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Holiday Appetizers

This is a busy time of year for chefs. Everyone is scrambling for quick, easy holiday recipes. This time of year I get asked more questions than a doctor at a hypochondriac’s holiday party. I am most often asked for “simple” recipes. This is difficult since I consider Coq au Vin and Cassoulet dishes that can give a nervous breakdown to the novice simple dishes.

Can good party food be simple without venturing into the carrot-raisin, Jell-O mould zone? The key is using the right pre-made products, menu planning and time management.

There are good and bad shortcuts that can be taken in a kitchen. My general rule of thumb is – if the final product is as good or better and it saves you time and/or money then take the shortcut. One good time-saving item is pre-made piecrusts. These can be used as a base for quiche or other savory tarts as well as your traditional holiday pies. There are pre-made pie crusts without the tins, use these to line mini-muffins pans for small bite-sized treats that are perfect for cocktail parties. Frozen bread dough can also be used to good effect to create gourmet pizzas or turnovers. Sauce mixes and pre-made sauces should be avoided since they tend to have a taste more reminiscent of the chemistry lab than of the kitchen.

Be creative in your menu planning. Store bought rotisserie chicken can be shredded for barbeque chicken, pizzas or sandwiches. But don’t combine too many store bought items. Add your own touches and doctor it up a little. Fresh herbs can do wonders to jarred pizza sauce and salsas. Plan your menu with a time frame in mind. Casseroles, warm dips and dishes that can be made days in advance and reheated at the last minute will allow you to serve good food and still be able to play host/hostess. Forgive me if I seem to be channeling Martha Stewart. A good party does take some planning.

The quick easy items I have in my arsenal include warm dips like an artichoke dip I improvised at a recent party. Jarred or supermarket, salad-bar, marinated artichokes can be roughly chopped and mixed with cream cheese in a bowl over a double boiler. (Hint: Or you could place the bowl over an already simmering sauce or soup if you are limited on burner space.) Add some grated parmesan, Worcestershire sauce and chopped chives and you will have an instant hit. Eat your heart out, Rachel Ray. Serve it in a hollowed-out gourmet bread bowl and people will think you’re a culinary genius.

Not all quick, easy dishes should or need to be doctored store items.

Bacon wrapped scallops or shrimp can be made ahead and will cook in 10-15 minutes. Crab cakes can also be mixed and shaped ahead and cooked at the last minute.

Hummus can be made in ten minutes with a food processor and can be seasoned in variety of ways depending on what other items you may be serving.

Skewered items like chicken sate, sesame tuna with wasabi mayonnaise or grilled vegetables can also be made ahead and are light and healthy. If your party is a casual get together have all the components cut and arranged on platters and have your guests assemble them. It makes for a great icebreaker. Besides, everyone knows that around the holidays the kitchen is where all the fun and action is located. Enjoy the following recipes.

Have a Merry Christmas and Bon Appétit in the New Year.

Artichoke Dip

  • 1 Jar (approx 6 oz) marinated artichokes
  • 1 Package Philadelphia Cream Cheese
  • 1 Cup sour cream
  • 1 Cup shredded Locattelli cheese
  • Splash Worcestershire sauce
  • Splash Tabasco

Combine all ingredients in stainless steel bowl. Place over double boiler. Stir occasionally until warm throughout. Serve with crostini.

Crostini

  • 1 Loaf crusty artisan bread, slice ¼” thick

Brush bread with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle with sea salt and smoked paprika. Bake on oiled cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 7 minutes. Flip if necessary.

Sesame-Tuna Skewer

  • 12 Thick rosemary branches, trim all but top third of the branch. Save remaining rosemary for another use. Soak branches for 10 minutes in ice water
  • 36 Half-inch sushi grade tuna cubes
  • 36 Shiitake mushroom caps brushed with sesame oil and sprinkled with soy sauce
  • ½ Cup each of black and white sesame seeds
  • 1 Cup soy sauce mixed with ¼ cup honey, 1 tablespoon ginger and 1 teaspoon garlic brought to a boil and cooled

Take rosemary skewers and alternate tuna and mushroom caps. Use 3 pieces each per skewer. Brush lightly with soy mix and roll in sesame seeds. Sear in hot sauté pan 2-3 minutes per side.

Wasabi mayo

  • 1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
  • 1 Cup mayo
  • 1 Ounce or more wasabi to taste

Mix well. Serve with Sesame-Tuna skewers.