Holiday Cooking For Crowds, 5 Recipes

From Denny: It's the holidays and you are in a rush. You just got home from work or your house is overflowing. You are feeling a bit overwhelmed, even downright frazzled. What do you feed everyone? Here are few easy ideas to help you through the holidays so you can truly relax and enjoy your guests which is what the holidays are supposed to be all about!

Mark Bittman, a food writer for The New Yorks Times, who wrote the book "How to Cook Everything," is a bit of a worrier and perfectionist himself. If he can relax, armed with these quick and easy recipes, so can you. He equips you with some great tips to wow your family and friends this holiday season!

He advises you can create a quick no fuss room temperature dish you can bring to a gathering, a cake that withstands living in the freezer before the big day, a yummy cheesy cookie so quick to make all you need is 30 minutes, a soul-satisfying Italian dish to warm and impress the whole crowd and an easy breakfast pancake batter you can make ahead and store in the fridge for hungry tummies.

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Ravioli nudi

From: Mark Bittman

Yield: About 4 servings

Bittman: Here's a celebratory dish that comes together quickly and can also be made ahead. Nudi means what it sounds like: "naked." And it refers to ravioli filling without the noodle wrapper, so they're a little like meatballs only fancier. Serve them with or without pasta — as you like. They're also good with tomato sauce if you have some handy. For a vegetarian version, see the variation below this recipe. Time needed: 30 minutes.


• 8 ounces each ground veal and pork or any combination of ground meats you prefer
• 1 egg
• 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus cheese for serving
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
• 1/4 cup chopped onion
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound any pasta, fresh or dried (optional)
• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
• 20 fresh sage leaves


1. Combine the meat in a bowl with the egg, cheese, parsley, onion and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mix well but do not knead. Form into tiny balls, about 1/2 inch in diameter, and put on cookie sheets. Refrigerate until you're ready to cook, or up to several hours. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

2. Cook the meatballs in the boiling water for about 5 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Cook the pasta, if you're using it, in the same water until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, cook the butter and sage together in a small pan over medium-low heat until the butter is light brown, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking water, then toss it with the butter-sage mixture and enough of the reserved water to make the mixture saucy. Top with the meatballs and serve, passing more Parmesan at the table.

To make vegetarian ravioli nudi, substitute 1 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh, for the meat. Add another egg and increase the Parmesan to 3/4 cup and the parsley to 1/2 cup. Allow the bread crumb mixture to rest for at least 10 minutes before shaping into balls. Proceed with the recipe, cooking the dumplings until they rise to the surface, about 3 minutes.

Cheese shortbread

From: Mark Bittman

Yield: 30 to 40 puffs

Bittman: Here's a fun, snacky thing for impromptu guests. There are so many ways to vary these quick, savory cookies. See the variations below this recipe for additional ideas to get you started. Time needed: 30 minutes.


• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
• 2 cups grated Emmental, Gruyère, cheddar or other semihard cheese
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 egg, lightly beaten
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
• 1 tablespoon paprika or ground cumin (optional)


1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse just until the mixture resembles a coarse meal; do not over process. (You can also use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut the mixture to the same consistency in a bowl.) Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until you're ready to bake the puffs. (Or roll the ball into two logs, wrap tightly and freeze for up to a month.)

2. Form the dough into 1-inch balls. (Or cut the frozen dough crosswise into 1/4-inch slices). Put the balls or slices on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between them. Slightly flatten each ball with your fingers. Bake until the pastries puff and turn golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, then sprinkle with additional paprika and serve.

crumbled blue cheese for a cup of the Emmental cheese.

To make pecorino cheese shortbread, substitute 1 cup each grated pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheese for the Emmental.

To make herbed cheese shortbread, add 1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, like parsley, chives, dill and/or basil, with a little tarragon.

To make spiced cheese shortbread, use 2 to 3 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder for an Indian flair, caraway for an Eastern European flavor, pimenton (smoked paprika) for a Spanish-style snack, or toasted cumin seeds for a North African twist.

