The Holidays are Coming so Let’s Relearn our Hosting Skills
We’re out of practice in entertaining, so we’re trying to relearn how to be gracious, feed people, converse (keep organ recitals to a minimum), make our homes look festive and spotless and have fun after years of hibernating and silence!
We say start small. Rather than throwing a big, fancy dinner party, which would be an ordeal and so expensive today, try a series of more modest gatherings with just a few folks where we offer enough food to friends. We are talking about a few small bite-sized appetizers or amuse-bouche, but not a full-course dinner that becomes labor intensive and pricey. This allows the host to remain less hassled and frazzled with time to sit and interact with guests.
Each of us tried out this idea recently, with certain shared common denominators.
Here’s our playbook
--Bring together the number you can seat comfortably so everyone can participate in one conversation, which to us means between six and eight guests.
--Put the food out buffet style with little plates, forks and pretty napkins, and make it simple with finger foods that guests can easily go get and then go back for another round.
--Set your wine there, too, along with sparkling glasses. We prefer offering white, Prosecco and cider and no red, since it stains so terribly. Also skip the hard liquor.
--Have on hand sparkling water and some soda for those who don’t drink, along with wedges of lime and lemon.
--Think hearty food that’s both hot and cold and a mix of vegetarian, vegan and meats since who knows what dietary restrictions everyone has these days. There are still carnivores in the world. For them, we both served little pigs ‘n blankets (store bought), hummus and veggies for dipping, a cheese board with an array of soft and hard cheeses, crackers, olives, nuts and grapes and Margaret added charcuterie meats. And we both served shrimp with a spicy dipping sauce; don’t forget toothpicks.
Margaret offered little macaroni and cheese cups made in muffin tins and Barbara decided to copy since she thought such a great idea after Margaret said everybody gobbled them up. Barbara also hand-grated latkes and served with applesauce for the upcoming Hanukkah festival. Next time, she might also have sour cream and smoked salmon bites to top off each latke. Some also add caviar.
For dessert, we diverged. Margaret served homemade brownies and gingerbread cookies—men and women. Barbara made a chocolate cake labeled the “Only Chocolate Cake Recipe You’ll Ever Need,” three yummy buttermilk chocolate layers with a fabulous icing. We both decided not to add coffee or tea to complicate matters. And for those who asked what they could bring, Barbara suggested a bottle of wine, so she didn’t have to worry about that part of the menu.
For future gatherings, Barbara plans to have music from a soon-to-be-purchased Sonos One for the perfect festive music in the background. She might also bring back the idea of a grab bag with the request for a favorite book, new or used, an idea she tried out pre-Covid and which everyone loved.
Happy Holidays dear readers.
Brownies (tweaked from a recipe in the Silver Palate Cookbook)
Two sticks of butter
4 ounces of good unsweetened chocolate
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup shelled and coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees but if a convection oven, which is what Margaret has, she sets it at 345 or 340 degrees.
Melt a tablespoon of butter and add a little flour, stir it with a fork, and then brush the mixture on the bottom and sides of a 9 by 12-inch baking pan.
Melt the two sticks of butter and chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over boiling water. When melted, set aside to cool to room temp.
While chocolate and butter are melting, beat eggs and sugar until thick and lemon colored; add vanilla. Fold chocolate mixture (let it reach room temp so the eggs don’t curdle) into the eggs and sugar. Mix thoroughly.
Sift flour and fold gently into batter, mixing just until blended. Fold in nuts.
Pour batter into the buttered pan. Should take about 25 minutes to cook.
Here’s how Margaret does it:
Set a timer for 15 minutes. Turn the brownies by a quarter clockwise. Set the timer for another five minutes. Turn them a quarter turn again. Set the timer again for five minutes and turn again until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. That indicates they’re done.
Allow brownies to cool in pan for at least 30 minutes before cutting into bars.
Friend Jeanne’s authentic Lebanese hummus bi tahini
Peel a good-sized clove of garlic and with the motor of your food processor running, throw it in and let it whirl around. Add salt—maybe half a teaspoon, add Tahini—good quality imported from Lebanon—about ¼ to 1/3 cup. Then add about ¼ cup water. Scrape down the sides and add a drained can of chick peas, about 15 oz. Adjust all until smooth. Add the juice of a lemon or a bit more to taste.
The order of using the ingredients is not random; you need to add the water before the lemon to get the light color that is favored by those who know. Hummus should be light tan and loose enough to scoop up with fresh bread, not the consistency of wallpaper paste!
Serve in a shallow bowl with a little well into which you should pour a little olive oil, maybe a tablespoon. Sprinkle with sumac if you have it and paprika or parsley if you don't. Serve with thin wedges of raw red onion or scallions cut to 2" lengths, pita chips or Syrian bread. You can serve it also with radishes, cucumber, red pepper in addition to the onion.