09 December 2005

So much work for a few hours of eatin'

Right now I've got three dozen peanut butter balls sitting in my fridge. I'm waiting for them to harden up enough to be dipped in a dark and semi-sweet chocolate glaze before I drizzle melted peanut butter over top of them.

That's just one of the fifteen or so things on offering at our third annual Christmas party, scheduled for next Saturday.

Each year we draft up a guest list (ever expanding) and a menu of sweets and savory dishes and a few alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for said guests. It takes a solid three weekends of preparation for this party to be able to fill the table -- something our guests have come to expect.

That doesn't include the planning, grocery shopping, invitation design, and housecleaning that we do for this thing. Nor does it really factor in the hundreds of dollars we spend to throw a shindig that requires only that the guests show up hungry and leave stuffed and content.

There are highs and lows of this process -- mostly that I jump from thinking nobody is coming to thinking that we won't have enough food or drink...all in a ten minute span, and at least five times during the planning process.

The truth is, people show up, and sometimes more than we expected. Even better, the spread is amazing...a selection of three or four savory dishes, like venison sausage rolls and cranberry brie tarts...about ten or twelve sweet things, including my chocolate paté and the abovementioned chocolate peanut butter balls, and the obligatory non-chocolate desserts. Add in some buttered rum cider, mulled wine, and something for the non-drinking drinkers, and you've got about four or five hours of festive chitchat waiting to happen.

There's inevitably this moment, when my wife is vacuuming the house at 6:30pm (guests show up at 8pm) and I'm frantically getting a fruit reduction to actually reduce, when the dog is getting all wired up because she knows that my wife vacuuming while I'm at the stove means company is coming, and when we're finally able to set the food on the table, to stand in the dining room doorway to stare at the spread of TOO MUCH FOOD...and to say...

Wouldn't trade it in for anything.

I'll post a couple of the favourite Christmas party recipes soon, but to tide you over, here's my Toffee Shortbread cookie recipe, adapted from a shortbread recipe I found in one of my favorite foodie magazines (be warned, it takes a few hours to make a batch, because they have to cook so long, one sheet at a time - it makes for good football game watching while baking):


2 cups unsalted butter, softened
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour (or cake & pastry flour if you've got it)
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
3/4 cup skor bits (or tiny toffee pieces)
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Farenheit

Beat butter until almost white in colour. Add sugar and vanilla, beat until fluffy.

Add flour, in three separate additions, stirring each time to combine well. Stir in toffee bits.

Gather dough together (it will be very crumbly) and make four discs. Roll out one disc on counter (use waxed paper if it's sticking to your rolling pin) to a generous 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters or a wine glass, cut into small to medium cookies. Lift with spatula and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (if you don't want to go buy parchment paper, just make sure to keep the oven at about 250, and raise the rack to just above the middle of the oven). Gather up scraps into a ball, roll out again. Eat as much dough as you can, since there's no egg in this recipe!

Bake cookies for about 27-30 minutes. Cook only one cookie sheet at a time, and take care not to overcook. Remove sheet from oven, let cool five minutes, before removing cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store for up to a week layered with wax paper in an airtight container, or freeze as long as you can stand to not eat them. Makes over 3 dozen fantastic cookies.

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