Well, Christmas is over and the New Year approaches. Let’s start this year off with a new resolution “I will not make any boring or overdone dishes. If it is a classic, then I will put my own twist on the recipe.”
With that in mind, let’s open your pantry and create a fun cocktail party for New Year’s Eve. The menu should be easy enough that you can enjoy time with friends and still see the ball drop.
Classic Cocktail Party Appetizers:
The cheese and sausage platter
Pigs in a blanket
Salsa and chips
Seasoned cream cheese loaf
These are some truly old classic appetizers. It is time to let your pantry create a new exciting version of this menu. Starting with the cheese platter, homemade marinated mozzarella squares are a much more innovative and tasty show piece. Simply buy fresh mozzarella that is plain in flavor and cut into cubes. This is an item you may want to keep in your pantry inventory because of the many uses and long shelf life. Now, go to your olive oil, red pepper flakes, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar and create a marinate in a shallow pan. Place the squares in the pan and store overnight turning once. This is a great appetizer as it has to be prepared the day before. On the night of, just place toothpicks in each square and serve with a little of the marinate. For your sausage platter, your local specialty store will often carry elk, venison, or signature sausages. Slice them thin and arrange around the mozzarella squares. Serve with crackers on the side and fresh basil leaves as garnish. Your first classic is “kicked up” and ready for your guests to be awed with flavor.
Pigs in a blanket need to hibernate for the winter. Let’s just let this appetizer retire and replace it with jumbo lump crab on top of brie wrapped in philo and baked to perfection. You can find canned jumbo lump crab at most seafood markets. Brie should be one of those standard cheeses in your pantry and you have philo in your freezer for use at any time. Remember to let the philo thaw properly and as you put melted butter on each layer, keep a damp towel over the unused philo. Make the sheet to your desired thickness and wrap over the crab that is on top of the brie. Most people prefer to thinly slice the top layer of the brie off. Use a standard egg wash on your “purse of deliciousness” and bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. Serve hot with crackers. No, this is not too much cheese to serve because this is a hot appetizer and seafood has been added.
Mini quiches look like you have just bought them at the store and you probably have some in your freezer right now. I suggest replacing these with stuffed mushrooms, but not your ordinary stuffing. Completely take the classic seasoned cream cheese loaf off of your menu and combine it with our new stuffed item= Prosciutto stuffed mushrooms.
I prefer crimini mushrooms to button for more flavors. Wipe clean (do not rinse or the mushrooms will take on water) and take the stems out. Save those for a delicious soup for later. Take cream cheese, diced prosciutto, diced green onion, your favorite hot sauce to taste, Italian dried spices, salt and pepper and combine in a bowl. This is best done the day before to let the flavors combine. All you have to do is stuff each mushroom (don’t over fill as you will lose it when the mushrooms shrink during cooking) and cook at 375 degrees until melted tender. This is now one of my Holiday classics.
Everyone has their own salsa recipe. What I suggest is not to change the recipe, simply the method in which you make your salsa. Roast all of the ingredients in the oven until you can pull the skin off the onion, tomatoes, jalapenos, or any other ingredients you put in your salsa except the herbs. You will be surprised on the depth of flavor and how you have just heightened your own recipe.
Our final classic is the shrimp cocktail. The most important things are the size of the shrimp, freshness, and cooking time. 16/20 shrimp are a perfect size for an appetizer plate. Make sure to buy enough so each guest gets at least two. Try to buy uncooked, if you can. Clean the vein out of your shrimp and leave only the tail. In a large boiling pot, put halved lemons and oranges that have been squeezed into the pot, fresh thyme whole stems, salt and pepper, Drop the shrimp in only until they turn pink. Do not overcook. This is one pot that can’t be left to itself. Strain the shrimp and drop into an ice bath to stop further cooking. Dry and plate your shrimp. Remember to use platters that are special or will create conversation. For the sauce, you don’t need anything special just ketchup and very hot horseradish. Hot horseradish can be part of your pantry and has an amazing shelf life when store properly. Combine the two together to desired hotness. I can’t stand fancy sauces that cover up the flavors you have created in your boiling pot and the sweetness of fresh shrimp. Keep it simple is my rule.
You are ready for your New Year’s celebration and cocktail party. Don’t forget to take inventory (this probably won’t happen until the next day) and store food items properly. I am sure you won’t have any leftovers. Have fun and let your imagination create new classics.
The kitchen is suppose to be where you have no stress and can unwind. I get my best ideas in the kitchen. Here’s to a fantastic 2011! Happy New Year!!
Originally written for 406 Woman Magazine.
By Kristen Ledyard Owner/Executive Chef of John’s Angels Catering LLC