By Theresa Albert
Tired of the same old, same old foods for holiday entertaining? Are you ready to stretch a bit and wow your guests with our top picks of what’s hot for 2011? From updated classics to friends with dietary restrictions, we’ve got you covered. Warning: be prepared to drool.
Any holiday party begins with drinks and, while cocktails are still popular, what people really want this year is a cupful of comfort. It’s been a roller coaster ride of financial and world unrest and if you can soothe that away for just a few hours, you really are the toasted host. Have on hand a warmed pot full of spiced apple cider and set the prettiest bottle of rum next to it for personalized spiking. Mulled wine works wonders on the heart and the soul set next to a few vintage wine glasses. Rich dark, drinking chocolate should end the eve with a splash of cognac to lift the spirits. It’s as simple as melting the best, most expensive dark chocolate you can find over a double boiler over very low heat and serving from cappuccino cups with dollops of whipped cream and decanted Napoleon.
There is usually only one or two with food restrictions but making sure that there are options for them actually serves all. To cover off the vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free crowd think vegetables. A layered bean dip works wonders and is as simple as canned refried beans (check for animal fat) to form the foundation, layered with mashed avocado, red pepper spread and sour cream (leave out if you have a vegan). Serve with spelt crackers, corn chips and fresh raw veggies and you are covered.
Keep up the good work with a spread of vegetable, we like all things colourful to dress up holiday tables. Baby Brussels sprouts always put on a good show and this year’s flavours are all about bacon. Braised red cabbage sets a bright jewel tone and a perks up platters. Be sure to serve with a side of crème fraiche and dill. Kale chips are all the rage and are as simple as rinsing, ripping and bake/drying in a low oven with the door open. Chilli powder, garlic and salt enhance the taste.
Latkes are lovely and can be made a day ahead. A slow warm in the oven until you are ready to serve is the trick with these multi-cultural honeys. Go beyond the usual flour, egg and grated potato recipe and into some snazzier vegetables. Eggplant adds so much, as does sweet potato and zucchini. Don’t be afraid to add a little zing of spice; think cardamom, cumin or curry and surprise the palate.
The main stage no longer holds a turkey or a ham. Instead, try individual Cornish hens, they are cute, quicker to cook and so much easier to serve all lined up on a serve yourself platter. Another big trend in meat this year is oxtail. Simply the cross-section cut of the tail of a cow, this meat needs a long, low and slow braise to become fall-off-the-bone sweet. Perfect for those who like to prep ahead and a big crock of these babies sets off a round of “mmmms” every time. To complete the perfect meaty triad be sure to include the best Tortierre and homemade ketchup.
Holiday dining is about the desserts, no? Try something different instead of the usual Buche de Noel and get a croquembouche. The French chef’s test of mastery (uh, ya, best to order one from a pastry shop lest you spend a bunch of time and tears doing something that tests the mettle of best). Small pastry balls (profiteroles) are made to “crunch in the mouth” and then filled with custard or crème. They are assembled into the cone shape of a tree and dressed with spun sugar and chocolate. More than a showpiece, nothing less than sublime. Of course, shortbread is always an option if your wish is to have everything homemade. But do go beyond the box and find the fancier flavours this year. Hint: chocolate and pistachio are good, lavender always a surprise and almond-saffron is worth a try. Don’t worry, you can rest for the entire month of January, no one is eating that month anyway.