The right recipe can make a holiday party. Here’s some help from local chefs, bartenders, and others who know good food, along with their own thoughts about each dish. Turn to these recipes for a crowd-pleasing appetizer that can double as a gift, or for a side dish to bring to dinner with relatives or a potluck with friends. There’s also an easy way to impress unexpected guests with some famous seasonal cocktails.
What can I say? This is the recipe that everyone wants, the one that, when I bring it to parties, people swoon over. This is my take on a savory brittle. Instead of chocolate or nuts, I use a combination of pumpkin seeds (good, crunchy fiber), fresh rosemary (earthy, herby), bacon (meaty, smoky) and cayenne pepper (hot, spicy). The brittle goes really well served with cocktails or sprinkled on a winter holiday salad. My favorite way to serve it is with a variety of cheeses. Make a double batch — it disappears quickly.
2 to 3 strips thick country-style bacon
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 egg white
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp and cooked through, being careful not to let it burn. Drain on paper towels. Crumble the bacon into small (but not tiny) pieces and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat or aluminum foil.
In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, salt, rosemary, cayenne and pumpkin seeds.
In another bowl, whisk the egg white for just a few minutes until it is foamy, but not stiff. (If you overbeat the egg white, the brittle will have too much air and will not be crunchy.) Fold the egg white into the pumpkin seed mixture.
Spread the brittle mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet, thinly and evenly. Bake about 25 minutes, or until the brittle is golden brown and not soft in the middle. Remove and let cool. Separate the brittle into pieces, about 1 1/2 inches big.
The brittle will keep, covered in a cookie tin or a tightly sealed plastic bag, for several days.
From the kitchen of Rachel Forrest, food and drink journalist
My mom has made these Company Carrots for Christmas Eve every year since I can remember. We start with shrimp cocktail on a big platter, then sit down for prime rib, mashed potatoes, and these sweet, rich carrots, made slightly snappy by the horseradish. I’ve used both fresh and jarred horseradish to different effect, but I like the jarred version better. I sometimes use a truffle salt, because, well, it’s fancier! They’re great for a potluck, too, because the dish is easy to make and serve, and stands up well reheated as leftovers.
2 1/2 pounds carrots
1/4 cup carrot water
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons horseradish
2 tablespoons finely minced onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cracker crumbs (Ritz or Saltines)
2-3 tablespoons parsley
Cut carrots into 2-inch strips and cook in boiling, then simmering water. Save 1/4 cup of the carrot water. Place carrots in a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish.
Mix carrot water, mayonnaise, horseradish, onion powder, salt and pepper. Cover carrots and dot with butter. Top with cracker crumbs and parsley.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
From the garden of John Forti, historical horticulturist
I love to make herb butters throughout the season. It’s a wonderful way to preserve the flavor, fragrance, and medicinal properties of herbs in a way that can be used for all occasions: buttering your toast, cooking carrots, or even baking special holiday dishes.
Use fresh, unsalted butter and either sweet or savory herbs, depending on what dish you are making. Here are two examples from Organic Gardening Magazine.
2 packed tablespoons torn sage leaves
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
1⁄2 cup butter
4 packed tablespoons torn basil leaves
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1⁄2 cup butter
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 whole vanilla bean split & scraped
Bourbon, 1 1/2 ounces per serving
Nutmeg, a dusting per serving
Place sugar and yolks in a 4-quart saucepan and whisk until pale yellow and lightened slightly, about 2 minutes. Add milk and stir until smooth. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.
Pour through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Whisk in cream, vanilla and salt. Cover mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
In a shaker, add 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon to 2 ounces of eggnog and ice. Shake well. Strain into a coupe glass, then dust with nutmeg.
Mulled Wine Cocktail
From the bar tended by Gavin Beaudry and Al Mead at the Black Birch in Kittery, Maine
Some of the ingredients are harder to find, but we assure you, the final product is worth it — and so is having each of these bottles on the shelf. The recipe is for one drink, but if you extrapolate the amounts, it makes an incredible holiday punch bowl.
1/2 ounce Montenegro liqueur
1/2 ounce Cynar liqueur
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica Vermouth
2 ounces cabernet (enjoyable, but not budget bending)
1 ounce sparkling wine (Gruet works nicely)
1 dash of Fee Brothers aromatic bitters
1 dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Zest of an orange