Looking for fresh, seasonal flavors that will add some variety to this year’s holiday soirée? These are a few of my favorite party recipes that are either very quick to prepare or can be made several days ahead of time.

If you’ve been invited to a party, talk to your host first before showing up with food. You don’t want to arrive with a dish of seven-layer dip and chips only to find out your host has meticulously planned and prepared a themed Tapas menu. As a caterer it always drives me insane when midway through a party I’m presented with a covered dish of some sort that I’m supposed to squeeze onto an already full, coordinated buffet table. If it’s not a potluck, always ask before bringing food.

If you’re planning your own festive fete, look for recipes that will create balance on the buffet table. I’ve found that 6-8 different menu items is all the variety the human brain can handle, and plan on your guests eating about 4-5 bites per person, per hour. I like to plan menus that have a mixture of items that can be made ahead of time, like gougères or butternut squash crostini, along with some that can be almost entirely purchased, like cheeses or a tray of sushi.


These baked cheese puffs from Burgundy are simple to make and freeze beautifully.

• ½ cup water
• ½ cup whole milk
• 8 tablespoons butter
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup flour
• 4 eggs
• 4 ounces grated gruyère cheese, or cheese of your choice
• ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
• fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring the water, milk and butter to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Dump in all the flour at once, and stir vigorously over low heat until a smoother dough forms. Continue stirring over the heat until the dough dries out slightly and cleanly pulls away from the side of the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 2 minutes. Beat the eggs into the dough one at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next one.

Add the cheese, pepper and nutmeg and mix to incorporate. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a large round tip and pipe tablespoons onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until thoroughly golden brown. Make sure to bake them fully or they will not puff properly. Serve warm with a glass of red wine. If making them ahead, cool then freeze in zip-lock bags. Rewarm in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes, then serve.  

Makes about 30 gougères.

Shaved Beef and Herb Lettuce Wraps

This is a delightful recipe that manages to be exceedingly delicious, healthful (paleo, even), and quick to prepare. Swap out shredded roast pork, chicken or shrimp for the beef if you wish.  

• ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced  
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2-3 heads Little Gem or bibb-type lettuce
• ½ pound thinly sliced rare roast beef, either homemade or from the deli
• ½ cup chopped parsley
• 1/3 cup chopped mint
• juice of one lemon
• ¼ cup olive oil
• salt and pepper to taste
• ¼ cup pomegranate seeds, optional

Pull apart the heads of lettuce into individual leaves and break off the bottom part of the thick white stem to create a cup.

Toss the red onion with 1 tsp salt in a small bowl and set aside for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, rinse the salted onions and dry them briefly on a paper towel. (This step helps to tame the onions and remove any traces of bitterness.)

Shred the sliced beef into smallish pieces. Add it to a mixing bowl along with the onions, chopped parsley, mint, lemon juice and olive oil. Toss well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill lettuce cups with beef and herb salad. Top with pomegranate seeds, if using.

Makes about 24 wraps.

Butternut Squash Crostini

This mixture can be made with almost any type of winter squash or sweet potato.

• 1 small butternut squash
• 2-3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced  
• 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 baguette
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 24 sage leaves
• 1 cup olive oil, for frying
• 4 oz fresh goat’s cheese, softened

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel the butternut squash, then slice in half and remove the seeds with a spoon from the bulbous end of the squash. Cut the squash into small uniform pieces.

Peel the butternut squash and cut it into small cubes. Toss it with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the hot oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes have elapsed, add the shallots to the squash in the oven and toss. Roast for a further 15 minutes then remove from the oven to cool.

While the squash is roasting, slice the baguette. Add to the mixing bowl, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the 400-degree oven for 6-8 minutes until lightly browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool.

In a small fry pan, heat the oil and fry the sage leaves until crisp. Sprinkle with salt and let drain on paper towels.

Spread the softened goat’s cheese onto the toasted baguette slices. Top with a spoonful of the butternut squash mixture, and garnish with a fried sage leaf. Alternatively, you can mix the crumbled goat’s cheese into the butternut squash mixture and serve it as a dip alongside a basket of crostini or pita chips.

The squash mixture can be prepared 3 days ahead, and the crostini and sage leaves can be prepared 5 hours ahead.

Makes about 24 crostini.

Mrs. Claus’s Cocktail

• 1 ounce orange cranberry syrup, recipe below
• 1 ounce gin
• 4 ounces cava or prosecco

Make sure all ingredients are well chilled. Add syrup and gin to a champagne glass, then top with cava or prosecco.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Orange Cranberry Syrup

• 12 ounces cranberries
• 1 orange, preferably organic, cut into wedges  
• 1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste  
scant pinch of salt

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, cover and set aside for 30-60 minutes.

Drain the accumulated syrup through a fine meshed sieve and store in the refrigerator in a jar. The drained cranberry-orange mixture is a delicious byproduct to serve alongside roasted meats.  

Contact Ashley Meyer at Ashley@realcuisine.net.

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