Holiday Party Helper 1

No. 1 in a series of 3 or so.

Devilishly good; photo credit: Evans Caglage/DMN

I love hosting parties. Small and large, impromptu and well-planned, party-hosting taps into one’s resourcefulness and challenges the ability to make guests comfortable, happy, well-fed, and laughing. When I was a little girl, I started a dinner club with some of my school friends, and once a month we would get dolled up and go over to the host’s house for a yummy dinner party. The duration of the club was short—I think its dissolution coincided with the discarding of our Barbies—but I have no doubt that the simple lessons I learned during those months have added to the natural confidence I have now as a hostess.

Simple is the key word. I’m no Martha. Here are five super easy things you can put on the table, mostly using things that you’ve already got, next time you (end up) host.

1. Deviled eggs.  A 70s classic that EVERYONE loves. Hard-boil eggs—put them in a saucepan in cold water (don’t crowd them), bring to a rolling boil, then cover and turn the heat off and let them hang out for 12-15 minutes. Cool (you can run cold water over them if you’re short on time) and peel. Cut in half length-wise with a sharp knife, and pop the yolks into a bowl. Arrange the whites on a large plate, or a series of small plates, cut side up.  In the bowl with the yolks, add a dollop of Dijon, a slightly larger dollop of mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Sometimes I put in some pickle relish as well; try lemon or capers, too. You just don’t want to add too much because remember, all of this must fit back into the little egg white cradles.  Taste yolk mixture and adjust accordingly. Now, spoon the yolk mixture into a Ziploc bag, pushing the contents to one of the bottom corners. Snip off the corner—voila! you have a pastry bag—and pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites (I concocted this method when I made deviled eggs in the middle of the Kalahari Desert!).  After you’ve completed this task, put some cold water in a glass, dip a spoon in the water, then use the wetted back of the spoon to push the mixture further in to its cubby and smooth out the top. Sprinkle with the traditional paprika or another spice. I like cumin. Garnish the plate with anything green you’ve got in your fridge (parsley, scallions, leafy celery hearts).

2. Fudge. I made this a few days ago for an office party and it is a cinch and so scrumptious. I had everything I needed except condensed milk, of which you’ll need 2/3 of a cup.  In a saucepan over medium heat, add one stick butter, 2 cups sugar, and the 2/3 cup condensed milk. Stirring frequently, bring to the boil, and boil for 5 minutes stirring constantly. Use a long spoon because it will bubble at the top and it hurts to get too close.  Then remove from the heat and stir in 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (or other chocolate—lots of room to experiment here; stir in walnuts too if you like) and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour into a 9″ square pan or any other contraption of similar dimensions, smoothing it out with a spatula. I crushed some candy canes (put in Ziploc and close bag then hit gently with a hammer) and sprinkled them on top, pushing them down a bit to secure. Cool and cut into small squares and mmmm it melts in your mouth!

3.  Go down the street to the deli and ask for thinly-sliced nice salami and provolone. Grab a jar of good olives while you’re at it. Then come home and arrange your deli slices on a pretty plate—staggering slices of alternating meat and cheese. Encircle the plate, then place a bowl of olives in the center (make sure to have a pit bowl nearby if you’ve got non-pitted ones).  Also try ham, swiss, and cornichons. Or turkey, dill Havarti, pickles. Simple, inexpensive ingredients–the trick is to make it look nice.

4. This chili dip has some startling ingredients, but it is neanderthal-easy and it is ALWAYS the first to be finished at a potluck. In a pie pan (or another oven-friendly dish) plop down a block of cream cheese, using the back of a soup spoon to spread it evenly at the bottom of the dish. Next, take a can of Hormel chili without beans (or homemade chili if you just hosted Sunday football) and dump it over the cream cheese, again in a nice, even layer. Finally, shred some pepper jack and layer it thickly over the chili. Pop it in the oven at 350 deg. F until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Let it cool a touch before serving with a dipping mechanism, such as tortilla scoops.

5. Another three-ingredient-delight, artichoke dip.  This one is great to remember because of the infinite variations possible. The classic recipe is one cup mayonnaise, one cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus some marinated artichoke hearts from a jar. Mix the first two together and fold in the artichokes, then spoon everything into a large oven-safe ramekin or small casserole and bake at 350 deg. F until its hot and nicely crusty on top. Serve with water crackers, toasted pita, ritz…whatever you have got in your cupboard. My favorite variation on this is to slice non-button mushrooms and sautée in butter (don’t crowd or they will steam instead of brown) and fold those in instead of artichokes. Use a good Parmesan if you have it, but I have successfully used the green silo stuff too.

I just want you to know that I have written these recipes completely from heart. Once you make them a few times, you will also have them memorized, and you can begin to make them your own.  When you’ve not got too much time or limited resources otherwise, you should aim to impress your guests with either lovely ingredients, a lovely recipe, or a lovely presentation. Just choose one and let it carry the dish, and serve with a flourish!

Bon App!  Courtney.

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