Keep holiday cooking simple
I have vivid memories of years ago answering a knock on my door the week before Christmas. We were experiencing snow showers and my wife’s friend was standing outside my kitchen door with a stressed-out countenance and icy wet hair. My wife was running a catering business at the time and her friend had commissioned her to prepare a couple holiday dishes to take to a potluck Christmas party. “Are you OK?” I asked. “Christmas is proof that God hates women!” she blurted out. She explained, “Our cow had a prolapsed uterus and the vet was busy so they told me to just shove it back in! I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping yet! I’m supposed to bring treats to a Christmas party tonight, the in-laws are coming to spend the week with us and my house is a mess!” All I could do to help her situation was get her a dry towel and offer to make her a cup of tea.
Holiday time for a caterer is also overwhelmingly busy and exceedingly stressful. From the time she arose in the morning until late at night, my wife was working her lists. Prepare menus, shop for ingredients. Chop this, bake that. Deliver this, pick up that. Get the van stuck in a snowdrift, call for a tow truck. When it was finally time for our family’s Christmas, all she wanted to do was nap.
I did my best to help out during the holiday catering rush. I remember carrying a food tray in a crowded elevator at the medical school, wearing an apron and ball cap. On the ride up, I became aware that a passenger who I recognized as one of my dental patients was staring at me. “Do you have a brother who’s a dentist?” she queried. “Oh, hi! No, it’s me. I’m just moonlighting.” One time my wife asked me to fill in for her bartender who had called in sick. I put on my tux shirt and bowtie and did my best to perform a job I had no training in whatsoever. A guest requested a glass of wine. “Whenever I come to one of these events, I end up feeling a bit sick. I’m not sure whether it’s from drinking wine or eating shrimp,” she shared with me. I suggested that she might have a sensitivity to sulfites. I explained that sulfites are used as preservatives in both wine and shrimp. “My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. To think that my problem was diagnosed by a bartender!”
The weirdest catering request came from a client whose motorcycle club was having a Christmas potluck and everybody was supposed to bring a dish that looked like a motorcycle. She commissioned my wife to create an appetizer shaped like a BMW. I drew the outline of a BMW on a sheet tray and she sculpted the motorcycle out of chicken salad and decorated it with various vegetable components. I remember that the blue color in the BMW logo was especially hard to create with vegetables. I had to deliver it to the party during an ice storm. I slipped and fell on the icy sloped driveway, but miraculously kept the tray upright during my descent.
Thankfully my days of stressful holidays are behind me. Today, I keep things simple. I want to share with readers the two very simple, but very enjoyable appetizers I’ll be bringing to holiday potlucks this season.
Union Square Café Bar Nuts
Union Square Café is a restaurant that brought the farm-to-table movement to New York City and helped transform American fine dining. Their bar nuts are wildly popular.
Yields 5 cups
- ¼ lb each peeled peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and whole unpeeled almonds OR 1¼ lb unsalted, assorted nuts
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Toss the nuts in a large bowl to combine and spread them out on a cookie sheet. Toast in the oven until they become light golden brown, about 10 minutes.
In the large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, salt and melted butter.
Thoroughly toss the warm toasted nuts with the spiced butter and serve warm.
Curried Onion and Cauliflower Hummus
New Orleans’ Israeli-themed Shaya Restaurant has been named by OpenTable as one of the 100 best restaurants for foodies in America. Their curried onion and cauliflower hummus is a real crowd-pleaser.
Yields 5 cups
- 1 pound dried chickpeas (2 1/2 cups), soaked overnight and drained
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- Canola oil, for frying
- 1/2 pound cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch florets
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely crushed pink peppercorns
- Chopped parsley, for garnish
In a saucepan, cover the chickpeas, garlic and baking soda with two inches of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring every 15 minutes, until the chickpeas are tender, 50 minutes; if necessary, add water to keep them covered.
Drain the chickpeas and garlic and transfer to a food processor; puree until very smooth. With the machine on, gradually add the tahini, lemon juice, 1/3 cup of olive oil and the cumin; season the hummus with salt.
In a skillet, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil. Add the cauliflower and fry over moderately high heat, stirring, until tender and deeply browned, eight to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined bowl to drain. Add 1 teaspoon of the curry powder and toss well. Season with salt and toss again.
Pour off all but 1/4 cup of the oil from the skillet. Add the onion and a big pinch of salt and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until just starting to soften and brown in spots, about five minutes. Add the pink peppercorns and the remaining one teaspoon of curry powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about three minutes. Season with salt.
Spoon the hummus into a bowl and top with the onion and cauliflower. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with parsley and serve.
Contact Peter Glatz at email@example.com.