Our first years in business, Steve and I started throwing a Christmas party for our employees in our home. In the early days, when there were just a few employees, we would cook a high-end meal and set the table with the best china and crystal we had.
The staff was instructed in advance that they were not to bring anything or do any dishes. They cook and clean all year for other people, so we wanted to give them an evening where they were the guests, not the help!
In 12 years, our staff has grown rather substantially and we no longer have the space to actually set a table for all of them, so we had to give up doing a full meal. We still cook and use china and crystal, but the food is more of a heavy appetizer style. We also still do all the cleaning.
Another concession I’ve had to make is to augment what we cook with “store-bought” items. I simply don’t have two or three days to prepare everything from scratch. I look for items that are different from what they’re cooking all the time and I like to introduce them to new foods whenever possible, such as a plate of different types of cheeses or a new recipe I’m thinking about putting on our menu.
Last year, we were so blessed to be super busy and December went by without a party. In fact, they told me they really appreciated the effort, but were tired of looking at each other and would rather just have the break from work and from each other!
This year, I decided to have the party before we reached this point again and planned it for this past Saturday. I was quickly informed there was a very important football game that had to be watched, so our Christmas party became a fancy football party. So the party started at 3:30 p.m. and we ate, drank and yelled at the television for hours. I must admit that it was the first time I’ve ever had a party hijacked by Dawgs.
Our menu this year included a cheese tray of manchego, apricot stilton, cranberry cheese and my favorite, port salut. To honor the football theme, I added potato chips and onion dip, fresh salsa and tortilla chips, mozzarella sticks with homemade marinara, chicken sausage bites and several other things.
I made a Bacon Dip to go with the tortilla chips and Roasted Red Pepper Pesto to pair with the cheese tray and antipasto. For the fancy part, I cooked a full strip loin and paired it with some fresh baked rolls and a horseradish sauce and cooked some asparagus. Steve contributed his smoked baby back ribs, and I finished it off with some store-purchased salted caramels, peppermint bark and chocolate truffles.
The food was good, the football not so much, but most importantly, the company was great! I am so blessed to have a staff that I enjoy being with at work and at home. They work really hard and there wouldn’t be a Miss Sophie’s without them. Steve and I are blessed beyond measure to have them all in lives. But we’ll probably be pretty sick of each other by Dec. 22!
Here are some of the favorite recipes of the night. I even got Steve to let me share his recipe for ribs — which are by far the best I’ve ever tasted!
Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to sophiesmarketplace.com.
• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
• 1 teaspoon chili powder
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 1 cup salsa
• 1 cup bacon, cooked and crumbled, divided
• 1 small tomato, diced
• 1 cup shredded Mexican-style cheese blend
• Sliced green onions
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, chili powder, pepper and salsa. Stir in ½ cup crumbled bacon.
2. Spread mixture evenly into an ungreased 9-inch pie pan. Top with tomatoes, shredded cheese and remaining crumbled bacon.
3. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until warmed through and cheese is melted.
4. Sprinkle top with green onions and serve with tortilla chips.
Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
I used my favorite recipe for pesto from “Simply Recipes” for the base. Serve pesto with sliced French bread or Naan Dippers.
• 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
• 1/3 cup pine nuts
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
• 3 roasted red peppers (I used the jarred ones to save time)
• ¼ teaspoon salt, more to taste
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
• Olive oil
1. Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times.
2. Add the garlic and cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
3. Add the roasted red peppers and pulse several times to incorporate into the basil mixture.
4. Add a little bit of olive oil at a time, pulsing after each addition, until emulsified. Stir in salt and pepper, taste and adjust as needed.
Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
Adapted from the recipe Asparagus and Prosciutto Bundles by Marcella Hazan.
• 1 bunch asparagus
• 1 small package prosciutto
• Manchego cheese or Italian fontina
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Cut hard stems off asparagus; try to make all spears uniform in length.
3. Shave off several thin pieces of Manchego. Cut prosciutto slices in half horizontally.
4. Lay 2 spears of asparagus on the far left end of one slice of prosciutto and dust with salt and pepper.
5. Put a sliver of cheese in between the 2 spears of asparagus and roll up in prosciutto.
6. Place wrapped asparagus on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold.
Steve’s Smoked BBQ Ribs
Adapted slightly from Mike Crutchfield’s “Top Secret” BBQ ribs. Cooking Time: 5-6 hours.
• 1 cup sugar
• ½ cup table salt
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 4 tablespoons chili powder
• 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 4 teaspoon MSG (Accent)*
• 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
• 4 teaspoons black pepper, (important to be freshly ground)
• 4 teaspoons garlic powder
• 4 teaspoons onion powder
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store unused in moisture-proof container.
Note: This will make more rub than you need. Use the extra rub on any kind of pork or save until time to cook ribs again.
*MSG is a big part of this rub. It makes so much that the amount actually consumed is minute. Many people are very sensitive to MSG, so check with your guests before using it in your rub.
Prepare ribs: Two hours before cooking, sprinkle the amount of ribs you want to cook with your rub and, using your hands, rub into the ribs. Do not over season. A good overall dusting of the spices is all that's needed. Allow meat to come to room temperature. The spices will become a nice red, liquid coating after sitting for about an hour, if you used the proper amount.
Cooking instructions for Weber Water Pan Smoker:
1. You’ll need enough charcoal to fill your pan and wood — cherry, oak or mesquite, about 4 chunks or a handful.
2. 1 hour before you start cooking the ribs, fill a chimney starter with charcoal and light. It will take about 15-20 minutes to get coals hot.
3. Soak wood chips.
4. When the coals are hot (about 15-20 minutes), pour the unlit briquettes onto the charcoal grate, then pour hot coals over the unlit briquettes and spread them out evenly. Immediately place the soaked wood on top of the hot coals. Put the water pan in place and fill at least ¾ full. Spray grates and place on top of water pan.
5. Lay the ribs on the grate or use a rib rack. Pop on the top and adjust vents to maintain a temperature of 225 F.
6. Cook for 3 hours. Do not remove the lid, even to take a peek! After 3 hours, open all the vents to increase the temperature and cook another 1-2 hours.
7. Ribs are done when the meat on the ends has pulled back about ¾ inch. Remove from cooker and sauce both sides before cutting individual ribs. Use K.C. Masterpiece sweetened (5 parts sauce, 1 part honey).