Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Party Food - "Finger Food," Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads," "Delicious Dips," Pillsbury's Best of the Bake-Off," "Sugar Spoon"

Date I made these recipes: December 2-4

Finger Food by Confident Cooking
Published by Bay Books Australia
ISBN: 978-0681020535
Recipe: Savoury Shortbread with Tomato Jam – p. 93

Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads by Stacey Printz
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-0-8118-6589-0
Recipes: Balsamic Fig & Caramelized Onion Tapenade – p. 62 and Avocado-Chevre Spread – p. 75

Delicious Dips by Diane Morgan
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 10-0-8118-4220-7
Recipes: Roasted Butternut Squash Dip with Crème Fraiche – p. 27 and Blue Cheese Dip with Chives – p. 59

Pillsbury’s BEST 1000 Recipes – BEST of the BAKE-OFF® Collection, Edited and adapted by Ann Pillsbury and the staff of Pillsbury’s Home Service Kitchens
Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-470-39559-2. Original publication date: 1959
Recipes: Jim Dandies (chocolate-cherry - p. 361 and Hawaiian Moon Drops (pineapple, nuts and coconut) – p. 367. The Jim Dandies recipe was a Junior (Award) Winner created by James Petersen, Withee, Wisconsin. The Hawaiian Moon Drops recipe was a Senior (Award) Winner created by Mrs. Lyell Roberts, Chisholm, Minnesota.

Sugar Spoon Recipes from the Domino Sugar Bowl Kitchen
Published by: American Sugar Company
© 1962, Second Printing
Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – p. 6
For the past couple years, Target has aired a hilarious series of commercials showing a shopping-obsessed lady working out in order to get ready for Black Friday. Let me just say that I know how this woman feels.

Right around Black Friday, I started working out in order to get in gear for my annual holiday open house. Besides recipe planning, there’s ingredient shopping, decoration shopping, alcohol shopping (Absolutely essential!) and of course food preparation.

To expedite cookie baking matters, I took a moment or two or sixty to pre-measure and sift and whatnot all the dry goods. Then I put them into plastic bags and labeled them, for example: “Lemon bars base – 1 cup flour + 1 tsp salt…” I created this trick years ago when I did a lot of baking for a party and it works great. When it comes time to add the dry ingredients, you just locate the correct bag and fire away. Easy as pie…hahahahaha….

And for those of you who bake, you know that best results are achieved if your butter and dairy are at room temperature so if I made three baked goods that day, I took out all the required butter and eggs in advance so I could just get cracking when the time came. (Pun not intended but now that I look at it…eggs…cracking….)

As to my savory items, I left those all for one day so I could use my cutting board for veggies only. I also bagged those ingredients and labeled them accordingly although at the end of the day, we had one leftover bag of minced parsley and rosemary that my husband failed to see. That was my bad though, as I failed to include that in my tutorial when he took over making some items.

So that’s the back half of the equation. The first half of the equation is deciding what recipes to make. This year, all my hot food items came from magazines and almost all my cold savory items and desserts came from books. And since this blog is all about cookbooks, I’m only going to list the recipes from the books I made but will take a moment at the end to tell you where I found my hot food items because dang it all, they were great!

So speaking of cookbooks, when it comes to shopping for party food cookbooks, my desire to have a “collectible” cookbook goes out the window. Instead, I’m looking for recipes that are relatively easy to make and can be eaten without utensils; I rent plates and glassware for the party but draw the line at renting forks. We all have our standards.

So with that criterion in mind, I started stockpiling books early on (usually on sale) and made dishes from these recent acquisitions: Finger Food; Delicious Dips; Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads and Pillsbury’s Best 1000 Recipes – Best of the Bake-Off® Collection. I also made recipes from previous party cookbooks: Barefoot Contessa Parties!; Betty Crocker Party Book, Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook and The New Basics Cookbook.

And with that, let’s commence firing. First up is the Finger Food book. This book was published in Australia and let me tell you folks, thank goodness for the internet so I could look up US equivalents to grams and millimeters and whatnot. And I also have to credit this boss of a kitchen scale I own as it measures everything in the measurement system of your choice. Need ounces? Check. Need grams? Check. Check, check, check!

