Appetizers for New Year Party: Caramelized Walnut and Stilton “Brains” and Parmesan-stuffed Bacon-wrapped Dates

We’ve given up the russian tradition to celebrate New Year with a full-course dinner starting at midnight. Now our fancy dinner begins at a more appropriate hour, somewhere around 7PM, and later I serve little bites and nibbles. I thought to share some of these recipes with you.

These “flavor bombs” ideas are Bob Blumer’s. I tweaked the first recipe though, by caramelizing nuts with honey and spices, and used Stilton instead of Gorgonzola (I just have a very special relationship with Stilton, it’s called love). But, really, any blue cheese would work here.

I wish everyone the Happiest New Year!!!

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Chocolate Cranberry and Cream Cheese Mousse Trifle

This is not a traditional English trifle. There is no dense pound cake, crème anglaise, and whipped cream inside. My trifle is assembled from light chocolate génoise soaked in Grand Marnier syrup, freshly made cranberry sauce, chocolate pastry cream, and tangy cream cheese-sour cream mousse. The whipped cream is only a topping here.

If you haven’t decided what dessert to make for the New Year celebration, you might want to consider this trifle. It is absolutely delicious, it can be made well in advance and the whole prep can be stretched over several days, so you definitely wouldn’t exhaust yourself preparing it. If you don’t have a large trifle bowl, the dessert can be assembled in individual little bowls or brandy glasses. In this case, you will only need two layers of génoise to fill the glasses.

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Eggnog Panna Cotta with Penny-Size Espresso Shortbread Kisses

I admit I had been skeptical about store-bought eggnog until I tried organic whole fat all-natural one. It was pretty good. And so I thought of a super-quick and easy dessert utilizing some leftovers. I topped the panna cotta with a very thin (2-3 mm) layer of white chocolate-espresso ganache (they go together nicely) and served with miniature barely sweet espresso cookies filled with the same ganache.

I want to wish everyone a Merry and Relaxing (as/if possible) Christmas! It’s always so hectic right before the holidays.

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One Cornmeal Dough – Two Different Biscotti: Poppy Seed Wild Blueberry Candied Lemon and Sesame Biscotti

These are very different in taste, although they are made from the same cornmeal dough. I am cutting some corners here: Christmas is so close.

One batch yields about a dozen and a half of each kind. But since biscotti are not miniature cookies, it’s not necessary to give away a dozen of those. One biscotti per family member should be sufficient enough assuming there are other cookies in your gift box.

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Christmas Baking Part 1: Prune Cherry Cocoa Nib Panforte & Apricot Pistachio Cardamom Panforte

There shouldn’t be any excuses for not baking this time of the year. Perhaps, it would be better to start a bit earlier and not a week before Christmas. But, as an old proverb goes – it’s still better later than never.

I think, I’m back.

I used to bake this Italian specialty in a round pan and give it whole as a gift to our Italian (and very appreciative) friends. But this year I’m making it different, baking it square, slicing into finger-like pieces and stuffing into multiple boxes along with other treats and cookies for many recipients. It saves me time, and saves them trouble to slice the panforte by themselves (surprisingly, but not everyone owns a good heavy sharp knife).

First panforte is quite hot and not too sweet due to the sour fruits I used (I liked this one most). The second one is milder and sweeter and will please more conservative taste. To distinguish one variety from another, I dusted the apricot panforte with icing sugar and left the prune panforte in its shiny beauty.

I want to emphasize a proper way of packaging these confections for gift-giving. The best would be to place each slice into an individual parchment cupcake liner (it will prevent them from sticking), or at least separate the rows with parchment strips. Do not put them directly onto decorative tissue paper. First of all, most of this paper is not food-safe. And second, the panforte will firmly stick to it.

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