a holiday party menu

starting back in high school, i've organized and hosted an annual holiday cookie party. i'd invite all my girlfriends over, bake a million sugar cookies, mix 50 shades of frosting, sit around decorating and eating cookies, and send them all home with 3 or 4 other kinds of cookies i had made earlier in the week and a quirky cookie cutter as gifts. i managed to host about 6 consecutive years of cookie parties with the same group of gals... but then one by one they all seemed to move away from seattle and the tradition fizzled. some of those women are now back in seattle (hurrah!) but now there is a new obstacle preventing me from hosting a party this year: i am fully booked! i can't complain - this is a good problem to have, especially considering it's my first holiday season as a personal chef. every weekend i've been catering a couple holiday parties. it's a lot to plan and prep for, and it's keeping me pretty darn busy. but it's always a blast once i get to the party! 

i thought i'd share a few of my favorite holiday party recipes with you all. a few elegant bites to impress your guests and bring color and flare to the usual spread of meet & cheese boards. these recipes can all be prepped a day or more before your party, so that you can focus on sprucing up your home for your guests and not be stuck in the kitchen all day. enjoy! and happy partying! 

dukkah-crusted butternut squash & beetroot skewers ~ makes about 40 skewers
1 small butternut squash
6-8 small-medium beets
1 cup dukkah nut & spice blend (recipe here
3 tablespoons olive oil

40 x 3-1/2" bamboo cocktail skewers (or toothpicks) 
disposable gloves, in case you want to save your fingers from turning red

wash and scrub the beets. coat with a tablespoon of olive oil. make a little package out of foil and wrap up the beets so that they steam a bit inside the foil. roast at 375 for 40-60 minutes, or until beets are just fork tender. let cool completely and then use a paper town to gently rub off the skins of the beets. cut beets into sixths or eighths and store in fridge until ready to serve (can be done up to 2 days in advance

use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the squash. use a sharp knife to carefully cut the squash in half. use a spoon to remove seeds and stringy flesh from the cavity of the squash. then cut the squash into small 3/4" cubes. trim at least half of the cubes so that they are as close to perfect as possible - not rounded or triangular, so that they sit evenly as the base of your skewer (this step can be done one day in advance

place cubed squash in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. toss to coat. sprinkle 3/4 cup dukkah and toss to coat. spread squash out onto parchment-lined baking sheet. if they are too crowded, split onto a second baking sheet. roast at 475 in preheated oven until edged are browned. 

(note: i made these in one oven, and did not need to turn the squash - but in another oven, the bottoms started to brown too much, so i turned them once and continued baking for a few more minutes... so just watch close) 

to assemble, sandwich one sliced beet between two cubes of squash. be careful to not get your beet stained fingers all over the squash. i skewered the cube of squash to lay flat on the serving platter, so that the skewers stood up straight. but you could serve them lying down as well, especially if they will be passed around the party. serve with a dusting of dukkah on the platter. 

fig & cured olive tapenade ~ makes about 1 cup
1 cup cured black olives
1/2 cup dried mission figs
2 tablespoons fig jam/spread
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 small clove garlic, crushed
fresh cracked pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

(note: i've also made this recipe with just dried figs - about 1 cup - or with just fig jam - about 1/2 cup)
in a food processor, combine all ingredients until roughly chopped. serve with a sliced fig on top, so your guests know what's in the tapenade. store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

syrian red pepper & pomegranate dip ~ makes about 2 cups  
4 roasted red bell peppers
¼ cup olive oil, divided
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1-2 tablespoons aleppo pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon sumac (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon sea salt

combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth, or leave a bit of chunky texture from the walnuts. best served at room temperature, but can also be made ahead a day or two and stored in fridge. 

serve dips with flatbread, seedy crackers or 'simple & crisp' dried fruit crisps. 

onion-skin broth & tuscan bread soup

while the soup itself is stupid easy to make, this is not a recipe you just whip up. you'll have to set an intention to make this soup several weeks or months from now... why? because it is all about the broth. and collecting the ingredients for the broth, without shortcuts, takes a long long time. that said, i can think of a shortcut for those of you with less patience. 

