I don’t believe in perfect. The late great Erma Bombeck said if we wait for everything to be perfect to entertain we’ll miss out on way too much fun. I’m a firm believer that humans can never have too much fun and we need to exercise all options that might lead to the experience of joy.
I’m in love with the idea of having many creative options. Give up the idea of perfection and suddenly many ideas will have a chance to bring you joy. I think Confucius had it right when he said,
“the only way… is to have many ways”.
When it comes to parties and food, people can fall into the trap of wanting to have “the perfect party” and “perfect food”. I’m convinced there’s no such thing and that a party is better when it is not focused on these aspects of entertaining. Give yourself a break and keep your focus on the fun. Lighten up and enjoy the sharing of good food, drink and music with friends and family.
Joy will follow where fun leads.
For my November CBC Radio One Alberta at Noon radio column I presented three ideas or themes for holiday parties – family fun, appetizer themes and cozy suppers for the near and dear. This blog will deliver the recipes to go with each of those themes. Use the party planning principles I presented and enjoy these yummy recipes. Expect to be delighted and savour it all this holiday season. Blessings to you and yours, Karen
By the way, it’s perfectly okay to sit out a year on the entertaining circuit. Or wait till the traditional holiday hullabaloo has passed and have a Robbie Burns or Valentine’s party instead. I personally gave up sending Christmas cards years ago. I send a spring note instead. It’s just one way I cut myself some slack so I can focus on enjoying time with my family.
It’s also nice to leave room in your schedule for spontaneity. Invite the neighbours over for snacks and a drink if you see them when you are out walking the dog. Enjoy popcorn and movie nights with the kids. Order Chinese take out if you have out-of-town company for days on end. When my son was young I didn’t do dinner parties, I held brunch midday when we were all at our best. Now my son is a teen and its fun to have an annual night of board games with a few families. See what I mean about how many ways there is to achieve holiday fun?
Who knows, if we give up on perfection and focus on fun and food, maybe we can achieve peace on earth for the holidays. I’ll settle for peace in the family and joy for my guests tummies. Here’s some recipes to help get you there.
The family and friends get-together
Spice things up for a large group after a cool outdoor sledding, skating or carolling party. Not into the great white northern outdoors? Go to a movie premiere and host an after party.This would also be great to have in a slow cooker to cap off a tournament of board games.
Butter Chicken (Moghulai Style)
This recipe comes from my Indian cooking mentor Mrs. Noorbanu Nimji whose three books in the A Spicy Touch series have sold over 250,000 copies. This winter I’m taking a mini-sabbatical from Calgary Food Tours Inc. to edit book four in that series for release in the spring of 2014.
Note: Serves 6 and can be multiplied easily.
1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
3 T yogurt
1 ½ t garlic paste
1 ½ t ginger paste
2 t tomato paste
½ t chili paste
½ t paprika
1 t ground cumin
¼ t ground chili
¼ t Garam masala (available at most grocers)
¾ t salt
¼ c butter
¼ c onion, roughly chopped
2 – 2” X 1” pieces of bell pepper, red and green
¾ c water, divided
1 c tomato sauce (puree a large chopped tomato in a food processor to create this)
2 t dried fenugreek leaves (Kasoori Methi – look for a bright yellow box with a blue peacock on it in the international aisle of your grocer)
1 c whipping cream
Cut the chicken in to bite-sized pieces
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and add the chicken.
Marinate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight (I have gotten away with 30 minutes and it still tasted great).
Put the onion, green and red bell peppers and ¼ cup of the water in a blender and puree. Set aside.
Heat the butter in a saucepan.
Add the pureed onion and pepper mix and sauté for two to three minutes
Add the marinated chicken and any remaining marinade and cook, stirring for 5 minutes.
Add the tomato sauce and continue cooking until the chicken is tender
Add the fenugreek leaves and more water as required.
Turn to a low simmer and add the whipping cream.
Simmer until heated through and serve with rice and Naan.
A cozy supper for your nearest and dearest
Treat your nearest and dearest to this great Alberta ingredient.Keeping the numbers for a sit down dinner to less than 10 is the key to keeping a dinner party manageable.
Dressed for Success Beef Tenderloin
Roast some baby potatoes, sauté some mushrooms and steam some green beans while this roast cooks.
3 – 4 lb filet of beef
¼ c. grainy mustard (like Alberta’s own Brassica brand)
1T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
½ t each of dried rosemary, sage and thyme
¼ t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
Set the meat out one hour before cooking to bring it room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450F.
Make a paste with all the other ingredients except the beef.
Place the beef on a rack in a roasting pan and coat it with the paste.
