Of all the memorable parts of dirty Judy Blume books, there is one that makes my mouth water in a wholesome way. Might've known it'd be food writing.
"Justine was the ultimate caterer, the finest, the classiest, the most gourmet. Sandy knew the menu by heart. So did all the other guests. There would be no palatable surprises. But no one would go hungry. Crab fingers, marinated mushrooms, miniature pizzas, cheese and spinach quiche, tiny shells filled with chicken a la king, giant shrimp to hold by the tail, and later, at midnight, Justine herself would emerge from the kitchen, offering whole fillets of beef, slice before your very eyes and placed on squares of hot garlic brea, eliminating the hostess's need for renting china or silverware. And later still the buffet table would be laden with delectable French pastries and freshly brewed coffee."
-- "Wifey" by Judy Blume (Pocket Books, 1978)
I learned a lot of things from Judy Blume, not least of which was about heavy hors d'oeuvres. That bit about the slab of beef on the hot garlic bread -- and I have always added in my imagination, melty, gooey cheese -- has stuck with me.
This passage, like most all of Blume's works for young people and those who are more mature, is loaded with information. Party guests want the familiar but they appreciate a gourmet or elegant twist. Hostesses want to satisfy people without creating a lot of mess and work for themselves, such as silverware to wash or in this case, rent. Things you can make ahead and hold over a day or two are good, too, such as marinated mushrooms. You certainly don't want to be stuck in the kitchen at any party, particularly a New Year's Eve bash.
When I was growing up, my mom's New Year's Eve staple for watching the ball drop was a can of deviled ham mixed with a package of softened cream cheese and served on Ritz crackers. Familiar ingredients (except maybe the canned, processed meat which wasn't an everyday food) presented in a different way.
For the last potluck I attended at my former office, I took two dishes that were easy to make, pretty on the plate and, I hoped, palate-pleasing. I thought the marinated mushrooms would be impressive, but most people raved over the simplest, most heart-stopping (in a cholesterol-laden way) item: thin slices of salami spread with whipped cream cheese and wrapped around scallions (green onions.) The familiar ingredients won out. I learned that recipe at a family reunion on the in-laws' side and it's usually a big hit with men, so I send it with my husband to men's meetings at church. Really there is not much more to the recipe than there is to the deviled ham spread but I'll list my technique here.
Thin sliced salami
A container of whipped cream cheese spread
Scallions (green onions)
Clean and count your onions. Lay out as many pieces of salami as you have scallions. Evenly divide the cream cheese among the slices of meat, spreading evenly. Place the white part of the scallion on the slice of meat and roll up.
(adapted from a recipe I found on About.com)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 jarred roasted red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
4 to 6 green onions, thinly sliced
16 ounces whole mushrooms, blanched
Whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, pepper, salt and garlic. Stir in chopped bell pepper and basil. Add sliced green onions and drained mushrooms. Let mushrooms marinate in refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving.
My sister-in-law Gloria served these potato and bacon mini pizzas at her Christmas Eve party. They are yummy, filling, mess-free to eat and easy to assemble. They also have familiar ingredients but make an attractive presentation. Their leftovers are good too. My husband brought home a plate that he finished two days later for lunch.
POTATO AND BACON MINI PIZZAS
20 1/4-inch-thick slices of red boiling potatoes (about 3 medium)
8 ounces thick-sliced smoky bacon
1 medium onion, sliced
1 12-ounce can refirgerated flaky biscuits
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Heat oven to 400. In medium saucepan, cook potato slices in boiling salted water over medium-high heat for 5 minutes and drain.
Fry bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon and set aside.
In same skillet with bacon drippings, cook onion 5-7 minutes until softened and separated into rings, stirring frequently.
Separate dough into 10 biscuits. Separate each biscuit into two layers. Place biscuit rounds onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten each slightly. Spread each lightly with mustard. Top each dough round with potato slice and onion.
Bake for 9-15 minutes or until crusts are crisp and golden brown. Top each mini pizza with sour cream and crumbled bacon. Sprinkle with parsley.