about this broth... i wrote a few weeks ago about the amazing book called 'eating on the wild side.' by page 62, i had a vision of this soup. a soup that utilized the nutrients and antioxidants of onion skins - which apparently is the most nutrient dense part of the vegetable! and here i've been composting onion skins for years!! when i've made pho broth before, i remember it called for roasted onion skins to add depth of flavor, so i was curious what a simple onion-skin broth would taste like. so i have been hoarding onion skins in my freezer for months. any time i slice an onion for a stir fry or another recipe, i add the outer later and skin to a gallon ziplock bag i store in the freezer. it dawned on me later to combine my stash of parmesan rinds with the onion skins. those i had been saving for sometime anyhow and adding to stocks for an incredible added flavor. the addition of the parmesan made the broth smell incredible while it simmered away... almost like a french onion soup! 

it took me a bit more than a month to fill up my gallon bag with onion/shallot skins and parmesan rinds. you could add carrot or parsnip tops to the bag too, if you want to save them from the compost. i jokingly described this recipe to my dad as compost soup, but that didn't sound too appealing. what it is though is delicious!! 

onion-skin & parmesan-rind broth ~ makes 1 gallon
1 gallon sized ziplock full of onion or shallot skins and scraps of onion
6-10 inches of parmesan rind
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 gallon water

you'll also need a nut milk bag or fine-mesh cheesecloth 

in a large pot, combine all ingredients to submerge skins. try to float the parmesan rinds on top of the onion skins, so that they don't stick to the bottom of your pan. cover and bring to a simmer. turn stove down to lowest heat and simmer overnight, or for at least 6 hours. i then strained the broth through a colander to remove the onions and parmesan, and then strained it through cheesecloth to remove any grit that may have been on the onion skins. store broth in fridge or freezer or make into a large batch of soup! 

here's my idea for a *shortcut* ... take a few pounds of small yellow onions (smaller are more nutrient dense) and simply slice them into quarters, skins intact, and make a broth with that! if you don't eat parmesan too often, ask your specialty shop if they have any rinds or buy a couple rind-iest chunks of parmesan you can find and immediately cut the rind and to add to your stock. cover onions and rinds with a gallon of water and a few teaspoons of salt, and simmer overnight. 

tuscan kale, white bean & bread soup 
1 cup dried flageolet or other white bean (or 3 cups cooked beans) 
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups thinly sliced shallots
2 large bunches tuscan kale
1 loaf crusty bread
1/2+ cup shaved parmesan 
fresh cracked pepper to taste

soak dried beans overnight. drain from soaking water. add soaked beans to a crock pot or large soup pot and submerge under 2 inches of water. cook as directed on package or bulk bin or until a few beans just start to break apart. drain beans from cooking liquid. 

crush garlic and set aside for 10 minutes. in a large soup pop, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. saute sliced shallots (saving the shallot skins for your next batch of broth!) until translucent. add crushed garlic and saute for just 2 minutes longer. add the cooked beans and 3 quarts to a gallon of onion-skin broth and bring to a simmer until beans are perfectly tender. season to taste. finally, wash and de-stem the kale. slice into thin ribbons and set aside.

i like my kale wilted but not overcooked in soups. so i store the kale on the side and just wilt a few handfuls with smaller portions of soup. however, if you are feeding a crowd, add both bunches of kale to soup and simmer until wilted. 

to serve, brush slices of crusty bread with olive oil. top with a pile of shaved parmesan and broil until edges are brown and cheese is melted. serve parmesan toasts on side, or dunk into the soup... or for a classic take on tuscan bread soup, tear toasts apart and add the chunks to bowls of soup! 

saffron, fennel & opal apple salad

as the sole vegetarian in the clan, i was always responsible for making a salad or vegetable dish for our thanksgiving feast. with my reputation for cooking, a simple tossed greens salad was not going to cut it as my offering to thanksgiving dinner. and if i wasn't going to eat turkey or sausage stuffing, then i sure as hell wanted a fabulous fancy vegetable alternative for the occasion. every year it's a different dish. yesterday, my family actually celebrated thanksgiving a weekend ahead. i'll be honest, this is not the salad i brought... although it would have been delightful. instead, i brought a spinach salad topped with roasted delicata squash, pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts and orange crisps from 'simple & crisp.' it was a huge hit. i wanted to continue to experiment with salad ideas using these fabulous crisps, and came up with a beautiful salad that also highlights all the seasonal citrus and apples! it would be a gorgeous addition to any thanksgiving table. 

