By SHANNON WATKINS
You were at someone’s house, or maybe you were out with friends, and the warm glow of charity came over you, because, as stated last week, the holidays are coming. Your usual feeling of being rushed and underprepared was replaced by a sense of generosity and bonhomie, which might have been due to a couple of margaritas, and, eyes sparkling, you turned to everyone and said, “I’m going to throw a party and I want you all to come!”
Now, in the clear light of day, you realize you might have been better off just buying everyone dessert or offering to help with the dishes, but the date draws nigh and you can’t feel your way to leaving out chips and a cold cuts platter and hoping for the best. You’re going to have to do something good, because everyone has taken your offer seriously and now you’re not getting out of it.
True, it’s a little early yet to be worried about holiday parties, but better to be armed in advance. Also this scenario, and the recipes for it, really doesn’t have to be tied to end-of-the-year festivities; you could use this for a gathering in March or June or any old time. I’ll also admit that if you need party decorating tips, I’m afraid you have the wrong column, unless Martha Stewart has started endorsing a Winter Wonderland of Overdue Library Books and Dustbunnies theme. But I can help you with the food.
Most of this can be made a day or two in advance if you have the time, or the day of if you get your shopping done in time, and then reheated quickly in the oven. Depending on the number of guests, I recommend doubling/tripling/etc. each recipe.
Sausage Cheese Balls
You know about these; this is a slightly upscale version.
1 lb. bulk sausage (hot is recommended)
3 cups Bisquick
4 cups (16 oz.) shredded cheddar
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup milk
½ tsp. dried rosemary leaves, crushed
½ tsp. dried or 1½ tsps. chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheet with foil and lightly coat with nonstick spray. Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Shape into 1 inch balls, place on pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes, removing from pan immediately.
From the Barefoot Contessa, slightly altered. Essentially very fancy breadsticks.
1 pkg. frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed on the counter but still cold
6 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
2 eggs beaten with 2 tsps. water
3 oz. grated Gruyere or other Swiss-type cheese
coarse kosher salt
Unroll the puff pastry a sheet at a time on a floured countertop and use diagonal strokes with a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 11 x 13”. With a short side of the pastry facing you, brush the nearest half of the sheet with mustard, leaving a ½” border. Brush the border with egg wash and fold the plain half over it, lining up the edges. Place the pastry on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (check the Saran Wrap aisle) and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Put the pastry on a lightly floured cutting board and trim the irregular edges with a sharp knife. With the folded edge facing away from you, cut the pastry into 1 x 6” strips; you’ll have 10 or 12. Brush the tops lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with the cheeses and salt. Preheat oven to 400F and chill strips for another 15 minutes. If making a day ahead, cover and leave in fridge until about 30 minutes before you intend to serve them. Bake for 15-18 minutes, cool slightly and serve warm.
Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts
From the addictively wonderful website, Smitten Kitchen, slightly tweaked.
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1-1 ½ tsp coarse kosher salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. cayenne (depending on how spicy you like them)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg white at room temperature
1 tbsp. water
1 lb. nuts such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, or a mix
Preheat oven to 300F. Mix salt, sugars and spices thoroughly. Beat egg white and water until all soft froth and no liquid. Mix the nuts into eggs mixture and stir until all are coated. Sprinkle with sugar mixture and toss until coated. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with a sheet of parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and separate nuts as they cool; when completely cool, pour into serving bowl and break up any still stuck together.
Brown Sugar-Sriracha Wings
I did a column about them in the spring, and they’re good party fare. Go to http://brokeassgourmet.com to order Gabi Moskowitz’s BrokeAss Gourmet cookbook with this and a bunch of other good recipes, or just poke around on her blog. But don’t linger right now; you still have to get your party food ready.
1½ lbs. chicken wings
1/8 cup olive oil
½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup sriracha sauce (check the Asian foods aisle)
4 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
Mix all ingredients except wings and toss, along with wings, in a bowl with a sealed lid or a gallon-size Ziploc baggie. Marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes or up to overnight, depending on how much time you have. Preheat oven to 400F; cover a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with nonstick spray. Bake wings for 15 minutes on one side, flip, and bake another 7-8 minutes. While they’re in the oven, pour the marinade into a saucepan and bring to a boil to kill any bacteria; then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes or so. When wings are done, brush or dip them with it, or just pour it over them.
Dipping Sauce for Wings or Chips
This was a sauce meant to go with the wings originally. Good with potato or corn chips, if you put a bowl of them out, too.
Toss two handfuls of cilantro leaves into your food processor and pulse until they’re finely chopped but not pureed. Whisk together with 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup sour cream and a generous ¼ – ½ tsp. minced garlic (from a jar is fine).
I’d say a bag of celery you wash and chop into sticks yourself, along with a bag of baby carrots and a pint of grape tomatoes, artfully arranged on a platter, would about round things out.
Now you can face your guests with a confident smile, if not a dustbunny-free floor. Although you might still be in trouble — if you’re good enough at this, they’ll barely be able to wait for your party next year.