Of the many morsels of wisdom that Edina cookbook author Carmela Tursi Hobbins has to offer, one of our favorites has to be this: Hosts should be able to enjoy their party just like any other guest. Her latest cookbook, Celebrations with Carmela’s Cucina, is true to her word, offering loads of do-ahead recipes, entertaining tips and tricks that should ease the burden for any party host.
We’ve chosen three typical gatherings for this time of year and asked Carmela to spill her secrets and share her recipes. Of course, you won’t find everything here. For a complete meal plan, and even more insight on home entertaining, we suggest you pick up her cookbook, which you can find on her website (carmiescucina.com), or at Cooks of Crocus Hill, Byerly’s or Barnes and Noble.
Big Holiday Open House
Even with lots of advance preparation, large gatherings are a lot of work, and that’s why Carmela strongly suggests getting some help. Hiring a professional for serving or cleanup may or may not be in your budget; if not, she recommends trading services with a neighbor or hiring a responsible teenager. She also recommends no more than 20 to 25 guests for this kind of event.
Carmela is a big fan of the “soup and sandwich” approach, and shares a stromboli with tomato soup recipe—which, in her new cookbook, is part of a larger New Year’s Day soup buffet meal plan. Soups can be prepared ahead of time and frozen, or kept in the refrigerator for a day, which only improves the flavor. Start an event like this one with antipasti, the acquisition of which could be as easy as a trip to the olive bar at Byerly’s.
Stromboli of Meat, Cheese, and Pesto Dipping Sauce
1 carton of refrigerated pizza dough (traditional style works best)
¼ pound of your choice of cooked or cured Italian meats, thinly sliced
¼ pound of your choice of Italian cheese, thinly sliced
½ cup prepared pesto sauce
2 tablespoons melted butter
Pesto or marinara sauce for dipping
Unroll pizza dough onto a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. Spread ½ cup of prepared pesto onto dough. Layer meats and cheese on top of the pesto. Carefully roll the pizza dough from the long end jelly roll style, making sure the seam is on the well. Brush the top with the melted butter and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until the top is golden brown and pizza crust is well baked.
Let cool for about five minutes and cut into slices. Arrange on a platter and serve with the dipping sauces.
Tomato Vegetable Soup
¼ cup butter
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 large potato, shredded
1 small carrot, shredded
1 small zucchini, shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 cup 2% milk
¼ teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated
In a large soup pot, melt the butter. Then add the garlic, onion, potato, carrot, zucchini and celery. Sauté until the vegetables are slightly wilted.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, chop the tomatoes with their juice.
Sprinkle two tablespoons of flour over the vegetable mixture and stir until the flour is blended into the vegetables— about two minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, brown sugar, chicken broth, basil, marjoram and bay leaf. Cover and simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
At that point, remove the bay leaf and add the milk, curry powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir well, then simmer for an additional five minutes to let the soup warm and thicken.
Add parmesan cheese to each bowl of soup at serving time.
Candy-Making with Kids
Here is an easy-to-make candy recipe in which kids can lend a hand, by mixing the ingredients and rolling out the balls. Invite the kids in the neighborhood over for a candy-making party and have them package the candies into cellophane bags as holiday gifts. At a family gathering, set this up as an activity for all of the young cousins. Or, spend a night making candy with your own children for some much-needed downtime and family bonding during this busiest of months. The cashew cluster recipe in Carmela’s cookbook also works well for kids.
½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 cups shredded coconut
12–16 ounces melted semi-sweet chocolate chips
Red Hot candies (optional)
Melt butter in a saucepan. Remove the pan from heat and add the confectioners’ sugar and coconut. Mix everything together very well. Shape rounded teaspoons of the coconut mixture into balls. Using the end of a wooden spoon, make a dent in the top of each ball.
Put chocolate chips in a glass bowl and heat in a microwave at medium power. Every 30 seconds stop the microwave and stir the chocolate until it is melted, smooth and shiny. With a very small spoon, fill the indentation in the cookie with the melted chocolate and top with the Red Hots.
Grown-Up Dinner Party
An adults-only event, such as a New Year’s Eve dinner party, is a fine opportunity to bring out the best china and linens, to go all out with floral arrangements, and to get serious about wine pairings. (An entire section of Carmela’s cookbook is devoted to pairings, thanks to her husband Bob, who is the wine expert in the family.) Carmela’s menus are recommended for a group of 8–12 dinner guests. Her tri-colored risotto recipe is the perfect accompaniment for the beef tenderloin, and can be found in her cookbook. For dessert, the festive, multi-layered Sicilian Casatta, a filled pound cake, is a beautiful show of color that can be made several days in advance, allowing the flavors to meld.
Marinated Beef Tenderloin
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, crushed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cognac
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the beef
1 whole beef tenderloin (five to six pounds), trimmed
Cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Grind the peppercorns and transfer to a bowl. Add the extra virgin olive oil, cognac and chopped thyme leaves, and then mix well. Spread the mixture down the middle of the baking sheet with the plastic wrap and roll the tenderloin around the marinade, making sure it is evenly coated. Wrap the tenderloin in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of four hours or overnight.
Bring the tenderloin to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Salt the tenderloin to taste and place it on a rack in a large roasting pan. Roast for 90 minutes or until an instant read thermometer registers 125 degrees for medium-rare. Remove the meat from the oven and let it rest in a warm place for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with a madeira sauce, like the one from Carmela’s cookbook.
1 large frozen pound cake, defrosted
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons of heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons red and green candied cherries, chopped
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
¼ cup pistachios, chopped
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Put the ricotta into a large mixing bowl and beat it with the cream and sugar until it is smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in by hand the chopped cherries, chocolate and pistachios.
Using a sharp serrated knife, slice the pound cake horizontally into 3 layers. With a pastry brush, spread the liqueur evenly over the cut slices.
Place the bottom layer of the cake on a decorative plate and carefully spread the ricotta mixture over the top. Place the center layer of cake on top and repeat, keeping the sides even. Cover with the top layer of the cake. Gently press the loaf to make it as compact as possible, without allowing the filling to ooze from the sides. Cover the cake in plastic wrap and chill for about 12 hours.
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cup brewed espresso coffee
½ pound unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Red and green candied cherries
Melt the chocolate and the brewed coffee in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Take the pan from the heat. Beat in the butter, one piece at a time, until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture is smooth and blended. Chill the frosting until it thickens to spreading consistency—about 30 minutes. With an offset spatula, spread the frosting over the sides and top of the loaf, in a swirling motion. Decorate the top with the cherries. Loosely cover and chill for another 12 hours.
Resources that will come to the holiday party rescue:
1. Rent dishes, glassware, linens and more:
Apres Party Rental, 7625 Cahill Rd.; 952.942.3399
Paul’s Rental, 6253 Penn Ave S.; 612.866.1108
2. In lieu of disposable plates and cups, ask about catering packets—inexpensive plain dishes that could pay for themselves after two to three uses:
Pottery Barn, 3675 Galleria; 952.925.1610
3. Invitations, thank-you’s and other stationery:
Epitome, 3395 Galleria; 952.920.2978
Papyrus, 3600 Galleria; 952.920.8766
Paperista, 5023 France Ave.; 612.886.3470
4. Carmela’s favorite for meats, cheeses and antipasti:
Byerly’s, 7171 France Ave.; 952.831.3601
5. Carmela’s favorite for seafood:
Jerry’s Foods, 5125 Vermon Ave. S.; 952.929.2685