simple & crisp is a local business here in seattle. they've come up with a million different ways to use their crisps, but i serve them most often with cheese boards or crumbled over salads. you can find them locally around town at shops like whole foods, or can order them online here if you live outside of seattle. or i suppose if you own a dehydrator you could get crafty and try making your own orange crisps.  

fennel & opal apple salad ~ serves 4
3 small, or 2 medium sized bulbs of fennel
2 small opal or golden apples
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 small package orange 'simple & crisp' crackers

saffron-mandarin vinaigrette ~ makes 1/2 cup  
2 mandarin oranges or satsumas
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch saffron pedals

mix vinaigrette ingredients together and store at room temperature in a jar overnight, or for at least 4 hours until infused with the saffron color. if you don't have saffron, this salad is equally as tasty without it. but for a special occasion like thanksgiving, i'd suggest a pinch of saffron! 

toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven until fragrant and gently browned. let cool. 

thoroughly wash fennel and trim off the bottom of the bulbs. adjust mandolin slicer to its thinnest or second thinnest width. run the bottom of the bulb over the mandolin. slices should be almost translucent, but not so thin that they tear or shred apart. adjust thickness if needed. continue slicing until you reach the frizzy green portion of the vegetable. place fennel in a large mixing bowl and reserve the green fennel tops for later. 

run the apples across the mandolin, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. do not work from the side of the apple, as you'll miss the beautiful star-shape that appears in the center of your slices. discard the any slices that include tough stem bits. apples should be thin and flexible, but not too floppy. adjust thickness if needed. place sliced apples in mixing bowl. finally, tear off a tablespoon or so of the frizzy green fennel tops, roughly chop and add to the mixing bowl. dress fennel and apples with infused vinaigrette and let rest for 10 minutes before plating. 

to assemble salad, place dressed apple slices overlapping each other on a plate or platter. place a mound of dressed shaved fennel over the apples. sprinkle salad with toasted almonds and crumble about 8 orange crisps across the salad. drizzle any remaining vinaigrette from the mixing bowl over the salad and serve immediately. you can assemble the salad ahead of time, just wait to add the almonds and orange crisps until ready to serve - otherwise they will loose their crisp contrasting textures! 

roasted & stuffed winter squash

somewhat unintentionally, i have ten whole days off from work. i suppose i could be stressing out about this, since there is no 'vacation pay' when you are self employed. but instead, i'm not going to complain about a little break in work. i have friends to catch up with, gigs to play, yoga workshops to attend, recipes to test and even a last minute 4 day trip to orcas island with my band for thanksgiving! i happily accept unpaid vacation time. 

yesterday, i spent a good portion of my day developing recipes ... and um, eating. it was a hoot! i came up with several fun holiday inspired side dishes to share with you all. this recipe in particular, is a new seasonal favorite and would be perfect alongside your turkey on thursday. so simple, delicious, and beautiful presentation. you will love it! 

roasted & stuffed winter squash ~ serves 3-4
1 pound small delicata or sweet dumpling squash
1 cup sliced onions or shallot
1 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, halved & thinly sliced
2 cups kale, thinly sliced
1+ tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
3-4 oz smoked firm mozzarella cheese 
salt & pepper

notes: i love small delicata squash for this recipe since you can eat the skins. they make for adorable little stuffed boats. however, yesterday my local coop was out of delicata so i picked up a little sweet dumpling squash, which have inedible skins but are great for presentation. squash have various sizes of cavities, so you might aim for extra vegetables to make sure you have enough to fill your squash. if you have extra sautéed veggies you can throw them into a scramble for breakfast! lastly, i used my favorite firm smoked mozzarella cheese i find at whole foods. if you can't find it, you could use a smoked gouda cheese. this recipe is great for making ahead of time.

preheat oven to 425. 

for delicata squash - place on a cutting board and notice which side it sits more balanced. turn it 90 degrees, hold it firmly to keep it on it's unbalanced side and carefully cut it in half lengthwise. this way, your two halves will sit flat in the roasting pan without dumping out the stuffing. use a sharp spoon to scrape out seeds and stringy flesh. drizzle a quarter teaspoon or so of olive oil inside each cut squash and use your hands to evenly coat the flesh. 

for dumpling squash - carefully trim off the top inch of the squash. use a sharp spoon to scrape out seeds and stringy flesh. drizzle a quarter teaspoon or so of olive oil inside each cut squash and use your hands to evenly coat the flesh. coat the fleshy part of the tops as well. 

