Have yourself a merry little…

At 4pm on Christmas Eve, from 1998-2002 when I worked at my family’s garden center, I would close the front gate. Back in the store I turned off all the lights – except for the 20 or so trees in the Christmas shop – and, marking the close of a crazy retail season and a frenetic day selling last minute Poinsettias and gift certificates, I would take a deep breath, enjoy the stillness, and play Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the version by John Denver and Rowlf, from the Muppets, of course. It was a moment of peace, of ennui, and of joy.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is a sad and lovely song and the perfect listen to close the holiday season, to finish a night of entertaining, while wrapping gifts after everyone else has gone to bed, or to celebrate hard work in a quiet moment with someone you love – you.

Speaking of hard work, this hors d’oeuvre is a bit of a feat. It has four components that all take time and work. So make sure the rest of your menu is simple. But it’s a show stopper and, at the end of the night, an accomplishment worth celebrating. So, have yourself a merry little… and whatever it is you’ve accomplished this holiday season, congratulations.

Poppyseed Tartlets with Caramelized Onions and Brussels Sprouts

Makes 24 pieces

Make all of the components a day or two ahead. Assemble them a couple of hours before the party and reheat to serve.

For tartlets:

  • 12 1/2 oz flour
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup poppy seeds, toasted
  • 8 oz butter
  • 1/2-3/4 cups ice water

For onions:

  • 3 tbs butter
  • 5 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs chopped rosemary
  • 1/4 cup Cognac or Mardeira

For Brussels sprouts:

  • 12 small Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar

For gastrique:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbs water
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme


  • Make tartlets: Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and poppy seeds. Using a pastry cutter or food processor cut in butter until you have the texture of peas and crushed saltine crackers. Starting with 4 tbs stir in water until dough holds together. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/4″ thick. Cut into rounds with a 3 1/2-4″ biscuit cutter and press into mini muffin tins or tartlet molds. Line with parchment squares and fill with dried beans or rice. Bake in a 350F oven for 45 min to an hour. Cool for 10-15 minutes and remove parchment and beans. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.
  • Caramelize onions: Melt butter in a 4-6 qt pan over low heat. Add onions, salt them and cook 45 minutes to an hour until rich, dark brown and gooey. Still to avoid burning. Add a little water toward the end if needed. Add rosemary and liquor and cook 1-2 minutes over medium heat until liquid is evaporated. 
  • Caramelize Brussels sprouts: Toss sprouts with olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and place on a sheet pan. Roast in a 400 F oven for about 20-25 minutes until just tender and browning on top.
  • Make gastrique: in a small saucepan, mix sugar with just enough water to reach the texture of wet sand. Cook over medium heat until melted and golden brown. Add vinegar all at once, standing back in case of splatters. Return pan to med-low heat and cook until sugar melts. Add bay and thyme. Cook until thickened to a thin syrup. Strain and reserve.
  • Up to 3 hours before the party fill the shells with about 1 tsp caramelized onions, half a Brussels sprout and a drizzle of gastrique. Reheat in a 400F oven for 10 min and serve.

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