It’s nearly the holidays, and you’ve been to your share of super-fun parties.
But have you thrown one yourself? No need to be shy about it, counsels Aric Spiczka, Executive Chef of Eddie Merlot’s in Lincolnshire.
“Simple things make a party great,” says Spiczka, like his seasonal and easy Cranberry Kiss Martini, made with cranberry wine, vodka and sparkling wine. Make a pitcher and spread the holiday joy!
He recommends that you put out a crowd-pleasing cheese platter, mixing it up with a brie (or other rinded cheese), an aged hard cheese (like Parmesan or aged Manchego), a sharp cheddar, a blue cheese (he likes Gorgonzola) and a goat cheese (Humboldt Fog is my favorite). Garnish the platter with dried fruits and nuts (almonds and walnuts work well) and add a jar of fruit chutney or fig preserves. Serve with sliced baguettes and crackers.
Set up an antipasto platter (sliced charcuterie, olives, marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, hearts of palm) and pass Spiczka’s Ahi Tuna Tartare Wontons and his BBQ Shrimp (recipes follow) and you’ve got yourself a party!
Cranberry Kiss Martini
For each drink:
- 3 ounces cranberry wine (made locally by Lynfred Winery or Illinois River Winery)
- 1.5 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce sparkling wine
1. Combine wine and vodka in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and pour into martini glass; float sparkling wine on top. Garnish with sugared cranberries and a mint sprig.
Makes 20 pieces
- 20 strips uncooked bacon
- 20 jumbo shrimp (size U-12), peeled and deveined
- 1/3 cup prepared white horseradish
- 1 bottle of your favorite store-bought barbecue sauce (I love Hecky’s)
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bacon strips on a sheet pan and bake for only 2 minutes to blanch. Remove from oven and drain. Reserve.
2. Make a 1/4-inch-deep slit in the back of each shrimp from head to tail. Fill it with a scant teaspoon of horseradish. Wrap each shrimp with a piece of bacon, starting from the head to the tail, with minimal overlapping. Lay four pieces at a time on cutting board, with heads in same direction. Place 2 longs skewers through the heads and on through the tails to maintain shape while cooking, allowing space between shrimp. Repeat with remaining shrimp.
3. Broil shrimp about 3 minutes per side, until bacon is crisp. Baste with barbecue sauce (about 2 tablespoons per shrimp) and continue to cook until sauce is bubbling. Remove from oven and remove skewers. Place on a warmed platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Ahi Tuna Wontons
Makes 24 pieces
For Wonton Chips:
- 12 fresh wonton wrappers (can be purchased in the produce aisle at grocery store)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- Olive oil spray
For Tuna Tartare:
- 6 ounces sushi-grade tuna (Sea Ranch in Evanston or Wilmette are good sources), cut in 1/4-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
For Creamy Wasabi Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons wasabi powder (find at specialty grocer or Asian market)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. For Wonton Chips: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut each wonton wrapper diagonally in half to make two triangles (24 total) and place in a single layer on baking sheet. Spray tops lightly with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with salt and sesame seeds. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until crisp and golden (watch so they don’t burn). Remove from oven to cool on a rack.
3. For Tuna Tartare: Combine ingredients in a stainless steel or glass bowl; refrigerate until needed.
4. For Creamy Wasabi Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, whisking so that there are no lumps; refrigerate until needed.
5. To assemble appetizers: Take a wonton chip, place 1 tablespoon of tuna tartare on top, sprinkle with sesame seeds and garnish with a cilantro leaf and drizzle with wasabi sauce. Repeat with remaining elements and place on a platter to serve immediately.