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The best recipes for holiday gatherings

FAMILY GET-TOGETHER

Sure you love your family, but they still drive you absolutely batty -- especially around the holidays. Regardless of your efforts, Mom always complains that nobody is helping; Dad farts while basting the turkey; and Grandpa curses like the WWII seaman he is in front of the kids.

It wouldn't be the holidays without them, so how to survive? When it comes to the Rocky Horror Christmas Show, a dry turkey isn't the only thing a little "sauce" will help.

There aren't many drinks that can hide the tastes of cognac, rum and brandy like a good, old-fashioned glass of frosty eggnog, which can be spiced up with any number of dark brown liquors. The idea here -- considering the typical family stress -- is to relieve tension, because in addition to spending quality time with the fam, the main goal is to have everyone in and out in a matter of hours.

Eggnog

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup brandy

1/3 cup dark rum

2 cups whipping cream

2 cups milk

Refrigerate all liquids in advance so they are very cold. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer until very frothy, at least 2-3 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Manually stir in the brandy, rum, whipping cream and milk. Chill before serving.

Note: For a fluffier eggnog, you can separate the eggs and beat the egg whites separately to stiff peaks, then fold in at the end.

COCKTAIL PARTY

The Emily Post website warns that "the safest way to avoid any embarrassing situations is to stay in control and limit your drinking." That said, holiday spirits are not only fun ways to experiment with the finer liquors you couldn't afford as a novice, they also make the season a little easier to swallow. Besides, a $75 keg and Valu Pak of red plastic cups can't compare to an espresso martini's warm decadence.

Swanky drinks poured from stainless steel shakers are as easy to make as tapping a keg. Ask guests to bring bottles of their favorite liquors and mixers to create a customized bar. For your contributions as host or hostess, try fizzy glasses of champagne paired with this deviled-egg recipe. When all else fails, break out the Chrismintini, a blasphemous concoction of white crème de cacao, green crème de menthe and vanilla vodka served with a candy cane. Salut!

Christmintini

1 ounce vanilla vodka

1/2 ounce crème do cocoa

1/4 ounce crème de menthe

Shake with ice and strain into martini glass. Garnish with candy cane.

Deviled Eggs

12 large eggs

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mayo

2 teaspoons hot sauce

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Bring large pot of water to boil, then turn down heat to medium. Lower eggs into water gently with a spoon. Boil for 14 minutes. Remove from heat and run cold water over eggs for a couple of minutes, then remove from pot and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes. Peel eggs and cut in half with a sharp knife. Remove yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Mix in mayo, hot sauce, mustard and lemon juice, and stir until smooth. Spoon the mixture back into the egg halves, using the spoon to shape the mixture.

Drink suggestion: Sparkling wine and deviled eggs are one of the top food-and-wine pairings of all time. Saint-Hilaire is France's oldest sparkling wine, and is a true bargain at around $12.

DINNER PARTY

Throwing a dinner party isn't only about the food; it's also about the atmosphere. In fact, don't even bother stressing about the menu. Focus on a one-pot (or pan) dish such as these simple, yet impressive, green enchiladas, and invoke the spirit of holiday giving. It is, after all, what Jesus would do. Let your guests know what the main course is and have them bring sides, desserts, wines, cheeses and more.

The day of the party, gather together tables of various shapes and sizes from around the house and doll them up with candles, flowers, gourds, dreidels, fake snow -- anything within reach. As your friends arrive with their nibbles, arrange the eclectic spread into an all-you-can-eat buffet that will leave guests both bloated and regretful.

Ideally, you'd offer party-goers a beautifully set table to enjoy their meals. If you just haven't got the space, create seating clusters with stools, oversized floor pillows or folding chairs. Remember, it's crucial to provide functional places to eat. Without a spot to rest their derrieres, the hungry masses will struggle to balance plates, cut food, and gossip effectively. As the dinner fete draws to a close and your grateful friends begin to leave, they'll take their dirty plates with them, leaving you with a quick cleanup.

Green enchiladas

1 whole chicken, cut-up

1 package small corn tortillas (Get the ones from the Mexican-food aisle, not the expensive hippie kind.)

1 8-ounce package cream cheese (You low-fat losers can substitute sour cream.)

1 pound tomatillos

3 poblano peppers

2 cloves garlic

1 large onion

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Juice of one lime

1 fresh jalapeño

1 cup shredded jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake chicken parts for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, remove skin and let cool. Do not turn off oven.

Meanwhile, remove outer leaf-like skin from tomatillos and rinse. Rinse poblanos, cut open and remove seeds. Coarsely chop tomatillos, poblanos, jalapenos, garlic, onion and cilantro; place in a blender or food processor along with lime juice and blend until you have made a sauce.

In a large mixing bowl, soften cream cheese. Tear apart cooked chicken into bite-size chunks, and add them to the cream cheese, discarding bones, excess fat and gristle. Add a little of the green sauce to moisten. Mix together.

Lightly grease the bottom of a large baking dish. Take one corn tortilla and spoon just enough of the chicken and cream cheese filling onto it so it will roll up. Place it snugly against the side of the baking dish. Repeat, making neat rows until you have filled the baking dish with enchiladas. Pour the green sauce over the top to cover all the enchiladas, then sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Bake in the oven until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbling.

For vegetarian guests, replace the chicken with mushrooms and canned artichoke hearts.


Survival of the Hippest

CL's Holiday Guide 2006


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