The Pittsburgh Area Supper Club held its first Christmas party this past Saturday at my house. Since spouses/boyfriends were invited as well, I chose a selection of recipes that were buffet-friendly, could be mostly (or totally) prepared ahead and transported easily, and only needed one eating utensil since we would be eating while sitting in chairs in the living room. At our November meeting we all reviewed my suggestions then each selected two recipes to prepare. Following is a list of what was served, who prepared it, and miscellaneous comments (19 of the original 30 recipes that I had suggested were not on the CL website, so if anyone is interested in any of the recipes below and cannot find them, let me know and if I have the time I will certainly type them up and e-mail them to you):
Jen made the Smokey Red Pepper Dip from the CL Nov/Dec 1996 issue and served it with bagel crisps. I had made this dip a few years ago and was disappointed in the taste which, I figured, was from trying to cut corners by using bottled roasted red peppers. I was correct about that determination because Jen’s dip was great. It was a little bit chunky with a full, smoked red pepper flavor. And the bagel chips were a good choice to serve with the dip—I don’t think that raw veggies would have been quite so good.
Meridee provided the Three Kings’ Salad from the December 2000 CL issue. I had hoped that someone would choose this because I have seen several variations on this recipe and had always wanted to try it. The combination of sectioned orange, beets, red onions, and balsamic vinaigrette was unique and very tasty.
Kathleen chose the Wild Rice & Cranberry Salad from the CL November 2002 issue. It looked very festive and was delicious. The general opinion was that it was a little too “peppery”, but I like spicy food and thought that it was fine.
I dug deeply into my CL archives and resurrected a recipe from the November/December 1992 issue called Grapefruit Salad with Champagne Dressing to provide. Unfortunately, after a long day of cleaning and decorating I tried to compile my grocery list at 10:30pm one evening. By mistake I opened my CL Holiday 1992 issue (they did a separate issue with holiday recipes that year) to a previously bookmarked page and wrote down the ingredients for Winter Fruit Salad. Since I had originally wanted to make the champagne dressing because my husband & I were celebrating our anniversary a few evenings prior with champagne and I planned to set aside a few tablespoons, I decided to combine the recipes. So I made the Winter Fruit Salad but subbed the champagne dressing and added sectioned red grapefruit. It was very good and refreshing. The next time I make it I think that I will use toasted walnuts instead of the toasted almonds because that flavor, to me, seems to “go with” the apple that was in the salad better than the almond. My friend Judi, who hopes to someday join our Club when her kids grow up and move away(!), asked for the recipe because she thought that it would also be perfect for a brunch that she was attending.
Jonie brought the Mostaccioli-Spinach Bake from the January/February 1997 CL issue. Penne-shaped pasta in a creamy white sauce with spinach (and tomatoes, I believe) looked perfect on a Christmas buffet. Since it was made ahead and transported, the pasta absorbed some more of the sauce that if it had been served directly from the oven, but it wasn’t at all “too dry”. Because the recipe is 5 years old it specified reduced-fat stick margarine. In the past year or so, CL has changed its opinion of butter versus reduced-fat stick margarine and now urges us to cook with butter because the saturated fat is no more dangerous to our health that the hydrogenated fat in the margarine and it tastes better. Jonie used half butter and half olive oil to prepare the roux used to thicken the sauce, with absolutely no change to the taste of the recipe. She mentioned that she will probably use all olive oil to prepare it the next time. Jonie also mentioned something that I thought was a problem only for me. After sautéing the onion in the butter/olive oil, you sprinkle the flour over and cook for a bit, then add the liquid and whisk smooth. I thought that I was the only one to have a difficult time getting the sauce smooth (the lumps of flour that form on the onion are hard to incorporate into the sauce). I usually put the pan in the sink and “whisk the hell out of it” but her suggestion is a lot easier-- sauté the onion separately (in a pan-spray coated skillet?), then make the roux with the olive oil, flour, and liquid. I make a lot of flour-thickened soups and stews and will try this technique the next time. Anyway, the pasta dish was very good and there vas very little of it remaining.
Meridee prepared the Pork-Filled Dijon Pepper Biscuits. The pork tenderloin was cooked ahead of time and chilled, then thinly sliced at the party (we didn’t reheat it but it was just slightly above room temperature-- we had set the meat, before slicing, on the raised griddle of my stove for a bit since the 6 pilot lights underneath keep the surface warm). The pork was very tender and the Dijon biscuits were a delicious accompaniment. She served Ocean Spray’s Orange/Cranberry “Crushed Fruit” alongside, and the little sandwiches were a hit.
Jen made Curried Crab Cakes from the December 2001 issue. She mixed and shaped the cakes ahead of time and sautéed them before serving. I’m a huge crab fan, and I loved these. As did everyone else! The touch of curry was a very good addition. There were a couple left and Jen was kind enough to allow me to keep them for lunch the next day. mmmmmmmmmm!
I made the only non-CL offering. Several years ago I ran across a recipe for Lime-Jalapeno Shrimp Kebabs (from Better Homes & Gardens, I think) and since I make these for almost every party, I just had to! They’re cooked shrimp, marinated in a mixture of canola oil, lime juice and peel, minced jalapenos, and garlic, threaded on short skewers with fresh pineapple, kiwi, and red grapes. There were two left, and my husband was kind enough to let me have his at lunch the next day (with the crab cakes, I was in seafood heaven!!!).
Kathleen brought a Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with Creamy Orange Glaze from the December 2001 issue of CL. It was moist and tasted very much like sweet potatoes, with a touch of spices. It wasn’t too sweet, and the orange glaze was a perfect “companion flavor”.
Jonie made the Cheesecake with Cranberry Glaze from the December 1998 CL issue. It was very creamy and light and the cranberry glaze was so good that she suggested making it, without the cheesecake, for use over pound cake slices or swirled in yogurt! Another excellent dessert.
From the November/December 1996 issue of CL, I prepared the Fudgy Cream Cheese Brownies. With a change in the recipe to make it quicker. I used a Ghiradelli (sp?) brownie mix, then prepared and swirled the cream cheese mixture through it. Since the recipe and the package directions had different oven temperatures/baking times, I followed the recipe directions. That was the right choice, though I should have taken them out a few minutes sooner. But they were still good! Heck, chocolate and cream cheese—you’d have to bake them into bricks before they became inedible!
As Jonie remarked while we were eating dessert, “yet another perfect menu!” It is kind of amazing that we’ve had several events and there really wasn’t a single “dud” recipe!
From the website I found Citrus Sparkle Punch, which was excellent. I prepared the spice syrup early that day, combined the juices with the syrup and chilled the mixture, and made an ice ring out some of this mixture as not to dilute the punch while keeping it cold. I also scrubbed the orange that I used in the Winter Fruit Salad, and when I peeled it I flattened the sections of peel with my hand and used a small star-shaped cookie cutter to make orange stars to float in the punch (my Martha Stewart Moment!).
I also offered a cabernet, a blush zinfandel, vodka to “spike” the punch, beer, and soft drinks. And, at the end of the evening, we all tried the Cranberry Cordial which I started on Halloween weekend- and it was quite good! I'm going to use the cranberries (which were strained out when I transferred the cordial to a decanter earlier) in a cake. They were soaked in rum for 6 weeks, and should add quite a nice "kick"!!!
All in all, it was a great party and everyone seemed to have a good time! There’s something about decorations, twinkling lights, flickering candles, and the company of friends that really got me into the Christmas Spirit. I had been too busy preparing for this event to bother with it before, but I am now ready to get my shopping and cookie-baking done! Our best wishes for a Wonderful Holiday to everyone!