Christmas Eve Fondue Party!

There are two Christmas Eve traditions in the SavoryGirl household:  Everyone gets to open one small gift and we celebrate the night before Christmas with a 3-course intimate fondue party, complete with board games, crackling T.V. fireplace and all! I know a 3-course fondue party sounds like it may be a bit of an effort, but to be honest, beyond cutting up all of the things you want to dip in the fondue it's a super easy and very festive  meal.
Cookie Party 2014!
SavoryGirl's 2014 CookiesOne of my all-time favorite nights of the year...my annual Cookie Party! I've been hosting a holiday cookie party for almost 15 years now. The idea originally came from my ex-husband's mother who always hosted a Cookie Party for her neighbors but over the years I've evolved it a bit and made it my own. The funny thing is, as my website name suggests, I'm more of a Savory than Sweet girl. So while I love the cookies and the energy that my guests put into one-upping their cookies from the year before what I really look forward to is the cheese and meat. This year my guests pressured me into a formal vote for the tastiest and most creative cookies...we've never done that before so it added a new competitive element that I'm sure will drive the cookies to even greater heights next year!

Here are some photo highlights from this year's party, starting with the photo collage above. SavoryGirl's 2014 cookies!  I always make 3-4 cookies for my party but typically 2 of them are old family traditional cookies.  This year, however, I decided out with the old and in with the new and mad all new cookies! So I made Chocolate Pistachio Thumbprints with Chocolate Ganache which I thought were a delicious combination of salty sweet and while they look fancy they're actually quite easy to make.  I also made Tahini Cookies rolled in black sesame seeds and demera sugar.  I was pretty excited about the idea of these but they underwhelmed me in texture although others seemed to like them.  Lastly I made Chai Spice Cookies which were divine...and they just happened to be gluten free too. These actually won the informal "tastiest cookie" award at the party so they're definitely a keeper.  Super easy and really delicious! Jacob & Chad's Salted Choc Chip, Birdnests & Icebox Cookies
Next up, Jacob and Chad's cookies...they had to go and match the host and bring 3 cookies!  Love it.  Jacob's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies gave my Chai Spice Cookies a run for their money in the "tastiest cookie" contest.  Don't worry...I'm working on getting the recipe! They also brought along BirdNests which you see in the middle there. These were quite yummy but really decadent so after a bite or two I was done! Their third cookie was a classic, buttery icebox cookie.
Tapas Party!

Tortilla Espanola

I'm part of a lovely rotating monthly ladies dinner party and August was my turn to host...so I decided to forego the traditional sit-down dinner and throw a Tapas Party!  This was particularly fun for me because it allowed me to go down memory lane a bit to when I studied abroad in San Sebastián, Spain and pull out some of my old favorite recipes from my time there that I haven't made in years.  It also gave me the opportunity to really cook a lot...which, yes, is a lot of work, but I truly do enjoy and haven't done in a while.  So what did I make?  Here's a quick rundown with recipe links included...

Tortilla Española...truly no tapas party is complete without this (above).  It is a signature Spanish tapa that you will find at every single tapas bar throughout the country.  While it doesn't sound particularly exciting (essentially a potato & onion omelet), trust me on this one...it's always a huge hit.  This one always feels a bit scary for people to make, review the step by step photo recipe attached in the linked recipe...it's really pretty simple and straightforward if you take it one step at a time.  And just be bold with the flip...own it and it will go perfectly! Traditionally it's served on top of a thin slice of bread but you can eat it on it's own as well (which I prefer).

Shrimp, Salmon and Egg Pintxo - this was my favorite of the entire spread!  Not surprising since it's a pintxo which is the Basque version of tapas and I studied abroad in Basque country.  So this was more reminiscent of the tapas that I ate while living abroad. Slightly more complex and often including amazing seafood.  The viniagrette that you make for this pintxo is to die for and I've been putting it on everything else since (it makes a ton though so you could 1/2 it if you want to). KILLS me that I've lost my pictures of my favorite tapa...guess that means I need to make it again ASAP so I can share the photo!

Pancetta Fig Crisps - ok, I took some liberties with the word "tapa".  This technically isn't Spanish but it is an appetizer that I've made several times and is always a huge hit so I decided to include it. Delish as always.

Pancetta Fig Crisps

Next up a a few "DIY" tapas:
Vegetarian Eats for the Big Game!

Ok...so I'm not super excited about the Superbowl this year. I mean my Pats were only one game away from making it in, and let's be honest, it wasn't a very respectable loss. So while I certainly go big for the Superbowl when the Pats are in it, this year I'm trying my best to keep it a bit simpler and healthier. My Pats are worth the calories and effort...the Niners and the Ravens, not so much. So I thought I'd include a few more veggies in our spread this year. Yes, some will be smothered with cheese, but hey, it's a start.

