My inner soundtrack is 100 per cent festive and I find myself smiling even as I do the ugly jobs, like cleaning the bathroom. No one truly likes housework, but singing off-key to classic holiday music while vacuuming makes it all better. So when it comes to doing jobs I love, humming carols as I work about the kitchen is even more awesome. Preparing dips and dainties for next week’s most awesome of festivities, I truly enjoy spending time in the house this time of year, even though it is beautiful and sparkly outside.
This weekend is packed full of Christmas parties. Like most holiday shindigs, they are potluck and include many party staples — spinach dip with pumpernickel bread, veggies and dip, and nuts and bolts to name a few. While the classics are always satisfying, I like to make something different. Adding new and interesting dishes to the potluck party tables this festive season, I am playing with some healthy and flavourful ingredients with hopes of creating food that is exciting and festive.
Fresh vegetables are a great way to add flamboyant color and unbeatable texture to an appetizer. Healthier than crackers or tortillas, I like to think of them as nature’s perfect vessel. While sometimes it takes a little imagination to create the vessel, you can be certain the added creativity will go a long way with party guests.
Here are some cool ideas for serving different dips and sauces with vegetables. Cut cucumbers into one-inch rounds, then using a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out half-an-inch of the center, leaving a half-inch base. They are cool little cups that would be great filled just about anything fresh and flavourful.
Another cool idea is to take baby sweet peppers and cut them on the bias, keeping the stem intact for visual appeal. Gently scrape out the seeds and ribs and fill with whatever you like. Marinated salad, tapenade, or mousse, are great cold options — but with peppers, you can also serve them hot. Fill with crab meat or cooked shrimp, top with a spoonful of pesto or a slice of brie or blue cheese, then broil for 3-5 minutes to heat through and soften the peppers a little. Versatility is endless and only limited by imagination.
This week, I chose to showcase a smoked salmon mousse — fresh, and richly-flavoured. Served in the cucumber cups and the sweet peppers, they are a colorful and healthy appetizer for Christmas holidays.
The powerful flavour of smoked salmon is the base of the dish. I added lemon, caper, and horseradish to further enhance the smoky richness of the fish. When you use a high-end ingredient like smoked salmon, you really want to make sure the other flavours are complementary, allowing the more expensive ingredient to shine through. Garnish simply to add color and just a little pop of flavour — these appetizers are fun to make as you rock out to your favorite Christmas tunes.
Almost as good as the Christmas music is the Christmas scenery. However, the recent display of incredible hoarfrost has been bittersweet. Gorgeous panoramas of frosted landscapes by day, followed by long nights of candles, lanterns, and blankets — we have had numerous power outages as the hydro lines sag under the sparkling weight of the frost. As we enjoy the beauty of winter I extend my gratitude to the Manitoba Hydro workers who are working hard to clean the lines and keep our homes warm this Christmas season.
May you enjoy your warm homes filled with laughter, family, and friends — and in the spirit of Christmas: Eat, drink and Eat!! Merry Christmas Westman!
Smoked Salmon Mousse
1 pkg of Smoked salmon, (approx. 142g)
3/ 4 pkg of cream cheese, softened
1/ 2 cup of whipping cream
1/ 2 of a lemon, juiced and zested
1 heaping tablespoon of fresh dill
1 tsp of capers
1 clove of garlic
1/ 2 tsp of prepared horseradish.
1/ 4 tsp of sea salt (to taste)
Dash of freshly ground pepper
Finely-sliced red onion, fresh dill fronds, capers, finely sliced red pepper, tiny cucumber wedges, lemon zest, or salmon roe.
Add the salmon, cream cheese, dill, garlic, capers, pepper, horseradish, lemon zest and juice to food processor. Puree until smooth.
Whip cream in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Fold into pureed salmon mixture. Mix thoroughly and then taste and season as needed.
Put a large star tip onto a piping bag. Scoop the mixture into the piping bag and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Allow the mixture to firm up before piping.
Prepare whatever vessel you chose to deliver the mousse on: peppers, cucumbers, croustini, or crackers are a great choice.
Prepare garnishes before you begin piping. This will improve efficiency and safety as you set up the appetizers and get them into the fridge as quickly as possible. Safety is always key for the holidays.