place squash cut side down, including the dumpling squash tops, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. roast for 20-25 minutes, until the squash is just fork tender and the edges in contact with the baking sheet start to brown. remove from oven and let cool. 

while squash bakes, prepare the stuffing. thinly slice onions/shallot and mushrooms. wash and dry the kale and slice it into thin ribbons. drain sun dried tomatoes from oil and chop into strips. 

heat a tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan. sauté onions over medium heat until translucent (5-10 minutes). add mushroom and a splash more oil if the pan seems too dry and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. add kale and sun dried tomatoes and cook until kale is wilted. salt and pepper to taste and remove mixture from heat and let cool. finally, shred the cheese and set to the side. 

to assemble, fill each squash to the brim with the vegetable mixture. top with a tablespoon or two of grated cheese. place each squash back on your parchment-lined baking sheet and return to preheated oven (or store assembled squash in the fridge up to two days before baking to serve) bake at 425 until squash are steamy hot and cheese is fully melted. serve warm alongside the roasted dumpling squash tops. or, if you want to get extra fancy, make some smoked mozzarella frico (aka cheese crisps): sprinkle tablespoon-sized piles of mozzarella onto your lined baking sheet and bake until the edges are dark brown but the centers are still light in color. let cool on the baking sheet and then gently lift them off and plate frico with each squash. 

slow roasted carrots & harissa yogurt

earlier this week, david and i had veterans day off together. as a public school teacher, he get's all sorts of paid days off... and now i finally have some flexibility with my schedule to take time off to join him. we had grand plans to break out of seattle and climb in leavenworth all day. the forecast showed sun so we hopped in the car and drove east. when we got there, it was 28 degrees and cloudy. david assured me that we'd get used to it and that if we warmed up, bouldering in the cold wouldn't be too bad. knowing that we'll be in some cold weather next month climbing in red rocks nevada, i tried to be tough and give it a go. i give myself some credit for trying. i pulled on to a bunch of routes but couldn't top anything out before my hands would freeze. it was still fun and i'm looking forward to hopefully slightly less chilly climbing in red rocks soon! 

since our latest trip to leavenworth, it has been perfectly clear yet awfully chilly in seattle. yesterday, we had another lovely day off together. to appease my quiche cravings, david drove us all the way across town to my favorite bakery, honore, for a slice of quiche and lattes. from there we circled over to the university district farmers market. back in college, i lived in a loft across the street from this farmers market. my saturday routine always involved a fresh juice from chaco canyon and a savory pastry from one of the vendors at the market. if it wasn't raining, i'd put my vegetable haul away and then take my pastry out onto the balcony and enjoy my breakfast. i miss that adorable bohemian loft. the house has since been torn down and some terrible apodment like thing has taken its place. at some point in my absence, the u district market expanded and now takes over several blocks instead the parking lot my balcony used to look out to. it's a wonderful year-round market and buzzes with shoppers even on the chilliest morning of the year season so far. we picked out some winter squashes, some fancy short ribs, and a pound of colorful young carrots that i knew would be perfect for roasting. david reminded me of the roasted carrot salad we shared ages ago at the whale wins. there, they serve fire-roasted carrots with a smokey spiced harissa yogurt sauce. it's been a year or more since i tried their dish, but i figured i could come up with a tasty variation using the same flavors. neither of us had a strong enough memory to compare the two variations, but nevertheless, we happily gobbled it all up. 

slow roasted carrots & harissa yogurt ~ serves 3 as side dish
1 pound young rainbow carrots (about 3-4 inches long) 
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper to taste 

1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup 
1-2 teaspoons harissa paste 
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons orange juice
large pinch sea salt

golden raisins and thinly sliced mint for garnish

preheat oven to 350 degrees. trim greens from carrots and brush with a cloth to clean off any dirt. do not peel. drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and season heavily with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. place in a roasting pan or baking tray and roast for 30-45 minutes without rotating the carrots. after 30 minutes, check firmness of carrots. they should be fork tender and caramelized. 

in the mean time, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl, adjusting spiciness with more or less harissa. if you can't find harissa paste, you could use a dried harissa spice blend, starting with just a 1/4 teaspoon and adding more if you like spicy heat. 

to plate, spread yogurt sauce on a plate and pile high with roasted carrots served warm or at room temperature. drizzle with a bit of olive oil and top with golden raisins and thin shreds of fresh mint or parsley.