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What's Up Magazine

5 Party-Perfect Holiday Appetizers

Nov 30, 2012 07:19PM ● By Anonymous

PUMPKIN SOUP with SAGE CREAM

If you’re hosting a dinner party for six, this creamy pumpkin soup can be served in regular bowls as a lovely first course. For cocktail parties, though, enjoy the current party trend of soup being served in shot glasses so each guest gets just a taste of the seasonal hors d’oeuvre.

SIX TO EIGHT SERVINGS FOR REGULAR BOWLS; number of shot glass-sized servings depends on the size of the serving vessel
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh sage
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Roasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)

For cream topping
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
Salt, to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and sauté for about seven minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the vegetable stock and pumpkin, mixing to combine thoroughly. Add the thyme and sage. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and let it cook uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, combine the sour cream, fresh sage, and salt in small bowl.

When the soup is done simmering, use an immersion blender to blend the soup until it’s creamy. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer the soup in batches to a regular blender to process it, ensuring you let the blender’s lid stay open slightly for steam to escape. Return the pureed soup to the pot, and then stir in the heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the soup among the serving vessels and top with a tablespoon of sage cream and pumpkin seeds, if using.

If you’re feeling ambitious, make your own pumpkin puree. Start with a 2- to 3-pound sugar pie pumpkin. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a big sharp knife, cut the pumpkin in half. Scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin with a spoon, scraping all the stringy bits out, too. Line a baking sheet with tin foil, drizzle it with olive oil, and put the pumpkin halves cut side down on the sheet. Place in the preheated oven and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the skin of the pumpkin is tender when poked with a fork. Let the pumpkin cool, and then scrape the flesh into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse for a few seconds, and you’ll have pure pumpkin puree.

BAKED SHORT RIB RAVIOLI with BALSAMIC CHERRY SAUCE

Fried ravioli has become a popular appetizer on restaurant menus these days, but it’s not particularly elegant nor healthy. This baked ravioli, filled with flavorful short rib meat, is easy to prepare, thanks to the use of wonton wrappers instead of homemade pasta. Because it’s not fried and doesn’t have any breading on it, you can pick up a piece with your hand without worrying about a mess—and they’re delightfully crunchy when you bite into them.

MAKES 20 RAVIOLI
For the Ravioli
1 package wonton wrappers
8 whole beef short ribs
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups beef broth
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

Combine the beef ribs, onion, and beef broth in a large Dutch oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cook for two hours. Reduce the heat to 325 and cook for another 30 minutes. At this point, the ribs will be fork-tender and easy to shred. Transfer them to another bowl, shred thoroughly, and add the fresh sage.

Fill a small bowl of water. Place two wonton wrappers (using two for each side makes them slightly sturdier) on a lightly floured surface. Place small amount of beef in the center, and then wet the edges of the wonton. Place another two wonton wrappers on top of the beef and press down firmly on the edges to seal. Use a fork to firmly seal the edges while incorporating a small pattern.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the filled ravioli to a prepared baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes until the ravioli are golden and crispy.

Trying to work in advance? The short ribs can be braised a day or two beforehand. Just shred them and refrigerate until you’re ready to build the ravioli.

For the Balsamic Cherry Sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 cup dried cherries
Salt and pepper

Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the liquid until it’s thick and syrupy. Drizzle over the crispy ravioli or serve it in a small bowl alongside.

If you’d prefer a bite-sized ravioli, instead of layering the wonton wrappers, simply fold them in half diagonally after filling with short rib mixture. This will create a little triangular ravioli, perfect for an appetizer.

SMOKED SALMON LATKES

The appeal of these bite-sized potato pancakes topped with velvety smoked salmon are in their versatility. While Latkes are a Jewish tradition, they wouldn’t be out of place at a holiday celebration of any variety, including an elegant brunch or a home cocktail party.

