We haven't done a lot of entertaining since moving west. Work is always busy, plus there is a lot of travel and then we don't have many friends here yet. But, we had a few friends over for cocktails on Saturday night and it was very enjoyable. We had gone to the effort to decorate for the holidays, so it was nice to share the season plus fun to plan the food and service. Of course, that meant digging into storage, because a lot of the entertaining accoutrement is still in boxes due to lack of space. Or maybe it is due to having too much stuff!
Regardless, it was fun and I planned a simple menu with a few favorites to share. For drinks, we had wine, a seasonal beer flavored with ginger and pomegranate Manhattans. Now, I love a classic Manhattan, preferably on the rocks--but I will also enjoy them straight up. However, one Christmas when a blizzard trapped us in Omaha, I took solace in the delicious pomegranate Manhattans served in our hotel bar. The secret? Pama liqueur which you simply substitute for the sweet vermouth. You can garnish with fresh pomegranate if you like or stick to the traditional cherry and orange twist. Very festive for the holidays!
Recipe: Pomegranate Manhattan
3 parts bourbon
1 part Pama liqueur
1 dash Angustora bitters per drink
Combine in a pitcher, stir gently to combine. Serve over ice garnished with a cherry and twist of orange. It's a simple proportion that allows you to make a little or a lot. I like Weller's bourbon, but use what you like.
For eats, I pulled out some standards: Mushroom Pecan Pâté, Baked Artichoke Hearts and Hot Onion Soufflé to which I added a selection of cheeses, almonds, olives, my favorite bread sticks, crackers and some pickly things including dad's pickled okra, little cornichons and some carrot slices I made. I just realized that although I have mentioned it repeatedly in posts, I've never shared the recipe for my Hot Onion Soufflé here, so I'm doing that now. It's a favorite and couldn't be simpler. I've tweaked the recipe a little over the years, but this is where it currently stands.
Recipe: Hot Onion Soufflé
20 oz. of cream cheese, softened (That's two and half 8 oz. packages, what you do with the rest of that third 8 oz. package is between you and your god.)
4 oz. of plain goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (get the good stuff) plus a little more for the top
14 oz. bag of frozen, chopped onion, thawed and water squeezed out in a colander or dishtowel
Okay, first you're asking yourself: why would I buy frozen, chopped onion? Can't I just use fresh? Well, yes, of course you can, but that is the beauty of this delicious crowd-pleaser: you don't even have to chop onions!
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a big yellow bowl, combine the cream cheese, goat cheese, mayonnaise, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Now you may think, "I'll just use my silicone spatula to mix this up," but save yourself the trouble and use a wooden spoon like I said. It's not difficult to mix this together, but using the right tool specified by the author does make it a little easier. Once that is smooth and creamy, add the onion and Parmesan cheese and continue to mix until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Now here is where you have to make a decision: conventially, I usually put this in a glass pie plate, top it with more grated Parmesan cheese and bake it for about 20 minutes or until the top is golden and the entire thing is a bubbly, lava pit of creamy cheese. But, if you're planning on serving it at a cocktail party with several waves of people, you can divide it between two dishes as I did with the small cast-iron skillets above to have one on the table and other in reserve. Either way, you want a dish that is on the shallow side to increase the ratio of delicious browned topping to creamy, molten interior.
At this point, you're thinking, "This all sounds delicious and simple, but what do I serve it with?" And that my friend is the easiest thing of all: Hot Onion Soufflé is good on anything, from crackers to toast points. But, I have learned by serving it with anything and everything, it is absolutely best on...Frito scoops. Yes, Fritos. Perhaps you think you're too classy to serve Fritos at a cocktail party?! You're a foodie and you would never serve a dip made with cream cheese that also contains powdered onion and garlic the author is suggesting you serve with some chip you can buy anywhere and isn't even some artisnal item from a small-batch producer in northern California. Well, I am not too classy. And let me tell you something, your guests aren't either and they will eat every bit of this stuff WITH the Fritos and lick it off their fingers. Promise.
If, and I repeat, IF there is any leftover, it is just as good cold the next day from the fridge while you are doing the dishes. Heck, you might even think of cutting the crust off some bread and making tea sandwiches with it. Or just a grilled cheese you can dip in tomato soup. Or a Hot Onion Soufflé quesadilla?! You can't go wrong.
Happy holidays! Enjoy your time with family and friends...