Archive | December, 2011

Festival of Light…and Not-So-Light Food

27 Dec

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the eight-day Jewish festival of light, which celebrates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels over an oppressive Selucid monarchy, and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Once the temple was rededicated, the Jewish people were eager to relight their ritual candelabrum called a Menorah, but only had one day’s worth of oil. This small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days, which is why Jews light the special Hanukkah Menorah (Hanukiah) for eight days as well.

They Tried to Kill Us. We Won. Let’s Eat!

Of course no Jewish celebration would be complete without some connection to food, so Jewish people also honour the miracle of the oil by eating oily foods, including latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), as well as other rich, sweet and altogether indulgent treats (hmm…sounds like the joys described in It’s the Most Delicious Time of the Year).

Like many Christmas time festivities, Hanukkah celebrations often involve cocktail and dinner parties. For the first night of Hanukkah, my mom and I hosted a party for our family and friends with a casual spread, including a festive cocktail and wine bar. Blue, white and silver are often Hanukkah’s answer to red and green, so in keeping with this colour palette, we created a centrepiece, decorations, and some edible goodies that go along with the overall theme.

The Booze:

In addition to a variety of wines, scotches, and other spirits, I included an ice bucket of blue and white sodas. For a more “adult” blue drink, I made our guests cocktails consisting of Bols Blue Curacao, Victoria Gin, Sprite (or soda water), and a fresh squeeze of lemon. We also included Skyy Vodka because of its fittingly blue bottle for those that prefer a vodka-based version of this beverage.

The Food:

To satisfy the sweet tooth of our guests, I made simple cupcakes with a cream-cheese frosting, topped with an assortment of blue decorations. Similar decorations covered dreidel, Hanukiah, and Star of David shaped sugar cookies that were placed in sparkly silver take-out boxes, which made an easy doggy-bag for guests who were wanting to bring some of the sweetness home with them (a good thing too, because if all those cupcakes and cookies stayed behind, they would have all been reluctantly consumed by yours truly).

Mini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icicng, Hanukkah Sugar Cookies in Sparkly Take-Out Boxes

White chocolate mousse placed within white and milk chocolate cups provided a light and fluffy base for some festive blue dots, which concluded the blue, white and silver coloured dessert spread.

White Chocolate Mousse in White and Milk Chocolate Cups

Healthier options included an Israeli couscous salad with roasted vegetables, a fresh baby green salad with roasted beets, almonds and cranberries, homemade smoked salmon, garlic and Szechuan asparagus, and mini mandarin oranges to refresh the palate as guests went back and forth between sweet and savoury.

Szechuan Asparagus

Homemade Smoked Salmon

In keeping with the theme of heavy Hanukkah feasts, we also served a cheese platter, which included goats cheese stuffed dates, Mediterranean-style humus, and an assortment of olives and cocktail onions, bite sized pieces of artichoke casserole, and a selection of filo pasties including spanakopita and a Mediterranean eggplant stuffed variety.

Cheese Platter with Goats Cheese Stuffed Dates Garnished with Pine Nuts

Artichoke Casserole Bites

The Table Spread, Including a Selection of Filo Pastries

Of course no Hanukkah spread would be complete without latkes, which we served with the traditional toppings of sour cream and applesauce.

Traditional Latke Potato Pancakes

A word of warning though…making latkes will stink up your house for days, even weeks! The stench of fried oil is a hard one to shake, so my recommendation is that you make them outside if at all possible. A standing tradition in my household is that my father bundles up, plugs in his portable frying pan, and latkes-away in the open air – a task much appreciate by the whole family.

The Decorations:

In keeping with the lighter mood of buffet-style spreads such as this one, I constructed a more whimsical centrepiece containing tiered sparkly candles, decorated with an array of blue bows, and surrounded by a sprinkling of Stars of David. The flowers were kept simple with single white chrysanthemums covered in silver sparkles, resting in small low square vases with red twigs, and blue and white glass beads as their base. Apothecary jars were filled with dreidels, Hanukkah “gelt” (chocolate coins used in the game of dreidel) and blue and white candies that were later placed in individual mesh bags as another party favour to go along with the sparkling cookie boxes.

The glowing Hanukiahs are not only the main focus of the holiday, but also provided another beautiful backdrop for the festive spread. Like Christmas trees, Hanukiahs should be out in the open for all to enjoy including guests within your house, as well as those passing by on the streets.

