Here we are, smack in the middle of holiday party time, awaiting Santa’s visit followed by the close of another year.
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but among many of my friends and certainly in my own home, there seems to be a consensus that 2013 has been a very bumpy ride in many ways, and we’re looking forward to saying farewell to this arduous year.
There’s no point, and certainly not enough column space, to go into all the downers we’ve been subjected to during 2013 — and it’s not quite over yet — from the mess our government is in to random violence and acts of pure insanity. But, being human, we can’t help but hope that things will get better and, as always when a new year approaches, optimism is riding high right now.
We’re all looking for something cheerful, hopeful, happy to carry us into 2014, and though I can’t personally guarantee a better year to come, I can perhaps help with the thing I love best, one thing that never fails to cheer me up — party food.
So, let the partying begin, let the good times roll, and may I wish all our readers a happy Christmas and most especially a hopeful, happy, healthy New Year.
Grazing at a holiday buffet table laden with many tasty treats and in the company of friends and/or family is just about my favorite way to enjoy the holidays. If you’re in the midst of planning just such an event, or thinking about some gift treats, I hope these recipes can help.
Because we live in the land of bountiful seafood, there must always be “something fishy” with our holiday buffet. I’ve eaten many salmon/crab/shrimp/clam dips over the years; this simple smoked salmon dip is one of the best of them.
SMOKED SALMON DIP
2/3 cup crème fraiche
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
4 t. prepared horseradish
1 lb. thinly sliced smoked salmon
2 T. thinly sliced chives, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flatbread, chips, bagel chips, rye or pumpernickel toasts, crackers, etc.
Whisk first three ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Put salmon in a food processor and pulse a few seconds at a time until salmon is in pea-sized pieces. Add the salmon and chives to the crème fraiche mixture, fold in well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate if not using immediately, for up to 3 days.
Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from the lemon; cut lengthwise into thin strips. Garnish the dip with lemon zest and two or three long pieces of fresh chives. Serve with the assorted breads/crackers. Makes about 3 cups of dip.
Another, very impressive and delicious treat using salmon is this do-ahead mousse.
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
½ cup cold water
3 T. lemon juice
2 cups salmon, cooked, flaked
1 t. minced onion or shallot
1 cup mayonnaise
Dash of Tabasco sauce to taste
Soak gelatin in cold water for 5 min.; then dissolve it over hot water. Be sure it is completely dissolved. Add lemon juice; cool.
Mix together the flaked salmon, onion, mayonnaise and Tabasco. Fold into the gelatin mixture. Spoon into a mold, I have a mold shaped like a fish; use whatever mold you like; spray with Pam first, if necessary. Chill until set; unmold and decorate with thin lemon slices or chives, thin pickle slices, etc. etc. Serve with assorted crackers and/or chips.
Note: I really like to serve this mousse with some tzatziki on the side; it’s a delicious complement to salmon.
Regular readers know what a cheesecake fanatic I am, but it doesn’t always have to be dessert. A savory cheesecake is a welcome surprise and this one always disappears in a hurry.
SOUTHWEST SAVORY CHEESECAKE
1 lb. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups smoky cheddar cheese, or Swiss if preferred, grated
Spices of your choice, such as ground red chile pepper, red pepper, dried chipotle, onion powder, garlic powder, etc. You can make this as mildly spicy or as hot as you like, but don’t overdo it.
2 fresh roasted poblano or green chiles, chopped
Salsa — your favorite
In a large bowl, beat together all the above ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 min., it may take a bit longer; test with a toothpick in the middle to be sure it’s set, otherwise it will be mushy. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack to room temp., then cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to serve, remove from pan and place on a platter. Top with 1 cup of your favorite salsa and serve with tortilla chips, crackers or bread sticks, with a small bowl of additional salsa on the side, if desired.
One more quick, outstanding spread for crackers.
GORGONZOLA WALNUT SPREAD
1 lb. Gorgonzola cheese or Stilton, if preferred, crumbled
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 to ½ cup Tawny Port wine or semi-sweet port wine of your choice
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
In a food processor, blend together the cheese, butter and wine until mixture is smooth. Transfer to a bowl and add walnuts; combine well. Transfer to a crock or ramekins, cover and chill until ready to use; it keeps for up to 3 weeks. Serve with assorted crackers or bagel chips. Makes about 3 ½ cups.
If you happen to still have your old fondue pot around, I have a wonderful recipe for a sun-dried tomato pizza fondue that’s been a holiday favorite of ours for years, but it’s too long to put in this column. So if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know you’d like to have it, I’ll email it to you. Meanwhile, happy holidays.