The Cook in Me: A Smorgasbord of Realities and Dreams!© Antipasti Platter with Cheese Straws
Kathy's New Year's Eve Antipasti
The New Year is almost upon us. New Year's Eve is always a time for reflection on the year that has flown by and anticipation for the coming year. It's a mixed bag of memories and expectancies, a smorgasbord of realities and dreams. And of course, don't forget the New Year's Resolutions!
For me, the realities include my relocation to a new life in Florida after a lifetime of living in the Midwest. Florida—Heaven's "waiting room" and the land of the Fountain of Youth. It was a matter of moving closer to my family. The year also brought changes in relationships. No longer did I have my network of friends; instead I became more dependent on my family, with the hope of adding new friends in my new life. As we age, it becomes more difficult to make new friends, and even when we do, they can never really know our history like our old friends do. I have wonderful friends, some that I've had since childhood & school, some since college and my professional life, some that I met at the 55+ community I moved to when I became caregiver for my disabled father. Those friends, like the song says, are gold. My new friends will be the silver ones.
It is also difficult to visualize your children and grandchildren as adults. This became evident to me during my moving process. Most of the furniture has settled into its final resting spot at the new location, at least for the time being. Moving is never a fun or easy job, but I have to say that thanks to my two grandsons, mine went smoother and faster than I imagined possible. It’s still hard for me to believe that my “little guys” were able to move all the appliances and furniture, connect electronics, hang pictures, and disassemble and then re-assemble the kitchen, living room, dining room, bedrooms and the closets in my new home 1250 miles away. I still think of my grandsons, now almost 22 and 20, as my “little guys.” This is because they spent more time with me than they did with their father until they were 6 and 8 years old. Because their parents were not married until the boys were 4 and 2, and they did not live together continuously as a family until they were 6 and 4, my house was a stable and secure environment for the boys while mom was working or going to nursing school.
The odds were against their parents from the start. Their father (my son, Scott) was 18 years old when Zak, the oldest, was born, BUT he was a high school graduate--by less than 24 hours. He was away at college for most of Zak’s first year. His mother, truly a saint, worked and put herself through nursing school while she provided a home where unconditional love and thirst for learning thrived. In their early years, she shouldered 100% of the responsibility for the boys, while she tolerated, and rode through my son’s battle against maturity. When Jordan was born two years after Zak, Scott still was not ready to settle down. In fact, it took him almost six more years to get his act together. Today he is a wonderful father to his four children. He and his wife have been together for almost 23 years, and I am very proud of them both for sticking out the rough time they had getting started.
Those were tough years on the boys, but they were also good years. They had the security of knowing that they were loved by both parents, both sets of Grandparents, and the rest of their extended families. I think they became stronger and more insightful because of their struggle. They maintained continuity in their schooling, their church, and their schedules. Because so many of their classmates also had parents who did not live together, the boys viewed their situation as similar. For a five-year period, the boys spent every weekend with me. I picked them up every Friday afternoon after school, and they stayed with me until after dinner Sunday evening. Mom worked 36 hours every weekend at a local hospital, and dad worked in retail management, which also meant every weekend. Jordan once commented that they were just like their classmates who spent weekends with divorced or separated parents. I was their “other mom.” To help give their mom a break during the week, I obtained all their school assignments for a month at a time and we did all their homework for the coming week over the weekend. I chauffeured them to theatre classes, doctor appointments, sporting practices and games. We entertained their friends with sleepovers and birthday parties, and I marched them into church every Sunday. I took them with me to work, to donate blood, and to help out at our local soup kitchen.
You never know if you’re doing the right thing where children are concerned. Only time will tell, as you don’t see the finished product for many years to come. But one day recently it struck me that something I taught them must have clicked. Zak (who is now 21) called me and said that he had an appointment the next day to give blood. He asked me if I’d like to go along with him and make it a “family” thing. It made me smile to see that he’s already giving back to the community. He did learn something during those tough years! Enjoy them while they’re little, and then watch them implement what they learned as children when they become adults. It’s a rewarding feeling!
In my next article, I will cover the "dreams" or hopes for the New Year. Until then, I've provided my favorite dish for a New Year's Eve Party. It is truly mixed bag or Smorgasbord of delights. I'm going to tell you how I do it, and you can incorporate as much or as little as you like, depending on the size of your group. When I lived in the loft apartment of a retail building-turned condos in the downtown area of Toledo, my New Year's Eve parties usually were more of an Open House where guests could stop by for as much or as little time as they had to spend. Toledo had a "First Night" celebration downtown on New Year's Eve, and there was entertainment, displays, activities, etc. going on all evening. Friends stopped in on their way to or from one of the other goings-on so I always had a full house. There was always a full house at midnight, when we went up to the roof to watch the city's fireworks display, drink champagne and toast in the coming year.
