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It's a holiday party!

Bring an appetizer to share

Posted: December 21, 2010 10:21 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Aged cheddar and bacon in puff pastry

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If finances are tight this year, celebrate the holidays by hosting a shared small-plates party, where everyone can get together to have fun without breaking the bank. Small plates continue to be hot in trendy restaurants because people love to sample little bites and taste a variety of dishes. Ask each guest to bring an appetizer and a bottle of wine or nonalcoholic drink. With a collec­tion of nibbles and libations, you’re ready to party.

Decor
Set a festive mood. Pillar candles, strings of lights, evergreens and holiday music will create
a merry atmosphere at a nominal cost.

For an elegant tone, use china plates and wine glasses if you have them. But don’t use fragile or expensive ones that would leave you devastated if they break.

Food
The buffet will grow as guests arrive, but to pro­vide for the first guests, have a cheese board ready. It takes no time to prep and is always popular.

Consider an Irish cheese board to introduce guests to new tastes. Cheeses labeled “Kerrygold,” imported from Ireland, come in a variety of types to please every taste, and are widely available in local supermarkets. These cheeses are made with milk from grass-fed cows raised on small family farms; no growth hormones are used.

For your cheese board, try Dubliner, a crowd-pleasing, full-flavored cheese with a balanced sweetness and the bite of an aged Parmesan. Or consider Kerrygold Aged Cheddar, noted for its rich, round flavor and smooth body. It was a Gold
Medal winner at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest. Blarney Castle, a creamy and mild, semi-soft, part-skim cheese, offers a pleas­ant contrast.

Other flavorful Irish cheeses include Duhallow, a farmhouse cheese from renowned Irish cheese maker Mary Burns; and Ivernia, a hard cheese aged for three years to bring out complex flavors.

Logistics
Set up separate stations for food and wine to keep traffic moving. Clear off kitchen counters so guests can prep their dishes. Have extra platters and serving utensils available for people who forget to bring them.

Purchase a few extra bottles of wine and
nonalcoholic drinks to start the party off and to ensure there is enough to drink if guests forget
to bring their contribution. If you end up not need­ing the extras, repurpose for the next festive occasion.

Here are some delicious appetizer recipes to share. Some ingredients, such as smoked salmon, are pricey, but a little goes a long way.

Each recipe makes 24 pieces. The recipes
can easily be doubled or tripled, depending
on the length of the party and the appetite of your guests.

Dubliner cheese, honey
and walnut dip

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

    1/4     cup plus 1 tablespoon roughly
            chopped walnuts
    1 1/2     cups whole milk
    2     tablespoons Kerrygold Salted Butter
    2     tablespoons flour
    1 3/4     cups (5 ounces) grated Kerrygold
            Dubliner cheese
    1 1/2     tablespoons honey

Heat oven to 325°F.

Place the walnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast until lightly browned, about 5 to 10 minutes; watch carefully to pre­vent burning. Transfer to a small plate to cool.

Heat the milk in a small pot over low heat just until a bubble begins to break on the surface; remove from heat. In another small pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Just before it starts to foam, while whisking, add the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture forms a smooth paste and pulls from the bottom and sides of the pot. While whisk­ing vigorously, add the milk in a steady stream. Continue to whisk to keep the flour mixture from creating lumps. Stir until smooth and creamy. Lower the heat to simmer and cook the sauce 5 to 7 minutes. Stir from time to time.

Gently stir the cheese into the sauce to reach a smooth, silken consistency.

Remove from the heat and add the honey and 1/4 cup of the walnuts.

When cool, refrigerate. Best if made one day before serving. To serve, bring the dip to room temperature or warm in a double boiler or gently in the microwave, to soften. Scatter the remaining walnuts over the top. Perfect with celery hearts, sliced fennel, endive leaves, and thin wedges of crisp apples.

Smoked salmon, lemon butter
and chive tartine

Makes 24 pieces

    1/2     cup (4 ounces) Kerrygold Salted
            Butter, at room temperature
    1     teaspoon grated lemon peel
    2     teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/2     teaspoon freshly ground black
            pepper
    4     to 6 slices firm white bread
            (country, potato, etc.)
    8     ounces smoked salmon, sliced thin
    2     tablespoons minced chives

Combine the butter with the lemon peel and lemon juice. Stir in the pepper. Best if made one or two days before using.

Keep refrigerated. For serving, the butter should be very soft.

To make the tartine, cover the entire surface of each piece of bread with a single layer of smoked salmon. Trim the crusts from the bread and cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Spread a small amount of butter in the middle of each piece. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon chives over the butter.

Crostini with Blarney Castle cheese and sundried tomato pesto
Makes 24 pieces
    1     cup (about 4 ounces)
        sundried tomato
        halves
    24     slices French bread
        (baguette) cut 1/4-
        inch thick
    1/4     cup slivered almonds
    3     tablespoons olive oil
    1/2     teaspoon paprika or
        Spanish pimenton
    1/2     teaspoon minced
        fresh thyme
    1/2     teaspoon kosher salt
    1     package (7 ounces)
        Kerrygold Blarney
        Castle cheese


Heat oven to 350°F.

To reconstitute the tomatoes, put them in a shallow bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups sim­mer­ing water.

When cool, drain the tomatoes and reserve the water.

Meanwhile, arrange the bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about eight to 10 minutes, turning once.

Place the almonds in a single layer on another cookie sheet and toast until lightly browned, about five to eight min­utes; watch carefully to prevent burning.

Roughly chop the tomatoes then pulse in a food processor with the almonds and oil.

Add 1/2 cup of the reserved water, the paprika, thyme, and salt. Process until smooth but not pureed, using a rubber spatula to push down any of the pesto that accumulates on the side of the bowl.

Best if made a day before serving.

Cut 24 slices of cheese 1/8-inch thick.

Spread about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pesto on each piece of toasted bread.

Top with a piece of cheese. Serve at room temperature.

Aged cheddar and bacon in puff pastry
Makes 24 pieces

    2     tablespoons flour
    1     piece (12 x 12 inches)
        frozen puff pastry,
        defrosted
    1     egg yolk
    6     ounces sliced bacon
        cut into 1 1/2-inch
        pieces
    3     tablespoons Dijon
        mustard
    1     package (7 ounces)
        Kerrygold Aged
        Cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 375°F.

On a floured work surface cut the puff pastry into 24 scalloped or straight-edged 2-inch rounds.

Or use a scalloped 2-inch tartlet pan as a cutter.

Combine the egg yolk with two tea­spoons water and brush a little of the mixture across the top of each piece. Bake according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan large enough to hold the bacon in a single layer, cook bacon until lightly browned and not too crispy.

Transfer to paper towels.

To assemble the appetizers, using a serrated knife, carefully cut the puff pastry in half like a hamburger bun.

Spread 1/2 teaspoon mustard on the bottom of each piece. Place a piece of bacon on the mustard.

Cut 12 slices of cheese just less than 1/4-inch thick and cut the cheese slices in half; place a piece on the bacon.

Top with the other half of puff pastry.

For serving, arrange the puff pastry on a cookie sheet and warm in a 275°F oven until the cheese just starts to wilt, five to seven minutes.

Variation: Instead of bacon and mustard, spread puff pastry with fruit chutney.

For a store locator for these Irish cheeses, go to www.kerrygold.com/usa/locator.php.

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