There comes a time in every holiday season when finger foods are called for. An all-appetizer pot luck or maybe you are wooed by the call of “heavy hors d’ oeuvres,” that strange combination of enough light starters to become a heavy meal. Or maybe you just need a first course and something festive, please.
Go old school. The time of the year when everyone is nostalgic for older, simpler days is the perfect time to dredge up the past and have fun with it. Things that would be hokey and goofy at any other time of year are just perfect right now.
Think festive shapes. If in doubt, make it in the shape of a Christmas tree. Christmas tree pull-apart, below is a perfect example. Or just arrange the cheeses and grapes on your cheese tray in the shape of a tree with a celery stick for a trunk. See how it works? Hokey, sentimental and perfect. Presentation is everything in transforming an old standard into a Christmas favorite. Holiday Goat Cheese balls below are an update of the classic Christmas cheese ball but the real twist is making individual serving size balls and sticking a pretzel stick in each to make a little savory lollipop. Perfect for a Nutcracker Land of Sweets theme and could be done just as easily with your standard cheese ball recipe.
One Christmas tradition that really is due for a comeback is the feast of the seven fishes. How did anything so delicious ever slip away. Unless you have an old-school Italian nonna or have been entertained by one on Christmas Eve, you very likely have never even heard of the feast of the seven fishes. It is exactly what it sounds. A seven course meal served on Christmas Eve with each course being a different kind of seafood.
If that sounds like too much work and it is indeed a lot of work, how about just adding some seafood to your appetizer selection as a nod to the tradition.
Oysters are perfect. They are by their very nature, festive. The recipe below for Oysters Rockefeller is a reworking of an classic recipe that is pretty easy once you get the oysters shucked. The dish is so named because the bright green spinach is supposed to look like money. Whether served on a silver tray for maximum poshness or on a simple wooden cutting board, it’s really hard to throw a boring party that includes fresh oysters.
Another nostalgic recipe that practically screams mid 20th century is salmon mousse. Combining salmon with the 1950s penchant for serving things cold and gelatinous, comfort is assured. Two recipes are included below. the first is really old-fashioned and even uses cold salmon in true m,id 20th century fashion. The second is a little more modern, easier to prepare and uses smoked salmon.
Good luck, be festive and if in doubt, make it in a tree shape.
Classic Salmon Mousse
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. finely grated onion
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
2 cups finely flaked canned salmon, skin and bones removed
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Soften the gelatin in cold water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the boiling water and whisk the mixture slowly until the gelatin has dissolved. Cool to room temperature. Whisk in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, grated onion, Tabasco, paprika, salt and dill. Stir to blend completely and refrigerate until the mixture begins to thicken slightly, about 20 minutes. Fold in salmon. In separate bowl, whip the cream until fluffy and forms peaks. Fold it gently into the salmon mixture. Transfer the mixture to a 6 to 8 cup bowl or mold. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours. Serves 12 or more.
Easy Salmon Mousse
1 tsp. unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce envelope)
4 ounces smoked salmon, coarsely chopped
1 1⁄4 cups reduced-fat sour cream or 1 1⁄4 cups sour cream
1 -2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
fresh dill (optional) or capers, for garnish (optional)
crackers, for serving or baguette, slices for serving
Place 3 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan, and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften, 5 minutes. Gently heat over low, stirring, just until gelatin dissolves; set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, combine salmon, sour cream, and lemon juice. Puree until smooth; season with salt. With motor running, add slightly cooled gelatin mixture, and blend until combined. Pour into two 8-ounce ramekins or bowls. Without touching surface, cover container with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm but spreadable, about 2 hours or up to overnight. Garnish mousse with dill or capers, if desired, and serve with crackers or baguette slices.
Christmas Tree Pull-Apart
1 can refrigerated pizza crust
4 oz. cream cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella or Italian blend shredded cheese
2 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced very fine
3 tbsp. freshly chopped basil and rosemary
1 cup warmed marinara sauce for dipping
Heat oven to 400°F. Lay pizza dough on a work surface and stretch to a 10 x 15 inch size. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 36 equal squares. In a small bow, combine cream cheese and shredded cheese. Mix well. Add one tablespoon of the cheese mixture to each dough square. Make a ball with the dough, sealing the edges. Place on a cookie sheet in a Christmas tree shape. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, or until golden brown. After removing pull-apart from the oven, brush with butter and sprinkle with chopped herbs. Serve pull apart with marinara sauce.
8 tbsp. butter
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 (10 oz) bag baby spinach
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely shredded
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
20 oysters, shucked and on the half-shell
Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shallot, and saute until soft and fragrant – about 2 minutes. Pour half of the melted butter mixture into a small bowl and combine with the breadcrumbs. Toss to combine and set aside. To the remainder of the butter in the skillet, add the baby spinach. If it doesn’t all fit, just let it cook down some, and then add more. Season with salt and toss until wilted. Slowly stir in the cream and let reduce for a minute before removing from heat. Carefully place the oysters on a baking sheet. Spoon a small amount of the spinach mixture onto each oyster, then top with about 2 teaspoons of the breadcrumb mixture and a small pinch of Parmesan cheese. Place in oven and bake until oysters have plumped up, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately with lemon wedges and hot sauce, if desired.
Assorted Holiday Goat Cheese Balls
Makes 20-25 cheese balls
4 oz. goat cheese
3 oz. cream cheese
¼ cup crushed pistachios
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
⅓ cup fresh chives, chopped
⅓ cup pomegranate seeds
20-25 pretzel sticks
In a food processor add cream cheese and goat cheese. Blend until combined. Place goat cheese mixture in refrigerator to cool for 20 minutes. Remove goat cheese mixture and roll into ½” mini balls (you should be able to get around 20-25 balls out of the goat cheese mixture) When finished, place on parchment paper and put in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to harden. Remove the goat cheese balls from the refrigerator and roll them in the toppings (crushed pistachio, fresh dill, fresh chives, and pomegranate seeds) Place a pretzel stick through the center and serve. If you are not serving right away, store in the refrigerator. Optional, serve with your favorite crackers.
12 Cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
12 Boconccini (cut in half) or fresh mozzarella cut into bite-sized pieces
12 large basil leaves (cut lengthwise)
12 deli slices salami, (cut in half)
To assemble, place half of a tomato and half of a boconccini together. Wrap with a half of basil leaf and then half of a piece of salami. Secure with a toothpick. Lay on a platter and drizzle with olive oil.
24 (two 8 ounce packages) large white stuffing mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, diced
4 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp. parsley, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Clean the mushrooms, then remove and finely chop the stems. Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion to the pan and sauté until onion is soft and translucent. Add the chopped mushroom stems and cook until tender, another 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Combine bread crumbs, Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese, parsley, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium bowl. Add the cooked mushroom stems and onion and mix together well. Stuff the mushrooms with the filling and place in an oiled baking pan. Drizzle the tops of the mushrooms with olive oil. Place pan in oven and bake until the mushrooms are tender about 25-30 minutes and serve.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.