Thanksgiving break is the kickoff to five weeks of holiday soirées, family gatherings, friendly occasions, and festive excuses to eat. After all, this is the season of food, booze, hospitality, and good cheer. And just because you’re no Chopped wanna-be doesn’t mean your holiday table should be anything less than luxe. We have gourmet finger food recipes, homemade condiments, sweet treats and entertaining inspirations to up your holiday game this year.
Stuffing Sandwiches — The Savory Main-Course Finger Food
Although carved turkey loses its appeal almost immediately after Thanksgiving’s gluttonous main event, inventive turkey recipes will always find fans at the holiday table. Chef Michael Mina’s easy-to-emulate “Stuffing Sandwich” is somewhat of a misnomer; it’s actually a turkey, veggie and gravy sandwich on grilled brioche. Nonetheless, this is a brilliant way to use up leftovers (everything BUT the stuffing), and also great for a party, because sandwiches don’t need a fork.
Cauliflower “Breadsticks” — The Vegetarian Savory
Another recipe that’s picked up a lot of Internet heat recently, the crispy cauliflower pan-bake is earning rave reviews amongst vegetarians, mom bloggers and dieters. Beaten egg and cheese binds the puréed or grated cauliflower, so after cooking at a fairly high temp (350-400 degrees) for 25-30 minutes and then cooling 10 minutes, it attains a consistency almost like pizza crust. Cookbook author and food blogger Faith Gorsky of Edible Mosaic recommends slathering with tomato and more cheese, and broiling a few minutes for extra yumminess.
Brachetto d’Acqui — The Festive Sparkler
Swapping out your regular sparkling haul of Prosecco and Rosé for a few bottles of Brachetto d’Acqui may be the most inspired hosting move you make this year. Relatively unknown, except by restaurant/wine industry professionals in the U.S., Brachetto is a semi-sweet, raspberry-hued effervescent wine that’s a favorite of Italian connoisseurs. Banfi’s Rosa Regale is the most widely available in America, but Marenco and Braida are two other producers to look for.
Surprise Palates With Elegant White Wines
Decades of overabundance of cheap, sweet white wine has made it taboo in some crowds to admit you prefer white. Well, stand up with pride, white wine drinkers, because you can bring class to the party with bottles like Copain Chardonnay from Anderson Valley (a highly respected, off-the-radar Northern California region) and Ferrari Perle (a luxurious Italian sparkler). You can overturn stereotypes altogether with a hillside-grown, biodynamically produced, Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard "Vau de Vey” Chablis. Yes, Chablis. It upgrades well too.
Brandied Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry is a bit like fruitcake: You must have it around during the holidays, even if it’s just the canned gloop that nobody eats. So why not spend 10 minutes on cranberry sauce people will actually enjoy? Rave Review! Original Culinary Spirits suggests a zingy and tasty sauce made of one pound fresh or frozen berries simmered with juice from an orange, a half-cup of sugar, cinnamon and 1/4 cup of culinary brandy. Simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, till the cranberries burst.
Gourmet Made-From-Scratch “Ranch Dip" and Crudités
While most people know that grocery store ranch dip is horrible stuff (the fat content! The unpronounceable ingredients!), few have ever thought to make a better-tasting version in their own kitchen. Chef Paul Piscopo of St. Regis San Francisco does a version you can copy easily. He simply folds diced fresh shallots, parsley, chives, dill, garlic, lemon juice and zest, a drip of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of seasoning in to crème fraiche. Serve with crudités, because Ruffles would be a sin.
Old Vine Zinfandel – The Winter-Warmer Wine
Sometimes a chilly, windy, sleeting night really calls for a large glass of fortifying red wine. Cabernets being largely too pricey and Pinots and Merlots too nichey to attain “go-to” status, we’ve always turned to Zinfandel — the big spicy fruit-bombs that came from Italy centuries ago. If you’re looking for a party conversation starter, try an old vine Zin from California. Their intensity, complexity, and history — not to mention their oftentimes-colorful branding — make them a great pick for the price category. Seghesio is a stalwart, produced by one of Sonoma’s most beloved wine families.
Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches — No-Forks Dessert
Known for its sophisticated yet delicious and fun-loving party cuisine, Elegant Affairs is a go-to amongst Tri-State socialites, especially during the holidays. This ice cream sandwich — pumpkin wedged between two homemade gingerbread cookies — is among the simplest of their seasonal desserts, and easy to emulate.
Caramel Dipped Apple’Tini
Of all the million-and-one flavored vodkas that have hit the market in recent years, EFFEN Salted Caramel is one of the most velvety, most buttery, and most delicious. It will give you the dizzies if you overdo it, but savored in a single holiday cocktail, it’s pure delight.
- 1 1/2 parts EFFEN® Salted Caramel Vodka
- 3/4 part Apple Schnapps
- 1 part Fresh Sour Mix
Mix, shake, strain, garnish with an apple slice dipped in caramel.
Holiday Chocolates — The Guilty Pleasure Staple
No matter how full people are and no matter how much they decry sweets, if you put chocolate truffles on the table, those little morsels will disappear. Anything bite-sized is a winning temptation, and Harry & David’s holiday collection is full of decadent seasonal flavors. Five-Spice Pear, Pumpkin Pie, Candy Cane, to name a few. If there are kids coming, get a box of Krispy Pops in Santa and reindeer likenesses as well.