Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eat: Christmas Party Craze

This week’s “Sunday Dish” is wee bit different. One could say that it is a recipe post on steroids. Or it could even be called a culinary exploration in party-planning madness—okay, that is probably too dramatic. You see, last weekend, Matthew and I hosted our second annual “Ritter Christmas Kick-Off Party”. After countless hours spent browsing Pinterest and, I acquired a collection of seven recipes that offered something for everyone: sweet, savory, spicy, and always aesthetically pleasing. Although the plan was ambitious, I must say that I was very pleased with the final results. I also want to give a special thanks to my ever helpful hubby as well as our friends who brought their own tasty dishes to the party. By the end of the night we were all happy and well fed with leftovers to spare.

In my opinion, the key to keeping your party menu stress-free is to mainly select dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. With my right hand man, we did one recipe every night leading up to the party. Some dishes had to be done the day-of, but I didn’t feel stressed about it. I recommend all of the recipes I tried, which are briefly outlined below. Pick your favorite and give it a go!

Up first, some sweets…

Caramel Pecan Tarts by Betty Crocker
This was by far the most labor intensive dish that I made. However, it was certainly worth it since they are delicious, make for an elegant display, and are quickly consumed by partiers. Note that the assembly can be modified for twelve cupcake-sized tarts instead of twenty-four minis.

1 cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup of butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup of powdered sugar

¾ cup of packed brown sugar
½ cup of chopped pecans
1 tablespoon of butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 egg, slightly beaten

1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF. In a medium bowl, use your hands to mix together the flour, ½ cup of butter, and the powdered sugar. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces. Press each piece in the bottom and up along the sides of an ungreased mini muffin cup.

2. In separate bowl, blend the filling ingredients. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cup.

3. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly and loosen the tarts from the pan with the tip of a knife. Let them set on a wire cooling rack for 1 hour.

Cookie Dough “Bites” by Chick Who Cooks
Who doesn't love to eat cookie dough? Now your guests can do so without those pesky concerns over salmonella. This is a super easy recipe that did not even require a trip to the grocery store! It is also a great option for your random egg-allergy-ridden party goers.

1 cup of salted butter, softened
1½ cups of packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of flour
Chocolate chips or M&Ms (or whatever else you’d like to add)
Optional: melting chocolate

1. Mix the butter and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly. This will work best if you use your hands.

2. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

Optional: Melt chocolate in a double boiler; you can also use the microwave but I don’t recommend it since the chocolate is more likely to burn. Dip the “bites” into the chocolate. I served my batch without the extra chocolate and did not get any complaints!

Candied Pretzels
These treats present beautifully when arranged in a bowl, small vase, or mug. In fact, some of our friends said the pretzels were too pretty to eat! I think they really meant it because we had several leftover. Oh well, more for me!

Bag of pretzel rods (the bag I used had 16 sticks)
Almond bark or melting chocolate
Assortment of toppings: crushed candy canes, sprinkles, chopped M&Ms, etc…

1. Spread the toppings out over a piece of parchment paper. Lay out another large piece of parchment paper on your kitchen counter (for the newly dipped pretzels).

2. Melt chocolate or bark in a double boiler—I highly recommend this melting method for this particular dish since the chocolate will need to stay warm for a long time without burning.

3. Dip the pretzel rods in chocolate. Unless you use a whole lot of chocolate (to fill the pot), you will likely need to use a spatula to adequately cover half of the pretzel.

4. Roll the newly dipped pretzel rod among toppings and set on parchment paper to cool/harden. Store in an air tight container.

Candied Marshmallows
Equally attractive as candied pretzels but apparently less intimidating to guests, since several more of these were eaten.

Bag of marshmallows (regular size, not mini)
Melting chocolate
Crushed candy canes

1. Begin by spreading the crushed candy canes out over a piece of parchment paper. Lay out another large piece of parchment paper on your kitchen counter (for the newly dipped marshmallows).

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over low heat to avoid burning.

3. Dip one marshmallow at a time into the chocolate and allow the excess to drip off.

4. Sprinkle the topping onto the marshmallow or dip the chocolate end into the crushed candy. Set aside on the parchment paper to cool/harden. Store in an air tight container.

And now, for the savory crowd…

Mini Salsa Bowls by Betty Crocker
This is my absolute favorite appetizer in the entire bunch! The salsa is a cinch to mix together and the little wonton cups are just too stinking cute. You can make the salsa and wonton cups ahead of time, but wait to assemble until right before serving as the “bowls” can soak up some of the salsa’s liquid and get mushy.

40-50 wonton skins (typical package)
2/3 cup of salsa, thick and chunky works best
2 tablespoons of dried cilantro
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of chili powder
1 can (15oz) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (15oz) black beans, rinsed and drained

1. Preheat your oven to 350º F. Handling the wonton skills carefully (as they are prone to tear easily), press one piece into a mini muffin cup, repeating until the pan is filled. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from pan and repeat the process for remaining wonton skins.

2. Mix all of the remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble and serve the “bowls”.

3. Just before serving, spoon 1 teaspoon of salsa into wonton cups.

If desired, garnish with a teaspoon of sour cream and sprig of fresh cilantro.

Caprese Skewers (this is a pretty common recipe found in several resources, such as Mel’s Kitchen Café )

My entire motivation behind this selection was to have a red and green appetizer. Fortunately, this oh-so-fancy treat also happens to taste great. I am sorry report, though, that more than one guest grabbed their skewer a bit too eagerly and dripped balsamic vinegar down his or her shirt. A small price to pay, in my opinion.

1 pint of red cherry tomatoes
A few handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
8 ounces mozzarella cheese (in a block, not shredded)
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
3-4 dozen toothpicks

1. Begin by prepping all of the ingredients: slice cherry tomatoes in half, cut the mozzarella into small cubes, and trim the stems off of the spinach leaves.

2. To assemble: skewer a piece of mozzarella onto a toothpick. Next, fold a spinach leaf in half and slide it onto the toothpick next to the mozzarella. Last, skewer a tomato-half (sandwiching the spinach) to form the base (cut side down). Stand upright on serving platter and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

Edamame Hummus
Look familiar?


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