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!