This year’s winning recipe was for Savoury Shortbread with Tomato Jam and by god, my guests were lucky to have some of that jam to eat as it was so good I could have eaten the entire bowl. I stuck to the recipe and made the shortbread with bacon and parmesan cheese although next year I might try some of the other recommended herbs and cheeses.

I think the thing that made this jam so yummy was that the vine-ripened tomatoes are roasted first and that just added sweetness to the dish. And yes, I know that tomatoes are not even close to being in season, much less “vine-ripened” at this time of year, but such is life. When it comes to party food, one must do what one must do. (That being said, I passed on my husband’s recommendation for an asparagus dish as it is pretty darned pricey at this time of year. We won’t even talk about how I nixed his suggestion for a scallop appetizer!)

Although the dough-making process took a minute or two, I thought this dish was pretty easy and I’ll likely repeat it next year. You know the saying – “If some if good, more is better!”

Next up, I used the Delicious Dips cookbook to make Blue Cheese Dip with Chives. This was so easy and so good that my guests pretty much finished off the bowl. In fact, one of my guests suggested to another guest that she finish it off but the other guest wasn’t that fond of blue cheese dip. “All the more for me,” my friend replied!

And then we have the equally delicious Roasted Butternut Squash Dip with Crème Fraiche. My only disappointment is that I thought the dip would be thicker but no matter. It’s so tasty I’m almost tempted to heat it up and eat it as soup. Wouldn’t be the first time…

My other little quibble is that crème fraiche certainly makes the dish but I needed such a small amount (2 tablespoons) that I almost passed on it. I bought it already made from my grocery store but now need to figure out what to do with the rest. I thought about making it myself but the ingredients that I needed (again, in small amounts) were almost more than the pre-made stuff. But here’s a question for all of you: Is it me or does the dairy lobby have it in for us cooks? I’m hard pressed to find anything I need in small amounts and am tired of paying high prices for a tablespoon or so for a recipe. Further, why do they list serving size for things like heavy cream as “1 tablespoon” and then “number of tablespoons per container: one million? I am math-challenged and so when a recipe calls for ¼ cup, I do not want to do the conversions on this, I just want the carton to tell me. We must unite on this!

Okay, rant over. Moving on…

Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads yielded two recipes, Balsamic Fig & Caramelized Onion spread and an Avocado-Chevre spread. Both were really good but the making of the fig and onion spread yields the better story: all was going well until I was instructed to add 1/3 cup of oil to the chopped onion and fig mixture. People, this was way too much. When I tasted it, all I could taste was olive oil and that is never a good thing. (And so to cleanse the palate, I ate a cookie that I had just made! Wow that was so much better!)

So I drained the oil as best as I could using two paper towels in the process and then caramelized some more onions and then added the now-drained onion and fig mixture to the skillet and cooked the entire thing for a couple more minutes. To me, this made all the difference although the yield was so small for my party needs that I made another batch and this time I added the oil in increments – no fool me!

Now although I have yet to blog about The New Basics Cookbook, I’ve gone to it time and time again over the years to find recipes. I guess I just haven’t felt like I found “the one” to post. And this year’s appetizer, although a hit, was such a bitch to make that it’s not going to make it this year, either!

The recipe is simple: 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese plus ¼ cup of Mango Chutney plus finely copped pecans on the outside.

So I started to put this together thinking that this would take me mere minutes. I mean with two main ingredients, how hard could this be?

Well people, it was hard! The cheese and the chutney didn’t bind well at all so I pulsed the cheese in my Cuisinart thinking that the consistency (shredded versus grated) might be the problem. It was not. The balls just wouldn’t hang together. So I put them in the freezer thinking that would surely make things better but it didn’t. So I tried the Cuisinart again and this time added more chutney to the cheese and there was slight improvement. Mind you, I still walked around the kitchen with more cheese on my hands and on the counter than in the cheese bites but whatever. By this time, the damage was done and these are off my list for next year! If you have a hankering to try them go ahead but be warned that this is a messy operation.

So those are my savory cookbook recipes. In the cookie department, I tried a couple new recipes from the Pillsbury Bake-Off® book with mixed results although I do love the retro nature of the cookbook. And seeing as how I recently acquired all my mom’s copper cookie cutouts, I made a sugar cookie recipe from my Domino Sugar Spoon Recipe book. (By the way, my mom ordered these cookie cutouts from Kellogg’s for $1.50 plus two box tops!)

