The Party Zip

I know Christmas is only a week away, but you still have time to do something a little different with your table decor for the holiday without breaking the bank.  Now, you don’t have to go all “Sandra Lee” with “tablescapes” and such, but here are some quick tips for you to use to make your guests feel extra welcome and special at your holiday table.

Unique Table Covers

  • Buy fabrics by the yard (from your local fabric store) with similar color schemes (go ahead and mix-and-match the plaid and floral!) and use on tables as table cloths or runners.
  • Use festive or metallic gift wrap and “wrap” your table instead of using plastic/paper tablecloths.
  • For “kids’” tables, purchase white cotton tablecloth and provide kids with fabric markers to doodle on table while they eat (makes a cute holiday keepsake).

Festive Centerpieces

  • Instead of flowers, place bowls of colorful fruit and nuts in shells (edible centerpieces) on tables.
  • If using flowers, use different varieties in all the same color for a dramatic effect.
  • Fill different-sized clear vases with cranberries, red and/or green jelly beans, peppermint candies, gumdrops or other colorful candies (you can also put cranberries in clear vases with flowers and water).
  • Using curved bottom glass tumblers, champagne or wine glasses, turn upside down and use as tea light candle votives.

Fun Placecards

  • Write names with permanent marker on small, round metallic ornaments.
  • Print pictures of your guests and put in tiny picture frames (great if you have pictures of them with you).
  • Using icing, write guests’ names on gingerbread men/women cookies.
  • Take fortune cookies and place your own small pieces of paper (with names written on them) sticking out of cookies.

Any recommendations for an appetizer recipe that I can take to a mid-week potluck? Something that I can do most of the work ahead of time would be great since I have to work that day.

–Lori K.

I think we can all relate to Lori’s question.  There have been so many times when life is so busy (especially during the holiday season), I can’t even think about what I am serving my kids for dinner on a low-key weekend, let alone make a crowd-pleasing appetizer for a mid-week party!  Here are ten of my quick, go-to appetizers that have been big hits and take just minutes to make or do-ahead of time.  Keep it simple!

Mini Ham/Smoked Turkey, Pear & Gruyere Sandwiches Use favorite bread (I like to both do pumpernickel and a hearty white or a marble rye), cut off crusts and serve halved or quartered triangles.  I have also used holiday-shaped cookie cutters.  Pear cookie cutters are especially cute! It’s nice if you can throw in the oven for 10 minutes to warm/toast, but these are good as is.

Prosciuttto-Wrapped Cantaloupe Slices–Just that.  Plain and simple, yet delish!

Pancakes with Smoked Salmon–Pre-bought potato pancakes or blinis topped with smoked salmon, sour cream, fresh dill and capers.

Cranberry Meatballs–Throw meatballs (any kind) in crockpot with 2 jars of favorite tomato/spaghetti sauce and 1 can of whole berry cranberry sauce), heat until cooked through.

Shrimp and Pea Pods-Cooked shrimp or defrosted frozen cooked shrimp (even easier!) marinated in lime juice, coriander and garlic for a few hours to a day ahead of time in fridge then skewered on toothpicks with steamed and chilled ahead-of-time pea pods. You stick one end of pea pod on toothpick, then shrimp, then wrap peapod over shrimp and skewer other end of peapod.

Cucumber Cups with Crab Meat-Cream Cheese–Cut three cucumbers into 1 1/2-2 inch chunks and hollow out centers. Mix about 1/2 lb. crab meat, fresh dill and softened cream cheese to fill into centers.  Garnish with small sprigs of dill.

Pesto Palmiers (bring to party pre-assembled on cookie sheets and bake in oven)

Baked Pita Chips and Tzatziki Dip–Split open large pita breads and cut into chip-sized triangles.  Brush with olive oil or spray with olive oil cooking spray.  Sprinkle mixture of sea salt, fresh black pepper, garlic powder and oregano on pita chips and bake in 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until crisp.  When cool, store in plastic bag.  For dip, combine sour cream, salt and pepper, fresh dill and/or fresh mint (I like to combine), 1 large finely chopped cucumber, and lots of chopped fresh garlic (to taste).  Serve with pita chips.

Gorgonzola-Walnut Stuffed Dates–Split dates lengthwise.  Toast walnuts.  Combine creamy-style Gorgonzola cheese with walnuts (cooled) and fill dates.

