Holiday Party 2017

Trifle topped with pomegranate seed and edible silver stars.

Twinkly lights, little houses, polar bear. Kevin’s note left for me about what he did and didn’t get done after I went to sleep Saturday night.

  

Four big brownies from the bakery section, cut into fourths, topped with little candies from Michael’s. (Best petit four cheat ever — took five minutes, and the kids loved them.) Array.

 

Cheese board (I’ve decided that I much prefer the cluttered cheese board style with everything higgledy-piggledy than the more separated out style; more inviting, I think. People are more likely to dive right in. My absolutely favorite current combo is TJ’s raisin-rosemary crackers, blue cheese, and honey. Oh my god, that’s delicious. Cheddar and Major Grey’s chutney is also a nice (and effortless) nod to desi flavors).
 
Love cake and milk toffee with powdered sugar — so pretty.
 
Nuts and nutcracker, which honestly, I mostly put out for the idea of it, though I did notice one child trying to crack nuts. I think I need a larger nutcracker for the walnuts, though, as I find that one close to impossible to use with them.
 
Cranberry-orange scones and clotted cream and jam and lemon curd, all courtesy of Whole Foods, because I ran out of time to bake my own, oh well.
 
Trifle and strawberry teacakes, the latter of which I hadn’t planned on at all, but when I saw them in the bakery section at Jewel, I couldn’t resist, because they were just so pretty. But I have no idea if they taste good — there were all eaten before I got to try one. Clearly I must buy more.

Charcuterie — Harry & David’s sesame honey mustard with pretzels (a holiday gift from Pam, our contractor) is addictively good, and pairs beautiful with some olives and cured meats from Costco (I really love how the Costco antipasto meat comes in separate little square packages, making it really easy to refill your platter only as much as needed during the party, saving the rest for another day. It’s the little things that make hosting easier).

Mango-ginger shortbread.  

Our very classy holiday chains (Kavi wanted to make some, and I wanted some that would go with the white and silver decor in the dining room, so I found some pretty metallic paper in silver, gold, and pink…), fresh flowers (I like how the bells of Ireland look like little trees).

Ellie patiently waiting for the party (and the food-dropping) to start. Ellie LOVES parties.

Party prep would have gone much less smoothly if Kat hadn’t put in a few hours Saturday and a few more Sunday morning — aided and abetted by Katy and Tiffany who had gotten the time wrong and arrived four hours early, but stayed to help anyway. 🙂 I am now convinced that I need to just plan on a few friends who commit to coming early, if I have a hope of pulling off this kind of party in a reasonable manner, surgery or no surgery. (Although particularly appreciated post-surgery.)
 
Kat made modern art with the mushroom sandwiches. They were yummy, but if there was a food failure at the party, they were these — I keep thinking that curried creamy mushroom will go well with wheat bread, and that will differentiate them visually from the cucumber sandwiches and ribbon sandwiches, and that’s all true — but I think it’s just not visually appealing enough. Maybe if they were labelled, so people knew what they were? But there were LOTS left, when everything else had been basically devoured, and I’m pretty sure that happened the last time I made mushroom sandwiches with wheat bread too, so going back to white bread next time, and we’ll see if they do better. Per usual, the Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread (that I can only find at Jewel) was perfect for tea sandwiches, and I will be sad if they ever stop carrying it. I clean them out every time I’m prepping for a tea party.
 
Cranberry juice cocktail with ginger ale, fresh cranberries and pomegrante seeds for the punch, couldn’t be easier. A few pieces of decor I just adore — the running deer on that candle stand (“And the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer…”), that little Santa with owl and crown of candles, and that ridiculous swan vase. It’s so goofy, but I love it anyway. One shouldn’t love material objects so much, but I have such a weakness for pretty things…

I forgot to take photos of people until close to the end, but I think we had about 70 folks over the course of four hours. It never got too crowded, though, because people mostly only stayed for an hour or two; there’s so much going on around here this time of year, and people had multiple commitments. Lots of ebb and flow, which means, I think, that the house could probably handle double that number of people without too much trouble for this kind of party. Good to know!  

Kavi and I were sparkly reindeer antler twins (and that adorable mistletoe dress, because I know someone is about to ask me, is from Modcloth and I love it). MagnaTiles happily occupy children of all ages (and adults too), but are particularly nice to have around for the toddlers, so their parents can get a break and breathe a little.

