A Holiday Round-Up: Some Sweet, Petite and Neat

wpid-IMG_20111225_083829.jpgFourteen days and counting! Are you ready yet?

We all have our favorite traditional holiday treats and gifts that we like to make each year. And as each holiday approaches, I see so many more things I want to try my hand at making, but usually end up falling short of getting to them in addition to my usual baking…and before I run out of time and energy. This will be one of those years I imagine. However, I will be posting some items for you next week that are new in this year’s baking line-up.

Meanwhile, let me share a round-up of food and drink that I think you might enjoy this holiday season—the sweet, the savory and the in-between. Below are some of my very favorite traditional holiday baking, entertaining and gift-giving recipes from this blog, many of which can be made ahead, frozen or are just plain quick and easy. Cheers!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. If I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live.
I’m not kidding.

cookiesgreen

readytobake2Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies are so easy to make ahead and wonderful to freeze, then have on hand to slice, bake and decorate a few whenever you need or want them. Prettily packaged, they make a sweet gift as well.

almonds1R2olives4Glazed Red Pepper and Fennel Almonds are a hit with everyone and won’t last long at a party…or in your home in general. They’re a most welcome gift for a cocktail nibble or appetizer, and a few sprinkled atop a green salad with some fruit are a lovely way to enjoy them, too. You’ll also find these savory Provençal Olives in this post. They keep well for about a month or so, and make a great hostess gift. These two together as appetizers or tapas are a dynamic duo.

Mmmm. These Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal cookies are to die for! Mmmmuuuuaaaah ha ha ha ha!

Sweet Cider Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal Cookies have festive flavors and aren’t quite as heavy as some cookies…so you can eat more than one, not that I can only eat one anyway!

bottles2Cranberry Liqueur is the perfect gift and keeps at room temperature for a year. There’s still time to get a batch made for holiday giving or New Year’s tippling. Be sure to make some while fresh cranberries are still available.

Maamool 4Ma’amool is a Middle Eastern treat in the form of a fruit or nut stuffed semolina cookie that is molded into beautiful shapes. They taste as good as they look, too! No mold? No worries. You can seal them and decorate with the tines of a fork.

jarsfinal1This Walnut Thyme Honey is just amazing drizzled over cheese for a quick and impressive appetizer. Needless to say, it makes a lovely gift.

wholeplateMy Retro Cheese and Olive Bites make a “can’t believe how good these are” do-ahead-and-freeze appetizer to bake when needed, then serve or give away. They are truly addictive, so be sure to make enough for yourself and some to share. Also in this same post are the equally fabulous make-ahead-and-freeze Bacon Wrapped Dates with Pistachios and Apricots.

finishedcrabcakes2tomatoes3Two more lively appetizers for entertaining are found in another post: Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli and Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. While the crab cakes take a little work, they can be made ahead and frozen, then rewarmed when needed. And the stuffed tomatoes are just too darn easy and good to be ignored. Seasonal colors, too.

finished puddingNeed something for a holiday brunch? Our all-time favorite dish for Christmas Eve or morning is this absolutely divine Ham, Fontina and Spinach Bread Pudding. You can make it the night before and bake it when you need it. It reheats well and will become your fave, too, I guarantee it.

breadpuddingWhat’s that? Want something a bit lighter and healthier, or dare I say vegetarian, before the big holiday bash? This savory Butternut Squash, Kale and Parmesan Bread Pudding is just the ticket. All the festive flavor and a lot less of the fat.

champagnecocktail2

cocktails1And to wash it all down, you’ve got to have a sparkling drink! For those holiday toasts, this Champagne Cocktail would do quite nicely. And if you’ve make the Cranberry Liqueur listed above, try out these Festive Holiday Cocktails for a Happy New Year.

Encore! (More party recipes!)

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

My last post Party On!, was all about tips for planning a party, and specifically a cocktail and heavy hors d’oeuvres party. Now comes the fun part…the food and drink! So this post will be short on chat and long on recipes.

If you missed the first two items on my party menu, the Retro Cheese Olive Bites and the Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricot and Pistachio, click on the names to link to those recipes and the last post. Another great recipe from the party is this Caramelized Shallot and Blue Cheese Dip from Bon Appétit that’s a tried and true favorite I’ve used for years, and it’s great with crudités as well as potato chips.

Following are the rest of the party recipes, some or all of which I hope you’ll consider for your next entertaining event. And be sure not to miss the cocktails at the end of this post…got to have the festive drinks to go with the hors d’oeuvres, after all!

The flavor of the chicken salad is even better the day after it’s made and once the tarragon has had a chance to blend with the other flavors.

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini
Makes about 3 1/2 to 4 dozen

2 large chicken breasts halves, with skin and bone
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper

1 cup quartered seedless red grapes
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped shallot
1/3 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or you can use dried tarragon to taste, start with 1 Tablespoon)
2/3 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Two loaves sliced brioche
1 1/2 inch round biscuit cutter
A few extra tarragon leaves for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, place the chicken breasts in an ovenproof casserole that has been greased with olive oil, then drizzle 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake the chicken breasts in the oven until just done and the juices run clear when sliced, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes, uncover and cool. Remove the skin and discard, and remove the meat from the bones. Chop the meat into small pieces, about 1/2 inch, and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the chicken, then stir until everything is well mixed and the mayonnaise has coated all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the salad until ready to use. It will keep for up to two days in the fridge.

