A few months ago, Julie wrote a guest post for à la Claude about her wedding rehearsal dinner/New Year’s Eve 2009 party. I decided it is time to start elaborating on some of the delicious bites that were created for the evening. The menu evolved the few months leading to the event and eventually contained items for all palates – or at least that was my hope! There would be warm beef, lamb, and chicken hors d’oeuvres paired beside chilled tiered-salmon sandwiches and an Asian pork selection. We served three types of homemade crackers, a variety of cheese, smoked oyster log and a selection of sweets.
Logistics proved to be the most complicated and interesting part of the execution of the evening. We planned well and made plenty of items ahead of time – which sounds prudent except we live in Winnipeg and were hosting the cocktail party in Toronto – some 2200 km away. One item that fared the trip particularly well were the gougères. These mini choux-pastry based puffs were made, piped and frozen on cookie sheets. They were transported frozen and quickly popped into a chest freezer upon arrival in Ontario a few days before the event. The morning of the party, they were popped directly into the oven and puffed beautifully – as hoped and expected. The savoury air pockets were an unexpected hit of the night.
- 1 1/4 cups nonfat milk
- coarse salt
- 6 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup Gruyère cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
- Place milk, butter and 1 teaspoon salt in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter has melted and mixture comes to a boil. Add flour; stir constantly until mixture is smooth and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 3 minutes.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium speed, add 5 eggs, one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Mixture will be thick, smooth, and shiny. Stir in cheese, pepper, and thyme.
- Using a large spoon, form rounds about 3″ wide and 1″ high on prepared baking sheet, spacing each about 2″ apart. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining egg and pinch of salt. Brush each pastry round with egg mixture and sprinkle with cheese.
- Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake until puffed, golden brown, and light for their size 35 -45 minutes. Reomve pastries from oven and poke a small hole in the top of each to allow steam to release. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Another family-favourite holiday appetizer are stuffed grape leaves. When in Winnipeg, my father will cook up the filling and roll the grape leaves for me. I’ve tried the rice-stuffed versions from a few different sources (ahem… Teresa!) but really do prefer this savoury ground lamb version. Normally, I line the grape leaf rolls in a casserole pan, lay lemon slices atop and place covered in a hot oven until heater through. As the rolls warm, the lemon slices release some juices and infuse the leaves with lemony tartness which perfectly complements the salty, feta-laced stuffing. I can hardly wait for our next cocktail party!
Feta-and-Lamb-stuffed Grape Leaves
- 3/4 pound ground lamb
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese (1/2 cup)
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh mint or oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 of a 16-ounce jar grape leaves, drained and well rinsed
- olive oil
- lemon wedges or slices
- Cook lamb, onion and garlic in a medium skillet over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink. Remove from heat’ drain off fat. Stir in feta, mint or oregano, and pepper. Set aside.
- Rinse grape leaves; pat dry. Place leaves on a clean work surface, shiny side down and stem ends toward you. Snip off the stems.
- Place about 1 tablespoon of filling about 1/2″ from the stem edge of each leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling. Starting at the stem edge, roll up each leaf around the filling.
- Place a steamer basket in a large skillet. Add water to skillet to just below the basket. Bring water to boiling. Add stuffed leaves to steamer basket in an even layer. Cover and steam for 5 to 10 minutes or unit heated through. Coll slightly before serving.
- To make ahead: fill the rolls and place in baking dish. Cover and refrigerate up to 1 day. To serve, steam as directed.