When I was growing up, my Nana had family friends who always entertained at Christmas with a dressy party completed with passed hors d'oeuvres. People didn't really entertain much where I grew up, so this was basically the height of glamour to me. I vowed to someday do the same, and I've spent the better part of my adulthood so far gathering the tools and skills to do it. Finally — finally! — this year was my year: I had the chance to do some real holiday entertaining!
The only catch: it was twice in one week. We had ordered a new dining room light that turned out to be dysfunctional. I was behind on Christmas shopping and gift wrapping. The house was a holy mess. My practice runs at making a cranberry curd tart for Thanksgiving failed not once, but twice — could I do it now? And in the course of one week, I was going to host Wine Club and an early Christmas dinner with the in-laws. Can she do it????
Yes she can!!
I volunteered to host holiday Wine Club as an excuse to set the prettiest table I could muster, with my grandmother's crystal wine glasses, my mismatched blue-and-white china, my antique pistachio-colored linen napkins and my porcelain twig candlesticks.
I even put out my handmade mug collection (also mismatched) for mulled wine! You can tell I'd basically been training for this like it was the Olympics.
For my friends, I whipped up Julia Turshen's fantastic roasted scallion and chive dip (it's like french onion dip with a deeper, smoky flavor) from her Small Victories cookbook and had Sean artfully arrange a plate of Trader Joe's holiday Joe Joe's. I also served a spinach salad with pear slices, pomegranate seeds and gorgonzola cheese, and put together a charcuterie plate.
I spotted mini wheels of brie at Trader Joe's and had a vision: mini baked brie! It was so easy and would be great for any dinner party. I just thawed a sheet of puff pastry, smeared squares with pepper jelly, topped with the wheel of brie in the center and plopped down a slice of green apple before wrapping it up to become a delicious package of molten cheese. After brushing with an egg wash, I baked the mini brie en croute for about 10 minutes at 350 until the puff pastry was brown and flaky.
We finished our meal with the piece de resistance: mini shepherd's pies using Alton Brown's recipe.
Party hack: You can make this two days in advance and it will taste perfect! I made a big batch on Monday night, spooned some filling into ramekins and piped storebought deli mashed potatoes on top on Tuesday night using a pastry bag with a star tip. On Wednesday, I baked them for about 15-ish minutes at 350-400 degrees and topped with chives. To get nicely browned peaks, I turned on the broiler for a few minutes. The hardest part of the whole thing was piping mashed potatoes!
On Saturday, our Kennedy fam came down to do an early Christmas celebration. While dinner cooked, we set out for a walk to see the lights in the neighborhood — airplane bottles in tow! Gotta get some warmth where you can.
When we got back, I set out a selection of cheeses, including this cheddar cheese ball topped with pomegranates. May I recommend my favorite party cracker options? These are my go-to's: 34 Degrees wafer crackers and Trader Joe's Rosemary and Raisin crackers.
For the main course, I served Julia Turshen's brisket with apricots, which cooked low and slow in the oven for four hours to deliver perfectly tender and juicy brisket. We paired with roasted carrots and fingerling potatoes drizzled with Mike's Hot Honey and it was all delicious. The brisket leftovers even made for great tacos!
Before Thanksgiving, I was enraptured by the idea of the New York Times' cranberry curd tart and attempted twice to make it for parties and failed miserably both times. I just could not get the timing right enough for every step to lead to the desired outcome. I finally gave up on that recipe and stumbled onto this one, which I'm happy to report worked beautifully.
The cranberry curd tart has just enough sour with its sweetness and a gorgeous velvety pink color. I took the easy way out and used a storebought crust because I didn't want to make a beautiful crust just to ruin the filling again. I topped with piped vanilla icing stars and sparkling sugar, just like a dusting of snow.
I was feeling very rusty after basically ceding all cooking duties to Sean this past year, so having a few victories in a row has me feeling like I got my sea legs back. I'm one Great British Baking Show marathon away from attempting a Swiss roll!