The seeni sambol appetizer was not entirely successful; more on that anon. I have some ideas for next time.
But the patties came out perfectly, the mackerel cutlets ditto. The rolls were rolled a little too large, for the most part (Kev and Kavi need practice!), but cut in half they made perfect portions. Those all got devoured very quickly!  We prepped them all a day or two beforehand, and then held them in the fridge until the last hour before the party, then fried right then, so they were lovely and fresh. (Okay, I got a little behind, so I was still frying during the first hour of the party, but in theory, it would have worked beautifully. And people didn’t seem to mind.)
   
 
Making the ribbon sandwiches (and mushroom tea sandwiches) in advance worked perfectly. We assembled the sandwiches the night before (untrimmed), stacked them in foil trays, lay a clean, damp tea towel on top, wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Trimming the ends off and cutting them small the next day was fast, and they came out great — not too soggy, not too dry. Thanks to Roshani and Ann‘s family for the tips — we’ll be doing this from now on, as it really decreases the harriedness on the day of the party!
 

Pem’s daughter was perfectly iconic in her little Christmas dress, and cheerfully posed in front of our tree.

With Deno Andrews and Anand Whyte.

Kavi and Kevin’s marshmallows.

When I realized that we had inadvertently worn completely matching outfits — it was not planned! — I made  Kevin pose with me, even though he hates photos, because I am a terrible wife.  Somehow he puts up with me anyway.  He even tolerated reindeer antlers poking his nose (I forgot I was wearing them).  Such a nice guy. Thanks to Kavi for the photos, and for making Daddy laugh.
 
That’s it, folks!  Holiday party 2017.

    

Spicy Coconut Milk-Chocolate Truffles

10 ounces dark chocolate chips
½ c. canned coconut milk
½ t. salt
1/4 – ½ t. cayenne
1 t. maple syrup (or treacle)
red cocoa powder for dusting

1. Add chocolate, coconut milk, salt, cayenne and maple syurp to microwave safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds, take out stir, and repeat until chocolate is melted. Refrigerate for about 3 hours until set.

2. Scoop and roll ganache into small balls, then roll in cocoa powder to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Chai Spice Truffles

This is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, but uses individual spices, rather than chai tea packets; I’ve also adjusted the amount of cream so it will set better.
 
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
7 bags black tea
1/8 t. cardamom
1/8 t. cloves
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ t. cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces dark chocolate chips
½ c. coconut flakes
 
 
1. Combine the heavy cream, tea bags, and spices in a small saucepan. On medium-low heat, warm gently, stirring occasionally, until bubbles just start to form around the edges of the cream, about 5 minutes. Simmer 3 minutes more and then turn off the heat.
 
2. Place the chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Strain the hot cream mixture through a fine-mesh strainer over the chocolate and let sit for 3 minutes.
 
3. Slowly whisk the now-melted chocolate into the cream, starting with small circles in the center of the bowl until smooth and completely blended. Refrigerate for about 3 hours until set.
 
4. Scoop and roll ganache into small balls, then roll in coconut flakes to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
 
 

Mackerel Cutlets

I have to admit, I got a little sentimental making cutlets with Kavya this year. I think it’s the first time she and I have done this together, and it reminded me so much of all the years sitting with my mom and sisters and aunts before a party, making these. I told her that, and she said, “So it’s a tradition?” And I said yes. She’s a proper Sri Lankan girl now, even if our cutlets aren’t as perfectly rolled (or the onions as finely diced) as my mother’s would have been.

Fish (or Ground Beef, or Vegetable) Cutlets
(90 minutes, makes about 50)

There’s a part of my mind (formed in childhood over monthly Sri Lankan birthday parties at various aunties’ homes) that says a party isn’t properly a party unless there are rolls and cutlets. So when people agree to come over to my house and let me feed them rolls and cutlets, it makes that childhood bit of me very happy.

Some Americans find these too fishy, but I love them. Over the years, my family has come up with adaptations to suit the tastes of those (like Kevin) who dislike fish, and they’ve even come up with a variation for vegetarians. But honestly, the mackerel ones are the tastiest.

I wouldn’t recommend attempting this recipe unless you’re willing to get your hands dirty (and fishy-smelling)—you really need to work the filling with your hand to blend and shape it properly.

2 cans of mackerel, 15 oz each
2 large russet potato
4 medium onions, chopped fine, for sautéing
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
2 TBL oil or ghee
1 rounded tsp salt
2/3 cup lime juice
2 small onions, minced, for mixing in
4 rounded tsp finely chopped fresh Thai green chilies
1 rounded tsp ground black pepper
2 egg, beaten
dry breadcrumbs, for coating
oil for deep frying

1. Drain fish thoroughly, removing as much liquid as possible. While fish are draining, boil the potatoes, peel, and mash them. Clean the fish, removing scales and bones, and break it into small pieces.