Back for another year were Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars, a peanut butter/Rice Krispies/chocolate chip and marshmallow bar and the glorious Almond Bonbons from last year’s party (See my blog post from 12/8/2010). (By the way, I goofed last year when I made these bonbons, now called Boo-Boo Bonbons, added the entire can of almond paste to the recipe and they were spectacular. So I repeated that mistake again this year and they were once again a gigantic hit.

Before I got on with the baking though, I re-read my Pillsbury recipe ingredients and saw that two of the cookies called for “shortening.” Hmmm….sometimes when people say shortening they mean butter (or margarine—ew) so to be sure, I called Pillsbury and talked to the Dough Boy (nah—just had to say that) and the woman assured me that shortening meant shortening and butter meant butter. Okay then, shortening it is!

I also contacted the Domino sugar people with a question about their sugar cookies: I didn’t want to make 7 dozen cookies so I wondered if the cookie dough would freeze. Well, I tell you what, they weren’t sure! What?! I know that my book is older (1962), but come on, isn’t that a basic request?

So to be on the safe side, I asked my friend, cookbook author, and baker extraordinaire, Kim Ode, if I could freeze the dough and she said sure. She also said I could halve the recipe, including one egg which you put in a measuring cup, beat slightly and then pour out what you need. After all that though, I decided that there was no way the dough could make 7 dozen cutout cookies and so I made the entire batch and I was right! But thanks, Kim, for saving my butt on that one. (By the way, Kim is the author of Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club and is also author of an upcoming cookbook (release date is March 1, 2012) Rhubarb Renaissance. I cannot wait!

Okay so comments: the Jim Dandies (maraschino cherry and chocolate) were easy to bake but a pain in the butt to finish. If the marshmallow on top of the hot cookie was supposed to melt, it didn’t and that marshmallow mound make the cookies extremely hard to frost. As for taste, they cookies were okay but the texture was too “cakey” for our tastes.

Similarly, the Hawaiian Moon Drops (crushed pineapple and lemon extract) were easy to make but they were a little large in size for our party and again, the cookie was more “cakey” than we prefer. Both were tasty but I think we might try other cookies in the book next time around.

Once I got past the sugar cookie freezer question, the sugar cookies were easy to make although our oven did a number on a few of them that ended up in the hot zone. Let’s just say some reindeer looked as brown as they actually are! (And reader, why does this always happen when I’m getting ready for a party? I’ve never had my oven be so wonky as it was this year!)

Before I get to the recipes and ingredients, let me tell you where I found some of the other recipes I made this year:

Coconut Macaroons, Food and Wine Magazine, December 2011, made by chef Danny Cohen.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake, Family Circle, April 17, 2010. This makes two loaves for 24 slices total. I cut each slice in half for my party. This recipe was delicious.

Chicken Meatballs with Sweet Peanut Sauce, EveryDay with Rachael Ray. Go online to find the recipe. Note that this recipe does not give a yield. I doubled the chicken (use a mix of white meat and chicken thigh for a moister meatball) and it still wasn’t enough. These were my most popular party meatballs ever. One Rachael Ray reader who made these meatballs suggested baking them at 400 for 25 minutes and I have to agree that this made for a great meatball.

Meatballs a la Pizzaiola by Giada DeLaurentiis, Food Network Magazine (go to to obtain the recipe). This made about 36 meatballs (as stated—go figure!) and they were yummy. Note: you may have a hard time finding smoked mozzarella (I got mine at Broder’s Cucina Italiana in South Minneapolis) and Giada didn’t suggest an alternative although you might want to consider smoked provolone if you can find it.

(St. Louis) Toasted Ravioli, Food Network Magazine, October 2011. Note that this recipe said “serves: 4-6.” Okay, that’s pretty vague because who knows how many people will want to eat. We used 4 packages and had a few leftovers. I microwave the leftovers for 30 minutes and serve them with my leftover sauce. They are delicious!

