During the holiday season, many people entertain and have small or large gatherings in their homes. With the economic pinch, many readers have shared with me that they are scaling back this year, and rather than having full-on dinners, would like instead to prepare a few nibbles that guests can munch on while sipping their drinks. In essence, hosts want to provide simplified, stress-free entertaining without denting their bank accounts.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is when many of these get-togethers take place. It's less hectic than Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, so the ambiance is more casual yet still festive. If you are worried about your budget, ask each guest to bring a bottle. Bottle parties are becoming more and more popular, and most friends don't seem to mind. If you already have one particular item in abundance, or if there is something you have in mind which would go well with your menu, stress what you would like people to bring.
Another idea that I have suggested before is the pot-luck party. This is where everyone brings a dish to share. Again, these sorts of gatherings are popular abroad, and are actually a lot of fun, as you are guaranteed an eclectic variety of dishes. It also allows the hosts to enjoy themselves, which in a few instances doesn't happen. The hosts often get so busy that they cannot enjoy the evening, and what is the point of that?
Whatever options you choose, there are a few obligatory things that you must provide as a hosts. For one: never run out of ice. You need enough ice both for cooling and to add to drinks. Also, despite depending on others to bring drinks, make sure you have at least a few bottles of white and dark rums, vodka, gin, Scotch, white wine, red wine, and basic chasers like water, juices and soda on hand to offer as your guests arrive. An even nicer touch is to have a welcome drink prepared to set the tone of the evening and to create a conversation piece. Last but not least, prepare a few appetisers. These pointers both show gracious hospitality and will save face if people turn up empty-handed or run late. Nothing is more embarrassing than starving guests who find that your cupboard is bare. A good host is always prepared.
Wishing for you and your loved ones a safe, prosperous and blessed New Year!!!
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JuicyChef's Roast Eggplant with Jamaican Black Mint, Tomato and Caper Dressing
Eggplants are plentiful and cheap this time of year. They also make a great appetiser which you can serve with good quality bread. My dish pleases both vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
Ingredients: 4 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise about 1/4-inch thick
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper
1 large salad tomato, finely diced
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsps sherry vinegar
4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsps Jamaican black mint, finely chopped Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Brush a baking sheet lightly with a little olive oil. Place eggplant slices on top and brush their tops with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.
While eggplants are baking, prepare the dressing in a small bowl by adding tomatoes, capers and garlic first, then mix well.
Add the vinegar and oil and whisk until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the mint.
On a serving plate or platter, add eggplant slices and pour over dressing.
Serve at room temperature.
This Chinese staple is a popular treat the world over. It's also quite easy to make at home. Wonton wrappers are available in many Jamaican supermarkets now, which cuts out most of the work for you. This recipe yields about 24 wontons, so if you want more, simply double up. They are quick to cook, so make sure you have them prepped before your guests arrive, have your dipping sauces ready, and once everyone is settled in, quickly deep-fry a batch and serve immediately. I serve these with either some chopped Scotch bonnet in soy sauce, peanut sauce or Thai chilli sauce. They fly off the plate quickly — a real crowd favourite.
400g/ 3 /4 lb pork mince
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1-inch piece of ginger, washed, peeled and grated
2 fat stalks of escallion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp Hoisin sauce
Wonton wraps, with instructions on labels
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
In a large bowl add pork mince, garlic, ginger, escallion, five-spice powder, and Hoisin sauce and mix together. Marinate for at least an hour.
Spoon one teaspoon of mixture in the centre of each wonton wrap, then seal and fold according to package directions.
Prepare a large frying pan and pour vegetable oil at least halfway up the pan and warm over high heat.
When oil is at desired temperature, deep-fry for at least five minutes or until wontons are golden brown and cooked through.
JuicyChef's Creamy Ricotta on Melba Toast
Most people tend only to use ricotta when they are making lasagna, but I like to use it in baking and desserts, and it comes in handy for a quick appetiser. This happened to me one day when some unexpected guests stopped by. If you are anything like me, people can't come into your home without being fed. This was one of those quick things I created on the spot. It is super simple and ready in five minutes. You can always substitute with cottage cheese if ricotta is not available in your area. Enjoy!
Melba toasts, any flavour
Quality sea salt
Quality black peppercorns, crushed in mortar and pestle
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
On each Melba toast, spoon one tablespoon of ricotta cheese.
Top each with a pinch of salt and freshly
Drizzle over olive oil and herbs. That's it!