2. Sauté the four fine-chopped medium onions in oil with cumin and black mustard seed until golden-translucent. Add fish, salt and lime juice, then cook until very dry (this process reduces the fishy smell, and the drier you get the mixture, the less excess oil they’ll pick up when frying). Let cool.

 

3. Using your clean hand, mix thoroughly the fish, mashed potatoes, the two small minced raw onions, black pepper, and chilies until a fairly smooth paste. Shape the mixture into small balls, about the size of a cupped palm. I squeeze the mixture in my balled hand as I go, compressing so the resulting ball is nice and firm—that helps it keep its form when frying. (You can pause, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at this point if making a day or two ahead.)

 

4. Roll each ball in beaten egg, and then roll each ball in the dry breadcrumbs. (You can freeze at this point if making ahead—spread them out on a flat cookie sheet so they’re not touching and freeze them—once frozen, you can pack them more tightly in gallon ziploc bags, and they should hold their shape. They’ll be fine in the freezer for weeks, which helps when you’re prepping for a big party; you can either fry them frozen or spread them out on plates and let them thaw first.)

   

5. Fry a few at a time in deep hot oil over medium-high heat—not too hot, or they’ll start to break apart! This should take a minute or so each. When well-browned, lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on a metal rack placed over a tray lined with a few layers of paper towels.

For ground beef cutlets: For 2 lb lean ground beef, when you sauté the 4 chopped onions, add 1-2 heaping tsp red Indian chili powder and 1/2 cup ketchup, as well as the 1/2 rounded tsp salt from above. Add the ground beef (skipping the lime juice), and fry until very dry, draining any excess oil. Skip the raw onion, chilies and black pepper—proceed otherwise as for the fish cutlets.

For vegetable cutlets: Just use 1 lb frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (you might have to cut up the green beans into smaller pieces). Sauté the onions, mustard seed, and cumin seed as for the fish; add the vegetables and salt and cook until very dry. Skip the raw onion if you like, but definitely stir in an extra 1/2 tsp of salt when you mix the veggies in with the potatoes, black pepper and chilies. Proceed otherwise as for the fish cutlets.

 

Seeni Sambol with Fried Eggs and Toast

When you want curry for breakfast but you don’t have curry so you start to get sad but then you remember you have a jar of seeni sambol and you put on toast and fry two eggs and eat them with seeni sambol and you are happy again.

Sweet Onion Sambol / Seeni Sambol

(1 hour, serves 8)

The Sri Lankan version of caramelized onions is sweet, spicy, and tangy. It’s important to cook the onions slowly—all the liquid in the onion must evaporate if you want the sambol to keep well. Made properly, this dish can keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can enjoy a little with each curry meal for quite a long time. An essential accompaniment for hoppers, and delicious with many other meals.

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 TBL Maldive fish, powdered (optional)

4 medium onions, finely sliced

2 rounded tsp chili powder

1 inch cinnamon stick

3 cloves

3 cardamom pods

1 stalk curry leaves

1 tsp salt, or to taste

2 TBL tamarind pulp

2 TBL sugar

  1. Heat oil in a large frying pan and start sautéing onions on low (with Maldive fish, if using). Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, curry leaves, and chill powder; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent, about 30 minutes.
  2. After about 30 minutes, cover pan, and simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Uncover pan and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and oil starts to separate from other ingredients. Season to taste with salt.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and tamarind pulp and allow to cool before putting in a clean dry jar. Use in small quantities.

 

Mackerel Skin and Bones on Toast

I once told a college roommate that I could curry anything. We went on a currying spree, experimenting with things like curried canned corned beef hash (good) and curried Spam (edible, but not so good). Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you necessarily want to.
 
But I was draining the mackerel for fish cutlets this morning, and rinsing off the skin and bones and inevitable little bits of fish that went with them, and I thought — I hate to waste this, and I haven’t had breakfast.
 
The fish cutlet recipe calls for just using the cleaned fish in the cutlets. But could I do something with the bits left in the strainer? It turns out that if you heat a little oil, add half a teaspoon of chili powder, a little salt, ketchup, and lime, and about a cup of mackerel skin and bones, sautéing for a few minutes until dry, that actually makes a delicious topping to a piece of toast. Packed with nutrition too — all that calcium and healthy fish oil.
 
I like to think that my ancestors, back in Sri Lanka, making fish cutlets for a party, frugal in the way of village folk, would have done the same thing.