So first up...those delicious looking Spicy Broccoli Rabe & Provolone Grinders above. Yes, Grinders. I'm from MA, after all...no Subs or Hoagies here!. I made these for the first time this year and while they may slightly disappoint that guest who sees them and excitedly asks if they're Cheesesteaks, they are pretty fabulous.

The soft french rolls are slathered with a homemade spicy white bean spread (store-bought spicy hummus will do in a pinch), piled high with crispy oven roasted broccoli rabe, smothered in melty provolone and sprinkled with red jalapenos. Yum.  I know I certainly didn't miss the meat. The original recipe can be found here...but, like I said you can simplify buy using store-bought spicy hummus instead of making your own spread (although the homemade stuff is yummy). I also simplified by oven roasting the rapini rather than cooking it the way they suggested.  I think it works even better (adds some crisp!) and dirties way fewer dishes, which I always like. C'mon...you know you want to grab one!

Next up...some snack-y finger food without all the calories of nuts. Pan fried shishito peppers!  These little peppers are relatively easy to find these days since they've really grown in popularity.  They're not spicy peppers, but slightly sweet and so delicious when cooked up this way. So simple and easy...they're best warm, but they go fast so cook up a big batch!

Holiday Cookie Party!

The Henricksen Holiday Cookie Party is a long-standing, fabulous tradition. Christian's mom has been hosting her own holiday cookie party since the mid-90s and I was introduced to it back in 2002 when I started dating Christian.  I thought it was such a fun idea and Christian loves cookies so much that we decided to continue with the tradition for our own little family of friends. It's a fantastic way to gather friends together, sample a dazzling array of cookies and imbibe in festive drinks while listening to the Carpenters croon Christmas carols. Be forewarned though, it's a party that almost guarantees a sugar hangover!

 

So, what's on the menu?  You'll be happy to see it's super easy and low key!

  • Cookies of course...some of your own and a batch from every group of guests!
  • A savory table with decadent cheese & charcuterie platters along with all of the requisite accompaniments such as nuts, olives, figs, etc...
  • A crudité platter
  • Homemade Gløgg (mulled wine)
  • Warm spiked apple cider with homemade whipped cream


But first, let's talk about the cookies.  This is a cookie pot luck, if you will.  So I usually bake 3 cookies and guests are required to bring 1 dish of cookies of their own as well.  It's fun because you often get a peek into their family traditions or discover a fabulous new cookie for your own repertoire. Since we've been doing this for so many years and have many repeat guests, our party tends to get a bit competitive...those who show up with store-bought cookies are ridiculed a bit :)

A Photo Journey through Thanksgiving 2012

I know Thanksgiving is over and everyone is ready to move onto the next big holiday, but with the week of Thanksgiving being my favorite cooking week of the year I thought it was worthy of a couple more blog posts.  This one is simply a nice visual journey through all of the dishes I made this year with some descriptions.

Next week I'll highlight the recipe for Cranberry Pepper Jelly that I make every year. It is fantastic on sandwiches, baked brie, with cream cheese and crackers, etc...  So while most have already made their one turkey of the year there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the spicy-sweet deliciousness all year long.

So let's start the photo journey with that one...Cranberry Pepper Jelly. This is almost always the first thing I make, the weekend before Thanksgiving, since it has a 3-6 week shelf life in the refrigerator. I've honestly never liked anything other than canned cranberry sauce (I know, blasphemous!) until I discovered this recipe. Now I'm totally hooked on it's spicy-sweet combination and for the first time ever didn't even touch my canned cranberry sauce this year!

The next thing I make the weekend before the holiday is homemade turkey stock as a base for my gravy. If you don't want to do this you can always use store-bought chicken or turkey stock, but I find that making your own makes a big difference in the gravy and it's honestly very easy. If you're like me, this also means you get a little extra Turkey meat for your leftover soup as well since I refuse to throw away all of the meat on the turkey wings after making the stock.  Just pick it all off and freeze it until your ready to make your soup or other Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving I start brining the turkey and prepping all of the veggies that will hold for a day or two.

I find that nothing makes for a juicy turkey like brining it for 2 days in advance...not frying it, not starting it cooking upside down, nothing. I also slather it in herb butter (both on top and under the skin), so that doesn't hurt! My favorite brine that I have found over the years is a beer brine...I use Newcastle which makes this turkey a bit of an expensive date, but trust me your guests will be singing your praises. And we all know that's hard praise to get with so many bad, dry turkey experiences from Thanksgivings past! Make sure the brine is completely covering your turkey...sometimes you have to get a bit crafty with pressure on the bag in certain spots to make this happen.

