Christmas is my favorite time of the year here in New England. There’s snow. We already have wreaths on our front doors, and lights in the windows. We’ve been to a friend’s land and cut our Christmas tree. The shopping center is small, but folks are humming along with the Christmas carols as they go from store to store. It’s a time of giving and real good will. Parties are larger, and livelier. The food has to be special. A simple crudite isn’t enough — it’s more than “just food” you’re serving at Christmas. It’s about joy and love and sharing. Ours is a very, very extended (!) family so we’ve learned to cook for a crowd. Here are some of our favorite party appetizers. Happy holidays!
HERBED PORTOBELLO PATE
The earthy, nutty flavor of portobello mushrooms paired with fresh parsley, and topped with goat cheese or pimento is super. The pate can be made a day ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator. The preparation and cooking, combined, is 45 minutes.
1 pound portobello mushroom caps
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
2 rounded tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh pepper
2 teaspoons medium sherry
2 tablespoon light mayonnaise
3 small sprigs parsley
Slivers of pimento or fresh crumbled goat cheese
Bremner Wafers, Water Crackers, or similar crackers
Break the portobello caps into thirds and finely chop in batches in a food processor. In a large skillet melt the butter. Add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until all of the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Add the sherry and stirring constantly, cook until the sherry evaporates – 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Return the mushroom mixture to the food processor. Add the mayonnaise and process for about 2 minutes, or until the mayonnaise is mixed in completely. The mushroom pate should be smooth, but still retaining texture. Turn into a small-medium serving dish. Garnish with parsley sprigs. Serve at room temperature with crackers
Serves 10 – 15
PESTO AND SUN-DRIED CHEESE TORTA
We tested this for the Italian Dinners 1-2-3 cookbook (Clarkson N. Potter) and it received RAVE reviews when served at our Christmas party a few years ago. This one layers creamy cheeses, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s splendiferous! Make it a day ahead so that the cheese has time to set. This requires more effort than the others do — but your guests will let you know it was worth the effort.
1 1/2 pounds marscarpone or cream cheese
6 ounces Montrachet goat cheese (without ash), softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups basil pesto
1 7-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes, drained and minced
1/3 cup pistachio nuts toasted and coarsely chopped
Toasted, thinly sliced baguette rounds, or crackers
In a food processor, combine the marscapone or cream cheese, goat cheese and butter until smooth. Line a 9 X 5-inch loaf pan with waxed paper and layer the ingredients into the pan this way: 1/7 of the cheese mixture, topped by 1/3 of the pesto; another 1/7 of the cheese mixture topped by 1/3 of the sun-dried tomatoes. Repeat twice, ending with the cheese mixture. Top with the toasted pistachio nuts. Cover with waxed paper, and press down firmly. Refrigerate overnight. To Unfold, remove the waxed paper, overturn onto a serving plate and remove the second piece of waxed paper. Serve at room temperature with baguette rounds, or crackers.
SALMON – DILL COCKTAIL WHIP
This recipe appeared in our 1997 Herbs and Spices Calendar (Judd Publishing). It has an elegant flavor and is assembled in about 10 minutes, and is then chilled overnight. Easy!
1 15 1/2-ounce can pink salmon
2/3 cup whipped cream cheese
1 1/4 teaspoon country Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Juice 1 small lime
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
Squares of pumpernickel bread, toasted
Sprigs of fresh dill
Combine the salmon, cream cheese, mustard, dill and lime juice in a food processor and process until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and process again briefly. Turn the salmon whip into a medium-small dish, cover, and chill overnight. Garnish with snips of fresh dill and serve with toasted squares of pumpernickel bread, or crackers.
Serves 1- -12
SHRIMP AND AVOCADO NOEL
This recipe is very celebratory! It combines pink shrimp, greenish avocado, fresh ginger and lime — the right colors for a holiday party. My friend, Marsden Epworth (Lakeville Journal editor, and fellow gourmand) who tested this with me named it. She tasted and said, “It’s a Noel!” Whatever you call it, it’s delicious! It takes just 30 minutes to make.
1 quart water
2 rounded teaspoons dried basil
1 small onion (size of a golf ball) quartered
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound small/medium shrimp (32-41 count)
1 9-ounce jar Garlic Aioli
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Juice 1/4 wedge large lime (1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 rounded tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 cups cubed avocado
1/3 cup pimento slivers, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
Stone Wheat Thins, or crackers
Parsley for garnish
In a medium saucepan over a high heat bring the water to boiling with the 2 teaspoons of dried basil, the onion, and the salt. Boil 4 minutes, then throw in the shrimp. When the water comes back to a boil cook the shrimp 3 minutes. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the Aioli, grated ginger, lime juice, the 1/4 teaspoon basil, the parsley, salt and pepper. Blend on high with until fairly smooth. Peel and chop the shrimp. Add to the Aioli mixture along with the avocado, and the pimento, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with parsley springs and serve with Stoned Wheat Thins or crackers.
Serves 15 to 18
Holly has co-authored Chicken Dinners 1-2-3, Italian Dinners 1-2-3 (Clarkson and Potter) and several Herbs and Spice Calendars (Judd & Avalanche) with her mother, Jacqueline Heriteau.