We invited friends to our Longest Night party to celebrate the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2016 which began at sunset at 4:52 PM, Central Time, in Memphis. To mark the solstice, we turned off all electric ceiling, table and floor lamps in the house and decorated the inside of the house with white votive candles, strings of white electric lights, and white Poinsettias. We placed white candlelit luminaries on the walk to the front door and lit an ethanol fueled fire pit in the front yard.
The longest and darkest night of the year may sound depressing because of fewer daylight hours . By the time I arrive at work in the morning, the sun barely rises above the horizon in the east. By the time I arrive home from work, the sun disappears into the west. But I enjoy the symbolism of the solstice. We intentionally eliminated all overhead light in the house during the party to drive home the significance of the darkness in the sky. In the cold darkness of winter, we must cast light into the world and herald longer days ahead. It’s up to us to provide light, warmth and hope to each other without the sun. We urged guests to help us light candles in our home to start the party. Our candlelit rooms created a warm atmosphere for catching up with friends.
We also offered solstice- and light-themed food and drink to confront the darkness of this time of year. Golden-yolks in hardboiled eggs, round galettes with slices of white, golden and orange root vegetables, star-shaped cheese wafers and sparkling wine:
Smoked Salmon Platter and Relish Tray with DIY Eggs
Root Vegetable and Farmer’s Cheese Galette
Smoked Brisket Sliders
Parmesan Basil Cheddar Stars
Cranberry Almond Chocolates
Wassail spiked with Calvados or Brandy
I relied on found recipes, adapted recipes and a few creations of my own for our solstice table. For the galettes, I used a store-bought refrigerated pie crust. Once you add an egg wash to the edges, people will assume you made it yourself!
Smoked Brisket Sliders
A platter of smoked brisket rubbed in spices in a fresh baked yeast roll with pickled fennel or red onion with a spicy aioli will not last long at your next party. A Camerons stove top smoker makes these sliders simple to make. The additional ingredients for your slider require advanced planning but you’ll find it worthy of your time when your guests fawn over this party pleaser.
For the Pickled Vegetables:
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 cups vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
For the Brisket and Rub:
- 6-8 pounds of beef brisket
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 2 tsp cracked black pepper
For the Yeast Rolls:
- Olive Oil Cooking Spray
- Package of frozen 24-count yeast rolls (about the size of ping pong ball)
For the Slider Sauce:
- 1 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
- 2 tsp Ancho Chili powder or other favorite chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- At least one day before your party, Place onion in one glass jar and fennel in the another jar. Divide mustard seeds and black peppercorns between both jars. Heat vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a sauce pan until salt and sugar completely dissolve. Fill jars with pickling brine until covering the top of your vegetables. Close lid on jars and shake. Refrigerate overnight. These “quickles” will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
- Remove yeast rolls from freezer. Evenly space individual rolls on baking sheet sprayed with cooking oil. Spray the top of the rolls with cooking oil and cover with plastic wrap. Leave rolls to rise at room temperature for 3-5 hours.
- Combine all dry spices and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Rub spices on all sides of meat then place on wire rack of Camerons smoker (fatty side up). Use 1 tbsp oak and 1 tbsp hickory wood chips. Close lid of smoker and place on medium heat to smoke for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 275 F.
- Place smoker with lid in place into oven, and roast for 4 hours.
- Whisk together all ingredients for slider sauce in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Remove smoker from the oven and allow meat to rest inside with lid on. This insures the meat will remain moist inside. Allow meat to come to room temperature.
- When rolls have expanded to nearly fill the spaces between them on the baking sheet bake them in a oven preheated to 375 F (or to package directions) for 15-20 minutes. Remove rolls and allow to cool on wire rack.
- When the meat has cooled to room temperature, use your bare hands to break apart the meat. Do not discard the flavorful fat of the brisket. The meat should come apart in ropes which you can tear into pieces.
- Slice rolls after they have cooled to room temperature. Spread slide sauce on one side. Add ~1/4 cup brisket to the slide and top with pickled fennel or red onion (or both). Repeat until all sliders are made. Serve on a flat platter.
Cranberry Almond Chocolates
This recipe is based on a Cranberry Almond Bark recipe which uses the same ingredients. I find making sheets of the “bark” a messy affair because the shards of candy scatter everywhere when the sheet is broken into pieces. Cranberry Almond Chocolates make great bite-sized desserts at a holiday party and can be easily packaged as gifts for friends.
- 10 oz bag of sliced almonds
- 12 oz bag of dried cranberries
- 2 bags (12 oz each) of dark chocolate chips
- Spread sliced almonds on a cookie sheet and roast in an oven preheated to 350 F for 10-15 minutes (until almonds begin to turn a golden brown color.
- Place chocolate chips in a large microwave safe mixing bowl. Heat chips on high setting in the microwave for 90 seconds a few minutes before almonds are ready. Remove and stir chips in the bowl with a silicone spatula. Return bowl to the microwave, heat on high for 30 seconds, then remove and stir with spatula. Keep repeating this step until all chips have melted and the chocolate is silky smooth. Make sure your almonds are out of the oven and still warm at this point.
- Fold the almonds and the cranberries into the melted chocolate. Add the ingredients gradually to make sure that the melted chocolate completely covers the almonds and cranberries.
- Cover a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Use a small spoon to dollop a bite size piece of cranberry almond chocolate onto the cookie sheet. Space your candies so that the edges do not touch. Fill the sheet until full. Refrigerate candies for at least one hour. Remove candies to a sealable plastic container until ready to serve.
The fragrant spices of this winter beverage will make your entire home smell delicious and warm the body and soul. I recommend adding the apple cider brandy called Calvados if you have it, but plain Brandy will suffice. Add the alcohol to tolerance in individual cups when serving as it will evaporate if added too soon to the pot.
- 2 cans of frozen apple juice
- 1 can of frozen cranberry juice
- 4 oranges with three 1/4 inch deep slits from top to bottom
- 24 whole cloves
- Whole nutmeg, gently cracked into pieces with a hammer
- 2 apples, cored and sliced lengthwise
- Fresh ginger the size of the last digit of your thumb, peeled
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp whole allspice
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup agave nectar or honey
- 1 bottle of Calvados or Brandy (optional)
- Pour all frozen juice concentrate into a large pot or crockpot and add water according to package directions.
- Insert 6 cloves into skin of each orange, spaced evenly on the surface. Push pieces of of broken whole nutmeg into slits cut into the oranges.
- Place oranges and all remaining ingredients into the pot except for Calvados or Brandy. Simmer for 2 hours on low heat with cover on. Allow to simmer for another hour uncovered.
- Serve in coffee cups with or without Calvados or Brandy.