Manda Cooks: Holiday Party Apps!

Brett and I hosted a Chrismakkuh Cocktails party a few weekends ago, and it was one of our best parties yet. Apparently a roaring fire, a twinkling Christmas tree, and good friends are a winning combination. (Duh.) Plus, obviously, good food and drink! Brett made two great cocktails – a champagne/rum/berry punch, and maple old fashioneds (my new favorite). We set up the party as a “come whenever” open house sort of thing, so we tried to plan the food accordingly. I made two chex mixes (one savory, one sweet) that people could munch on throughout the party, and two cookies (chocolate chip, and jam buttons) that also were out the whole time. For the “real food” part, we did two types of crostini and goat cheese stuffed dates toward the beginning of the party, followed by two types of stromboli that we cooked mid-way through and served hot. More to come on the stromboli, because it was delicious and I’ll be making it again… but, for now, recipes for the crostini and dates below!

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Fig and Cheddar Crostoni

Here’s what you need:
a baguette, thinly sliced
whipped cream cheese
super super super sharp cheddar
fig jam
fresh thyme

Here’s what you do:
Brush bread with olive oil and toast in oven for 5-7 minutes, until crispy. Spread on a bit of cream cheese, then top with a slice of cheddar, a dollop of fig jam, and a few sprigs of thyme.

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Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Crostini

Here’s what you need:
a baguette, thinly sliced
peppered goat cheese
a pomegranate
fresh rosemary

Here’s what you do:
To remove seeds from pomegranate (this is the best technique I’ve found!), slice pomegranate into quarters, and then each quarter in half width-wise. Submerge each half-quarter (aka eighth) in a bowl of water, and gently pull seeds out. The seeds will sink to the bottom, and any rind will rise to the top. When you’re finished, skim the rind off the top, then drain the seeds. Pat dry with a paper towel and you’re good to go! To assemble crostini: Brush bread with olive oil and toast in oven for 5-7 minutes, until crispy. Spread goat cheese on slice, then top with a few pomegranate seeds and fresh rosemary.

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Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

Here’s what you need:
dates
peppered goat cheese
honey

Here’s what you do:
If dates aren’t already pitted, remove the pits by slicing the dates length-wise and gently pushing pit out. It the dates are pitted, just slice length-wise to create an opening. Spoon goat cheese into the cavity, then use your fingers to pat down. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with honey just before serving.

Manda Cooks: Matzo Ball Soup

I made Matzo Ball Soup on Tuesday, partially to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah, but mostly because I had that pre-sick sick feeling all day. (Just being honest!)

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I’m still figuring out what my matzo ball soup will be like; for now I stick pretty close to the directions, but I quadruple the salt. I know that seems excessive, but it’s really not. I simmered the matzo balls in water this time, because I couldn’t remember if you could skip that part and just simmer them in chicken broth. I think I simmered them in broth last time, though, so I’ll probably do this from now on to eliminate a step. (I love shortcuts.) I also added a bunch of chopped carrots and celery, for extra color and some crunch. Obviously the matzo balls are the true stars of the show, but there’s nothing wrong with carrot and celery back up dancers, right? Plus some dill. Because I think that usually goes in there too.

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My pre-sick sick feeling turned into a bad cold that finally, maybe, just started clearing up. Partial credit for my recovery has to go to this soup, of course, because I ate it all week.

Here’s what you need:
1 package matzo ball mix
1 carton chicken broth
6 carrots
6 celery stalks
fresh dill

Here’s what you do:
Make matzo balls according to package — I used seltzer water and oil, FYI. (I think the other options are flat water and margarine?) I also used a tablespoon of salt instead of a teaspoon. Slice up the carrots and celery. Simmer the matzo balls in water or chicken broth. If chicken broth, add the carrots and celery in at the beginning if you want them to cook through, or toward the end if you want them crunchy. Sprinkle fresh dill into the soup before serving.

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Thanksgiving and Manda Cooks: Green Bean Casserole

I had quite the Thanksgiving this year, or should I say ThanksgivingS. Following Friendsgiving on Sunday, I had Robbinsgiving on Wednesday, Veraldigiving on Thursday, and Bordengiving on Saturday. It involved a lot of time on the road, and a lot of food in my belly, but it was fun. My macaroni & cheese made appearances at two out of the three (that recipe is a keeper!), and I also made mashed potatoes at the Robbins’, a lentil and squash salad at my dad’s, and corn pudding at my mom’s. Moriah and I made rice krispies turkeys that were the cutest things you’ve ever seen, I swear. See for yourself here.

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Anyway, Dana and I also made that Green Bean Casserole from Smitten Kitchen that I mentioned in my last post and it was a huge step up from the standard Green Bean Casserole that involves those weird pre-fried onion things and ::cringe:: soup from a can. I almost feel bad comparing the two but, oh well.

I have a little bit of an issue with the word “casserole”, do you? I feel like I need a chic update for it, along the same lines of me calling my Dutch Oven a French Oven instead… stay tuned, I’ll think of something.

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Dana managed the onion frying process and, omg, they were good. I’m tempted to make them just to snack on, but that might be excessive. They’d make a great salad topper though, or an anything topper for that matter. We made sure to cook the green beans jussssst enough, so that they’d maintain some crunch in the end. We potentially could have let the mushroom sauce thicken a bit more, but otherwise the dish was a great addition to the meal. A lot of Thanksgiving food is sort of on the softer side (trying to avoid calling it “mushy”), and our green beans added a nice crunch. So…success!

Also, sidenote: Did you know that I successfully taught myself how to like mushrooms? Because I did. Just FYI! #proudmoment

Since we didn’t adjust the recipe at all, you can use Smitten Kitchen’s one here.

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Oh, and since it’s Thanksgiving and all, a few things I’m thankful for this year:
my family, my friends, my boyfriend, Pico, all of my pups, my cat-niece and my dog-niece, my human almost-nieces and almost-nephew, nail polish, lipstick, italy, cheetah print, PJs, cozy socks, fireplaces, whiskey on the rocks with a splash of diet, baked brie, iced tea, spotify, wine, cashmere, chapstick, back scratches, dancing, soppressata, good spinning instructors, paris, the westside market that just opened by me, straws, lululemon pants, and new york city — the city that i love to hate, but secretly love to love