To make prosciutto shortbread, reduce the cheese to 1 cup and use finely grated Parmesan. Chop several thin slices of prosciutto into pieces and add them to the food processor in Step 1.

Butter-almond cake

From: Mark Bittman

Yield: At least 8 servings

Bittman: Need a cookie or cake for the freezer for last-minute gatherings? Here's a cake that's rich enough to withstand freezing and thawing or gentle reheating. Plus, it's excellent served warm. Time needed: About 1 hour.


• 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus some for the pan and the paper
• All-purpose flour for the pan
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 6 eggs
• 8 ounces almonds
• Grated or minced zest of 1 lemon or orange, or more if you like


1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 2-inch-deep, 10-inch layer cake or springform pan; cover the bottom with a circle of wax or parchment paper, butter the paper, and sift flour over the whole pan; invert and tap to remove the excess flour.

2. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Separate 3 of the eggs and reserve the whites. Beat in the yolks one at a time, until the mixture is light in color.

3. Grind the nuts in a food processor until they are the consistency of meal. Turn them into a bowl and mix them with 3/4 cup of the remaining sugar and the citrus zest. Beat in 3 whole eggs, one at a time, blending well. Wash the beaters thoroughly and beat the egg whites; when they are foamy, gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, until the whites hold soft peaks.

4. Combine the butter and nut mixtures and stir. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites and pour into the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then unmold. Store at room temperature, covered with wax paper, for up to a day or two. (Or wrap it tightly in foil or plastic wrap and freeze it for up to a month. Keep it wrapped and thaw in the fridge overnight or thaw and warm slowly in the microwave or a low oven.)

Roasted broccoli gratin with blue cheese

From: Mark Bittman

Serves: 4

Bittman: Here is a room-temperature dish you can bring to a potluck. Feel free to switch out the cheese if blue isn't your favorite; Emmental, Gruyère, goat cheese, Gouda or any good melting cheese works fine. You can also substitute cauliflower, broccoflower, Romanesco, asparagus or broccoli raab for the broccoli. Time needed: About 30 minutes.


• 1 1/2 to 2 pounds broccoli, trimmed, the stems cut into pieces no more than 1/8-inch thick
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed in the skins
• 1 cup crumbled blue cheese
• 1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh


1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the broccoli in a bowl, drizzle on the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper while tossing to coat; transfer to a gratin dish or any ovenproof dish. Nestle the garlic in the broccoli and cook until the tops are browning and the stems are crisp-tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Remove the dish from the oven and fish out the garlic. Sprinkle the top of the broccoli with the blue cheese and then the bread crumbs. Return to the oven and cook until the cheese is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden. Serve hot or warm.

Everyday pancakes

From: Mark Bittman

Bittman: Here's something to make for or with kids. It's amazing how quickly you can whip up this batter, even with kids helping. Store it, covered, in the refrigerator for up to two days. To adjust the consistency of the batter, add more milk if you want it thinner, or flour for thicker pancakes. Time needed: 20 minutes.


• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
• 2 eggs
• 1 1/2 to 2 cups milk
• 2 optional tablespoons melted and cooled butter, plus unmelted butter for cooking, or use a neutral oil like grapeseed or corn


1. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat while you make the batter.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs into 1/2 cup of the milk, then stir in the 2 tablespoons cooled melted butter if you're using it. Gently stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour; don't worry about a few lumps. If the batter seems thick, add a little more milk.

3. Use a little butter or oil each time you add batter, unless your skillet is truly nonstick. When the butter foam subsides or the oil shimmers, ladle batter onto the griddle or skillet, making any size pancakes you like. Adjust the heat as necessary; usually, the first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. The idea is to brown the bottom in 2 to 4 minutes, without burning it. Flip when bubbles appear in the center of the pancakes and the bottoms are cooked; they won't hold together well until they're ready.

4. Cook until the second side is lightly browned, a couple more minutes, and serve or hold on an ovenproof plate in a 200-degree-F oven for up to 15 minutes.

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