Just a few months back, when I got this here blog kicked into gear, all I really set out to do was to write about food. I assumed, based primarily on my previous food-blogging endeavor, "Home Wreckonomics" (in case you're wondering, one of the reasons I didn't bring HW back is because some robo-jerk is squatting on my sweet URL) that I'd wax on about my kitchen adventures. I didn't necessarily expect that I'd have so much to say about food politics and whatnot.
Anyway, I bring up this point only because as an astute metrics-tracking digi-dork, I noticed that my page views shoot waaaaayyyyy up when I actually write about what I'm cooking, and they sort of hover meagerly when I write about, say, composting. Does this mean that I shall re-orient my focus and begin to pander to your desires, my teeny handful of reading friends? Nope! But the holiday season has me all aflutter, and despite the fact that I'm moving house in precisely one week, my kitchen is as full and frenzied as usual, if not moreso.
This coming Sunday afternoon will be the annual Holiday Open House Spectacular, an event of awesome proportions that my pal Miss BadApple and I have co-hosted for the past four years. In general, I truly and deeply relish this season. I love the smell, I love the air, I love the lights, I love when Linus tells the story of the nativity in "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Putting on this party every year, though, has taken my holiday joy to another level. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate the season than to bring all sorts of friends and family together to eat and drink and you know, to be merry. The planning and coordinating is something I look forward when Fall rolls around- the way we refine, the way we adapt, the way we divide and conquer. It's a tradition I see taking many shapes over the years to come, but holding fast just the same.
The framework of the menu tends to stay the same, allowing me and BadApple to maintain our little personal traditions (I make the gougeres and truffles, she's got the hunka roasty meat and delicate cookies), and to divvy up the rest, adding our own touches here and there. And let's not forget Mr. BadApple's annual piece de resistance: the punch bowl. Seeing as how this year I've been putting so much food in jars, I've got the corner on the pickle and relish tray. I've also been tasked with hooking up the condiments for the hunka roasty meat: a big ol' country ham! After some mustard experiments that probably won't make the party cut, I settled on a sweet-sour-spicy Apricot Chutney.
This may have seemed like an epic lead-in to a sort of hum-drum recipe revelation, but let me tell you: this is some damn good chutney. So far, I'd say it's the best of my preserving endeavors. I used the recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which was straightforward and simple:
Finely chop the following:
- 2 Granny Smith apples (I happened to have 2 quince lying around, so I used these instead)
- 2 onions
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 or 2 tbsp fresh ginger (I didn't have any, oops. Used ground ginger instead.)
- 3 cups of dried apricots
Throw all of the above ingredients in a big pot, add 1 cup of white sugar, 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of cider vinegar. Add 1/2 cup of raising- I used sultana. Stir to dissolve.
- Add 3 cups of boiling water, mix it all up, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently to thicken and reduce. Keep an eye on it and keep stirring. The book says about 30 minutes, I let it go a bit longer. The chutney should thickly mound on a spoon.
- Add in your spices: I am a bad, bad measurer of spices. I used something like 1 tbsp dry mustard, 1.5 tsp of ground cinnamon, 1.5 tsp salt (I maybe added a touch more), 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cloves and cayenne pepper. Give it a good stir, and keep cooking for about another 15 or so minutes until you've achieved the texture and thickness you desire. Adjust spices to taste.
You'll be pleasantly surprised at the complexity of flavors that develop. There's a subtle heat, but it's very well-balanced with the bright sweet and sour notes of plumped up apricots and tangy vinegar. I ate some right away with a couple of nibbles of a fantastic cloth-bound cheddar leftover from Thanksgiving. I'm psyched to plop this on a ham-filled biscuit, and excited to create some gift baskets with a jar of chutney, a nice piece of cheese and some homemade crackers.
So this is just one little detail of the spread we'll be offering on Sunday. But if there's one thing we've learned about throwing a great party over the past few years, it's that the details really do make the difference. Our first year was an outrageous and complex extravaganza of food and drink. It was a ton of work and a ton of money. Yes, it was worth it, but we know better now. If you keep your cocktail party menu pretty basic: crudite, some cheeses and charcuterie, and one "star" (like a hunka roasty meat), then you have a lot of room to make those items shine in different ways for smaller and more manageable bursts of effort. Of course, it sure helps if you happen to already have a penchant for stocking your pantry with pickles and jams and mustards...
There's still plenty to do before the big day. I'll look forward to sharing some pictures and our menu next week. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a little something to get you in the spirit: