We are surely not the only ones baffled at how the holidays crept up on us, but really, here so soon? Again, no tree or twinkle lights, and many a holiday gift has turned into an IOU. At least in my case…Tara pulled it together in a much more civilized fashion.
What I have to offer: quick and festive recipes that will give you at least an air of hostess/host with the mostes’/most.
More importantly, Cookin’ and Shootin’ wishes you the warmest and jolliest of holidays, full of friends and family, gifts and goodwill.
PICKLED APPLE AND POMEGRANATE GRANITA
Champagne and prosecco bring sparkle to holiday festivities, but we also like to add color and punch to the bubbles. This granita is tart, sweet, and reddest red—it doesn’t get any more jolly than this.
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole allspice
2 teaspoons cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons finely grated zest plus ¼ cup juice from 2 blood or regular oranges
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cups pomegranate juice
Chilled champagne or prosecco, for serving
Combine apples, vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Rub orange zest into sugar until sugar is damp and no zest strands remain. Stir sugar into apple mixture and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce head to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes or until apples are completely soft.
Strain mixture into a 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan, pressing apple chunks through with a spoon. Discard solids. Whisk pomegranate juice into mixture and place pan in freezer. Freeze granita for at least 1 ½ hours, scraping every 30 minutes until a frozen, slushy consistency is reached.
Spoon granita into champagne glasses and pour in champagne. Toast!
SPICED CHEESE STRAWS
16 short straws
Aleppo pepper, za’atar spice, and sumac are available in the spice aisle of specialty markets or online. If you can’t find them, substitute with your favorite blend of spices and herbs such as oregano and rosemary.
1 1/2 cups (3 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, chopped
2 teaspoons za’atar spice
1 teaspoon sumac
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
All-purpose flour for dusting work surface
2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Adjust 2 oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and preheat to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine cheese, salt, pepper, marjoram, za’atar, sumac, and Aleppo pepper in medium bowl. Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour. Roll out 1 puff pastry sheet to about 12- by 10-inches. Whisk egg and cream together in small bowl and brush over pastry. Sprinkle half of cheese mixture evenly over pastry and press in gently.
Cut the sheet in half lengthwise, then crosswise into eights to yield 16 rectangles. Carefully twist each rectangle to form a curl and arrange on prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Repeat entire procedure with second puff pastry sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until puffed and golden. Using a spatula, turn the cheese straws over and bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer trays to cooling racks and cool about 5 minutes before serving.
HOLIDAY CHEESE BALLS
Makes about 6 2-inch cheese balls.
Cheese balls are a little bit funny and retro, but after the slightly raised eyebrows have returned to the horizontal position, everyone admits to loving them. The great thing about cheese ball recipes is that they’re simple to make and lend themselves to any number of additions. Here are some festively flavored and decorated ones, but do feel free to take the recipe and add your own personal touches to them—anything from chopped nuts and herbs to fancy preserves and caviar are fair game.
Serve the cheese balls with crackers, good bread, or crudités.
An ice cream scoop with spring release is a perfect tool for easy cheese ball shaping.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely grated shallots
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated or 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 teaspoons finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from about 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Additions and Coatings
Finely chopped pitted green olives
Fresh marjoram, finely chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Fresh dill, finely chopped
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and dry mustard and cook for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add cream cheese, cheddar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
To flavor cheese mixture, stir in green olives and/or herbs to taste. Shape into approximately 2-inch balls and roll in peppercorns or Aleppo pepper. Refrigerate cheese balls until ready to serve.