I'm guessing Ben Franklin wasn't an avid cook (he had a cockamamie idea about cooking turkey via electrocution). But his quote about preparedness is worth a needlepoint pot holder:
"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
The fancy guys on the Food Network are always talking about mise en place. Yes, it's good to have all your recipe ingredients prepped and chopped, preferably in little glamorous ramekins. (Glammekins?) But for holiday entertaining, you want the whole shebang completely finito, awaiting only a little bit of heat and a garnish if your guests merit. For New Year's Eve in particular, even if you're hosting, you want to be at the party. No apron covering up your little black dress, no sweating over the grill while your guests kibbitz inside.
The rest of the year your freezer may be where bad ideas go to die. But for the holidays it can be your ally. I stock mine with four or five different oven-ready hors d'oeuvres. This way I'm ready for unexpected drop-ins, and even if I'm having a large gathering it gets the heavy lifting out of the way.
The big question is which kinds of hors d'oeuvres freeze well. To answer this, go to the freezer aisle in the grocery story and do recon: cheesy things, pastry (phyllo, puff pastry, etc.), meatballs, egg rolls or Asian dumplings and fried nibbles like latkes, crab cakes or arancini. My cast of characters usually includes a vegan, a vegetarian, a pescatarian and a gluten-free-er, so I find that casting a wide net internationally gives me a range of flavors and allows me to accommodate dietary restrictions.
There are some basic guidelines for how to get the best results.
Some recipes call for cooking a sheet of hors d'oeuvres all the way to completion and then reheating, others to freeze them raw and bake directly from a frozen state. Each method has its nuances.
Cooked food should be cooled completely on baking sheets, then frozen uncovered until firm and stacked in zip-top bags. (Identify and date with a Sharpie, and for extra credit jot down the cooking instructions: "20 min at 350.") Never put warm or hot food directly in the freezer. It will spend too much time in the temperature "danger zone" and is likely to collect condensation, which will make hors d'oeuvres squidgy.
For things that will be frozen raw, parchment paper or a Silpat silicone sheet are good ideas, and that goes double if the hors d'oeuvres are given an egg wash or gloss of melted butter (both of which can cement that nibble to the baking sheet once frozen). Once frozen solid, the parchment can be peeled back carefully from the bottom of each item and the goodies can be safely stacked in zip-tops. For especially delicate items like phyllo cups, cookie tins or Tupperware are better for storage, with layers separated by waxed paper or parchment.
To prevent freezer burn, press all the air out of your zip-top bags, and double bag if you are worried about flavors transferring to or from your frozen hors d'oeuvres (nothing like crab cake-flavored ice cream). And then there's the question of how long items can be frozen. If you don't open and close the freezer door all the time so that the space maintains a fairly constant temp, most hors d'oeuvres will keep nicely for up to six weeks.
If you are only going to bake off a few at a time for drop-in holiday guests, take them out and quickly return the rest to the freezer. You don't want to partially thaw the remainder — this affects the texture, flavor and even the safety of the finished product.
The truth about most single-bite hors d'oeuvres is that they are light brown crunchy orbs, cubes or blobs. They may all taste different, but there's a homogeneity of shape and color that you have to work against on the back end. This means garnishes, sauces or even fancy-topped decorative toothpicks. A little chopped dill, basil or cilantro can give nibbles a visual boost, but think about whipping up a quick flavored mayo as a sauce (as in the wasabi mayo on the Asian crab cakes below) or an herbed vinaigrette, mustard or cocktail sauce as a dunker.
And then you're going to want to serve them on different styles of tray to maximize visual appeal. (If any of the treats are greasy, let them blot on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet before lining them up on a tray.) Some trays you can array on a buffet table, but passing hot hors d'oeuvres always has the magical ability to make you the most popular person at the party. Not a bad ego boost going into the new year.
