The holidays are upon us! How did that happen? If, like many of us, you have a lot of holiday entertaining to do this season, you'll probably need a few "go-to" recipes up your sleeve so that when unexpected guests descend upon you, you're prepared!
One of my favourite holiday appetizers are these gorgeous pumpkin cornbread cubes filled with Gruyère and cranberry sauce. The pumpkin cornbread can be made in advance and keeps well (in fact these are easier to make if the cornbread is a few days old) and once you have mastered the technique of cutting the bread into cubes, it's a fast appetizer that looks like you have spent ages in the kitchen that you can whip up in just about half an hour if you have all the ingredients on hand.
Pumpkin Cornbread Cubes with Cranberries and Gruyère (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten until foamy
3/4 cup cooked pumpkin
3/4 cup buttermilk Cranberry sauce – about 1/2 teaspoon per bread cube
Gruyère, grated – about 50g
Method: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9 x 9 x 2 inch loaf pan. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined Pour into pan and bake 20-25 minutes. This recipe works best if the cornbread is a day old or even a little stale – helps when you are cutting the cubes.
To make the bread cubes: Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Slice crusts and ends off the bread to make the loaf rectangular. Slice in half and cut each slice into 3-4 even-sized cubes. Hollow out the centre of each cube to form a space for the filling and cheese sauce. Brush the sides with the melted butter and bake for 5-7 minutes until the cases are golden brown. Remove from oven and place on paper towels to drain excess butter.
Fill and cook the bread cubes: Preheat oven to 400F. Fill the bread cases with ½ teaspoon cranberry sauce. Top a pinch of grated gruyère. Place the filled cases on a baking sheet and bake until the filling is hot and bubbling and golden on the top.
An appetizer that I don't think you can go past this holiday season is from Food Network Canada's very own Recipe to Riches: John Grass' Chicken Grenades. You can find the recipe here and check out the version I made (as per the photo) as an official Recipe to Riches blogger. I think these are particularly festive and I love that they are a big protein punch - just what you need as you make the holiday party rounds!
Another easy festive appetizer that I love because it's so versatile is quick tomato jam. Using about 1 cup of cherry or pear tomatoes, I sautée three small cloves of garlic in a little olive oil and then add the tomato flesh and about 4 tablespoons of brown sugar to caramelise. It takes about 10 minutes to thicken to a jam-like consistency - let it cool a little before tasting it on toasted baguette with some fresh basil. So tasty, but easy and quick! I recommend this with some cheese - the sweet jam cuts the sharpness of cheese beautifully.
I recently tried my hand at palmiers for the first time and was especially pleased with how they came out - another quick and easy appetizer you can make in advance (the roll of puff pasty, once prepared, can be kept in the freezer and just removed to slice and bake 10 minutes before you need them. This particular version is made with walnuts and raspberry-cranberry jam, but the possibilities for filling this are endless. I am thinking brie and cranberry sauce might be a nice combination too!
Palmiers with walnuts and cranberry-raspberry jam (adapted from the LCBO Holiday Wrapped Up magazine)
1 pound puff pastry
2/3 cup raspberry-cranberry-walnut preserve (or jam or cranberry sauce - whatever you like)
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Instructions: Roll out the pastry into two rectangles about 8" by 11". Spread the preserve thinly over each rectangle. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over each rectangle, making sure to cover the pastry evenly. Roll the long end of each pastry rectangle into the centre, taking care to roll tightly (the palmiers will fall apart otherwise). Wrap each pastry roll tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Remove pastry rolls from freezer and let them sit for 10 minutes. Slice the logs into 1cm wide slices. If you don't want to use the entire amount, you can refreeze them, removing them from the freezer about 10 minutes before you bake them. Place palmiers on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, taking care to leave about 2 inches between each palmier. Bake for 7 minutes, then turn the palmiers over and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve the same day or store in airtight containers for 2-3 days. To re-crisp them, place them in a pre-heated 350˚F oven for about 5 minutes.
Finally, I can't talk about holiday appetizers without mentioning gougères - perfect holiday treats to enjoy with a glass of bubbly or perhaps a Kir Royale, as the French are wont to do! I have made Dorie Greenspan's recipe a few times with great success - you can find her recipe here.
Mardi Michels blogs at eat. live. travel. write where she chronicles her culinary adventures near and far!
by Mardi Michels