is broken and dispersed.  Scrape the bowl and blend until the mixture is like velvet.  Again, scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour on low speed and mix for 20 seconds.  Scrap down the bowl as needed.  Finish the mixing by hand, being certain to incorporate any flour at the bottom of the bowl.  Stir in the pecans.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.  Bake in the middle rack of the oven just until the center has risen to the level of the sides and a tester inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for one hour before cutting into small squares.

May be made ahead of time and stored in between waxed paper in an airtight container.  Will keep for two days.

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