Our favorite chef, Ro Howe, owner of Barraud Caterers, Ltd., in New York City, has created recipes to help us celebrate many a holiday season. Here are three new dishes for upcoming parties, plus links to several recipes she has provided in earlier Women’s Voices posts. —Ed.
Holiday cocktail parties have a completely different tone than other parties during the year—no matter how celebratory. There’s a latent sense of accumulated necessity to gather in communal festivity. I think it’s akin to an urge to light up the deeply hibernating ancient earth: to capture the spirit of the planet and harness it to make joy in the darkness of the winter solstice.
The nibbles offered at holiday parties must be copious, varied, and exciting. This is a festival, not a perfunctory office gathering. Certainly serve some of your pleasing stalwarts, but also ring in the changes with new and intriguing nibbles to assure your guests’ fascination. Cover all the food groups with your menu, since most guests will treat the party as dinner. Offer a balance of meat, fish, and vegetarian items with a few starchy-fatty items to line the tum so the guests are not inadvertently overcome by over-imbibing too fast or too many cocktails.
Speaking of which, offer featured cocktails along with wine and the usual bar liquors to mark the season and put some jolly into your glass. I suggest a cocktail to be offered during the savory portion of the menu. And if you want to offer a few little sweet munchables at the end of the night, a hot toddy will serve to smile people on their way.
Here’s a balanced sample menu that satisfies the more conservative taste (summer rolls) but also includes stomach-lining nibbles that are starch based (polpettone), high fat (leek tartlets)—or simply intriguing (shrimp bisque). Recipes are provided below for those dishes in italics; the links lead to recipes from earlier Women’s Voices posts.
Leek tartlets with mushroom sabayon
Asparagus polpettone with Madeira crème fraîche
Ginger carrot, celery, and cranberry salad tartlets with honeyed sesame dressing
Five-spice duck, carrot, mustard greens, mint summer rolls with lemongrass mayonnaise
Chocolate bread pudding with caramel and whipped cream
Strawberries with cheesecake ice cream and Graham cracker crumbs
White Christmas—perfect white Cosmo
Hot spiced apple-rum toddy
Asparagus Polpettone with Madeira Crème Fraîche
Yield: about 40 pieces as amuse before a meal
Equipment: potato ricer, whisk, measuring spoons and cups, medium bowl, medium sauté pan, three small mixing bowls, three-quart saucepan, half sheet tray, slotted spoon, spider, wooden chopstick, piping bag, small saucepan.
For the dough
1 1/4 pounds Idaho potatoes, washed
6 ¼ Tablespoons fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 whole large eggs
3 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the filling
2 Tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup finely minced onion
3/4 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1½ cups finely diced asparagus
2 teaspoons minced thyme
1½ Tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
Pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt & freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
1 Tablespoon truffle oil
1 Tablespoon Madeira
½ cup flour
2 beaten eggs
1 ½ cups fine breadcrumbs
3 cups vegetable oil
¾ cup crème fraîche, whipped to stiffen
½ cup Madeira reduced to 2 Tablespoons
Pinch superfine sugar
Kosher salt & freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
For the dough, bake potatoes in 350 degree oven for about an hour or until tender. While they are baking, gather all the other ingredients for the dough and the filling.
Skin the potatoes while still hot, and, using a fine-holed ricer, extrude them into a medium-sized bowl. Fold in ricotta and Parmesan. Add whisked eggs and yolks, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Knead very lightly into a dough. Let rest, covered.
For the filling, sauté the onions in a medium sauté pan for five minutes until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for another two minutes. Add asparagus and seasonings and cook over moderate heat till softened—about five minutes. Add Madeira and truffle oil. Taste for seasoning. Cool.
To form the polpettone, portion out the dough with small ice cream scoops or Tablespoon measuring spoon. Lightly dust your palms with flour and roll the dough into balls. Gently flatten the balls into patties about 1 ½ inch in diameter. Using two demitasse spoons, place about half a teaspoon asparagus filling into the center of each patty. When all filled, bring the edges of the patty together and seal the dough into a ball.
Fill a two-quart saucepan one third of the way up with vegetable oil. Heat it gently to reach 365 degrees.
Place flour, eggs, and crumbs into three different bowls. Toss each ball into flour, dust off, then toss in egg, draining with holed spoon, then in crumbs.
When all are coated, using a spider, gently release about four or five polpettone into oil. Deep fry till golden brown—about one and a half minutes. Remove to kitchen paper–lined sheet tray. Repeat till all fried. While the polpettone are still warm, make a hole about a quarter inch deep with the thick end of a chopstick.
For the crème fraîche, using a very small saucepan, reduce Madeira to a syrup with sugar. Cool. Season the crème fraîche lightly and whip to stiffen so not runny. Place in small piping bag or ziplock.
To serve, reheat the polpettone with the hole uppermost for a few minutes. Cut a very small hole in the piping bag or one corner of the ziplock and pipe a smidgen of crème fraîche into the polpettone.
Ginger Carrot, Celery, and Cranberry Salad Tartlets with Honeyed Sesame Dressing
Yield: six portions as amuse before a meal
Equipment: Small saucepan, paring knife, cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring spoons and cups, three small mixing bowls, small pastry brush, plastic or metal ruler, small strainer, small whisk, wooden skewer, half sheet tray, slotted spoon, small skewers for service.
For the salad
1 cup peeled, ¼-inch diced carrots
2 teaspoons minced ginger
6 Tablespoons chopped dried cranberries
6 Tablespoons peeled ¼-inch diced celery
1¼ Tablespoons small diced red onion
For the dressing
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons sake
1 Tablespoon white soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
36 store-bought mini-tartlets or trimmed endive spears
1 ½ Tablespoons toasted black and white sesame seeds
Combine the carrots, ginger, cranberries, celery, and red onion in a medium bowl.
For the dressing, combine all the ingredients together and whisk well to create an emulsion.
To serve, drizzle the vegetables with the dressing. Spoon a little into each tartlet or onto the end of an endive spear and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Hot Spiced Apple-Rum Toddy
Yield: 1 drink
6 Tablespoons rum (Mount Gay or Myers’s)
3 Tablespoons Tuaca liqueur
9 Tablespoons apple cider
1 scrape fresh nutmeg
1 short cinnamon stick
Heat the apple cider. Add rum and Tuaca liqueur. Pour into glass or mug.
Scrape nutmeg over it.