However, if you find yourself stumped this year and want to offer your guests something better than a crock pot full of Velveeta and some Tostitos, how about classing up the party for a change?
For elegant recipes that don't take a lot of time and effort, I turned to a personal chef friend of mine who routinely hosts classy get-togethers of her own in addition to catering her clients' parties. The recipes below are her no-fail party favorites, and they're guaranteed to blow your guests away.
See below for her recipes -- adapted over the years for easy prep and optimal flavor -- for Blue Cheese Coins, Mini Lamb Burgers with Curried Green Apples, Chili Gazpacho Soup Shooters with Grilled Shrimp, and Beef Bulgogi in Lettuce Leaves with Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce.
Chili Gazpacho Soup Shooters with Grilled Shrimp
1 dried ancho chili pepper, deseeded and stem removed 2 T water 3 T olive oil 1 lb ripe cherry tomatoes, coarsely chopped 1 medium shallot, finely minced 1 small English cucumber, finely chopped 1/2 large red bell pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped 1/2 large yellow bell pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped 1 small head roasted garlic - squeeze garlic "butter" into a small bowl and stir well 1 medium ripe avocado 1 c cold chicken stock 2 T sherry vinegar 1/2 t smoked paprika 1 t cumin seed, toasted 1/2 t each salt and pepper
Soak the ancho chili in boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. Drain and place in food processor or blender with the water and puree. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the mixture and transfer the rest to a jar. Float a little olive oil over the top to cover and seal the jar. Store the jar for use another time.
Place all of the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process to whatever texture you would like. If you want it very fine, sieve the mixture. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Divide the soup between shot glasses and top with one cooked shrimp, curled over the side of the glass. Garnish with small diced red peppers and avocado.
Blue Cheese Coins
1/2 lb blue cheese at room temperature 1/2 lb butter at room temperature 1 t freshly ground black pepper 2 c all purpose flour 1 c finely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and blue cheese with an electric mixer. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Fold in the nuts with a wooden spoon. Drop the batter by heaping teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.
Top with the chutney of your choice.
Makes 6 dozen
Mini Lamb Burgers with Curried Green Apples
3 T olive oil 1/4 c finely minced shallots 10 oz ground lamb 1/4 t finely chopped fresh oregano 1/4 t finely chopped fresh mint 1/4 t garlic powder Fine sea salt Freshly ground white pepper
Heat oil in small saute pan Add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Mix the ground lamb w/ the cooled onion and season with oregano, mint, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Shape into 1 inch patties Place enough olive oil in a saute pan to cover the bottom of the pan. Place the burgers, a few at a time, into the pan and cook to the desired doneness (about 30 seconds per side for rare, 45 seconds for medium, 1 minute for well-done). As they are done, remove the burgers to a plate lined with paper towels and drain.
Curried Green Apples:
4 Granny Smith apples, cut into a small dice 3 T fresh lemon juice 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice 2 cups pineapple juice 1 T finely minced mint leaves 1 T finely minced fresh oregano leaves 1 t kosher salt 1 T chili pepper flakes 3 T high- quality curry powder, lightly toasted (recommend Maharajah Curry Powder from Penzey's)
Place the liquids into a large non-reactive bowl. Whisk in the mint leaves, oregano leaves, salt, pepper flakes and toasted/cooled curry powder. Add the diced apples; cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the apples from the marinade and serve with the lamb burgers.
Lamb burgers can be served with slider buns.
Beef Bulgogi in Lettuce Leaves with Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce
24 eight- or ten-inch wooden skewers, soaked for at least 30 minutes 1 cup low sodium soy sauce 1 large garlic clove, finely minced 1 T grated fresh ginger 2 T rice wine vinegar 1 T brown sugar Sriracha sauce to taste 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper 3 T sesame seeds, toasted and crushed 1 T sesame oil 1/2 cup sake or plum wine 6 scallions (green onions), white and light green parts only, finely chopped 1 1/4 lbs. filet mignon 24 Bibb lettuce leaves 1 small seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks 1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchstick pieces
In a large non-reactive bowl, combine all ingredients up through green onions as a marinade. Set aside.
Slice the filet into 1/4 inch thick pieces...be sure to cut lengthwise WITH the grain. Trim the pieces to approximately 5 inch lengths. Cut each 5 inch piece again into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces. You should have 24 pieces. Place into the marinade and allow to marinade at room temp for around an hour.
You may cook on either an indoor grill pan or on an outside grill. Heat the grill pan or grill. While the grill is heating, thread each piece of filet onto a skewer. Place the meat onto the grill and cook until medium-rare, about 1 minute per side. You can put into a warm oven for a few minutes to keep hot, but no longer than 30 minutes.
Bring the remaining marinade to a rolling boil in a small saucepan and boil for at least 1 minute, then transfer to a serving dish.
The best way to eat these is to pick up a lettuce leaf, dip the skewered meat into the sauce, place in the lettuce leaf and top with cucumber and carrot, wrap the lettuce leaf around the whole thing and slide it off the skewer.
Serve warm or at room temperature.