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5 weeks and counting…Christmas is coming

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(AMY BONCHUK)

It’s time to fill your freezers with delightful sweet treats and savoury bites — preparation for those moments of unplanned Christmas cheer. In my own planning, I plugged in another freezer. You can never be too prepared as we swing into the accelerated time-warp, known as the holidays.

Unplanned parties are usually more fun. Their spontaneous nature ensures that no one can have hurt feelings over lack of inclusion. Another plus is that the camaraderie is fluid and never forced. So, in the spirit of spontaneous fun and Christmas cheer, I am offering some great ideas and a recipe that will help to improve the food at your spur-of-the-moment shindigs.

Being prepared for anything is something of a prairie pre-requisite. You never know when a giant dump of snow will keep you from the grocery so you always have extra of the basics. In addition to milk, bread, butter, and back-up garlic — there are a few extra items to keep on hand at all times for high-alert holiday status.

Canned meat, smoked meats, frozen seafood, frozen chicken breasts, cheese of any and all kind, and of course, frozen pastry. Frozen pastry in any form — from puff, to phyllo, to tart shells, having pre-made pastry on hand is like having a wizard for a best friend. For instance, its 5:30 p.m. on Friday night and your friends stop by for happy hour. Pull some pastry out, fill them with whatever you have leftover in the fridge, or cupboard, top with cheese or bread crumbs and Voila! An instant appetizer with Christmas flair.

Now, fillings need to be one thing and one thing only… FLAVOURFUL. So sautee some onions, garlic, and seasonings — add whatever you have on hand, veggies, canned meat, or frozen seafood. Chop it smaller so it’s a classier presentation, and then add a creamy element. Cream cheese, sour cream, greek yogurt all great options. Then top it with cheese, bread crumbs, or more pastry and bake as-per the pastry instructions.

I realize that the above procedure is a huge step in a new, open-minded way of cooking for those who carefully measure and scale ingredients. But the reward will be in the lasting memory that surprising food creates. People don’t forget a red-carpet treatment during a spontaneous party. Chips, salsa, kolbassa, pickles, and cut cheese are all quick-party staples. But a pastry filled with warm savoury goodness far exceeds those munchie expectations and will be remembered long past the holidays.

For my formal part of the recipe, and in honor of those die-hard measuring cooks, I have included a lovely filling recipe that is quick, packed with celebratory flavour, and will put your mind at ease when the house if full of people and you don’t feel like playing rogue chef.

Scallops are a delicacy that we Prairie folk have limited access to. What is typically available are wet-packed scallops, ie: pumped with filler solution. So, in true Prairie fashion, I make the best with what I have and chop them into a quick filling. Still delicious, their delicate flavour is somewhat hidden by the milky filler, so they need the extra help afforded by the cream and flavourings. The main flavour profile is flexible and open to interpretation by the cook. Curry, Pernod, tarragon, chili, or citrus are all exceptional pairings with scallops and cream. Choose a flavour profile that will be best received among all the guests. Versatility is, as always, very important, so from flavour to storage this is a great option for Christmas pre-party preparations.

Scallop Tartlets

12 premade tart shells, or 12 home-made pastry squares par-baked in muffin tins.

Pastry: I always make a full batch and freeze them in 12oz. balls for future use.

Pastry

5 1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour,sifted

1 lb of lard

2 tsp of salt

1 egg, plus 1 tbsp vinegar, plus cold water to equal 1 cup **more water may be needed.

Preheat oven: 375’F.

Sift the flour and salt together. Cut the room temperature lard into the flour. You want mealy dough, so cut the lard until it is small, quarter-sized pieces.

Whisk the egg, vinegar, and cold water. Make a well in the flour/lard mixture and add the liquid. Toss gently until combined. When the entire bowl of ingredients holds together let it rest in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. Using a kitchen scale weigh out, or estimate a 1 lb ball of dough. Measure the rest out into equal portions, tightly wrap with saran wrap place in a freezer bag and freeze for future use.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the 1lb ball out into a large square. Let it rest before cutting the shapes. Using large round or square cookie or pastry cutters; cut 12 portions. Place the portions into muffin tins and let rest. Using a fork pierce the bottom of pastry once it has had an opportunity to rest and relax.

Bake for 15-20 mins until they just begin to turn golden brown.

Filling

1 large onion, finely diced

2-4 cloves of garlic minced

3/ 4 cup of scallops, rinsed, drained and chopped into kidney bean-sized pieces.

1/ 2 tsp dried chillis

1 large mandarin orange, zested and juiced

2 tbsp of cream sherry or white wine

1/ 4 cup of plain greek yogurt or sour cream

Kosher salt to taste

Melt butter in a skillet, add onions and gently cook on medium heat stirring occasionally. Let onions cook to a rich golden brown, add orange juice cook until it is reduced and syrupy. Add garlic, orange zest and sherry. Cook for about 5 minutes, lower the heat and stir in the yogurt. Cook for about 5-8 more minutes on low until most of the moisture is evaporated. Add scallops, cook for 3 minutes and remove from heat, taste and season.

NOTE: If you still have a very liquid mixture, just spoon the solids into the pastry cups.

Topping

1 /2 cup of panko bread crumbs

1/ 4 cup of shredded cheese of choice

A couple grinds of finely ground pepper.

Nub of butter

Mix ingredients until just combined

Heat oven to 400’F. Spoon the filling into the pastry cups, top with bread crumb mixture and bake in the oven until the topping is golden brown. NOTE: if the pastry is becoming too dark, just turn the oven to broil to brown the topping.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 24, 2012

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It’s time to fill your freezers with delightful sweet treats and savoury bites — preparation for those moments of unplanned Christmas cheer. In my own planning, I plugged in another freezer. You can never be too prepared as we swing into the accelerated time-warp, known as the holidays.

Unplanned parties are usually more fun. Their spontaneous nature ensures that no one can have hurt feelings over lack of inclusion. Another plus is that the camaraderie is fluid and never forced. So, in the spirit of spontaneous fun and Christmas cheer, I am offering some great ideas and a recipe that will help to improve the food at your spur-of-the-moment shindigs.

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It’s time to fill your freezers with delightful sweet treats and savoury bites — preparation for those moments of unplanned Christmas cheer. In my own planning, I plugged in another freezer. You can never be too prepared as we swing into the accelerated time-warp, known as the holidays.

Unplanned parties are usually more fun. Their spontaneous nature ensures that no one can have hurt feelings over lack of inclusion. Another plus is that the camaraderie is fluid and never forced. So, in the spirit of spontaneous fun and Christmas cheer, I am offering some great ideas and a recipe that will help to improve the food at your spur-of-the-moment shindigs.

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