Contact Laura Reiley at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
Large pinch of kosher salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup grated Asiago cheese
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves plus more for garnish
5 large eggs
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Bring butter and 1 cup water to a boil in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat. Add flour, cayenne and salt; stir vigorously to blend. Return to heat; stir vigorously over medium heat until mixture forms a ball and a thin, dry film forms on bottom and sides of pan, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add 1 cup Gruyere, Asiago and 2 teaspoons thyme; beat on low speed to blend. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each egg between additions, and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
Spoon dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tip or a plastic bag with ½-inch cut diagonally from one corner. Pipe dough onto prepared baking sheets in 1 inch rounds, spacing at least one 1 inch apart. Whisk remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Brush egg wash lightly over rounds, patting down to form rounded tops. Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons Gruyere. Garnish each with a few thyme leaves.
Freeze at this point until firm and store in freezer in zip-top bags. To serve, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake gougeres until puffed and golden brown and centers are cooked through but still moist, 20-25 minutes. Serve while hot.
Makes about 36 puffs
Source: Adapted from Bon Appétit
Mini Chicken B'Steeyas
4 tablespoons safflower oil
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 10 ounces), halved
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting
¾ cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup golden raisins, finely chopped (optional)
½ cup whole blanched almonds (2 ounces), toasted
12 sheets (each 12 by 17 inches) frozen phyllo dough, thawed
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper; saute, turning once, until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate; let cool, then finely chop. Transfer chicken and any juices to a large bowl.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add ginger, turmeric, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir ¼ cup sugar into mixture. Add eggs; cook, stirring, until scrambled but still moist. Transfer to bowl with chicken. Stir in raisins if desired. Season with salt and pepper; let cool.
In a food processor, pulse almonds until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl; stir in remaining ½ cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
On a clean work surface, unfold a sheet of phyllo with a short side facing you; cover remaining sheets with a damp kitchen towel. Lightly brush with melted butter; sprinkle with about one-sixth of nut mixture. Lay another phyllo sheet on top; lightly brush with butter. Cut the stack lengthwise into thirds and then crosswise into thirds to make 9 equal rectangles.
Working with 1 rectangle at a time, place 1 tablespoon chicken mixture about 1 inch from end of a short side, leaving a ½-inch border on long sides. Fold ½ inch of each long side over filling. Starting from the end with filling, roll into a log. Repeat process to make remaining rolls. Brush with butter; arrange, seam sides down, on parchment-lined baking sheets. Freeze uncovered, until firm, about 1 hour; transfer to airtight containers, and freeze up to 6 weeks.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly before dusting with sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.
Source: Martha Stewart Living
Mini Asian Crab Cakes
8 ounces jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
¼ cup mayonnaise, plus 3 tablespoons, for garnish
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
½ cup all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
¼ cup sesame seeds
⅔ cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed
1 English cucumber, for garnish
½ cup drained pickled ginger, for garnish
Flake crabmeat with a fork in a medium bowl; stir in ¼ cup mayonnaise, scallions, soy sauce, ½ teaspoon wasabi, and zest. Stir in 2 tablespoons bread crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap; chill 1 hour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and pepper; set aside. In a small bowl, beat eggs with 1 tablespoon water; set aside. In a shallow bowl, stir together sesame seeds and remaining ½ cup breadcrumbs.
Form one scant tablespoon crab mixture into a ball; dip in seasoned flour. Flatten into a ¾-inch high cake about 1 ¼ inches in diameter. Repeat with remaining crab mixture. Dip cakes in egg mixture, then roll in breadcrumb mixture.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add half the crab cakes; cook, turning once, until golden and crisp on both sides, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towel-lined plates to drain. Repeat with remaining cakes, adding more oil if needed. Let cool completely.
Transfer crab cakes to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze (uncovered) until firm, about 1 hour. Transfer to an airtight container; freeze until ready to use, up to 6 weeks.
To serve, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the crab cakes on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until heated through, 10 to 14 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir together remaining 3 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1 ½ teaspoons wasabi. Using a vegetable peeler, make 24 (2- by ¾-inch) ribbons from cucumber; fold each ribbon into thirds.
Dot each crab cake with ½ teaspoon wasabi mayonnaise; top with a slice of cucumber and a slice of ginger.
Makes 24 cakes.
