Although New Years Eve 2012 has come and gone we have developed a tradition in our home that I wanted to share. It is a tradition that would be fun to incorporate any time of the year and I hope you can find something useful in this post.
In our house New Years Eve is all about the finger foods! Every year we get together with our good friends, play games and EAT! We cover the kitchen table with all kinds of delicious finger foods, sweets and punch. There are a few must-have foods on the list but each year we always try to throw in something new. The great thing about finger foods is that many things can be made in advance, you don’t have to make a lot of anything, and everyone can find at least a few things they love.
Over the years our selection has grown from a few items (pictured below) to a big selection which this year included pigs-in-a-blanket, potato skins, Duck nuggets, spicy crescent cheese poppers, a cheese platter, veggies and dip, shrimp cocktail, cheese dip and chips, mushroom wellington cups, Christmas Punch, and chocolate mousse! The trick is to include some old favorites (pigs-in-a-blanket and potato skins) and swap in a few new things each year. Pinterest is a great place to search for new things to make.
The Super Bowl is coming up as is Valentine’s Day. This would be a great time to get together with a few friends you enjoy spending time with and have a finger foods party. Ask each family you invite to bring 2-3 favorite finger foods. Lay them all out on the table and dig in buffet style. Gather around the living room with your plates and enjoy spending time together. Playing games is also another great addition to a Finger Foods party. Some of our favorites include Mexican Train Dominoes, Taboo, Catch-Phrase and Funglish.
“Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown…” Ok, I’ll stop. In case you’re wondering, those are the words from the traditional English Gloucestershire Wassail song. Come on, indulge me, you’ve got a minute to explore that link and the background on wassail!
Apparently, my high school years of performing in a Madrigal dinner had quite an effect, and now those around me must also endure it. If you don’t feel like delving in, here’s the gist of it: today’s definition of a madrigal dinner is a multi-course, Medieval-style meal served by costumed performers singing traditional (old English) Christmas carols. (“The boar’s head, in hand bear I…” Ok, sorry – I’ll really stop this time.)
So, why does this matter on foodie Friday? Because wassail (literally “waes hael” or “be you healthy”) is a foodie tradition you should most definitely explore! Before we go further, though, I need to offer my standard disclaimer from The Food Adventuress: I’m quite horrible at precisely following directions and tend to just do whatever I want in the kitchen and wait to see how it turns out. So, if you’d like a real recipe for wassail, you’d best go elsewhere. Just do a quick search on the Interweb and you’re sure to turn up lots of lovely options. Now, don’t tell my Mom, but here’s what I do:
Grab crock pot a little too late in the day for 6 p.m. wassail readiness.
Have a glass of wine or your relaxing beverage of choice.
Recollect that you were going to make wassail and get back to it.
Fill said crock pot about 2/3 full of apple cider.
Top it off with generous pours* of orange juice (I like pulpey for this!) and pineapple juice.
Add a good amount** of lemon juice and honey.
Start adding spices to your taste. I choose cinnamon (lots!***), ground cloves, freshly grated nutmeg and sometimes ginger and allspice depending on my mood/desire to exert myself.
Decorate your wassail. I typically add a cloved orange (sliced or not, per your own desire to exert yourself) and some apple slices from near the core along with a cinnamon stick or two.
Let simmer for several hours and return to your aforementioned beverage.
Serve to standing ovation (or at least a few compliments).
* In this case, generous pours mean probably a cup or two each, but let’s not get too precise.
** Under duress, I would probably estimate that a good amount means half a cup?
*** I’m pretty sure my favorite measurement is “to taste.” That’s what you do here – you won’t mess up!
A couple of notes that will increase your cool factor: first, everybody has a scratchy throat around the holidays. Wassail is the guaranteed fix-it and soother – offer it to everyone who enters your home. Of course, your home smells completely fabulous because you made wassail! Also, I recommend not adding alcohol. Shocking, I know. Wassail is enjoyable by all… the kids and those who abstain should enjoy it as much as everyone else, and anyone who wishes to doctor (ahem) their drink may do so with ease once in the mug.
Finally (insider tip!) just store the wassail outside between servings, assuming it is even mildly chilly at night in your neck of the woods of Arkansas (and beyond). Just slowly warm it up starting a little earlier on subsequent serving days. The wassail gets a little thicker as the spices mull, so just add some more of the juices prior to simmering and the original batch should get you through several servings.
