'Tis the season to get together with friends and family. And whether those get-togethers are at your house or theirs, meticulously planned or the result of a surprise visit, at some point in the next few weeks, you're probably going to have to entertain someone.
The chef instructors at Atlantic Cape Community College's Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing offer some tips to help you handle any holiday hospitality situation like a pro.
If you know who is coming to your dinner party, you can match selected wines to your guests' palates - and then match foods to the wines - says Chef Joseph Sheridan, of Ocean City. If you're not sure, or you just want to keep it simple, stock your bar with "easy" red wines such as merlot and Malbec, he advises, plus Alsatian Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc for those who prefer whites.
"Riesling goes with almost everything on the holiday table, which is nice," he says. "Malbec, from Argentina, is a hot red wine right now. I like to have it when people come over. Everyone loves (malbec and merlot); they're not over powering, if they're not really 'wine drinkers,' it's not too dry, not too bold."
Being a big fan of beer, Sheridan also likes to explore what seasonal brews local producers, such as Tuckahoe Brewing Company, might have on tap. As the weather gets colder, it's prime season for a stout beer to complement dessert.
In a casual setting, he might dress up a seasonal pint with a garnish he picked up working his first bartending gig: "You can get salami and provolone from the deli, sliced 1/4-inch thick and just cut it in triangles, like quarters or six little wedges, and just skewer them together with a toothpick and drop it on the side of the beer glass - if it hits the beer a little bit, it can't hurt anything."
That same provolone "goes great with a cold beer" or served on a cracker, but Sheridan also likes to get "a soft, gooey, stinky cheese and smear it over some crusty bread, maybe with some cured sausage like soppresatta or Abruzzi salami."
When it comes to setting a festive mood, Chef Suzanne Feye, of Linwood, plans ahead and buys her holiday decorations cheap when they're on clearance at Dollar Stores. Chef Linda Wohlman, of Absecon, likes to bring the scenes of the season inside, decorating with (free, if you can get them) pine cones and pine tree branches, holly, dried vines or nuts still in the shell.
And to make sure her guests - whether expected or not - stick around to admire the scenery, Wohlman keeps her pantry stocked with cans of nuts, apples, dried fruit, at least three varieties of "good cheese," crackers and candies such as Hershey's kisses and M&M's.
If yours is the kind of holiday party from which people expect a party favor, or you just want to give your host(ess) a crafty and unique party gift, try Chef Daniel Matt's edible Christmas tree ornament.
Contact Felicia Compian:
Edible Spiced Christmas Tree Ornaments
5 ounces ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground allspice
10 tablespoons applesauce
Flour or confectioners' sugar, optional
Ribbons, beads, etc.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Blend cinnamon and allspice into applesauce a little at a time to make a thick dough. Roll out to approximately 1/4-inch thick. If the dough is rolled out too thin, the ornaments will break.
Use a cookie cutter to shape the ornament. Make a small hole at the top of the ornament for hanging or insert a paper clip at the back before baking.
Bake ornaments on screen or wire tray for 2 hours. The ornaments need to bake slowly and they will not rise.
After cooling, decorate with ribbons, beads, etc. Sprinkle flour or sugar on ornaments to simulate snow, if appropriate.
Makes: 12 to 16 ornaments