Cooking for Others: Holiday Parties for Quarter-life and Beyond
PARTY SIZE: about 20 twenty-somethings
TYPE: Cocktail Hour and Buffet
MENU: JC’s Roast Chicken (Julia Child, not Jesus), White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, Classic Hanukkah Latkes, Creamed Corn Crostini (P), String Beans with Spiced Nuts and Apple Cider Vinaigrette (P); Gingersnaps (C)
To call Wendy’s Sunday-evening holiday party a potluck would be to do it a grand injustice. While it’s true that Phoebe was in charge of the buffet’s veggie dish and pre-dinner finger food and Cara, late in the party, set out a platter of still-warm gingersnaps, it was Wendy’s friend Alexis who deserves full credit for slaving away in the not so itsy-bitsy (well, marginally larger than ours) kitchen all day. Apron-clad, Alexis basted roasting chickens, doctored rich mashed potatoes with grated cheese, and—most martyr-like of all—flipped latkes onto an awaiting plate at just the same speed hungry guests devoured them.
The impressive dishes seemed to pave the way to conversations among guests who’d met just moments before, in a marked contrast to the party we’d been at the night before—at our friend Kate’s parents’ place, where we sat cozy and comfortable surrounded by some of our oldest friends.
Still, as we left Wendy’s to sleep up before a week of work (and yet more holiday events), it suddenly struck us: the two parties, so different in size, guest list, and timing (Saturday vs. Sunday, night vs. day, half parents vs. completely kids), had hit upon the same formulas for their success. Both had casual but delicious dishes, and not too many at that. Both relied on guests to contribute, yet without jeopardizing the harmony of the meal. Both set the scene with warming, wintry holiday drinks like cranberry punch and spiked hot cider. And both harnessed the spirit of the holiday season simply by bringing people together over fattening food.
Below, what we made.
THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS
Makes 50 cookies
I suppose it’s my own prejudices, but I was convinced that no one likes gingersnaps. I imagine them always the lone survivors on a cookie plate, what remains after all the chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and lemon squares have been snatched up. You might ask, then, why I decided to make them for Wendy’s, and the answer is that I’m so pleasantly surprised each time I do scavenge a gingersnap from that picked-over platter that I figured they might be up for their hour in the spotlight. It turned out to be a good move, and at least four people declared that gingersnaps were their favorite cookie! I stand corrected.
Because of oven issues (more on them, and the creative meals they induced, to come soon), I brought over dough, not baked cookies. This had the pleasant upshot that guests got to inhale the sweet spices as the cookies baked, then taste them warm and soft from the oven. Made ahead and cooled, though gingersnaps keep well for days.
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
¾ cup unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
Put the sugar, molasses, honey, and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until the butter is melted, the sugar is dissolved, and the whole mess bubbles a bit.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, spices, baking soda and salt. Add the sugar mixture and stir until combined. Add the water and incorporate it.
Refrigerate the dough until it solidifies to a workable consistency (about an hour). Roll heaping tablespoons into balls and place them about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies puff up and are slightly cracked on top. Cool 5 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a rack or serving platter.
Creamed Corn Crostini
Makes 10 servings
Dreaming of Kate’s family’s buffet stalwart, her mother’s warm corn pudding, inspiration struck, and I decided to do an appetizer adaptation of another corn classic for Wendy’s party. The resulting dish put a holiday spin on some late-summertime flavors: corn chowder sopped up by a piece of rustic, crusty bread. The addition of sage and the light topnote of cured meat make this dish all the more hearty, comforting, and complimentary to wintertime cheer.
1 French baguette (best if a day old)
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 sage leaves, minced
2 15oz cans corn, rinsed. If in season, use 5 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed
1/2 cup half in half
1/2 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced
In a medium saucepan or skillet, melt the butter over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and the sage and cook until fragrant, being careful not to burn the garlic, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the corn and half in half. Simmer gently until the half in half has thickened and reduced by at least (yes, you guessed it) half. The corn mixture should be thinner than chowder and have just enough liquid left to coat the kernels.
Sliced the baguette and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and place under the broiler to toast. Remove the bread when it is a light golden brown, and very crisp around the edges. I tend to toast the bread more so for this recipe more than for other bruschetta or crostini concoctions due to the wet, creamy consistency of the corn.
Spoon the corn onto the bread, being careful not to soak it with the remaining cream sauce. With your hands, shred the prosciutto into small, rustic strips and garnish the top of each slice.
What color! Festive corn crostini with prosciutto
Green Beans with Spiced Nuts and Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Makes 10 servings
For Thanksgiving, my mother makes this simple, easy string bean side. The spiced nuts can be made days or weeks in advance if they’re kept in an airtight container, and the beans themselves take less time to cook than the water does to boil. Since I knew my mother’s cider gravy would not be available to drizzle atop, I gave the beans their own sauce, a variation of the foolproof vinaigrette I keep returning to in my Barefoot Contessa recipe book.
4 pounds fresh string beans
For the nuts:
1 1/2 cups raw pecan halves
1 cup raw walnuts
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (and/or thyme if you have it on hand)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1⁄2 tsp chili powder
For the dressing:*
¾ cup apple cider
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Olive oil and salt to taste
*A variation on Ina Garten’s vinaigrette in Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics
Preheat the oven to 250 °F.
Place the nuts in a medium-sized bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the rosemary and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour the seasoned oil over the nuts and add the remaining ingredients, tossing to coat the nuts evenly. Transfer the nuts to a cookie sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil for the string beans. While you are waiting, heat the cider, vinegar, and shallot over medium-high heat in the saucepan you used for the nuts (no need to clean it). Let simmer for 5 to 7 minutes until the mixture is reduced by half. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard and 3 tbsp of olive oil. If the dressing is too acidic, add more oil.
When the water comes to a boil, cook the green bean until they are a bit soft, but still with a have a bite. Drain well.
Scatter the nuts on top of the beans and add the vinaigrette right before serving.
This is gorgeous, with its floating frozen cranberries and sweet-tart bite.
1 part Cranberry Juice
1 part Pineapple Juice
1 part Vodka
A touch of grenadine
Mix all ingredients. Serve in a glass pitcher or punch bowl with ladle.
Warm Spiked Cider
A warming pot of spiced cider on the stove sets the scene for holiday festivities to come…
½ a (750ml) bottle of Jack Daniels
10 cinnamon sticks
Slowly warm the apple cider and cinnamon sticks in a big soup pot. Add the Jack and serve in heat-proof cups.