Kitchen Shrink: Let's get this party started (Part 1)

KITCHEN SHRINK:

"At every party there are two kinds of people — those who want to go home and those who don't. The trouble is, they are usually married to each other." — Ann Landers

December is the party animal month of the year when the communal melting pot of family and friends, neighbors and co-workers gather to celebrate the delights of all traditions — the miracle of Hanukkah, the joy of Christmas, the African American heritage of Kwanzaa — along with surviving another year or using the opportunity as just another excuse to eat, drink and be merry. Enjoy this jolly line-up of festivities, as well as food and drink highlights to suit all preferences and pocketbooks.

Twist on the classic cocktail

Creative mixologists whip up farm-to-pitcher holiday refreshers in advance, so a welcoming oasis greets guests upon their arrival. Vodka-thyme lemonade, blackberry-mint julep, or a cucumber-basil-tequila zinger pair well with a seasonal cheese-and-fruit platter artistically displayed on a rustic wooden board or slate slab with assorted breads and crackers.

Do a mash-up of soft and hard cheeses from cow's, sheep's and goat's milk, such as, Pecorino, Brie, Gruyere, Parmesan, Manchego, Aged Goat Gouda, Nababbo, Cheddar, and Garrotxa, along with non-dairy alternatives (almond and cashew milk bases). Nice accompaniments include dried cranberries, pomegranate arils, sliced fresh figs, a cube of honeycomb, along with roasted and raw nuts, especially Marcona almonds and candied hazelnuts.

Assorted mocktails and cocktails like a very Bloody Mary can be fully loaded with substantial garnishes from shrimp and roasted vegetable skewers to barbecued wings and bite-size grilled cheese sandwiches hugging the rim. Other nibbles, such as turkey sliders, mini lobster rolls, savory flatbreads, and crudités with zippy dips can also be prepared ahead of time to ease the host's angst.

Sweet tooth's soiree

A fun and delightful get-together around dessert makes everyone happy. Some holiday indulgences include a brandy chestnut mousse (see recipe), candied ginger biscotti, apple cardamom pie with vanilla bean gelato, pecan shortbread bars, and sassy peppermint macaroons. Herbal teas with notes of ginger, nutmeg, or peppermint, or hot coffee with a splash of seasonal liqueurs (Bailey's orange truffle, Kahlua gingerbread, cranberry), and lively conversation hit the spot nicely.

A wandering wingding

The progressive dinner party creatively combines food with exercise as a peripetic group travel from one house to another for each successive course. Like wandering minstrels they start at the Haber's home for hors d'oeuvres and libations, saunter down the block to the Applebaum's for appetizers, stroll across the street to the McIntyre's for the main dish, amble around the corner to the Davis' home for dessert, then finish the evening with nightcaps at the Newman's.

This gustatory experience gives neighbors and friends a chance to bond, while sampling diverse foods and styles of entertaining. Those in the traveling troupe can contribute a special dish, bottle of wine or Champagne, or holiday treat. This party format works best with a small guest list, along with homes in close proximity to conveniently keep travel on foot.

Shindigs on a shoestring

Potluck gatherings are a frugal and friendly way to share the cheer during the holidays. But these must be well organized and orchestrated to prevent 10 cheese balls, eight spiral hams, six plum puddings, and five cartons of eggnog landing on the potluck table. The host should pass around an itemized menu list to guests in advance, giving a first-come, first-served choice for appetizers, main dishes and desserts. It would also be preferable to bring dishes that don't require heating, prepping, chilling or storing.

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Recipe: Tipsy Holiday Chestnut Mousse

Ingredients: 12 ounces chestnut puree (canned or jarred); 1 cup heavy whipping cream; 2 tablespoons Brandy, or pick your poison (Amaretto, Frangelico, Cognac); 1/4 teaspoon almond or hazelnut extract; 1 tablespoon chestnut honey; 1 teaspoon organic sugar

Method: Blend whipping cream, extract and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Combine half the whipped cream, chestnut puree, brandy or liqueur, honey and salt in food processor and blend until the mixture forms a smooth texture, much like Spackle. If it's too thick, add more whipped cream. Chill and serve in martini glasses. Garnish with shaved bittersweet chocolate, or toasted crushed hazelnuts, and a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 6.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com

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