If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your holiday gathering, go retro with old-school party food that can be fun and nostalgic. 

There is usually a reason dishes became popular to begin with.

Referring back to decades-old recipe books can lead to unique entertaining ideas  after all, what’s old is new again.

Crown roast of Frankfurters

This gem comes via a book called Retro Food Fiascos, but really it’s hilarious to look at and not bad to eat.

Slice hot dogs lengthwise almost all the way through, then open them like a book. Put them on a baking sheet and broil for a few minutes. As they cook they’ll curl back, making them the perfect shape to build a ring of around a pile of coleslaw.

The original recipe had the cabbage tossed with poppyseedmounded in the middle and a cup of boiling water poured over, then baked in the oven with the dogs. I opted to make a slaw with white balsamic and grainy mustard. 

You could use potato salad or mashed potatoes or any number of pile-able things to support your classy crown roast.

Crown roast of frankfurters

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Slushy milk punch

This old-fashioned boozy (or not) milk punch is similar to egg nog — and really, who makes egg nog from scratch anymore? Milk punch is simple, but still has a creamy texture and flavour of nutmeg and bourbon and you don’t have to worry about raw egg. 

(Adapted from Canal House Cooking, v.2)

  • 5 cups whole milk and half-and-half 
  • 1 ½ cups bourbon, another whiskey or brandy
  • ½ cup icing sugar (or to taste)
  • 2-3 tsp. vanilla
  • Freshly-grated nutmeg

Whisk everything together in a pitcher and freeze until slushy, which will take three to four hours, but you can leave it in there up to a week. (It may need to sit on the countertop for a bit  mash it around with a wooden spoon to break up the ice.)

Serve topped with freshly-grated nutmeg. Serves two to 10 people.

Milk punch

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Antipasto

Generations past seem to have loved combining seafood (think tuna, salmon, cocktail shrimp) with ketchup and other condiments. This classic antipasto was a staple of my childhood, made each Christmas by my grandma and great aunts. 

Beyond the chopping, there’s not much to it. Bring everything to a simmer, take it off the heat and divide into jars. Serve with Ritz crackers, if possible. 

  • ½-1 cup olive or canola oil, or half of each
  • 1 small head cauliflower, chopped/separated into small florets
  • 1 large or 2 medium purple onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 – 375 mL cans or jars pitted, sliced black olives
  • 2 – 375 mL cans or jars manzanilla olives, sliced
  • 2 small red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3 – 106 g cans small cocktail shrimp, or about 1 ½ cups tiny frozen shrimp
  • 3 cans tuna, drained
  • 3 ½ cups ketchup
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 – 10 oz. (284 mL) cans mushroom slices or pieces, drained

In a very large pot, combine the oil, cauliflower, onions and olives and bring it all to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, for five minutes. (This is how it’s worded in the original book  it sounds as if the veg are boiling in oil, but really the ratio is so great that it’s a lot of cauliflower, onions and olives sort of glistening in the oil  it’s hard to tell if it’s actually “boiling,” so just make sure it’s cooking to the point where any juices you see are bubbling.)

Add the remaining ingredients and heat just until it boils. (Don’t let it go on cooking too long, or the veggies will start to break down and release their liquid.) If you’re using jars, pour the hot antipasto into hot, sterilized jars; seal and cool. Otherwise, remove the pot from the heat and let the antipasto cool, then transfer to containers to store in the fridge or freeze.

Makes about six litres.

Antipasto

Cocktail meatballs

Another throwback from the '60s, these are totally delicious and sure to be devoured despite the fact that they’re made with ketchup and grape jelly. Use store-bought meatballs, or mix and bake your own. Serve in a chafing dish, with toothpicks.

Meatballs:

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper

Sauce:

  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ¾ cup grape jelly
  • a squirt of sriracha (optional)

In a medium bowl, gently combine the beef, onion, breadcrumbs, egg, salt and pepper with your hands, and shape it into one-inch balls. Cook the meatballs in a drizzle of oil in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat, rolling them around to brown on all sides.

Make the sauce by combining the ketchup, grape jelly and sriracha in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve warm, with toothpicks.

Serves six to eight people.

Cocktail meatballs

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Classic cheese ball

I do love a good cheese ball. Any number of cheeses can be grated or crumbled and shaped into a ball with the help of some cream cheese; roll in crisp, crumbled bacon or chopped toasted pecans and you have the perfect party food.

  • 8 oz (250 g) pkg cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½-1 cup shredded old cheddar cheese
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped toasted pecans

In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, cheddar, green onion, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire and pepper. Shape into a ball. Place the pecans in a shallow dish and roll the ball in them to coat. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. 

Serve with crackers.

Classic Cheese Ball

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Angels or devils on horseback

Angels or devils on horseback at one time referred to oysters or prunes wrapped in bacon, then baked. These days the term is used for any dried fruit wrapped in bacon.

One of the very best party snacks is to remove the pits from Medjool dates, tick a piece of Parmesan in each date where the pit was, wrap in bacon or prosciutto

wrap strips of prosciutto or half a strip of bacon around each date, place seam-side down on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 400˚F for 15 minutes, or until the bacon has cooked and shrinkwrapped the date and the cheese is oozing out the end.

tick a piece of Parmesan in each date where the pit was, wrap in bacon or prosciutto

Do try to share.

Stuffed bacon-wrapped dates

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Boeuf bourguignon

This classic French dish was a go-to dinner party recipe for many in the '70s. It’s a great way to serve a crowd without spending too much money, and will keep warm without drying out.

  • 6 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
  • canola or olive oil, for cooking
  • 3 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes (I used a blade roast)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • full-bodied red wine, such as a Chianti
  • beef stock
  • 1-2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1-2 cups small white pearl onions, peeled
  • 2-3 cups button mushrooms, halved or quartered if large, and left whole if small

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Sauté the bacon in a drizzle of oil in a heavy skillet or oven-proof pot set over medium-high heat until cooked through. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Leave the drippings in the pan, or add a drizzle of oil if you're not using bacon. Pat the beef dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper and brown it in batches, setting it aside with the bacon as it's browned.

Add the onion to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, stirring to loosen browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the onions are soft and turning golden. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the balsamic vinegar and stir to loosen any browned bits. 

Return the meat to the pan (if you're braising in it) or transfer everything to a baking dish. Add the flour and stir to coat the meat well. Add the sprigs of thyme and add enough beef stock and wine to come about ¾ of the way up the meat. 

Cover and cook for three hours, until the meat is very tender. When you're ready to serve it, heat the butter in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat and cook the mushrooms and onions until they start to brown. They should be nicely golden and then stir them into the rest of the stew. Serve hot, over mashed potatoes.

Serves six people.

Boeuf Bourguignon

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Waldorf Salad

Invented at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in the late 1800s, the Waldorf salad became trendy dinner party fare in the mid-20th century.

It’s a fancy, refreshing salad to serve alongside a hearty meal like roast turkey or beef bourguignon.

  • 1 tart apple, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, with leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup halved grapes
  • ½ cup walnut halves, toasted
  • 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise, or to taste
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • butter or baby romaine lettuce leaves, for serving

In a medium bowl, toss the apple, celery, grapes and walnuts with the mayonnaise, lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Serve piled on a lettuce leaf. 

Serves four to six people.

Waldorf salad

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)