About an hour before you’re ready to compose your crostini, use the biscuit cutter to cut out rounds of brioche, avoiding the brown crusts. You’ll get 2 rounds, sometimes 3 out of each slice depending on how large your brioche loaf is. (I save the crusts and leftover bread, freeze it and make bread pudding, or breadcrumbs.) Spread the rounds on a cookie sheet and toast them under the broiler until lightly golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on wire racks. Mound about 1 heaping tablespoon of chicken salad on top of each crostini and garnish with a fresh tarragon leaf, if desired.

It’s hard to stop at three of these lovely little bites.

Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
(Makes about 4 dozen)

2 lbs. small cherry tomatoes, or about 48, washed and dried
4 oz. fresh soft goat cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves

Using a sharp or serrated knife, slice off a tiny sliver on the bottom of each tomato so it will sit without rolling, then slice off the top of each tomato and gently scoop out the seeds and centers of each one. Turn them upside down on a paper towel as you go to drain. Refrigerate if not using immediately, for up to one day, sitting in a deep dish on paper towels and covered with plastic wrap. When ready to stuff, combine the goat cheese and basil in a small bowl, mixing well. Taste and add a tiny pinch of salt and pepper if desired, but I like mine plain. Stuff a small amount of the goat cheese mixture into each hollowed out tomato, mounding slightly on top. Keep cool until ready to serve.

Crab cakes ready for frying…

…and after frying, ready for aioli and eating…or freezing!

Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli
Makes about 4 dozen
Adapted from Bon Appétit

2 scallions thinly sliced, then run your knife through them, white and light green parts only
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 lb. lump crabmeat, picked over very carefully
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, plus an additional 3/4 cup reserved for breading
1 1/2 Tablespoons thinly sliced chives
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil

Aioli:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons thinly sliced chives

1 Tablespoon chives slices 1/8″ long for garnish (optional)

Whisk the first 7 ingredients together in a medium bowl. Gently fold in the crabmeat. Stir in 3/4 cup of panko, 1 1/2 Tablespoons of chives, salt and pepper. Form a scant tablespoon of the crabmeat mixture into a ball. Roll in the remaining 3/4 cup panko crumbs, set on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and very lightly pat the top to make it flat like a crab cake. Repeat with the remaining crab mixture and panko.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add crab cakes in batches, do not crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the finished crab cakes from heat and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all of the crab cakes are cooked.  If needed, add one more Tablespoon of oil during the frying process. If serving right away, proceed to instructions for the aioli. If freezing, place the crab cakes on a cookie sheet in the freezer uncovered until firm, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until ready to use, up to 6 weeks.

To serve frozen crab cakes, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the crab cakes on an un-greased cookie sheet, and bake until heated through, about 10 to 14 minutes. While the cakes are warming, mix together all ingredients for the aioli in a small bowl. Place the cakes on your serving platter and top each one with a tiny dollop (about 1/4 teaspoon) of the aioli. Scatter chives across the platter for garnish.

Pulled pork, Wickle and cornbread…a classic southern combo.

Cornbread Tartlets with BBQ Pork, Sauce and Wickle
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted unsalted butter

1 lb. of your favorite BBQ pulled pork
1/2 cup spicy North Carolina Vinegar based BBQ sauce
1/2 cup sweet, thick BBQ sauce
12 Wickle sweet pickles, quartered

For the tartlets, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter two 24-cup mini muffin pans, or you can use just one and bake in two batches. In a medium bowl, whisk the cornmeal with the flour, sugar baking powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, combine the eggs, milk and butter. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir just to combine, don’t overmix. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them halfway. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out to cool completely.

If you’re not using the tartlets immediately once they’ve cooled and plan to freeze them, freeze before slicing off the domes. Thaw and bring back to room temperature before using, then slice off the domed tops of the muffins to make a flat surface. Place the pork on a plate and douse the pork with the spicy North Carolina barbecue sauce, allowing it to absorb the sauce. Top each tartlet with some pork, then drizzle a few drops of the sweet sauce over the pork and top the tartlet with a Wickle. Serve at room temperature.

And the drinks! Each recipe makes one cocktail. Cheers!

The Classic Champagne Cocktail is my favorite of the three!

Classic Champagne Cocktail 
1 sugar cube
Angostura bitters
Champagne
Soak the sugar cube in Angostura bitters, drop it into a champagne flute and top with champagne. Serve.

The color change in the layers of the Kir Royale are so subtle, they are hard to photograph. But in this shot you can see that whatever this drink is, it’s a pretty color in candlelight!

Kir Royale
6 ounces champagne
1/2 ounce crème de cassis
Pour the champagne into a flute. Allow it to settle for a moment. Gently pour the cassis down the inside of the glass through the champagne. The Kir should have a layer of cassis at the bottom. Garnish with a lemon twist or with a blackberry if desired.

The Italian Spritzer is usually made with Prosecco, but we made ours with champagne…it’s great either way!

Italian Champagne Spritzer
1 ounce Aperol
4 ounces champagne
Splash of club soda
Pour the Aperol into a large wine glass with ice cubes (we use two large ice cubes), then add the champagne and splash of soda. Garnish with an orange slice or a cherry, or both.

Shaken and Stirred at H Harper Station

The Vesper, the Bramble and the Cosmonaut out on a Friday night.

Last night we joined our friend and amateur cocktail mixologist, David, for Friday night drinks at H Harper Station (www.hharperstation.com). Billed as “A Modern Watering Stop” and housed at the historic Atlanta & West Point rail station in the Reynoldstown area of Atlanta, it’s a very friendly, casual and inviting place. Continue reading