A holiday about spreading light and happiness throughout the world, Hanukkah is also a great opportunity to spread light and happiness within your own home, by sharing good food and delicious drinks with those you love.

*For recipes please email me at ellieshortt@gmail.com or message me on Twitter.

*For more on Hanukkah foods, check out this story I wrote for EAT Magazine: The Taste of Hanukkah

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It’s the Most Delicious Time of the Year

23 Dec

One of my favourite parts of the holiday season is the apparent acceptance of indulgence. Never one to turn down a fun cocktail or an extra serving of dessert, I take particular joy in the fact that so many of my friends and family members are more than happy to join in at this time of year, making me feel like a little less of a gluttonous lush. With an abundance of festive drinks and rich snacks, there’s truly something magical about holiday parties. So even if you come for the company but stay for the spiced Nog, here are some Christmassy suggestions for any remaining festivities or for next year’s get-togethers…

The Booze:

Even if you don’t have all your food prepared in time, you should at least have some drinks out to offer guests upon arrival. A do-it-yourself cocktail bar is always handy with some previously prepared additions such as sugar-rimmed glasses filled with muddled fruit, or a jug of a pre-mixed cocktail. This year I tried two new drinks, one called “The Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Food Network’s Sandra Lee consisting of plum wine, champagne, cranberry juice and a gum-drop garnish, and another (which I made up), consisting of muddled cranberries, vanilla vodka, sparkling apple juice, a cinnamon-sugar rim, a cinnamon stick for stirring, and a splash of cranberry juice. If you’re looking for a wintery shot to throw down with friends, try a Polar Bear shooter with Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cacao and vanilla vodka.

DIY Cocktail Bar: Gum-drop garnishes, sugar-rimmed glasses filled with muddled raspberries and an assortment of alcohol

Holiday Cocktail: Muddled cranberries, cinnamon-sugar rim, sparkling apple juice, splash of cranberry juice, cinnamon stir-stick

Friends saying a holiday 'cheers' with Polar Bear shots

The Food:

Once drinks are in hand and ravenous hunger pains are somewhat pacified by the soothing effects of alcohol, you can focus on finishing up your edible spread. For holiday get-togethers, I’m a big fan of finger-food buffets, which allow guests to take as much or as little as they like, and go back-and-forth between sweet and savoury, because sometimes you don’t want to wait until everyone’s done their main course before enjoying some sinfully sweet homemade cake-pops.

Home-made cake-pops in candy-cane, coconut and chocolate

For a party I recently attended where a few of us contributed, my friends and I made an assortment of delicious delights including veggies and dip in a cup (easy to eat and avoids the awkwardness of double-dipping), holiday cupcakes, sautéed onion and brie-filled Filo pastry twists, flat-bread pizzas, and turkey meatballs covered in tomato sauce and grated parmesan.

Sautéed onion and brie stuffed Filo twists

Turkey meatballs with tomato sauce and grated parmesan

Home-made holiday cupcakes

If you don’t have a lot of time to sweat away in the kitchen, cheese and crackers, including a simple baked brie wheel, are always popular additions, as well as treats picked up from a local bakery, many of which offer festive designs that are almost too pretty to eat…almost, but not quite.

Cupcakes from Victoria's Ooh La La Bakery: Gingerbread, cranberry-orange, eggnog and chocolate flavours

The Ambiance:

When planning decorations keep things relatively simple, and stick to a particular colour palate as mentioned in the post The Art of Living.

And last but certainly not least: the music. My recommendation is to go for holiday jazz. Jazz may be a somewhat clichéd dinner party pick, but when it’s smooth and soft, it makes for the ideal background that isn’t as jarring as Mariah Carey scream-singing in “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

If you don’t have time to run out and grab a holiday CD or have no clue where to begin when making your own playlist, check out Grooveshark. Simply searching “Christmas Jazz” will give you a large variety of ready-made playlists including classic favourites as well as lesser-known jazzy gems.

Most importantly remember to have fun. If you didn’t get everything done or if your pastries aren’t baked to perfection, don’t worry. Your guests will likely never know, and above all, you should never apologize. At least you didn’t put some Cheetos in a bowl and call it a day.

*For recipes, email me at shorttandsweet@gmail.com or message me on Twitter!

*For more on Christmas and holiday eats, check out these stories I wrote for EAT Magazine: Where to Dine Out on Christmas Day and Festively Free-Range: Where to Buy Your Holiday Turkey