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Chef's Corner: The holiday's best treats and booze

Ashley Houghton | Interrobang | Lifestyles | December 4th, 2006

Not to alarm anybody, but the festive season is upon us. For many this means juggling a month or so of family and social obligations with very little time left to enjoy the holiday season for oneself. I personally try and thwart the depression caused by endless streams of entertainment events of which I have no control over by setting aside my own night of Christmas celebrations characterized by relatively simple finger foods. General fiddliness of appetizers aside, the following recipes are quite easy but pack tons of nostalgically festive flavours that invoke feelings of the season, even when I don't have time to make and enjoy them until mid-January.

Tiny Tourtiere Tarts
Tourtiere has been a Christmas buffet standby in my family for years. I have grown so attached to having the spiced meat pie during the holidays that during my brief stint as a vegetarian I still indulged. This version is much easier to make than my Grandmother's recipe for the whole pie that includes roasting a pork loin, but still has the same spicy richness that is conducive of so many festive foods.

- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 teaspoons parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon sage
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 2 frozen mini tart shells

In a medium saucepan, cook chopped onion over medium heat until soft but not brown, remove and set aside. Next, add ground pork to the same pan, cooking until brown, breaking up large pieces. Drain off the excess fat then return to heat to add cooked onions and seasonings, stir to combine then remove from heat. In a separate bowl combine egg and sour cream thoroughly then add to meat mixture, stirring to combine. Next, arrange tart shells on a baking sheet then spoon about 11/2 tablespoons of the meat into each tart shell. Bake in a 400 degrees F oven for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry shells are golden brown. Serve warm. Will store in sealed container in the fridge for one week. Freeze uncooked meat mixture in tart shells in sealed container indefinitely, allowing to thaw for 20 minutes before baking.

Festive Brie Pizza
My first attempt at making an appetizer that included Brie was made in order impress a guy who loved the decadently creamy cheese. I failed miserably at the cooking but luckily won the heart of the guy anyway who subsequently suggested much better ways of creating finger food out of Brie. The following recipe is a result of this guidance and quite delicious. Obviously, there is an endless list of topping possibilities for the pizza, but the cranberry and olive options are quite colour-appropriate for the season.

- 2 tubes pre-made crescent rolls
- 1 300g wheel of Brie, cut into
- 1.5 cm cubes (leave the white rind on)
- 1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce (canned works just fine)
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup chopped stuffedgreen olives
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat 425F oven. Unroll then tear crescent rolls into individual triangles onto two baking sheets, arranging them with tips toward the centre to make a circle, pressing seams together. Bake the crescent roll crusts for five minutes then remove from the oven. For one pizza, with a spoon spread the cranberry sauce on the crust then evenly scatter half of the cubed Brie and then sprinkle with the pecans. For the second pizza, simply evenly scatter the remaining Brie, chopped olives and walnuts over the pizza. Bake both for another eight-10 minutes. Let cool five minutes before cutting into slices, serve warm.

A traditional Swedish Christmas punch, Glogg, meaning “glow,” received this name from the traditional preparation technique of dipping flaming, alcohol soaked sugar cubes into the warm punch before serving. I do not suggest this particular practice as people look strange without eyebrows and the following recipe produces a delicious holiday drink without the threat of burning ones house down. Glogg is delightfully spiced and perfect for entertaining, as it will get a crowd liquored-up with little expense.

- 1 bottle of dry wed wine (ie. Chiraz, or Burgandy, though any red wine will do)
- 10 cardamom seeds
- 5 whole cloves
- Skin of one orange
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 15 cm square of cheesecloth
- Kitchen-safe twine or string

Place cardamom, cloves, orange skin, cinnamon and raisins in centre of clean cheesecloth then bring all edges of cloth together and tie securely. Next, pour wine, sugar and almond extract into large saucepan over a medium-low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved then add pouch with flavourings. Continue cooking without allowing to boil for about 30 minutes, remove flavour pouch, serve warm immediately.
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