Last Minute Holiday Party
by Katherine O'Day
Food with a theme: red, white and green
I once helped with catering a Christmas party for a friend who is a consummate professional, but who had, in the turmoil of the season, allowed this particular job to slip her mind. She called me at five o’clock wondering if I could rush over, grab some things from her house, and get to the address by 6:30 for a seven o’clock cocktail/shindig kind of thing. When I got there she handed me a bag filled with: Jello pudding cups, a can of whipped cream, a bag of Fritos, a tube of guacamole, a shaker of hot red pepper flakes, a container of sour cream, a jar of roasted red peppers, a box of frozen artichoke hearts, a can of hearts of palm, a package of frozen surimi (fake crab meat), a jar of red caviar, a jar of capers, a stale baguette, a round of brie, a jar of raspberry jam, some pre-prepared pesto, and some of that Alouette herbed cheese spread. Oh, and some scallions, a bag of ice, and about 20 unassembled plastic champagne flutes.
Ready, set, go.
Now, this was a party at a doctor’s house, a beautiful carriage house on Franklin Street, which is a pretty fancy address. And the people there seemed to be of the sort who would, let’s say, expect the best? There were about 20 guests, not such a big affair, but they were a mature and sophisticated bunch, and there was a nicely stocked bar with lovely wines and a more than decent champagne. It became my mission to keep the hosts out of the kitchen as I opened bags, cracked lids, and defrosted items in the sink. (Thank goodness the caterer sent me with a can opener.) Want to know what they had?
Corn chips with a dollop of guacamole and sour cream, sprinkled with red pepper flakes; an antipasto platter with roasted red peppers, baby artichokes, and sliced hearts of palm; canapes topped with “crab” salad and garnished with tiny capers and caviar; a wheel of brie sliced in half horizontally, stuffed with jam, then reassembled; herbed cream cheese and basil pesto garnished with scallion curls; and chocolate pudding/whipped cream parfaits.
Guess what? Everybody loved everything. It was the smoothest party I ever catered. The guests loved the food, were gracious and polite, and I was out of there in an hour and a half.
The lesson I took away from that experience was not that one should never wait until the last minute (and anyone who knows me can attest to this). It was that following a theme or a concept, if you will, gives the impression that one has given thought and taken time and care. So the food didn’t have to be all that delicious (though I think it probably was), or exotic, or expensive. It just had to be festive, tasty, and fun to look at.
So here are some colorful Christmas recipes that can be fixed in a pinch. The items above you can mostly unopen or defrost for yourselves, so we’ve included some ideas that are a little more exotic, a little more colorful, a little more fun. And don’t forget to garnish: pomegranate seeds, sage leaves or rosemary sprigs, and my favorite, the curly scallions—slice scallions legthwise in thin strips, put in bowl of ice water, and watch them curl!
Ruby Red Walnut Dip with Artichokes1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts
2 large beets
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 scallions, chopped
3 tblsp olive oil
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
salt & pepper
Toast walnuts on baking sheet and chop. Boil beets and artichokes separately, 30-40 minutes each. Peel skins from beets and chop in 1⁄4-inch dice. Add remaining ingredients to beets, except artichokes, and chill. Pull leaves from artichokes, discarding the tough outer layer. Serve dip in a bowl, surrounded by the artichoke “chips.”
Edamame Dip1 bag shelled edamame (frozen soybeans)
3⁄4 chopped cilantro
1 red onion (medium sized), finely chopped
2 small Thai red chilies, minced
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tblsp honey
salt & pepper
This is way greener than guacamole! Defrost edamame by running under hot water on boiling on stove according to package directions. Put in blender or food processor with remaining ingredients, pulsing to keep some texture. Thin with water if necessary. Serve with red pepper strips and white corn chips.
Skordalia (Greek potato-garlic dip)1 lb white potatoes
1 head garlic
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
salt & white pepper
scallions for garnish
Peel potatoes, cut in half, and boil until tender, about 1⁄2 hour. Put garlic through a garlic press—it’s a lot, but this dip needs bite. Add all ingredients to potatoes and mash as long as you can. Chill, the serve with scallions a grilled bread.
Mary Christina Reitz’s No-Bake Cookies2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
3 tbls cocoa powder
3 cups oatmeal
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Do not overboil, but make sure mixture cooks enough to caramelize. (In other words, don’t try this if you don’t know what you are doing. It’s a bit tricky.) Remove from heat and stir in oatmeal, vanilla, and peanut butter. Remove portions by the teaspoonful and roll into balls. Chill on a baking tray lined with wax paper.
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