Source: Martha Stewart Living, December 2003
1 pound ground pork
1 cup thinly sliced napa cabbage, plus extra leaves for lining the steamer
½ cup chopped scallions (both white and green parts)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch; more for dusting
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg white
55 to 60 shiu mai wrappers or wonton wrappers
In a large bowl, stir together the pork, sliced cabbage, scallions, cilantro, soy sauce, garlic, rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, ginger, sesame oil, sugar, pepper, and egg white.
Sprinkle a rimmed baking sheet liberally with cornstarch or line it with a Silpat silicone sheet. Set a small bowl of water on the work surface. If the wrappers are larger than 3 inches across in any direction, trim them with a cookie cutter to 3-inch rounds. Otherwise, leave as squares or rectangles.
Assemble the shiu mai: There are all kinds of folding styles, from easy to very tricky. Go on YouTube and find videos for one that suits your skill level. You will likely mess up the first few, but don't panic.
Working with one wrapper at a time, and keeping the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap so they don't dry out, place a heaping teaspoon of the pork filling in the center of the wrapper. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, dab a bit of water around the edge of the wrapper to moisten. Crimp the wrapper up and around the filling, squeezing slightly with your fingers to bring the wrapper together like a beggar's pouch. I chose to crimp in more of a gyoza style.
Place on the cornstarch-coated baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling until you run out of one or the other. Freeze uncovered until firm, then store in zip-top bags.
Do not thaw before steaming. Set up a steamer with 2 inches of water in the bottom. Line the basket with cabbage leaves to keep the shiu mai from sticking. Set over medium-high heat and cover. When steam begins to escape from the steamer, carefully remove lid. Arrange the shiu mai in the steamer so that they don't touch, as they will stick together (you'll have to cook them in batches). Cover the steamer and return to medium-high heat. Steam until the pork is cooked through (cut into one to check), 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with the dipping sauce.
Makes about 50 dumplings.
Source: Adapted from Fine Cooking
Soy Dipping Sauce
⅓ cup soy sauce
⅓ cup rice vinegar
⅓ cup thinly sliced scallions (about 3, both white and green parts)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, scallions, mirin, sesame oil and ginger in a small bowl. Use within a day of making.
Turkish Spiced Meatballs With Pomegranate Yogurt Sauce
For the pomegranate yogurt sauce:
2 cups whole-milk yogurt or 1 cup labne or plain Greek yogurt
1 cup pomegranate juice
Pomegranate seeds for garnish (about 2 tablespoons, or to taste)
For the meatballs:
2 slices firm white sandwich bread
1 small onion, chopped
⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 pound ground lamb (preferably shoulder)
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
Make the meatballs: Soak whole slices of bread for 30 minutes in a mixing bowl filled with water, then fold and squeeze gently to remove as much water as possible.
Pulse onion in a food processor until finely chopped, then add parsley and pulse again until finely chopped. Add lamb, bread (torn into pieces), allspice, red-pepper flakes, cinnamon and ½ teaspoon salt and pulse, stopping and scraping down sides, until combined. (Do not overblend.)
Roll scant tablespoons of meat mixture into balls, arranging them on plates or on another sheet pan.
Heat olive oil and vegetable oil together in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until oils shimmer (put one meatball in to test; it should sizzle). Brown meatballs all over in batches of 10 to 12, turning occasionally with a spoon or shaking skillet (lower heat if oil begins to smoke), about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer, as browned, to lined sheet pan.
Once all meatballs are browned, transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze uncovered, about an hour. Stack in zip-top bags.
Thaw meatballs before using and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange meatballs on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through (cut one open to look, or use an instant-read thermometer; it should register 160 degrees), 12 to 15 minutes. Drain briefly on paper towels.
Make the yogurt sauce: Put yogurt in a paper-towel-lined sieve set over a bowl and keep covered and chilled 8 to 12 hours. Boil pomegranate juice in a small heavy saucepan until syrupy and reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 10 minutes. Keep warm off heat, covered.
Spoon drained yogurt into a small serving bowl and drizzle with pomegranate syrup, then swirl it in briefly with a spoon. Sprinkle some pomegranate seeds over top. Spear each meatball with a toothpick and serve yogurt alongside for dipping.
Makes 42 meatballs.
Source: Adapted from Gourmet, December 2012