This Christmas, avoid guest work

Nothing is nicer than being invited for Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner. The question guests always ask is, "What can I bring?" Certainly toting along a bottle of wine, a box of imported chocolates or a bouquet of flowers is the simple solution, but since the holidays are a week away, you have time to prepare something special that does not require hours of work.

The organized host or hostess usually delegates a specific culinary category. "Bring an hors d’oeuvre or a dessert" is the most frequent request. This narrows things down and makes the solution easy for the guest.

Hors d’oeuvres come in all shapes and sizes and certainly whet the appetite. They are among my favorite things to eat and prepare. If I bake, I keep it simple. But since it’s Christmas, cookies and chocolate truffles take center stage.

Dips and spreads go great with drinks. A cornucopia of ingredients finds its way into these easy nibbles, but to my mind, sour cream and cheese usually form the base for dips and spreads.

A reader recently told me of his interest in Greek cuisine. Skordalia and taramasalda are two famous Greek dips, but since I’ve already given you the recipes for both, I thought I would turn my attention to Greek Christmas sweets. I know you will enjoy "kourambiethes," powder cookies that are baked for all Greek celebrations. At Christmas, a clove is stuck in the center to symbolize the spices brought to Bethlehem by the Three Wise Men.

Caviar is worth the splurge from time to time. I always buy caviar from Caviar Assouline in Liberty Place. Joel Assouline has been in the business for more than 20 years and stocks a selection of caviar at a range of prices. If you prepare a dip with caviar, a little goes a long way. I often associate caviar with smoked salmon. You can make easy canap�s by simply placing a small bit of very thinly sliced smoked salmon on a cracker, topped with a little dab of sour cream and caviar.

My sister-in-law Jane makes candy and all sorts of goodies using melted chocolate. She lines a cookie sheet with waxed paper, melts chocolate, drizzles it all over popcorn, lets it set and packs the popcorn in pretty tins. She also does this with dried fruits, potato chips and pretzel sticks. Truffles are also easy to prepare.

Here are recipes for dishes to bring to a Christmas celebration.

Caviar Dip
From The Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten


8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly minced dill, plus sprigs for garnish
1 scallion, minced (white and green parts)
1 tablespoon milk, half-and-half or cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 3-1/4 ounces good salmon roe


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese until smooth. With the mixer on medium speed, add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, scallion, milk, salt and pepper. With a rubber spatula, fold in three-quarters of the salmon roe.

Spoon the dip into a bowl and garnish with the remaining salmon roe and sprigs of fresh dill.

Makes 2 cups.

Powder Cookies
From The Periyali Cookbook by Holly Garrison


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup sliced or slivered blanched almonds, toasted, very finely chopped but not pulverized
1/4 cup rosewater
Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling on cookies


Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar and egg yolk and continue beating until creamy. Beat in the brandy and vanilla. The mixture will look curdled.

Mix the flour and baking powder together with a whisk in a medium-size bowl until well-blended. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. The dough will be soft and leave the side of the bowl. Mix in the granulated sugar and almonds until well-blended.

Using a heaping measuring tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into a ball between the palms of your hands and then flatten to make a 1/2-inch-thick disk that measures about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. With your thumb, make a fairly deep indentation in the center of each cookie.

Form and bake the cookies, one batch at a time (leave the remaining dough in the bowl, covered with wax paper) in the lower half of the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the cookies have formed a crust and are just beginning to color. They will still feel slightly soft. If you have doubts, break a cookie in half. If it looks unbaked in the center, bake for five minutes more. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. While the cookies are still warm, place one drop of rosewater on top of each.

Store the cookies in a tightly covered container. Before serving, roll the cookies in confectioners’ sugar and stack on a serving platter, sprinkling more confectioners’ sugar between the layers.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Note from Phyllis: Rosewater can be found in Middle Eastern, gourmet and spice stores.

Chocolate Truffles
From The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins


1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 ounces German sweet chocolate, broken up
4 tablespoons sweet butter, softened
Powdered unsweetened cocoa


Boil cream in a small heavy pan until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Remove from heat, stir in Grand Marnier and chocolate and return to low heat. Stir until chocolate melts.

Whisk in softened butter. When mixture is smooth, pour into a shallow bowl and refrigerate until firm, about 40 minutes.

Scoop up chocolate with a teaspoon and shape into 1-inch balls. Roll the truffle balls in the unsweetened cocoa.

Store truffles, covered, in the refrigerator. Let truffles stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Makes 24.

Note from Phyllis: You can use any sort of liqueur in this recipe. Nocello, Frangelica, brandy, cr�me de menthe or amaretto are good choices. You can also use dark and white chocolate in this recipe. Chopped nuts can be added to the cocoa for rolling.