Put the roast in the oven on the centre rack and lower the temperature to 400F cooking exactly 35 minutes for rare meat.
Trust this timing – remove the meat from the oven and tent it with foil.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and do not touch the meat.
Carve the meat now that the juices have reabsorbed, carve the meat and serve with the sides and a good horseradish.
Appetizing Cocktail Party Ideas
If you are going to have a cocktail party, pick one and make it your feature. Make up pitchers of the brew ahead, have plenty of ice and remove all car keys from all guests. Here are some fun ideas for food themes you might enjoy this holiday. You can come up with a beverage (notice I did not say perfect!) for each theme and that might be as simple as a cold cask of beer.
Idea #1 – platters and dips – these are main stays at parties but they don’t have to be boring. Look for meats, pates and cheeses that are made locally, pair them with crackers, breads and chutney also made locally and decorate with dried and fresh fruits.
Idea #2 – meatballs of the world – Grab a bag of inexpensive Swedish meatballs and sauce from IKEA, make some Italian meatballs with parmesan and basil, make some Greek ones with ground lamb, oregano and a package of crumbled feta, visit a Lebanese deli and ask for Kibbeh (little football shaped cracked wheat balls stuffed with meat), use some Alberta bison with Saskatoon berries, Go coastal with crab balls or try Portuguese with salt cod bacalao.
Idea #3 – Talent for hire – you don’t have to make everything – pick up President’s Choice vegetable samosas, boil up your favourite perogies, buy some premade spanokopita
Idea #4 – Bring home the bacon – pay homage to the original bacon appetizer: Devils on Horseback – bacon wrapped smoked oysters then serve bacon-wrapped pineapple, scallops, water chestnuts etc. Play with this theme by grilling Italian prosciutto wrapped around shrimp that have been marinated briefly in hot sauce. Add diced pancetta, Gorgonzola, pears and nuts to a pizza spread with fig jam. Serve small buckets of bacon. It’ll be un-bacon-ievable!
Idea #5 – Slide into home base – with 4 or 5 kinds of slider sized burgers that you set out on a buffet with fun mini toppings and buns or that you pile on trays and pass around – think beyond beef to mini lamb, pork, turkey, and salmon burgers.
Idea #6 – Scandinavian Smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich buffet) – ultra cool and relaxed – Serve sliced roast beef, a shrimp salad, devilled eggs, baby potatoes and dill, cucumber slices, pickled herring and these two recipes that follow. Don’t forget a few shots of Aquavit and to say Skol as you toast away the dark winter night.
Karen’s Smoked Trout Dip
250 g smoked trout (substitute salmon if you can’t find the trout)
1 c cream cheese
½ c sour cream
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
½ t hot sauce
½ t Dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon, chopped
2 T green onions chopped
Combine everything but the fish in a food processor and whirl till desired texture of dip is achieved. Add the fish last and pulse to desired texture. Serve on cucumber rounds, wedges of endive or your favourite crackers.
Make ahead Salmon Gravlax (from Food and Wine magazine)
Do make this ahead. It can be tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 1 week.
1 ½ lbs centre-cut salmon fillet with skin (I’ve also used steelhead trout)
1 T fresh lemon juice
½ c kosher salt
3 T raw sugar, such as turbinado or demerara
1 ½ T coarsely cracked black pepper
1 c coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1 c coarsely chopped parsley leaves and stems
2 shallots, minced
2 T molasses
2 bay leaves, torn into large pieces
¼ t cayenne pepper
1 t caraway seeds
1 t coriander seeds
1 t sweet paprika
1 t freshly ground pepper
Rub the salmon fillet all over with the lemon juice. Place the fillet skin side down in a glass dish. In a small bowl, combine the salt, raw sugar, cracked black pepper, cilantro, parsley and shallots and rub the seasonings all over the salmon. Cover the salmon loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days.
In a small saucepan, combine the molasses, bay leaves and cayenne and bring to a simmer. Let cool to room temperature.
In a small skillet, lightly toast the caraway and coriander seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the seeds to a mortar and let cool completely. Crush the seeds as finely as possible with a pestle. Stir in the paprika and ground pepper.
Gently scrape the seasonings off the gravlax. Set the gravlax on a plate, skin side down. Brush the gravlax with the molasses; pick off the bay leaves. Sprinkle the ground spices evenly over the fillet. Refrigerate the gravlax uncovered for at least 12 hours or overnight.
Using a long, sharp knife cut the gravlax crosswise into very thin slices. Arrange the slices on plates and serve.
Get your Just Desserts
Do like French women do and give yourself a break. Buy something beautiful and serve it with a smile.