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Written by Anna and David Kasabian

Photographs by Anthony Tieuli

Who says throwing a holiday party needs to be fancy and complex? Take a cue from Andover’s Amy and Barry Finegold, who teamed up with Chef John Ingalls of Palmers for an unforgettable night of great food and good times. by Anna and David Kasabian, photographs by Anthony Tieuli

For some of us, if the choice were hosting a dinner party or being on “Survivor,” we just might opt for the latter. The logistics of coming up with a great menu, getting the house looking gorgeous, figuring out a compatible guest mix, and then cooking everything perfectly all can feel overwhelming. You too? Then relax and read on.

We invited ourselves into the Andover home of Amy and Barry Finegold for a dinner party that they pulled together with ease. Their mantra-keep it simple, keep it real, and have a good time. You can do the same. Duplicate this menu, gather a few friends, and enjoy a night of good food and wine together.

When the Finegolds entertain at home, it’s almost always casual in spirit and dress. On occasion, they will come up with a theme that dovetails perfectly with what will emerge from the kitchen. These run the gamut from simple to more exotic, like the time they hosted an “around the world” dinner party, with various rooms in their home representing countries and serving their signature dishes. Regardless of the theme, though, Finegold says fresh flowers, candlelight, linens, and a glowing fire are the key elements to getting the mood just right for the evening.

“No matter what the occasion, I love to decorate with flowers. I love tone-on-tone colors-whites and ivories are my favorites, and reds and pinks all blended together,” she says.

For Finegold, making her guests feel right at home is a priority. “I never want our evenings or events to feel stuffy,” she says, and one thing that helps her achieve this is to encourage guests to head for the kitchen and help themselves to more of whatever they wish. When it’s time for dessert, she likes to serve it at the dining room table, “so people can sit back and drink their coffee, sample desserts, and finally just rest at the table. We don’t always follow this kind of flow, but it’s definitely one of my favorites, especially if people are meeting each other for the first time.”

For this winter holiday get-together, the visual and food themes are anchored in the festive spirit that rings true this time of year, with a delectable menu that mostly showcases New England favorites and offers very colorful dishes. This dinner party is an intimate gathering of old friends, including local orthodontists, Angel and Jeff Leonard, and Palmers Restaurant of Andover Owner and Chef John Ingalls and his wife, Rebecca.

Finegold owns and operates the popular local clothing store Dresscode and has two little girls in tow, while her husband Barry has a hectic work life as a state representative and attorney, so the Finegold parties are usually catered affairs. The exception, she says are those times when Barry, “a master at the grill,” is in barbeque mode. Otherwise, she confesses, “Cooking is a luxury, because I so rarely have the time to experiment!”

This time, the food is being prepared (and recipes shared) by Chef Ingalls himself. Barry and Amy met Ingalls 14 years ago and have been enjoying his food ever since. Ingalls, a graduate of the renowned Culinary Institute of America in New York, has been at the helm of the Palmers kitchen for the past 21 years. His menu is a colorful and festive inspiration for home cooks.

nsdj09_entertaining_3Cranberry Martini Serves 1

What a great way to kick off the evening. This brisk, seasonal cranberry martini is one of the hottest tinis at Palmers.

red-tinted bar sugar (or white table sugar) for coating rim of glass

4 oz. plain vodka

1 oz. triple sec

2 oz. cranberry juice

3 fresh cranberries for garnish

Moisten the rim of a chilled martini glass. Dip in sugar. Set aside. Over ice in a martini shaker, combine vodka, triple sec, and cranberry juice. Shake and pour into the rimmed martini glass. Spear the fresh cranberries with a small skewer or toothpick and drop into the martini.

Prosciutto Rollatini Serves 6

Chef Ingalls explains that this Italian appetizer can also be served with a salad, but for the Finegolds’ dinner, he plated it sans greens. Either way, the bright red of the pepper and brilliant green of the pesto recalls the familiar holiday color palette. For wine, a clean, refreshing Italian sparkler, Sorelle Bronca Prosecco, was poured.

nsdj09_entertaining_71 red bell pepper

olive oil, as needed

salt and pepper to taste

1 clove fresh garlic, minced (optional)

12 oz. fresh ricotta cheese

12 thin slices imported prosciutto

aged balsamic vinegar, as needed

2 oz. high-quality fresh pesto from the grocer, at room temperature

Preheat grill to high. Brush the red bell pepper with olive oil and place on grill, rotating the pepper as the skin blackens, about 10-12 minutes total. Transfer pepper to covered bowl and cool 30 minutes. Remove skin, ribs, and seeds and slice into thin strips (juliennes). Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and also minced garlic, if using. Season with just a pinch of salt (the prosciutto is already salty) and some pepper.

To make the rollatini, form a heaping soupspoonful of ricotta cheese into a ball and wrap it with a slice of prosciutto. Repeat with remaining ricotta and prosciutto. Lay slices of red pepper over rollatini and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and pesto.