Again, this is all highly unscientific but fairly popular Chez Stephens, and it’s standard fare throughout the month of December from tree-decorating through New Year’s. I hope you’ll try it, and maybe add a few of the old English carols to spice up your holiday tunes as well! Give some background to your family and your kids may be the smartest ones on the block. Mine is definitely the one who knows about wassail, which either makes her incredibly cool or highly nerdy. I’m ok with both.
Beth is the marketing maven and one of the four founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers, but her real job is as executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center – a nonprofit field science, environmental education, camp and conference facility in northwest Arkansas. She blogs over at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress and finds herself eating far more of her mother’s rum cake around the holidays than she would care to admit.
Please note: all images and links are public domain from the web, and used only to illustrate topics for your personal use.
‘Tis the Season: Holiday Cookie Exchange
Written by ARWB Dec. 2011 Blogger of the Month, Stephanie Hamling of Proactive Bridesmaid
I got my annual cookie exchange invitation in the mail today, and, so, the wheels are turning. Have you ever hosted or participated in a cookie exchange? This gathering has become one of my favorite Christmas-time traditions. The effort that goes into both hosting and being a guest can be overwhelming, but it is, without a doubt, always worth it.
One of the members of my cooking club, along with her sister-in-law, hosts the yearly event. After ten years, they have it down to an art. I’ve never hosted an exchange, but I’ve taken mental notes from them every year.
In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, here’s how the exchange works. Each guest and hostess bakes a set number of cookies, which they take to the exchange. During the exchange, each person gets a set number of cookies from each of the other guests. Basically, you end up with however many cookies you brought, but you get a far wider variety.
You can organize the event a number of ways, but I’m fond of the way my girls set it up. Two to three weeks in advance, a cheerful invitation arrives in the mail. We know about when to expect it, but for an inaugural event, a little more notice might be in order. Included on the invitation is the standard when and where, RSVP info, how many cookies to bring, and a listing of prize categories.
Yes, there are prizes, and the more competitive among us take them very seriously. Awards are given for best taste, best presentation, and best overall cookie. The first two categories are chosen by popular vote and the hostesses choose the third winner. The prizes are glory, a year of bragging rights, and a small Christmas-themed treat.
The prize for best taste necessitates tasting, of course. After a round-robin story telling session about the origins of our cookie recipe, we have a tasting. We make the rounds to check out the presentation and have a nibble. Each person’s cookie is assigned a number for voting, and secret ballets are cast. After prizes are awarded, its time for everyone to grab their take-homes.
And, that is how it’s done folks. There are more bells and whistles that can be added as you wish. Our hostesses start the party with appetizers and drinks and we play a few rounds of party games, everything from bingo to a complicated race involving unwrapping a Hershey’s Kiss with mitten-covered hands. They end the night with a handmade party favor for each guest. Seriously, these ladies could write a book.
A cookie exchange is great to find new favorites, to get more bang out of your baking time, and to take care of treats for holiday parties or teacher gifts. If you ever have a chance to attend one, I hope you will. If you are encouraged to start your own, your friends will love you for it!
Tips for the hostess:
Tag team with a friend. Split the duties and alternate houses each year.
Don’t limit your group to only great bakers. Break-and-bake and even bakery cookies are welcome in our crew.
Send the invitations early and have clear instructions.
Have a few boxes or plastic bags on hand for folks who forget to bring anything to transport their cookies home.
Tips for the guests:
Put in some effort, but don’t stress. Some of the worst cookies make the best stories and bring out some great cooking tips.
If you know how many cookies each guest gets, prepackaging make things go more smoothly.
Thank you cards are never out of fashion. A hostess gift is a nice touch.
Bring a copy of your recipe for each guest, so they can recreate their favorite. Try to pick a recipe that travels well and has a good shelf-life.
My name is Stephanie Hamling. Originally from Wonderview, Arkansas, I now live in our state’s capitol, Little Rock. A freelance graphic artist, I also work as a social media liaison and webmaster for a local grocery market. My joys include gardening, cooking, photography, spending time with family, and blogging. Stephanie is the Arkansas Women Bloggers December 2011 Blogger of the Month.