This hors d' oeuvre, my Antipasti Platter, is always a hit. There is something on it for everyone. And it requires virtually no cooking, just time in putting it together. You can make it from ingredients bought at grocery, specialty, gourmet stores or delis, and put it together hours ahead of serving time. It makes a beautiful presentation with little or no garnish, especially if you serve it on a colorful platter. You will find your guests coming back to it again and again. I usually serve it with either crisp breadsticks or Cheese Straws, so I'm also giving you my recipe for Cheese Straws. They are simple to make, and they can be made the day before or earlier in the day. If you're vegan or vegetarian, don't put any meat on the platter. I guarantee that you will love it, and it is perfect for New Year's Eve in its ability to combine memories of the past year with hopes for the new one. Happy New Year!
©2012 A Smorgasbord of Realities and Dreams by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
Yield:12 to 100
Prep Time:1-2 hours, depending on the type of foods you include on the platter
Use as many of the following as you like. Choose ingredients in a variety of colors:
Large rounds of Pepperoni or Salami (about 3 to 3-1/2 inches in diameter)
Small bite-sized balls of Buffalo Mozzarella
Olives, Kalamata, Black, Green (stuffed or unstuffed), or a variety of Gourmet Olives
Green or White Asparagus OR both, roasted, blanched or marinated
Small Cherry Peppers
Pepperoncini or Small Banana Peppers
Pickled Beets (either small balls or slices)
Pickled Vegetable Variety (Cauliflower, Carrots, Onions, etc.)
Ham, Pancetta, Capicola or Prosciutto, sliced thin
Marinated Button Mushrooms, medium-sized
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Baby Sweet Pickles
Baby Carrots, blanched
Whole Green Beans, blanched or pickled
Baby Ears of Corn
Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, bite-sized
Variety of Cheeses (I like Jarlsberg, Baby Swiss, Gouda, Mozzarella, Provolone, Brie, White Cheddar, etc., whatever you like), in bite-sized chunks
Roasted Red, Yellow or Orange Peppers, skinned and cut into strips
Crisp Bread sticks, Crostini, Bagel Chips, or Cheese Straws
Garlic Expressions®1 OR Greek Salad Dressing OR Italian Salad Dressing OR Olive Oil
1.Choosing a platter appropriate for the size of your guest list, select a variety of the ingredients from the above list.
2.If you are using Pepperoni or Salami, fold the slices in half and roll into a cone-shape.Stuff an olive or Buffalo Mozzarella Ball into the center of the cone.Either secure with a toothpick or place close together in a circular design in the center of the platter so that they do not come apart.Repeat with as many as you want.Using a variety of Olives together with Mozzarella Balls makes a pretty center for the platter.
3.Working around the center, place the other ingredients in an attractive arrangement, alternating brightly colored ingredients with the duller ones.
4.Wrap the Pancetta or Capicola around the Asparagus spears, or serve them individually on the platter, rolling the meats into logs.
5.Continue placing the ingredients around the platter until it is full.
6.If you are using Deviled Eggs, place them in and around the sections of other ingredients.
7.Cover tightly and chill until serving time.
8.Just before serving, drizzle with your dressing of choice (I use Garlic Expressions®).
9.Serve with your choice of bread and watch your guests enjoy the selections!
©2012 Kathy's New Year's Eve Antipasti by Kathy Striggow
Yield: 24-5 to 6 in. straws
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 15-20 minutes
1 pound Puff Pastry
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, freshly grated
1 Cups Guyere, Jarlsberg or other Mild Swiss Cheese, finely grated
¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper, if desired
1 tsp. Salt
Freshly Grated Black Pepper
1 Extra Large or Jumbo Egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. Water
1. Preheat the Oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with Parchment Paper. Adjust your oven shelf to the middle.
2. Roll out the Puff Pastry dough into a rectangle approximately 20 by 24 inches.
4. Sprinkle half the cheeses, half the Cayenne Pepper, half the Salt and freshly grated Black Pepper over entire surface.
5. Using your rolling pin. gently press the cheeses and seasonings into the dough.
6. Fold the dough crosswise and roll it out again to about 20 x 24 inches.
7. Brush the dough an egg-wash mixture made from the Egg and the Water, being sure that the egg wash covers all the dough.
8. Sprinkle with the remaining cheeses and the seasonings. Using your rolling pin, gently press the cheeses and seasonings into the dough.
9. Using a sharp, thin knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into approximately 1/2 to 5/8 in. strips.
10. Cut the strips in half again so that there are 24 strips.
11. Take each strip by its ends and twist gently, until the strips resemble spirals.
12. Lay the spiraled dough onto the parchment papered baking sheet. Arrange them so that they are barely touching each other in order to prevent them from unwinding.
13. Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once, or until the straws are crispy and brown. Do not overbake or the cheese will burn!
14. Remove to cooling racks. When completely cooled, store in an air-tight container until ready to use.
©2012 A Smorgasbord of Realities and Dreams by Kathy Striggow
©2012 Cheese Straws by Kathy Striggow