Some lessons for throwing a holiday party during the "Blizzard of the Century," or is it just "Blizzard of the Decade"? Either way, I am still trapped in a knee-deep winter wonderland, with not much to do besides write in this damn blog.
1. Obviously, make tons of food and have ample booze reserves, even if the attendance list is reduced by more than half due to inclement weather. Traipsing through two miles' worth of blizzard builds a big appetite. There were surprisingly few leftovers, and we were clean out of beer a little too early.
2. Maybe we would've had more beer left if I didn't drink about 28 Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales. Whoops. Also, try to stay awake until all your guests leave (or crash on your couch, still wearing their snowboots, as the case may be).
3. This is a no-brainer, but party guests will eat anything if it's wrapped in bacon: paper clips, lint, rubber bands, Christmas ornaments. But they will especially like devils on horseback, which is fancyspeak for bacon-wrapped, walnut-stuffed dates. (Actually, I think official devils on horseback contain pecans, not walnuts, but it really doesn't matter when there's bacon involved). Buy one package of bacon (not the thick kind), one container of pitted dates, and one bag of walnut halves. Chop the walnuts so they are thin enough to fit into the dates. The dates and walnuts will make sweet, sweet love, wrapped in a delicious bacon blanket. Gets me all hot and bothered just thinking about it. Oh, use kitchen scissors to cut the slices of bacon crosswise and roll them around the dates. Place them on a baking sheet in a 500 degree oven and bake till the bacon is crispy, about 10 minutes. Serve with toothpicks.
4. It's really easy to make a lot of varieties of crostini, and people will also go wild for these. If you don't have time/inclination to bake your own bread, buy a good quality pre-sliced crusty loaf. Cut each slice into halves or thirds. Set aside and make a couple different toppings, like caramelized onions (the fabulous Miriam aka Hungry Grad has a good recipe) or my sherry mushrooms (just slice up a bunch of mushrooms and half an onion and cook in a couple tablespoons of butter on medium-high heat; add a sprinkling of sugar to aid delicious brownedness; and splash in a good helping of sherry or red wine to make a reduction sauce). These go great spread on slices of bread with goat cheese or blue cheese, or just plain. Assemble and heat in the oven on a baking sheet a few minutes before serving, so everything is nice and warm and melty.
5. Ooh, I almost forgot! Another delicious crostini uses just two cans of white beans, drained; a few cloves of garlic, minced; a third cup or so of olive oil; the juice of half a lemon; salt and pepper; and some chopped, fresh sage and parsley. Mix it all together and dollop onto slices of bread.
6. I don't care what the food snobs say, baked brie is a timeless party classic. Don't bother buying or making puff pastry, though. Just use refrigerated crescent roll dough, a small wheel of Brie, and some kind of jam or chutney (see #7 for recipe for delicious pear chutney, below). Spread out the crescent roll dough as if making a pizza. Place the wheel of brie, rind on, on top of the dough and spread jam or chutney over the rind. Wrap up the brie in the dough as if it's a gift (it truly is!). Brush a bit of egg on top of the dough to get a golden crust. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or till golden brown. Serve with crackers or slices of French bread.
7. Another gem from Laurie Colwin, my favorite food writer of all time: pear chutney. This stuff has many great uses, among them as a spread for baked brie or a dip for devils on horseback. In a heavy pot on the stove, cook together 3 or 4 large, firm pears (cored but not peeled, and chopped into chunks), 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 t salt, 2 t hot paprika, 2 t ground coriander, 1/2 C vinegar, 1 C raisins (I used Craisins in a pinch), and 1 T ground ginger. When the pears are tender add 1/2 C brown sugar and cook it down till "sludgy but not liquidy." This is not in Colwin's directions, but I like to grind up everything in the food processor if using as a dip.
8. See the recipe for Krunk Jewce, Inquisition Punch, or whatever you want to call this delicious sangria-esque concoction made with very well-disguised Manischewitz - also courtesy of the fabulous and clever Miriam. Truly, a breakthrough in Kosher mixology.
9. Per request, here's my recipe for these delectable little treats that are sort of a cross between chewy molasses cookies and gingersnaps, based on Shirley Corriher's "Cracked Surface Crunchy Gingersnaps" (I make them so that they are not all that crunchy). Before baking, they are rolled in regular granulated sugar, which lends them a festive, shimmery cast once they come out of the oven! They are spicy and gingery and perfect for this kind of weather. Cream 1 and 2/3 C sugar and 1.5 sticks butter, add 1/4 C molasses and blend well. Blend in egg on low speed. Set aside and whisk together 2 and 1/4 C flour, 2 t baking soda, 1/2 t salt, 1 heaping T ground ginger, 1 heaping t ground cinnamon, 1/2 t ground cloves, and 1/2 t ground nutmeg. Add the dry mixture to the wet and form a dough. Roll dough into 1.5 inch balls, then roll them in a plate full of sugar. Bake on baking sheets lined with parchment paper for 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove, and leave on the baking sheets for another minute or two before removing to a plate.
10. If setting out a vegetable platter, know that carrots are more popular than celery. Just FYI.
11. If people can't tell what something is, they are not very likely to eat it. Curse you, weird feta and red pepper dip with overly pungent briny cheese tang!
12. This is not food- or drink-related, but it is perhaps a lesson in resourcefulness. Say you want to build a fire, but you forgot to collect enough kindling wood and now all the sticks in your yard are buried under several feet of ice. If you are anything like me, about half the furniture in your house has been picked up off the side of the road. You are very likely to own a recycled, left-for-dead Ikea wicker chair that has a big hole in the seat and is pretty much unsafe for anyone but a cat to rest upon. Allow your burlier guests to destroy this chair - it will keep them occupied for at least half an hour. Then, throw the pieces to the flames! You will have the hottest, most raging pyre of all time, and your frostbitten friends will be very happy they traveled near and far to enjoy it.