Holiday Party 1

Heat oven to 325°F.  Place the walnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast until lightly browned, about 5 to 10 minutes; watch carefully to prevent burning.  Transfer to a small plate to cool. Heat the milk in a small pot over low heat just until a bubble begins to break on the surface; remove from heat. In another small pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Just before it starts to foam, while whisking, add the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture forms a smooth paste and pulls from the bottom and sides of the pot.  While whisking vigorously, add the milk in a steady stream. Continue to whisk to keep the flour mixture from creating lumps. Stir until smooth and creamy. Lower the heat to simmer and cook the sauce 5 to 7 minutes. Stir from time to time.  Gently stir the cheese into the sauce to reach a smooth, silken consistency. Remove from the heat and add the honey and 1/4 cup of the walnuts.  When cool, refrigerate. Best if made one day before serving. To serve, bring the dip to room temperature or warm in a double boiler or gently in the microwave, to soften. Scatter the remaining walnuts over the top. Perfect with celery hearts, sliced fennel, endive leaves, and thin wedges of crisp apples.

Holiday Party 2

Combine the butter with the lemon peel and lemon juice. Stir in the pepper. Best if made one or two days before using. Keep refrigerated. For serving, the butter should be very soft.  To make the tartine, cover the entire surface of each piece of bread with a single layer of smoked salmon. Trim the crusts from the bread and cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Spread a small amount of butter in the middle of each piece. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon chives over the butter.

Holiday Party 3

Heat oven to 350°F.  To reconstitute the tomatoes, put them in a shallow bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups simmering water. When cool, drain the tomatoes and reserve the water. Meanwhile, arrange the

bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. Place the almonds in a single layer on another cookie sheet and toast until lightly browned, about 5 to 8 minutes; watch carefully to prevent burning.  Roughly chop the tomatoes then pulse in a food processor with the almonds and oil. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved water, the paprika, thyme, and salt. Process until smooth but not pureed, using a rubber spatula to push down any of the pesto that accumulates on the side of the bowl. Best if made a day before serving.  Cut 24 slices of cheese 1/8-inch thick.  Spread about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pesto on each piece of toasted bread. Top with a piece of cheese. Serve at room temperature.

Holiday Party 4

Heat oven to 375°F.  On a floured work surface cut the puff pastry into 24 scalloped or straight-edged 2-inch rounds. Or use a scalloped 2-inch tartlet pan as a cutter. Combine the egg yolk with 2 teaspoons water and brush a little of the mixture across the top of each piece. Bake according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a frying pan large enough to hold the bacon in a single layer, cook bacon until lightly browned and not too crispy. Transfer to paper towels.  To assemble the appetizers, using a serrated knife, carefully cut the puff pastry in half like a hamburger bun. Spread 1/2 teaspoon mustard on the bottom of each piece. Place a piece of bacon on the mustard. Cut 12 slices of cheese just less than 1/4-inch thick and cut the cheese slices in half; place a piece on the bacon. Top with the other half of puff pastry.  For serving, arrange the puff pastry on a cookie sheet and warm in a 275°F oven until the cheese just starts to wilt, 5 to 7 minutes.

Variation: Instead of bacon and mustard, spread puff pastry with fruit chutney.