MAKES ABOUT 40 LATKES, depending on size
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1 medium onion
3 large eggs, beaten
4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
24 ounces smoked salmon, sliced

Shred the potatoes using a box grater or food processor. Using a cheesecloth or kitchen towel and working in batches, wrap up the shredded potatoes and squeeze out the excess moisture, and then transfer them to a large bowl. Grate the onion and, again, squeeze out extra moisture, then place in the bowl with the potatoes. Add the eggs, flour, salt, and pepper.

Heat a half-inch of vegetable oil in a large frying pan. Form the potato mixture into small, bite-sized cakes. Fry until golden brown on the bottom, then fl ip to the other side. It should take about four minutes per side. Transfer the latkes to a baking sheet and keep warm in a 300-degree oven, if necessary.

Combine the crème fraîche and tarragon in a small bowl. When the latkes are ready to serve, top each pancake with a dollop of crème fraîche. Roll up an inch of smoked salmon into a small spiral, and lay it atop the crème fraîche. Garnish with a small piece of tarragon or dill.

Latkes can be harder to make than you might expect. Some common problems include potato pancakes that are too greasy, those that fall apart, and latkes that are still starchy on the inside. If they’re greasy, the oil isn’t hot enough—allow the temperature to rise between each batch. If they fall apart, the excess moisture likely wasn’t entirely squeezed out. You can add extra flour (or matzo meal) to bind it further. If the latkes are chewy on the inside, the pancake wasn’t flattened thin enough.

FIG and GOAT CHEESE CROSTINI

MAKES 24 SERVINGS
6 ounces dried figs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt, to taste
2 cups yellow onions, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
4 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 baguette, sliced into 24 pieces and toasted

Begin by preparing the jam. Remove the stems from the figs, and place them and the lemon juice in a food processor. Process until the figs are coarsely chopped.

Place the fig mixture, water, syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until it has thickened, or about 25 minutes. Let the jam cool completely.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, vinegar, thyme, and salt, and cook for five minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for another 20 minutes until the onions are a deep golden color. Add water or chicken broth in small amounts, if necessary, to prevent the onions from sticking to the pan.

Spread 1 teaspoon goat cheese onto a baguette slice. Top it with 1 teaspoon onion mixture and 1 teaspoon jam. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh chopped thyme leaves.

Short on time? You can still make this! Prepared fig jam is readily available in grocery stores.

RUSTIC VEGETABLE and BACON CROSTATA

This free-form savory pie can be made with any number of ingredients—here, we choose to use a wintertime blend of potatoes, leeks, and mushrooms, along with bacon for some smokiness. If you’re serving slices at a party, bake multiple varieties of the savory pastry to please all tastes. Crostata means ‘pie’ or ‘tart’ in Italian; the French term, which can be used interchangeably, is Galette.

SERVES 8
1 prepared pie crust
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Russet potatoes*, thinly sliced
2 leeks
3 slices thick-cut bacon
8 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

* For a multicolored crostata, use one sweet potato and one Russet potato.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over high heat until it’s crisp. Transfer it to a paper towel and let it cool, then chop. Add the garlic, leeks, and mushrooms to the pan and sauté briefly, about three minutes, until leeks are tender and garlic is golden-brown.

Roll out the pie crust on a lightly floured surface. Drizzle the olive oil on the crust. Leaving 2 inches of crust around the edges, begin layering the thinly sliced potatoes, allowing them to overlap slightly. Scatter the chopped bacon and mushrooms evenly over the potatoes, and then top with the leeks and parmesan cheese.

Fold the border of the dough over the vegetable mixture, pleating slightly as you go. Use a pastry brush to wash the pastry crust with the beaten egg – it will help the crust develop a nice golden color. Bake the crostata for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

To properly clean and prepare fresh leeks, cut off the bottom end, and then slicing vertically into the light green portion, leaving the dark green portion uncut. Turn the leek and slice into it again, cutting it into quarters lengthwise. Using the dark green portion as a handle, fan the light green section under cold running water to rinse them thoroughly, removing any grit or dirt. Pat dry, cut off the dark green portion, and chop to desired size—in this case, into 1- to 1.5-inch flat sections.