Caprese Salad on a Stick–Skewer cherry tomatoes (if you can get them, multi-colored heirloom variety make for a prettier presentation), mozzarella balls and fresh basil on toothpicks.  Place on serving platter and drizzle with good-quality olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Hanukkah is here and you may be invited to a party or two during these eight festive nights.  Your host/hostess will be slaving away making those Potato Latkes (pancakes), so in appreciation of his/her hard work, make sure you do not come to the party empty-handed!  Here are some fun suggestions:

Menorahs

Contemporary

Aluminum Arc Menorah

For Kids

Children's Puzzle Menorah

For Wine Lovers

Chanukah Menorah Cork

For The Techie

LED Motherboard Menorah

Candles

Honeycomb Beeswax Chanukah Candles

 

Graduated Multi-Color Hanukkah Candles

Servingware

Menorah Plate

Chanukah Tidbit Dishes

 

Hanukkah Latte Mug Set

Dreidels

Wooden Dreidel

 

Handmade Glass and Metal Dreidels

Sweets (Chocolate Gelt (Coins) Alternatives)

Happy Hanukkah Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Hanukkah Truffle Set

 

Double Dreidel Delight

See's Hanukkah Gourmet Lollipops

Hanukkah creeps up on me every year.  I always assume the holiday will be right around X-mas, though this is really not always the case.  This year, the holiday falls between December 1st and 9th.  A friend of mine, S., presented me with a dilemma she is having regarding her family’s Hanukkah celebration this year.  Like me, the holiday crept up on her and she didn’t even realize it until her mother called and asked S., “So, will you be packing a menorah for your trip to Disney World?”  S.’s response, “WHAT????!!!!”

S.’s family had booked a trip to the biggest party on earth for the entire week of Hanukkah this year and she didn’t even know it!  So, S. went to the Christmas Tree Shop and purchased the smallest menorah they had (holds birthday candles) and she and her family will be celebrating her “Festival of Lights” Disney-style this year.  S. asked me, “How will my husband and I ever be able to outdo ourselves with this holiday ever again?”

S. was sort of kidding with her question, because as a parent she tries to teach her kids that the holidays are not all about “getting.”  But, it really is so hard as parents to keep that sentiment up with all of the commercialization of this season going on all around us.  I, like my friend S., want to make Hanukkah and other holidays special for my kids in order to instill the traditions of my family, but I want to do it in a way where we don’t go overboard on the festivities so much that they overshadow the whole point of the holiday itself.  I have a feeling S. and her husband will have their hands tied a little as Hanukkah will be competing with the oh-so magical Disney.

I am sure many of you out there can relate to S.’s dilemma,.  Some of us do a lot of traveling during the holidays (X-mas and Hanukkah) and there is often so much else going on like other parties, family get-togethers, gift exchanges, etc…   Of course I love the parties and get-togethers, being The Party Zip, but I also find it more important to have special family traditions and to teach my children about the importance and meaning of the holidays.

Since S. and her family will be missing Hanukkah at home altogether, I suggested to S. that she have a pre-Hanukkah party before they leave on their trip.  She can put up blue and white decorations, serve up some Potato Latkes, sing some songs, make some Hanukkah cards, and tell the story of Hanukkah to her kids, as she does every year.  This way, since her family will be doing some of her traditional celebrating pre-Hanukkah this year, the meaning of the holiday will hopefully not be completely lost for her kids.

Our family’s traditions include making Potato Latkes, playing dreidel, and exchanging gifts.  But, the one annual holiday tradition that my family does that I like best, and that I would like to share, is one that every family, Jewish or not, can incorporate into their holiday season. On one of the eight nights of Hanukkah, instead of giving gifts, B. and I have our kids take the money that they have collected over the last year in our tzedakah (the Hebrew word for charity, but deriving from the Hebrew language for righteousness, fairness or justice) Donald Duck bank (or as we call it “tzeDuckah”), and as a family we decide where we should donate it.  Most years we have bought books for other children through Barnes and Noble Booksellers’ Holiday Book Drive, but we have also donated it to the Ronald McDonald House Charities and bought toys to donate through Toys for Tots.  The kids enjoy this simple act of giving and it makes B. and me feel like we have some control in not losing the whole holiday seasons’ true meaning and importance.

Tze"Duck"ah Bank

In November’s gusty gale I will flop my flippy tail
And spout hot soup-I’ll be a whale!
Spouting once, spouting twice
Spouting chicken soup with rice

My son’s kindergarten class is learning about the months of the year using the very catchy Carole King song “Chicken Soup with Rice.”  I remember the song from when I was a kid too, so it’s been nice revisiting the music again with J.  I make Chicken Soup at least a few times over the winter months and always at Passover with matzoh balls, but I decided to create this special recipe in honor of J.’s love for the song.  When I made the soup this past week, J. even insisted that we listen to the song while we slurp the soup for the full experience!   With or without the song accompaniment, I am sure you will enjoy this delicious and satisfying chicken soup!