Honey-Chili Spiced Cashews

(5 minutes, serves lots)
 
2 cups cashews, chopped
2 T butter or ghee
4 T honey
1 t. cayenne
2 t. salt
 
1. Sauté cashews in butter on medium, stirring, for a few minutes, until golden, being careful not to burn.
 
2. Turn off heat. Add honey, cayenne, and salt, and stir a few minutes more.
 
3. Turn onto a parchment paper sheet and spread out; let cool.
 
4. Crumble into bowl and serve for nibbling.
 
 

Mango-Ginger Shortbread (Redux)

Made it again, and this version is the winner, I think — it holds together beautifully, and tastes delicious. There’s just a hint of lemon flavor; the mango and ginger notes dominate. Kavya said when we were baking last night, “It looks like Sri Lankan food!” She has come to believe that Sri Lankan food is mostly yellow and orange, which is not entirely true, but not entirely wrong in this case, since this is a pretty Sri Lankan-flavor-inflected shortbread.

2 sticks unsalted butter (1 c.), chopped coarsely
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. salt
zest of one lemon
1/2 t. lemon extract
2 c. flour
1/3 c. crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1/3 c. dried mango, chopped fine

1. Preheat oven to 300.

2. Cream butter, sugar, salt, lemon zest, and lemon extract until well blended. (I use an electric hand mixer for this.)

3. Add flour and beat until it consolidates into a very crumbly dough.

4. Gently stir in ginger and mango.

5. Press into a molded shortbread tin and bake 20 minutes. Unmold, slice apart into separate cookies, and let cool.

Delicious with a nice cup of tea!

Mango-Ginger Shortbread

This one is barely a recipe — more of an experiment. This is Kevin shortbread, because he loves shortbread, mango, and ginger. We used the King Arthur Flour shortbread recipe, and mixed in half a cup of mango pieces and half a cup of crystallized ginger pieces.

Kev and I both found it delicious, but it didn’t hold together quite as well as I would have liked, I think because I typically only fill my shortbread pan halfway deep, so I get 18 reasonable sized cookies out of a batch instead of only 9 really big ones. But for this recipe, it might have worked better to just go for it with the big cookies.

 

Alternately, I think you could reduce the amount of mango and ginger to a 1/4 c. of each, and the cookies would hold together better. Still, yum. The trick will be not eating them all before our holiday party on Sunday. The way shortbread cookies melt in your mouth, leaving that last little salt-butter lingering…

Kale Sambol & Spice-Rubbed Steak

Kale Sambol

(20 minutes, serves 8)

I had never been a big kale fan, but my friend, Roshani, completely converted me with her Aunty Indranee’s use of kale in this traditional sambol. In Sri Lanka, this would have been made with a native green, gotu kola, but kale is an excellent substitute (you can also try any other leafy greens, like beet greens, mustard greens, or rainbow chard).

For this preparation, kale is chopped small and tenderized with lime juice. When mixed with the coconut, tomatoes, sugar, and salt, the result is a tasty and addictive sambol that has become an essential component to many of our meals — if I make a meat curry now, I almost always make kale sambol to accompany it, and will often eat more sambol than curry. I’d have it with a little rice, but Kevin likes to just have beef curry and kale sambol together in a bowl, or with steak on a plate, which is also delicious.

1 bunch kale, leaves stripped off (stems discarded)

1 medium onion, minced

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1-2 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped

Juice of 2 small limes (about 2-3 TBL)

1-2 TBL sugar

1 tsp fine salt

  1. Pulse kale in food processor until completely shredded into small bits.
  2. Add onion, coconut, tomato, lime juice, sugar, salt. Mix thoroughly.

 

Can be served immediately, but best if allowed to sit and blend for an hour or so. Will keep in fridge for a good week—refresh with a little extra lime juice as needed.

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Steak

2 lbs. flank steak, cut into a few pieces against the grain

3 garlic cloves

1.5 t. kosher salt

2 T vegetable oil

3 t. Sri Lankan dark roasted curry powder

1 t. black pepper

1.  Mince garlic and mash to a paste with salt. Add oil and spices and stir to a paste. Pat steak dry, then rub all over with paste (easiest with your clean hand). Marinate steak at least two hours, or longer, up to a day.

 

2.  Heat grill to medium-high, and grill steak on lightly-oiled grill rack, uncovered, turning over once, 6-8 minutes total for medium-rare.

3.  Let rest 5 minutes, then cut steak diagonally across grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices.