Thanksgiving break is the kickoff to five weeks of holiday soirees, family gatherings, friendly occasions, and festive excuses to nosh. This is the season of food and booze, hospitality and good cheer. And just because you're no "Chopped" wanna-be doesn't mean your holiday table should be anything less than glorious. We've got fun finger food, easy homemade condiment ideas, sweet treats and more home entertaining inspirations.
|Stuffing Sandwiches: The Savory Main Course Finger Food|
Although carved turkey loses its appeal almost immediately after Thanksgiving's gluttonous main event, inventive turkey recipes will always find fans at a holiday table. Chef Michael Mina's easy-to-emulate "stuffing sandwich" is somewhat of a misnomer; it's actually a turkey, veggie and gravy sandwich on grilled brioche. Nonetheless, this is a brilliant way to use up leftovers (everything BUT the stuffing), and also great for a party because sandwiches don't need a fork.
|Cauliflower "Breadsticks": The Vegetarian Savory|
Another recipe that's picked up a lot of Internet heat recently, the crispy cauliflower pan-bake is earning rave reviews amongst vegetarians, mom bloggers and dieters. ("I can't believe I ate the whole pan with no carb intake!") Beaten egg and cheese binds the pureed or grated cauliflower, so after cooking at a fairly high temp (350-400 degrees) for 25 to 30 minutes and then cooling 10 minutes, it attains a consistency almost like pizza crust. Cookbook author and food blogger Faith Gorsky of EdibleMosaic recommends slathering it with tomato and more cheese and broiling a few minutes for extra yumminess.
|Brachetto d'Acqui – The Festive Sparkler|
Swapping out your regular sparkling-booze haul of Prosecco and cheap rose for a few bottles of Brachetto d'Acqui may be the most inspired hosting move you make this year. Relatively unknown except by restaurant/wine industry professionals in the U.S., Brachetto is a semi-sweet, raspberry-hued effervescent wine that's a favorite of Italian connoisseurs. And it's a lot less expensive than Champagne. Banfi's Rosa Regale is the most widely available in America; Marenco and Braida are two other producers to look for.
|Classy White Wines|
Decades of overabundance of cheap, sweet white wine has made it taboo to admit you prefer white in some crowds. Well, white wine drinkers, stand up and be proud, because you CAN bring class to the party with bottles like Copain Chardonnay from Anderson Valley (a highly respected off-the-radar NorCal region) or Ferrari Perle, as luxurious an Italian sparkler as exists. Or, overturn stereotypes altogether with a hillside-grown, biodynamically-produced Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard "Vau de Vey" Chablis. Yes, Chablis. It upgrades well, too.
|Brandied Cranberry Sauce|
Cranberry is a bit like fruitcake: You must have it around during the holidays, even if it's just the canned gloop that nobody eats. So why not spend 10 minutes on cranberry sauce people will actually enjoy? Rave Review! Original Culinary Spirits, producer of specialized cooking spirits, suggests a zingy and tasty sauce made of one pound fresh or frozen berries simmered with juice from an orange, a half cup of sugar, cinnamon and ¼ cup of culinary brandy. Simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes ... till the cranberries burst.
|Gourmet "Ranch Dip" and Crudités|
While most people know that grocery store ranch dip is horrible stuff (the fat content! the unpronounceable ingredients!), few have ever thought to make a less-Frankenfood, better-tasting version in their own kitchen. Chef Paul Piscopo of St. Regis San Francisco does a version you can copy easily. He simply folds diced fresh shallots, parsley, chives, dill, garlic, lemon juice/zest, a drip of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of seasoning in to crème fraiche. Serve with crudités, because Ruffles potato chips would be a sin.
|Old Vine Zinfandel: The Winter Warmer Wine|
Sometimes a chilly, windy, sleeting night really calls for a large glass of fortifying red wine. Cabernets being largely too pricey and Pinots and Merlots too nichey to attain "go-to" status, we've always turned to Zinfandel – the big spicy fruitbombs that came from Italy centuries ago. If you're looking for a party conversation starter, try an old vine Zin from California. Their intensity, complexity, and history--not to mention their oftentimes-colorful branding-- make them a great pick for the price category. Seghesio is a stalwart, produced by one of Sonoma's most beloved wine families.
|Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches: No-Forks Dessert|
Known for its sophisticated yet delicious and fun-loving party cuisine, Elegant Affairs, New York caterers, is a go-to amongst tri-state socialites, especially during the holidays. This ice cream sandwich – pumpkin wedged between two homemade gingerbread cookies – is among the simplest of their seasonal desserts, and easy to emulate.
|Hot Drink Fixings: Delicious DIY|
Also from Elegant Affairs, this easy inspiration will take your aperitifs to the next level: Even if all you've got for dessert is coffee and ice cream, you can make it look like a gourmet dessert station with a few bowls of flavored whipped cream, chocolate nonpareils and high-quality dessert sauces. Pictured here: chocolate shavings, brown sugar/vanilla and caramel whipped creams. Recommended: Fat Toad salted bourbon caramel and maple/Grand Marnier syrup.
|Holiday Chocolates: The Guilty Pleasure Staple|
It's a given: No matter how full people are, and no matter how much they decry sweets, if you put chocolate truffles on the table, those little morsels will disappear. Anything bite-size is a winning temptation, and Harry & David's holiday collection is chock-full of decadent seasonal flavors. Five-Spice Pear, Pumpkin Pie, Candy Cane. If there are kids coming, get a box of Krispy Pops in Santa and reindeer likenesses as well.
|Caramel Dipped Apple'Tini|
Of all the million-and-one flavored vodkas that have hit the market in recent years, EFFEN Salted Caramel is one of the most velvety, most buttery and most delicious. It WILL give you the dizzies if you overdo it, but savored in a single holiday cocktail, it's pure delight.
1 ½ parts EFFEN® Salted Caramel Vodka
¾ part Apple Schnapps
1 part Fresh Sour Mix
Method: Mix, shake, strain and garnish with an apple slice dipped in caramel.