Ingredients

  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 large chicken, cut up (you can buy prepackaged or ask your butcher to cut it for you)
  • 2 large onions, peeled
  • 6 parsnips, peeled
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 8 carrots peeled
  • 8 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 8 tablespoons chopped dill
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked rice

Directions

In a large pot, bring water and chicken to a boil.  Skim any foam out that accumulates.  Add onions, parsnips, celery, carrots, 6 tablespoons of parsley and 6 tablespoons of dill, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer over low heat for 3 hours.

Strain the soup and remove the meat and vegetables.  Discard the onion.  When cooled, cut up vegetables into thin disks and return to pot.  Cut up chicken into chunks and discard skin and bones.   Return chicken to pot.

Once at room temperature, refrigerate the soup for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Skim off any fat that has congealed and reheat soup.

Prepare rice as directed.  Serve warm soup over rice and garnish with any remaining parsley and dill.  If not using all of the rice, I like to keep it separate so that the rice does not overcook and get mushy.  Enjoy!

Chicken Soup with Rice

The following suggestions are for your “foodie” host/hostess who loves his/her subscription to Gourmet, is obsessed with the Food Network, loves to cook and/or eat interesting food, and is always talking about the newest restaurant or kitchen gadget.

Hotel Chocolat is a new “chocolate experience concept store” with a tasting room and elegantly packaged luxury chocolates.  Two stores just opened up in my neck of the woods, but you can also order gifts on-line.  I am loving their Limited Edition Gifts of Cocoa Pasta (penne made with pure unsweetened cocoa) and Hacienda Iara Organic 72% Dark with Chili and Pink Peppercorns chocolate (tastes just as good as it looks!) and so will your “foodie” friend with a sweet tooth!

Cocoa Pasta

 

Hacienda Iara Organic 72% Dark with Chili & Pink Peppercorns

 

Most “foodies” have bookshelves filled with the latest cookbooks from their favorite celebrity chefs.  Why not get your host/hostess a unique vintage cookbook to add to their collection?  You can find some cool finds at your local used bookstore or on-line at Amazon, e-Bay, or etsy, to name a few.

Vintage 1912 Lowney’s Cook Book

These Andy Warhol Desserts Recipe Portfolio Note Cards have colorful illustrations and quotes by the artist himself on the front, and recipes from New York’s famous dessert shop, Serendipity, on the inside!

The natural hand-harvested Herb Braids from Sur la table will be the gift that keeps on giving for your “foodie” host/hostess.  The recipient of these beautiful braids can use the herbs in cooking or just hang up as a decoration for years to come!

Herb Braids

Last, but not least, the exceptional Pure White Gold Honey from Teavana is supposedly the “world’s best tasting honey.”  Your host/hostess will appreciate this creamy and mild honey that tastes great in “any tea without altering its taste.”

Pure White Gold Honey

Two other food blogs, My Baking Addiction and GoodLife {eats} are having a Holiday Recipe Exchange contest. This week, they are challenging other food bloggers to use vanilla as an ingredient (sponsored by Beanilla).  I thought this would be a fun and exciting way to share some of my recipes with you during this busy party season.

With the holidays heading our way, you have enough to think about with planning your family/friends’ dinners, parties, and get-togethers.  Many of us not only host the party/dinner, but end up hosting house guests, as well.  One of my favorite easy-on-the-host/hostess brunch ideas that will surely impress your house guests, is my Vanilla Pear Pancake.  By purchasing that one special ingredient, the vanilla bean, ahead of time (gourmet specialty stores and Whole Foods carry vanilla beans), you will turn an average pancake into something spectacular.  Most of the other ingredients you should already have ready to go in your pantry.  Below is my very simple, but delicious recipe.

Please also come join the fun at My Baking Addiction and GoodLife {eats} Holiday Recipe Swap and vote for my recipe and/or your other favorites!

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 vanilla bean –cut in half lengthwise, use the back of a knife to scrape out the seeds
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 ripe pear, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 heaping teaspoon each of ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg (or 3/4 heaping teaspoon allspice/pumpkin pie spice)
  • 2 tablespoons butter/margarine

Directions

Preheat an oven-save skillet in the oven at 450 degrees while you prepare your ingredients.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, flour, vanilla scrapings, and salt until batter is smooth.

In a separate bowl, toss the rest of your spices and sugar with the pear slices.

Remove the preheated skillet and add butter.  Using a spatula swirl the butter on the skillet until melted.

Place pears on the skillet in a circular pattern or a design of your choice and pour in the batter.

Place skillet back in oven and bake at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes until pancake has turned a nice golden color.

Serve with your favorite maple or fruit syrup, fruit preserves, or just top with some powdered sugar.  You can also bring a little extra vanilla into the recipe and make a store bought maple syrup a little more special by simmering your syrup with an extra vanilla bean in a saucepan for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Voilà! You’ll have Vanilla Maple Syrup.

 

Vanilla Pear Pancake


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