Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Eve Party Food

Still wondering about what to serve on New Year's Eve? Don't stress.
You've still got a few days to prepare and to help, here is a reposting of some of my favorite easy appetizer recipes that are sure to please.
What's most important is to remember to relax and enjoy the party. Guests like to see their hosts smiling and having fun.

Have a Happy New Year!

Homemade Crackers 

Impress your New Year's Eve party guests by serving these homemade crackers.

They are studded with sea salt, fresh rosemary and crushed black pepper and cost under a dollar to make.

Fancy store bought crackers can cost between $5 and $10 a box and don't taste as good as these.

Feel free to experiment by adding other herbs and seasonings to the recipe. Parmesan cheese and sesame would be a nice combination. 

Homemade Crackers
(makes 24 to 30)
 1 cup flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter (cut into bits)
1/3 cup milk
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt and rosemary. With the processor running, add the butter and keep the machine running until it is evenly distributed.

Finally, with the machine running, slowly pour in the milk and process until a ball of dough forms.

Transfer the dough to a floured board and roll it into a large rectangle that is 1/8 of an inch thick. Be sure to use enough flour so that the dough doesn't stick.

Don't be afraid to use a lot of flour on your board. You don't want the dough to stick.

Evenly sprinkle on some sea salt and black pepper and use your rolling pin to press it into the dough.
Use your rolling pin to press fresh ground black pepper and sea salt into the dough.

With a knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2-inch pieces. Don't fret about getting the crackers perfectly shaped - imperfection is part of their charm.

Transfer the crackers onto two sheetpans that are lined with parchment paper. With a fork, prick each cracker two to three times.

Bake the crackers for 12 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Let the crackers cool completely on a cooling rack. They will crisp up as they cool.

 Cheese Puffs

These cheesy delights made with classic pate choux pastry can be made and baked in advance and reheated right before serving for a quick and pleasing appetizer.

Cheese Puffs
(makes three dozen)

1 cup water
1 cup butter, unsalted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Don't use the convection setting. Also, line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Heat the water, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted.

Add the flour and with a wooden spoon stir until it comes together and forms a ball in the pan.

With the heat on medium, continue stirring for 5 minutes or until the dough becomes stiffer. The idea is that you want to dry out the dough so that when the eggs are incorporated later it will still hold its shape.

Transfer the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low speed for a few minutes to cool the dough.

With the mixer on medium, add the eggs one at a time until the dough is the consistency of cookie dough.

Finally, add the cheese and a generous amount of black pepper.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a large tip or use a teaspoon to place 1-inch mounds of dough on the sheet pans.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temp to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes or until the puffs are golden brown and crisp.

Smoked Salmon and Dill on Brioche
It's actually almost embarrassing how easy these are to make. They are an elegant appetizer that goes great with champagne.

The pretty and tasty salmon treats.
Arrange mini brioche toasts (I like the one's from Trader Joe's) on platters, pipe on a dollop of softened cream cheese, add a piece of smoked salmon and top with a sprig of dill. These look so pretty and guests love them.

The brioche toasts that we found at Trader Joe's. They were packaged tightly and not a single one was broken.

Spanakopita Triangles
Crispy Spanakopita Triangles

You don't have to be Greek to love Spanakopita.

For my non-Greek family it's a favorite comfort food. Spanakopita is layers of crispy phyllo dough encased around a flavorful filling of spinach, dill and feta cheese.

Spanakopita is baked but the crispy exterior makes it seem like it came right out of the fryer. It's a delicious treat and the triangles are my go to appetizer for a crowd.

Spanakopita Triangles aren't hard to make but they do take some time. It takes about 90 minutes to get one batch ready for baking. But, it is time well spent and the triangles can be made in advance and frozen between sheets of parchment.

Then, when you get the Spanakopita craving all you have to do it put them right into a hot oven. They take just 10 to 15 minutes to bake.

When you work with phyllo dough, it's important to let it defrost in the unopened box in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Then, let the box set on the counter at room temperature for at least 2 hours before using it. Phyllo dough dries out quickly so you have to work as fast as possible once you pull it out of the box.

Some people recommend covering it with a damp towel but I don't like that method. The dampness causes the layers to stick together and makes it even harder to pick up and use. I prefer to just cover the phyllo with a dry paper towel and get to work.

Spanakopita Triangles
(makes 40)

30 ounces fresh spinach, washed and dried
2 bunches green onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
1 cup crumbled sheep's milk feta cheese (I like Valbreso Feta)
2 eggs, beaten
salt and black pepper to taste
olive oil

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the green onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the spinach in batches and saute, stirring constantly until the spinach is wilted.

Transfer the mixture to a colander and press out as much liquid as possible. Add the dill and feta and mix well. Taste the mixture and season with salt and black pepper. You won't be able to taste the mixture for seasoning after you add the eggs.

Finally, add the eggs and mix well.

Taste the filling for seasoning after you add the cheese.
Finally, add the eggs. Mix well and you are ready to assemble.

To assemble:
1 pound box of phyllo dough, defrosted for at least 24 hours in the fridge and left at room temperature for at least 2 hours before assembling.
Olive oil

Open one roll of the phyllo dough (there are two per box) and gently unroll the layers.

Lift and lay out one layer of phyllo dough and cover the rest with a paper towel.

Using a teaspoon, drizzle some olive oil on the outside thirds of the phyllo.

Fold the phyllo in thirds by folding the edges towards the center.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the lower left hand corner of the phyllo. And, drizzle on another teaspoon of olive oil.

Fold the corner towards the opposite edge to form a triangle.

Lift the bottom corner of the triangle up and fold straight up.

Keep folding up the strip of phyllo dough until you end up with a triangle. It's just like folding a flag.

Place the triangles on a parchment lined baking sheet.

When you have finished folding, brush the triangles with a bit more olive oil and put them into a 400 degree oven.

Bake the Spanakopita Triangles for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are golden brown.

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