Magazine article Sunset

Easy Buffet

Magazine article Sunset

Easy Buffet

Article excerpt

Invite friends for a holiday open house

After the presents are opened and the stockings are turned inside out, Christmas Day can seem like one long spell of "some assembly required" until supper. So try hosting an open house, where friends can drop in during the afternoon, families can mix and mingle, kids can show off their new toys, and you don't need to cook a formal dinner. The central dish, a purchased ham, is a gift for the cook: All you have to do is unwrap it. And many of the remaining dishes can be made two days ahead. Blue cheese spread with crackers is a three-ingredient hors d'oeuvre; creamy cauliflower soup can be made ahead and reheated; and both herbed roasted sweet potatoes and frisée salad take just a few minutes and hold up well on the buffet table. A peppermint-topped cheesecake is a fun spin on a can't-miss dessert. All in all, it's a simple but satisfying meal-with only some assembly required.

Creamy Cauliflower-Garlic Soup

PREP AND COOK TIME; About 1¼ hours

MAKES: 3 quarts; 10 to 12 servings

NOTES: The soup may be prepared (through step 4) up to 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and chill. Reheat before serving.

1 head garlic (2½ oz.), unpeeled

1 tablespoon butter

3 heads cauliflower (about 4½ lb. total)

2 quarts fat-skimmed chicken broth

½ cup whipping cream

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives

1. With a sharp knife, cut top ½ inch off garlic head. Set garlic on a sheet of foil and top with butter. Draw sides of foil up and pinch together to enclose garlic in a loose, sealed pouch.

2. Bake in a 400° oven until garlic is soft when pressed, 45 to 50 minutes. Unwrap and let stand until cool enough to handle.

3. Meanwhile, cut cauliflower heads into 1-inch florets, discarding leaves and stems. In a 4- to 5-quart pan, combine cauliflower and broth. Cover, bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is very tender when pierced, 1 2 to 15 minutes.

4. Squeeze garlic cloves from papery skins into pan with cauliflower and broth; pour in cream. Working in batches, transfer to a blender and whirl until smooth. Return soup to pan and add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Set pan over medium-low heat and stir occasionally until hot. Pour into a large bowl or tureen and sprinkle with chives.

Per serving: 85 col., 45% (38 CaL) from fat; 7.2 g protein; 4.2 g fat (2.5 g sat.); 5.3 g carbo (1.7 g fiber); 74 mg sodium; 1 4 mg chol.

Herbed Roasted Sweet Potatoes

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 hour

MAKES: 10 to 12 servings

NOTES: These easy, pretty sweet potatoes are good either hot or at room temperature. Use any favorite fresh herbs; we had the best results with leaves of Italian parsley, small sprigs of rosemary, and oregano leaves.

8 sweet potatoes (about 4 Ib. total), such as Garnet or Jewel (sometimes sold as yams)

½ cup olive oil

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

16 sprigs fresh herbs, such as Italian parsley, rosemary, or oregano (see notes), rinsed and patted dry

1. Scrub sweet potatoes; trim and discard any spots where skin is discolored or broken. Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise.

2. Pour ¼ cup olive oil into each of two 9- by 13-inch glass baking dishes and tilt to coat pan. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper.

3. Lay an herb sprig flat on the cut side of each sweet potato half, then lay half, cut side down, in oil (halves can touch).

4. Bake in a 425° oven until potatoes are soft when pressed on top and cut sides are golden brown (carefully lift up pan to check), about 1 hour. Using a metal spatula, carefully transfer sweet potato halves to a platter. …

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