When I was a caterer, I served mountains of caviar at parties...and at my own soirées, too! More than once I was faced with what to do with a pound or so of leftover caviar. Obviously, the answer was to make a pile of blini and invite friends over for an indulgent meal. If you are lucky enough to have some caviar for your New Year's Eve celebration, try this authentic recipe made with buckwheat flour and sour cream. And remember, these are pancakes that should not be served hot. In fact, the heat would warm the cold caviar. So make them a few hours ahead of serving, but keep them at room temperature. With some sparkling wine to wash it all down, blini and caviar are a fine way to bring in the new year.
Here's a way to take a good thing and make it better...at least in my opinion. I don't have any blue cheese haters in my group of friends (I simply ask them to fill out a simple form with food likes and dislikes--only kidding), so this is a big hit whenever I serve it. When you want a show-stopping main course to serve with a great bottle of red wine, I don't think you can do any better than this recipe. Now, if you have friends who are challenged (if not offended!) by blue cheese, make the Rib Roast au Jus instead. Remember, than unless you get your hands on USDA Grade Prime meat, which is unlikely unless you have ordered it well ahead from the best butcher in town, it isn't really Prime Rib Roast. You are probably roasting a Choice Grade cut, and that is just fine.
Whether you are planning a buffet or a sit-down dinner, baked ham is a great choice for your main course. I have created many a baked ham recipe over the years, but this is my go-to recipe. It touches all of the bases--an easy recipe for a sweet, sticky, and fruity glaze with a little savory kick to balance the salty meat. Always start with a bone-in ham. When I bought a ham for my mom recently, she told me NOT to bring back one of the pre-sliced ones because they are too salty for her. She's right--in order to compensate for the juices lost from pre-slicing, most companies pump the meat with "sodium solution" a.k.a. salt water. If you can't find pineapple preserves, use peach or apricot.
My friend Bruce Aidells wrote a great book on cooking with beer (look for a used copy), and he asked me to come up with a contribution. I offered this stout gingerbread, and the recipe now makes an annual appearance on my Christmas baking list. The caramel notes in the stout work beautifully with the molasses and brown sugar. It keeps forever...but it doesn't last more than a couple of days in our house. Make it as a single cake, and it is a perfect addition to a holiday potluck. Bake it in individual mini-Bundt pans and they are terrific gifts. One tip that I have recently learned that I want to pass on: Never put a Bundt pan on a baking sheet for baking. The inner tube must get hot to bake the cake properly, and the baking sheet would block the heat.
Sarabeth Levine is known as the Grande Dame of Manhattan bakers. I was lucky enough to work with her on her first cookbook, SARABETH'S BAKERY: FROM MY HANDS TO YOURS, which quickly established itself as a must-have for anyone who wants to learn how to bake her famous specialties. One of the many baked goods that no one bakery makes better is her holiday stollen, a buttery sweet bread studded with rum-soaked raisins, dried fruits, and nuts. The traditional Christmas bread of German-speaking countries, commercial versions abound, but there is nothing like her home-baked stollen. Maybe I'll bring a loaf or two to the Christmas Eve party I'm attending. What do I mean "maybe"? (As for this photo...do not eat the holly!) Here's the recipe.
Yesterday, when I was on Martha Stewart Radio with my buddy Sandy Gluck, the subject of meatball lasagna came up. What makes Christmas meatball different is that the ground meat not simply added to the sauce, but rolled into small meatballs first. I hadn't made it since testing for I LOVE MEATBALLS, and my mouth started to water as I described the recipe. Now, I have already planned my Christmas dinner (roast pork of some kind), but I will find room for this delectable pasta on the table sometime during the holiday week.
Food snobs, read no further: I am about to celebrate Jell-O salad. When I was growing up (and I bet when you were growing up, too), it simply wasn't a holiday meal without a gelatin salad. For Christmas, we were served red raspberry and green lime Jell-O, Thanksgiving meant orange and yellow (lemon), and Easter was green and yellow. The canned fruit cocktail remained the same.
A few years ago, my good buddy Beth Hensperger and I were chatting about the gelatin salad tradition, and how to make it better. Beth had the brilliant idea to use wine for part of the liquid, and I took it to the next step to make this sangria version with fresh fruit. It now graces my table at either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I highly recommend it for a solid dose of tasty nostalgia.
If you like this recipe, try (but mine is better!):
For a guy who has created hundreds (if not thousands...it's true!) recipes over the years, it is difficult to choose my favorite recipes. But, this roast pork, which I created for the folks at Driscoll's Berries, is up at the top of the list. It is absolutely perfect for the holidays. The roast can be wrapped in the pancetta a day ahead and roasted just before dinner, and the pan deglazed with the premade sweet and savory sauce. Blackberries are not a traditional holiday ingredient, but they are in season in California and you will find plump, sweet purple berries in your market this week. They add an element of surprise to the classic holiday roast.
At this time of year, eating is usually about indulgence--the extra glass of eggnog, the thick slice of prime rib, giving into midnight Christmas cookie cravings. When I want something lighter as an antidote, I think fish, and particularly this easy recipe for sweet, flaky cod with a refreshing salad of tart grapefruit, buttery avocado, and crisp fennel. It is simple enough for a weeknight meal, but special enough for company.
Readers who know me as a purist may be surprised to see my version of the famous gut-buster, cassoulet. This bean and meat casserole from southwestern France is brimming with flavor (thanks to loads of fatty pork and duck confit), but it also takes a good amount of time to make. In my catering days, I made mountains of cassoulet, and at the request of clients, learned how to reduce its heft while keeping every drop of flavor. My chicken version has become one of my most reliable dishes for a holiday buffet--all you need is a green salad and some crusty bread, and you are in business. For a completely French Christmas menu with an outstanding Francophile dessert, serve the bûche de Noël. I haven't quite decided on my holiday menu yet, but the more I write about this combination, the better it sounds.
Tis the season for holiday parties! Delicious passed hors d' oeuvres are part of the tradition, but I have to admit--I sure hate fussing over individual appetizers to make them picture perfect. These savory cheese tartlets with a simple cream cheese crust, topped with berries and herbs, are a great appetite-rouser, and they look great, too. For the recipe, read on.