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.