Christmas appetizers

December 31, 2013

Christmas chaos. Fun was had.

Christmas chaos. Fun was had.

(NOTE: This was written on Christmas Eve. It didn’t get published, in part because the pictures didn’t get uploaded and general chaos ensued, and a large time was had by all, and then I slept for a day and a half.)

With a crowd in the house and at least some of the cooking having to be done a la minute, it’s critical to have a healthy spread of appetizers on hand and ready.  So that’s some of the preliminary cooking for Christmas.

Let there be Chex mix!

Let there be Chex mix!

On the munchy menu:

  • Cheese. I bought Manchego, as well as a chevre with cranberries, a chevre with blueberries, and a boursin. There are some other hard cheeses in the fridge, and there’ll be two kinds of hard salami to go with that. And a spread of crackers.
  • Olives, green (blue cheese stuffed) and black, and pickles.
  • Tiny potatoes topped with creme fraiche and caviar.
  • Pork Rillettes with baguette slices.

I was gonna make pate, but I have not yet done so and don’t know that I am ambitious enough to do so before the night’s out. Later, maybe. (NOTE: There was, in fact, pate. Gourmet mag recipe, here.)

Christmas breakfast is going to be cheddar cheese biscuits and bacon jam, so if I have any of those left over, I’ll put that out, too. That should keep everyone from starving until the tenderloin and trimmings are ready. (NOTE: I didn’t do this. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Also the road to Christmas dinner.)

We also have homemade Chex mix — as long as it holds out.

Child B had posted something on Facebook about a friend making her gluten-free Chex mix. Struck me that wouldn’t be too hard to do, so I filed it away for future reference. Then, as I was perusing blogs the other day, I ran across the Pioneer Woman’s homemade Chex mix recipe, so I adapted it a bit and made some today.

Gluten-free Chex Mix

  • 3 cups each Rice and Corn Chex
  • 2 cups Cheerios (the regular kind, which are gluten-free, and not the multigrain, which are not)
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • About a teaspoon of Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • About a teaspoon of onion powder
  • a half-dozen or so shakes of Tabasco
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed (or a tablespoon of garlic confit, if you happen to have such in your fridge, as I always do)

Put the cereal and nuts in a giant plastic bowl that has a top for it. If you don’t have such, use your biggest mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl or large measuring cup, combine the other ingredients and melt the butter in the microwave. Drizzle it over the cereal-nut mixture, pop the top on the container, and shake it gently, turning it upside down over and over, to distribute the sauce over the stuff. If you don’t have a container with a top, you can use your biggest mixing bowl. If your biggest mixing bowl is not big enough, as was the case with me, you can dump it over into a clean trash bag and shake it in that.

Once the stuff is well distributed, spread it out on a couple of cookie sheets and put in a 250 degree oven. It wants stirring every 15 minutes, and if you are like me and have to double deck your pans, rotate them halfway through.

Pans with a side to them, like sheet cake pans, would be better for this, as cookie sheets don’t do so well for stirring, but you can make them work. After they’ve toasted an hour, take them out, let them cool, and then store in an airtight container (in my case, a couple of gallon zip-lock bags). You could use the traditional mixed nuts, but I’m not a huge peanut fan, so I prefer the pecans and almonds.

This is good stuff. Beats heck out of the commercial variety. And it’s gluten free!

Pork rillettes are basically a potted pork. I used a pork shoulder roast and some fresh side meat (aka sliced pork belly), and did this:

  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds trimmed boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 10 thyme sprigs
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 quart rendered pork fat, melted

In a spice grinder, combine the allspice, peppercorns and coriander and grind to a powder; stir in the cinnamon and 1/4 cup of salt. In a large bowl, toss the pork with the spice blend until well coated. Add the thyme and garlic and knead the garlic into the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bring the pork to room temperature. Add the melted pork fat to a slow cooker with the pork and seasonings. Cover partially and cook over low heat until the meat is very tender, 4 hours, or up to 6 hours. Let cool slightly, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork and garlic to a large bowl; discard the thyme. Mash the garlic and shred the pork, discarding any gristle. Stir in 1 cup of the fat and season with salt. Pack the meat into a ceramic bowl or individual crocks.

Reheat the fat and ladle a 1/2-inch-thick layer on top of the pork. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Discard the remaining fat or save it for another use. Serve the rillettes with toasts.

Just finished these, and haven’t tried them yet; they want to get cold and let the flavors blend overnight. Should be served with a tart pickle or something to cut the richness. I put them in cute little squatty four-ounce caning jars with a wide mouth; a two-pound piece of shoulder and 3/4 pound of pork belly made four of those full. I’ll eat one and put the others in Christmas gift baskets.

I also made the best bacon jam I believe I’ve ever made, and in the interest of preserving the recipe (it’s culled from several different ones), I’ll write it down here before I forget it.

  • 3 pounds bacon, diced and the fat rendered, but not crisp
  • 1 cup caramelized onions out of the freezer
  • 1 cup strong black coffee
  • 1/4 cup garlic confit from the fridge
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • about 1 tsp allspice
  • about 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar (or brown; my hand found the turbinado first)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • about 1/4 cup brandy

Dump everything into a slow cooker and cook on low for 12 hours. Cool to lukewarm, and transfer to food processor; process until as smooth as you wish. Can in four-ounce jars.

I was planning on these for Christmas gift baskets as well; I may wind up keeping them! The combo of the flavors is just about perfect; sweet enough, smoky enough, tangy enough, spicy enough.

Oh, and there are sausage balls. Traditional recipe, sorta-kinda, except rather than breakfast sausage, I had Italian. OK, sez I. I’ll use some cream cheese and some asiago cheese, along with the Bisquick, and make some Italian sausage balls, which I did. They would be kickass with some marinara to dip them in, but I’m too tired to make marinara, so there.  Now I’m contemplating Mexican ones, with chorizo and queso fresco. Who knew Mid-America could go international?

Now, if we just don’t get so full on appetizers we don’t have room for the big honkin’ tenderloin….

In any event, there will be a gracious plenty of food. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em come on over.

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