Savoury Shortbread with Tomato Jam – makes 48 (and it does indeed make 48 shortbreads but it doesn’t make nearly enough Tomato Jam so you might want to double the jam recipe)
Tomato Jam
5 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small red onion (I’m going to sound like the late Andy Rooney here, but I have yet to see a “small” red onion. Just sayin…)
2 cloves garlic
100 ml olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

250 g butter (about 18 T) at room temperature
1 tablespoon hot water
3 ¼ cup (405 g) plain flour (“plain” flour is the same as regular flour; do not use self-rising)
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
300 g bacon (about 8 ounces)
1 ¼ cups (125 g) grated Parmesan
60 g poppy seeds (about ¼ cup)
Small fresh basil leaves, to garnish

Preheat the oven to moderate – 350 (180 C or Gas 4). Place the tomatoes on a roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor until just smooth. Toast the fennel and cumin seeds in a dry frying pan for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Cool slightly, then grind the seeds to a powder.

Puree the onion, garlic, ground spices and half the olive oil in a food processor until well combined.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion mixture over low heat for 25-30 minutes, or until the onion is just beginning to caramelize. Add the sugar and vinegar and cook for a further 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato mixture. Cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 ½ hours, or until the paste is thick and there is very little liquid remaining. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (Note, the jam will keep up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.)

To make the shortbread, beat the butter in a bowl until pale. Gradually add the hot water. Sift the flour and paprika into the bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in the bacon, Parmesan and ¼ cup (60 ml) water, then season well with cracked black pepper, adding more water if necessary. Roll into four logs 3 cm thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Spread the poppy seeds out on a clean work surface and roll the logs in them until evenly coated. (Note, these can be made one week in advance and stored in single layers in an airtight container.)

Preheat the oven to warm – 325 degrees or 170C /Gas 3 and lightly grease two baking trays. Slice the logs into 5 mm thick slices. Place on the prepared trays and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until pale and crisp. Cool completely.

To serve the shortbread, top with 1 teaspoon tomato jam and a small basil leaf.

Variations: Grated Cheddar, chopped fresh herbs, finely chopped nuts or a spice mix can be used to flavor the dough.

Balsamic Fig and Caramelized Red Onion Tapenade – makes about 1 1/3 cups
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1/3 cup (NOTE: I found the 1/3 cup to be too much and suggest you add it incrementally and taste along the way)
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup chopped Black Mission figs
¼ cup balsamic vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons honey (optional—but I used it and thought it added a little something!)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the figs and the ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and continue to sauté until most of the liquid is gone and the mixture is slightly caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fig mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and add the honey (if using). (Note: the reason I added honey is that the taste of the 1/3 cup of olive oil was overpowering. The honey helped take away that taste.) Pulse until the ingredients start to come together. With the machine running, gradually stream in the remaining 1/3 cup oil and pulse until a coarse paste forms.

Avocado-Chevre Spread – makes about 1 ¼ cups
2 medium avocados split and flesh scooped out
One 5-ounce package of chevre (i.e. soft goat cheese)
3 teaspoons lemon zest
4 to 5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

Place the avocado, chevre, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with pepper.

As the author notes, this recipe is an alternative to guacamole and is great in sandwiches!

Roasted Butternut Squash Dip with Crème Fraiche – makes about 2 cups
1 butternut squash (1 ¾ to 2 pounds)
1 very small yellow onion, cut in half lengthwise, stem and root end trimmed
2 large cloves garlic, skin left on
2 tablespoons pure olive oil
2 tablespoons crème fraiche (crème fraiche is a soured cream. It’s kind of a cross between sour cream and cream cheese. To make your own, you’ll need heavy cream and buttermilk. Instructions can be found online by using Google)
1 ¼ teaspoon crème fraiche
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground white pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F. Brush the flesh of the squash, the onion and the garlic generously with the olive oil and arrange the squash and onion cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Tuck a skin-on garlic clove in each cavity of the squash. Roast until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 50 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.

Use a spoon to scrape out the flesh of the squash and put it in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Discard the skins. . (Note: I’ve never roasted a squash before and was surprised that it was very watery when I scooped it out. Consequently, the dip was a little thin in the consistency department but the taste was great). Squeeze the garlic pulp from the cloves and add to the workbowl along with the onion. Puree until smotth. Add the crème fraiche, salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and a few grinds of (white) pepper. Process to combine and then taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately. (Now that being said, the author notes that you can prepare the dip up to 3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate and then rewarm in a microwave or on the stove-top in a double-boiler just before serving).

