Photo: Thomas J. Story
The beauty of this appetizer is that guests assemble the toasts themselves--so it's fuss-free for the host. Reader Rebecca Firth of Solvang, California, created the recipe, inspired by living in China for three years around the time of the Beijing Olympics. "We would try to do everything as close to our holiday traditions back home. On a whim, as I was preparing Christmas dinner, I threw in some five-spice powder to my usual cranberries, and I loved what it did to the flavor."
Serves 8 (makes about 1 cup relish) (serving size: per toast with 1 tbsp. goat cheese and 1 1/2 tsp. relish)
1. Bring port, brown sugar, and vinegar to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add cranberries, cherries, and five-spice powder. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have popped and relish is reduced to about 1 cup, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 400°. If your ciabatta loaf is thick, slice off top 1/2 in. or so and trim sides. Save top and side trimmings for another use, such as bread crumbs.
3. Slice loaf in half lengthwise, then cut into rectangles about 2 in. by 3 in. Brush cut sides with oil, put on a baking sheet, and bake until pale golden, about 10 minutes.
4. Sprinkle goat cheese log with thyme and serve with toasts and cranberry relish.