It's also important to have a great carver on hand day-of so that you can plate your turkey in a beautiful and appetizing way...my husband is a pro at this by now, so I'm lucky here as you can see below.

A SavoryGirl Thanksgiving, 2012

I love Thanksgiving...good friends, family, food, football and fun.  What's not to love? To be honest, though, I didn't always love it...when I was a kid it seemed kind of silly to me how my mom slaved away all day just for one meal. But ever since I've been the cook I totally get it. Yes it can be a lot of work but it's the work of love. All that effort is worth it for the "ooohs and aaaahs" when you walk in with the Turkey. Or watching your husband's face as he takes that first bite of your famous Sweet Potatoes that he loves so much but only gets this one day a year. Personally, I also love the strategy and planning that Thanksgiving takes...and that's the key to actually enjoying this holiday as host. So not only am I sharing my menu, but I am also sharing my detailed cooking and timing plan to get it all done and downloadable shopping lists. That's right, time to start enjoying your own Thanksgiving party!

You all know by now that I love to cook and hopefully you agree that I am a pretty good judge of recipes as well...therefore I can almost guarantee that my menu below is going to be delicious. I've been hosting large Thanksgiving dinners for years now and I can proudly say I haven't had a dud yet (knocking on wood as I type!). Some of the dishes below are old favorites but many are new.  Since I have a bit of a smaller crowd this year I'm keeping appetizers more simple than usual (and yes one leans Mexican!) but otherwise this year's menu is pretty typical of a SavoryGirl Thanksgiving. You can also check out my previous SavoryGirl Thanksgiving Menu, if the one below doesn't suit your fancy.

Last year the Pancetta Crisps, Succotash, Kale Salad and Cranberry-Pepper Jelly were big hits out of the new additions...one of which is making a repeat performance this year along with the turkey brine recipe and my ever-present sweet potatoes.

Keeping it Simple for the 4th…

The Fourth of July has been one of my favorite holidays for as long as I can remember...but the funny thing is that it's one of the few holidays that I love that isn't all about the food for me.  Thanksgiving?  Definitely about the food.  Christmas Season? Cookie Party,  Fondue and Roast Beast. Easter?  A delicious brunch.  New Year's Eve?  Osso Bucco. New Year's Day? Black Eyed Peas.  You see, the thing that keeps me up the night before most holidays is child-like excitement over what I'm going to be cooking and/or eating the next day.  Of course it's about family and friends (and let's be honest...presents) as well but food always plays a central character on holidays for me and it has since I was a child.

The Fourth of July, however, was always a bit different.  I grew up having a big family picnic in a local park every Fourth of July...so it was the one holiday where my mom and I weren't cooking at home and weren't responsible for the entire meal.  Sure we'd make a few nice dishes to bring along but other members of the family chipped in too so it was casual, easy and really more about being in the park and hanging out with family that we really only saw on this one day a year.  Well, it was also about my Aunt Nixa's amazing Puerto Rican rice that she made every year...but I've yet to wrangle that recipe from her!

DIY Pizza Night!

We've been making homemade pizza in the SavoryGirl household for years now…but to be honest, we make a pretty sucky crust.  Until now.  Finally!  We’ve found a no-knead pizza dough recipe that is practically foolproof and makes amazingly crisp and blistered crust.  Just the way we like it…and seriously, it’s artisan pizzeria quality right at home.  The recipe is from Jim Lahey of New York's Sullivan Street Bakery & pizza spot, Co. and you can find it here The one trick, with this dough is that it’s a multistage, overnight process as you can see below, so make sure you build in time and plan ahead.

Step 1: Mix together all ingredients from the recipe.  Tranfer to a clean, large bowl, cover loosely with cling wrap and leave for 18 hours in a warm, non-drafty part of the kitchen.  I put the bowl in my oven overnight…even thought it’s off the pilot light keeps it a bit warm in there.
Mini Spicy Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Our Pat's are in the SuperBowl this weekend, so we need some yummy treats to sustain us through all of our shouting at the T.V. screen!  Enter one of my guilty pleasures when working from home...having The Martha Stewart Show on in the background.  I was lucky enough to have it on recently when Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow of The Meatball Shop were on with this recipe for Mini Spicy Buffalo Chicken Meatballs.  Now to be clear, I LOVE buffalo chicken wings.  Love them. But, I almost never eat them since they're not exactly healthy...which is why I love these, now I can get that buffalo chicken wing experience I love more often!  They're certainly a healthier take on buffalo chicken wings but still just as delicious and easier to eat.  Don't get me wrong...they still have butter in the sauce and you want a good blue cheese dressing to dip them in but it's certainly an improvement! And most importantly, boy are they tasty!  These will likely be my go to spicy buffalo dish for a while, which makes Christian happy since he loves them as well!