Blue Cheese Dip with Chives – makes about 1 ½ cups
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix together the blue cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in the chives and add a few grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve immediately (This dip can be prepared up to 3 days in advance. Serve at room temperature).

Notes: some people like big chunks of blue cheese but I like mine a little smaller so I pulsed the cheese in my food processor until I got more even chunks. Also, for whatever reason, Minnesotans seem to love the combination of French and Blue Cheese dressing. Not that I’m knocking it—it’s good, but I don’t recall seeing that combination done in restaurants anywhere else. But here—go out to dinner with a group of people and almost every request for the salad dressing will be “French and Blue Cheese.” If you do that, you’ll seem like a native!

Jim Dandies – makes about 3 dozen
1 ½ cups sifted Pillsbury’s Best All Purpose Flour
½ teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt + 1/8 teaspoon for frosting
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup shortening (*do not use butter)
1 unbeaten egg
¼ cup maraschino cherry juice
2 tablespoons milk + 1/3 cup for frosting
4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened chocolate – 2 squares for cookies, 2 for frosting
½ cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup chopped maraschino cherries
18 large marshmallows, halved
¼ cup butter or margarine for frosting
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 – 2 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Sift together 1 ½ cups (sifted flour), ½ teaspoon soda and ½ teaspoon salt; set aside. Cream shortening and brown sugar then add the egg (which you should beat well). Mix. Add one-half the dry ingredients as well as the maraschino cherry juice and 2 tablespoons milk. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Blend in (melted) two squares of chocolate, walnuts and chopped cherries. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Place one marshmallow half on the cookies, cut-side down (while hot), then cool on the rack. Frost with Chocolate Frosting; top each with a nut half.

To make the frosting, in top of double boiler over boiling water, cook the milk, butter, remaining two squares of chocolate and 1/8 teaspoon salt until thick. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 to 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar until of spreading consistency.

Note: as stated above, if the marshmallow half was supposed to melt on the hot cookie it didn’t. So this left this huge marshmallow-mounded cookie that I now needed to frost. Right. In retrospect, I should have just microwaved the cookie for a couple seconds to melt the frosting but I didn’t. Oh well, they looked funny but tasted good.

Pillsbury wants you to know that if you use Pillsbury’s Best Self-Rising Flour, you may omit the soda and salt.

Hawaiian Moon Drops – makes about 4 dozen
3 cups sifted Pillsbury’s Best All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening (*do not use butter)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla + 1 teaspoon for frosting
¼ teaspoon lemon extract
2/3 cup drained crushed pineapple; reserve juice for frosting (Note: my husband made these and had to add more juice. Lucky for us, we had a couple cans of pineapple juice on hand.)
1 cup walnuts
1 ½ cups toasted coconut
½ cup pineapple juice (for frosting; use reserved juice from pineapple can and add more if needed)
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter (for frosting)
2 drops yellow food coloring
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Sift together (sifted) flour, baking powder, soda, salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugars (brown and white) together. Blend in 2 unbeaten eggs, vanilla and lemon extract. Beat well. Stir in drained crushed pineapple. Add the dry ingredients gradually and then the chopped walnuts. Blend thoroughly.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 for 12 to 15 minutes. Frost with Lemon Frosting and dip tops in toasted coconut.

To make the frosting, combine in saucepan ½ cup pineapple juice, ½ cup water and ¼ cup cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 drops yellow food coloring. Blend in confectioners’ sugar.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – yield: about 7 dozen cookies
1 cup Domino Granulated Sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup soft butter or margarine
1 egg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
Egg white, slightly beaten
Domino Granulated Sugar

Cream sugar, salt and butter or margarine thoroughly. Beat egg, lemon rind and extract into creamed mixture until light and fluffy. Sift together flour and baking powder. Gradually stir into creamed ingredients.

Roll dough 1/8” thick on floured board. Cut into fancy shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Brush with egg white; sprinkle with sugar. Bake in moderate oven 350F, 11-12 minutes or until light brown around edges. Remove to cooling rack. Store in airtight container.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As always, Ann's holiday party rocks! Not only is the party fun but it is early enough in the season to get all the great recipes to use at parties down the road. Kudos Ann!