Whether you're planning a quiet night at home with the family or a big bash for the whole neighbourhood, this is the final blowout weekend before we face the regrets of overeating and overspending. So, let's enjoy the good times.
Smoked salmon potato cakes
All right, you caught me. These are just fancy little fish cakes. But boy, are they good. Make them a little larger and serve on a plate with a nice spicy chutney, or make them just big enough to pick up with your fingers and pop in your mouth. This amount should serve two medium cakes to each of 16 party goers.
4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter (no other)
1 lb. smoked salmon, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. drained large capers, finely chopped
1 big bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 beaten eggs (divided)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bake potatoes at 425 F until tender. Cool until you can handle them, halve lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Top the skins with cheese and have those now for lunch or discard them, depending on your stress level. Mash the centres with butter but don't make them too smooth. Add salmon, onions, capers, parsley and two of the eggs; combine thoroughly. Chill the mixture for half an hour, long enough for it to firm up. Scoop out whatever size appetizers you want and form into small flat cakes. Dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Place remaining two beaten eggs in a flat dish. Dip dredged cakes in egg, then in breadcrumbs that have been seasoned with the salt and pepper. Fry in a non-stick pan in about 1/4 inch of hot vegetable oil until coating is crisp and golden brown. You don't have to worry about cooking these; you just want them hot through. Serve immediately with cocktail or tartar sauce. You can reheat them on a baking sheet at 450 F for about 5 minutes.
Fruited and herbed olives
If people are standing around in fancy garb, you might want to consider a dish that can be put out any time, served at room temperature, and that won't require utensils. These not only fill that bill, they are also incredibly flavourful and easy. Unless you have an olive fanatic in your midst, 16 people will get a good taste.
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 orange, finely grated zest and juice
1/2 tsp. (or to taste) hot pepper sauce
1 lb. whole cocktail olives - whatever kind you like
Heat oil over medium low in a heavy-bottomed pan until hot. Add garlic, coriander, cumin, rosemary and bay leaves. Swirl together a minute or two, until your kitchen is fragrant. Add orange zest and juice, hot pepper sauce and olives and simmer together, uncovered, until most of the liquid has evaporated but mixture is still moist. Discard rosemary and bay leaves. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Mini grilled cheese sandwiches
You don't have to spend a tonne of money to have good party eats. These tasty morsels will be the first to fly off the buffet table and they couldn't be easier to make. If you have one of those old-fashioned electric frying pans, it's perfect for this recipe - frees up your stove for other things. The only downside is you have to keep your eye on the guests, because they won't want to share. One baguette makes about 16 sandwiches, but it depends on how thick you slice the bread.
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 French baguette
1 lb. aged white cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
Mash together butter, Worcestershire sauce and dry mustard; set aside. Cut baguette into thin slices. Divide cheese among half the bread slices - don't let too much hang out over the sides. Top with matching slices. Melt a spoonful of the butter mixture in a medium-hot frying pan and fry as many sandwiches as it will hold at one time. When golden brown on the bottom and cheese is melted, flip. Add butter to the pan as you need it. Serve right away.
I'm a sucker for these old-as-the-hills nuggets, but there's a reason we keep making them. You should get about 36 meatballs, give or take.
4 thick slices fresh white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 large onion, minced
1/4 cup butter or margarine (divided)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. lean ground pork
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
2 cups beef broth
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup sour cream
Tear bread into pieces and place in a bowl. Cover with milk and allow to sit 10 minutes. Mash with a fork to form a paste; set aside. Fry onion in 1 tbsp. of the butter in a large frying pan until soft but not too brown; remove from pan and cool. Thoroughly combine beef, pork, salt, pepper, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, cooled onions and bread mixture. Form into small meatballs. Fry in vegetable oil until browned on all sides and cooked through - add them to the pan in batches so they don't crowd each other, and keep hot in the oven while the rest are cooking. I recommend you fry one tester for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. When the last meatball is out of the pan, add the remaining 3 tbsp. of butter and the flour. Cook together until light brown. Whisk in beef and chicken broth and cook until thickened and smooth. Stir in the sour cream and heat through over low-don't boil once the cream is added. Pour over meatballs in a large serving dish. Partridgeberry jam or cranberry sauce would be a delicious condiment.
Happy New Year everyone. We'll talk in 2012.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.