Lobster Cakes with Red Pepper Sauce Serves 6

“This is an awesome dish, and with the price of lobsters, it is very affordable,” says Chef Ingalls. “I’ve made crab cakes at the restaurant for 21 years with this same recipe. To create this, I basically took all the ingredients from that and used lobster instead of crab.” It tastes great and looks wonderful on the plate, and “with the red pepper sauce, a brilliant red; it’s great for the holidays,” Ingalls adds. With the lobster cakes, out comes a bottle of crisp Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc with lots of New Zealand-style personality.

for the lobster cakes

1/2 cup heavy cream

5 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced bell peppers, assorted colors (red, yellow, orange)

1 lb. fresh cooked lobster meat, roughly chopped

3/4 cup hand-crushed oyster cracker crumbs

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 dash Tabasco sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup cornmeal (for coating)

garnish, such as lemon wedges, parsley sprigs, or micro greens

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce heavy cream by 1/3. Remove from heat and reserve. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in saute pan until barely smoking. Add onion, celery, and peppers and cook, turning frequently, until softened. Transfer to large bowl to cool. Add to the bowl the reduced heavy cream, lobster meat, cracker crumbs, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Toss mixture until combined well and evenly moistened. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Divide mixture into 6 equal portions, approximately 4 oz. each, and form them into 1-inch-thick disks. Dredge cakes in cornmeal, coating all sides. Heat 3 tbsp. olive oil in saute pan set on medium high. Add cakes and cook 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes. Spoon some red pepper sauce (recipe follows) onto individual plates, top with a lobster cake, garnish, and serve.

nsdj09_entertaining_5 for the red pepper sauce

3 medium red bell peppers

2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing peppers

1/4 cup diced yellow onion

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 cup chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

1 dash cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush red bell peppers with olive oil, place on sheet pan, and roast until skin blackens, about 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to covered bowl and cool 30 minutes. Remove skin, ribs, and seeds. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add garlic, saute 1 minute. Add roasted red peppers, chicken stock, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne pepper. Stir well, cover, and let simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with blade. Puree until smooth. Reheat before serving.

Grilled Colossal Scallops with Butternut Squash and Brown Sage Butter Serves 6

nsdj09_entertaining_171“I chose this entree because I wanted to have something lighter and in balance with the lobster cakes, which are a little heavier and richer,” says the chef. For this, Ingalls served two wines: a Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay and a bigger California Castle Rock Pinot Noir (the chef’s favorite of the two).

for the butternut squash

This can be made 3 days in advance

and reheated before serving

3 lbs. butternut squash, peeled,

seeds removed, and cubed

4 strips bacon, cut into

1/4-inch pieces

1/4 cup chopped Spanish onion

1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp.)

1 tsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place squash cubes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Boil until cubes are fork-tender. Remove them from heat, drain, and mash until smooth. In small frying pan, heat olive oil and saute onion and bacon until onion is translucent and bacon is cooked. Add to squash mixture. Add butter, salt, and pepper; combine all ingredients well. Keep everything warm until serving.

for the grilled scallops

30 U10-size scallops (fewer than 10 per pound), about 3 lbs.

olive oil as needed

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat grill to medium high. Brush scallops with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place scallops on hot grill and cook 2 minutes undisturbed. Rotate each scallop 90 degrees on the grill and cook 2 minutes longer, creating a crosshatch pattern of grill marks. Turn the scallops over on the grill and repeat the process. Remove promptly to a warmed platter. Spoon some butternut quash onto 6 warmed dinner plates. Arrange the scallops around the squash. Drizzle sage butter (recipe follows) over the top, garnish with fresh sage, and serve.

for the sage butter

Make this while the scallops

(recipe above) are on the grill.

1/2   stick butter (4 tbsp.)

1 tbsp. fresh chopped sage, plus

some for garnish

Heat the butter in a skillet set over medium high heat. When the butter turns pale amber in color, add the sage and stir. Cook until butter turns golden brown. Remove promptly from heat and pour over scallops and squash just before serving.

nsdj09_entertaining_9Chocolate Sambuca Mousse Serves 6

While the presentation in white chocolate tulips is dramatic and quite beautiful, the chef notes that you can also make a fun version of this classic dessert in martini glasses. But even if the white chocolate tulip petals break, you can still eat them.

1 qt. heavy cream

10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels

1/3 cup brewed coffee

1 oz. Romana Sambuca

6 fresh raspberries, for garnish

6 sprigs mint, for garnish

Whip cream until soft peaks form; reserve in the refrigerator. Combine chocolate and coffee in a double boiler set over medium-high heat. Stir until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and shiny. Remove from heat, add Romana Sambuca, and stir to combine well. Cool on the countertop for 10 minutes. Using a spatula or large wooden spoon, gently fold 1/3 of the chocolate mixture into the chilled whipped cream. Repeat with each of the remaining thirds. Do not over mix. Cover and place mousse in refrigerator to cool for 2 or more hours. Transfer mousse to a large piping bag (available online and in kitchen supply stores). Pipe mousse into individual white chocolate tulips (recipe below) or martini glasses and chill at least 30 minutes. Garnish each dessert with a raspberry and a mint sprig and serve.

for the white chocolate tulips

1/2 lb. white chocolate

6 small round toy balloons, plus extra if they pop

Blow up the balloons, each to the size of an orange. Tie them off and set them aside.  Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water until fluid and shiny. Remove pan from the bottom of the double boiler and cool on countertop, stirring occasionally, until white chocolate thickens to the consistency of pancake batter.

Holding an inflated balloon from the knotted end, carefully dip it into the white chocolate at a 45-degree angle, so that the bottom of the balloon barely touches the white chocolate and the side of the balloon is coated up to the midpoint (if the balloon pops, the chocolate is too hot; wait another minute and try again). Pull the balloon away from the chocolate. Wait a few seconds for the chocolate on the balloon to begin hardening, and then rotate the balloon a quarter of a turn and repeat the dipping procedure.

Repeat the process of rotating and dipping until there are four oblong patches around the bottom half of the balloon that resemble the overlapping petals of a tulip. Set this upright on parchment or waxed paper to cool. Work quickly and repeat with five more balloons. When the chocolate on the balloons has hardened completely, pop the balloons and carefully peel them away from the tulip petals. Refrigerate tulips until ready to fill with mousse.