There are so many things you can serve, whether for a snack or a meal, that can make the season bright — and tasty. On this page, I offer up some of my holiday ideas for a fabulous Christmas.
Above, mozzarella Christmas trees ring around a platter of fresh tomatoes with balsamic glaze, adding a nice counterpoint to a meal otherwise a little casserole-heavy. When it’s winter, it’s always nice to have something really garden-fresh (even if it is from Guatemala or someplace else down south. My friend Deloris brought this lovely offering over.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to dress up a dish is with a drizzle in a contrasting color. Here are the chocolate-covered peanut-butter stuffed Ritz crackers before.
Here they are after. I used sugar-free chocolates (milk and white) with one as the base, the other as the drizzle. I’ve done the same thing with chocolate covered strawberries. For Valentines Day, I’ve dipped them in white chocolate, then added a little food coloring to the remaining white chocolate to create a pale pink that I use to drizzle.
I invited our friends Richard and Marjorie to come to dinner a few days before Christmas. When I asked (as I always try to do) if there was anything in particular they would like to have me fix, Richard enthusiastically said “Appetizers!” He wanted the entire meal to consist of little bites of this and that. It’s my favorite way of eating, so I was thrilled. Chocolate-covered strawberries, Tomato Tizzies, Pimiento Cheese Spread, Stuffed Peppers, Smoked Tuna Spread, Teriyaki Water chestnuts, 4 Bit Goodies. Note that I made the tuna spread in little Christmas tree-shaped silicone molds. I put minced parsley at the bottom and pressed the spread in, then pulled them out and garnished with strips of red pepper. If I had had more time, I would have used little tiny squares of red pepper instead, to look like ornaments.
I should have taken a picture after they left. It was very good to see there was little left. Because we snacked on appetizers, it seemed less formal and it really lent itself to conversation. Plus, the timing pressure didn’t exist. I could simply bring new things in from the oven as they got done.
How many cheese balls do you see around the Christmas holidays? This is one way to make yours stand apart from the crowd. Make your cheese ball, using whatever recipe works for you. (You can even buy it — I won’t tell!) Instead of forming it into a ball, make it into the shape of a tree/cone. Roll in minced parsley. Use a small paring knife to cut spiral strips from a couple of lemons. Wind the around the tree. Cut a star out of a yellow pepper and set it on top. Insert toothpicks into cherry tomatoes and black olives and affix them to the tree as ornaments. Almost too cute to eat. Almost.
Did I mention that I am an incredibly picky eater? There are some foods that are nothing short of scary, while others are merely disgusting. That’s one of the reason I cook. It’s a survival skill. If you’re the one cooking, odds are you’ll like what you’re eating. That’s why I like to use labels for party food. This was a neighborhood party. I made lots of different appetizers and other great cooks brought a wide range of additional items. I used little porcelain placards to alert guests to what they were about to pop into their mouths. I didn’t want any complaints later.
This has to be one of the easiest side dishes ever. Buy fresh green beans and steam them until they are al dente. (I love the ones that are in the steam-in-the-bag containers, personally. They cook up just right and are already cleaned and have their stems popped off.) Toss with a little butter that you have melted and lightly browned in a small pan, plus a little salt and pepper. Arrange in the shape of a Christmas tree on a large oval platter. Slap another yellow pepper star on the top and strategically place cherub or cherry tomatoes around the tree for decorations. Another option is to toss the green beans with essential vinaigrette, arrange them on the platter, and serve them cold with bleu cheese sprinkled on and a few lovely placed craisins.
Keep your centerpieces low enough that people can see each other across the table. Plan your table settings ahead of time. Determine what glasses you want to use, which plates look best, what napkin rings to deploy. The result? Just lovely. It just takes a little advance thought and planning.
If you are having a potluck dinner where several people are going to be bringing food and Aunt Mildred is likely to bring her brown and orange casserole dish, a word to the wise — have containers ready to transfer the food into, or fill the plates in the kitchen and keep the uglies off the table.
Special occasions call for special food. Rather than serving a typical pork loin, try one like this that is all dressed for the holidays with a cream cheese and fruit mixture carefully stuffed inside.
Where possible, give your guests a choice. Some poor souls have sworn off red meat (more for me!). If it’s a small dinner party, I ask about such things before I finalize the menu. If it’s a larger gathering, I simply hedge my bets and offer more than one option.
I am not much of a drinker. Unless you count Diet Coke, of course, then I am a champion imbiber. I don’t care for wine or beer. Martinis don’t ring my chimes (although I love James Bond “Shaken, not stirred.”) I like foo-foo drinks (which, unfortunately, are full of sugar, so I try to avoid them) and I do like an occasional glass of ice cold champagne. Bubbles make me happy.
When you are celebrating, don’t just set the bottle on the table. If it is a beverage that is designed to be served cold, take the time to pull out an ice bucket of some type, fill it with ice, and let it contribute to the ambience of your stunning meal. It is a little thing, but you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
I try to always keep a chilled bottle of champagne on hand and a nice collection of champagne flutes. Whether it’s a romantic evening for two or a toast to a job well done, popping a cork signals a celebration of something special.
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