The Main Menu: Christmas with panache

It’s that time of year again: the Christmas season, when parties predominate and the appetizer reigns supreme. Every self-respecting host is on the lookout for a fresh food idea – something tempting, just a little different and with any luck, pretty too. Fortunately for us, Foodland Ontario has developed some tantalizing ideas featuring our own local produce; each recipe has the three required ‘Fs’ – fast to prepare, fresh tasting and full of flavour. I hope they will help make your party fabulous.

Pear Cranberry Preserve on Crostini
This easy preserve can be made ahead then used as a topping on toasted baguette slices spread with a goat and cream cheese mixture. It is a great taste combination.

Pear Cranberry Preserve
1 cup (250 mL) or 1 onion, diced
1 tbsp (15 mL) butter
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tbsp (15 ml) each, packed brown sugar and balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh black pepper
pinch of salt

Cheese Spread
1/2 cup (125 mL) light cream cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) goat’s cheese
1 thin baguette (12 inch/1.5 cm) cut into 18 slices
1 bunch fresh thyme

In medium microwaveable bowl, microwave onions and butter covered for two minutes on high or until softened. Add pear, cranberries, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper. Microwave four minutes on High until cranberries have popped and softened, stirring partway through cooking. Stir to further soften cranberries. Mixture may be covered and refrigerated for up to two days.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Arrange baguette slices on baking sheet and toast until golden brown about five to seven minutes; turn and toast on other side. Cool. In mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese and goat cheese until smooth. Spread a heaped teaspoonful of mixture on cooled crostini and top with a spoonful of cranberry preserve; garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme. Cover until ready to serve at room temperature.


Thai Carrot Chicken Balls with Dipping Sauces
This make-ahead meatball is perfect for entertaining. The carrots add crunchy texture as well as nutrients.

3 cups (750 mL) coarsely grated carrots (1 lb/ 500 g)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup (75 mL) minced fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh lime juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated gingerroot
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) ground coriander (dried)
1 tsp (5 mL) Asian chili sauce
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) fine dry bread crumbs
8 oz (125 g) ground chicken or turkey

Preheat oven to 375˚F (190˚C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In large mixing bowl, combine carrots, garlic, egg, cilantro, lime juice, gingerroot, coriander, hot sauce and salt; mix thoroughly. Stir in bread crumbs and ground chicken until well mixed. With dampened hands, roll about 1 tbsp (15 mL) of mixture into each ball. Arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 375˚F (190˚C) for 12 to 15 minutes or until firm and no longer pink inside.
Serve hot with dipping sauces such as Thai chili sauce or sweet chili sauce. If preparing ahead, cool and refrigerate and reheat in 325˚F (170˚C) oven about 15 minutes.

Crimson Beet Soup
(makes about 8 cups /2 L)
Greet guests at the door with this vibrant soup served in mugs or coffee cups.

1 ½ lbs (750 g) fresh beets
1 onion
1 large potato
6 cups (1.5 L) sodium reduced chicken broth
2 strips orange peel
1 tbsp (15 mL) red wine vinegar
salt and fresh black pepper
Greek yogurt
Fresh dill

Peel beets, onion and potato. Shred in food processor fitted with shredding disk (or use a box grater). Place vegetables in large saucepan along with chicken broth and orange peel. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Let cool slightly. Discard orange peel. Puree in batches in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to saucepan and reheat until hot. Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar; season with salt and pepper to taste. May be served immediately or cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to two days. Reheat to serve. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a pinch of fresh chopped dill.

Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quesadilla Wedges
This tasty filling may be made ahead to spread on tortilla, spoon into baked tartlet shells or spread on crostini or simply to serve warm as a dip.

2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
½ cup (125 ml) diced red onion
1 lb (500 g) sliced cremini mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp (15 mL) tarragon leaves
¼ tsp (1 ml)     salt and fresh black pepper
6 oz (180 g) soft goat cheese
8 7-inch (18 cm) whole grain flour tortilla

In large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion until softened, two to three minutes. Add mushrooms; cook for five to seven minutes or until starting to brown and liquid is released. Add garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper; cook for one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted and well mixed. Spray four of the tortilla with cooking spray; place, sprayed side down, on 2 baking sheets. Spread each with 2/3 cup (150 mL) filling. Top with remaining 4 tortillas and press down firmly to spread filling to edges. Spray tops with cooking spray. Bake in 375 F (190 C) oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden browned crisp, pressing with spatula during cooking if necessary. Transfer to cutting board; cut each quesadilla into 8 wedges with sharp knife.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer

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