Yesterday I covered the side dishes I am making for Thanksgiving, and on Monday it was the soup for the day, and Sunday I wrote about the turkey, stuffing and gravy. There’s not much left to write about unless you want to make some appetizers for everyone before the meal. Here’s my advice on appetizers for the holidays. You have enough going on in the oven and on the stove, so try to do things that you don’t have to cook at all if you can avoid it. It’s just one less thing you have to cook for the day and you may not have the room or time to do it anyway. You can go simple, and just do a nice selections of cheeses and crackers, maybe some sliced apples and pears, some grapes and some pepperoni or sliced dry sausage. I am trying to keep it simple by doing some shrimp cocktail and some homemade horseradish cocktail sauce.
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 pound extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup Horseradish Cocktail Sauce (recipe to follow)
Bring the lemon juice, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, Old Bay and 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the shrimp. Cover and steep off the heat until the shrimp are firm and pink, about 7 minutes. Drain the shrimp and plunge them immediately into ice water. Drain and refrigerate the shrimp until thoroughly chilled, about 1 hour. Arrange a platter and serve with the cocktail sauce.
Horseradish Cocktail Sauce
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, plus extra for seasoning
2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Stir all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with additional horseradish and hot sauce as desired.
The cooked shrimp and the cocktail sauce can be refrigerated separately for up to 1 day, so you can make them ahead if you want to. If you get uncooked shrimp that is already peeled and deveined, you can save yourself some extra work and make things a little quicker for yourself.
You’re likely to have some people who don’t like shrimp cocktail, so you’ll need to have some other things available too. You can always put out an array of different chips and snacks or vegetables and have some dip for them. Instead of using the soup packet for your onion dip this year (I have nothing against it, I do it a lot, but it is often a little stale and always very salty), how about making a simple onion dip on your own. It’s not really any work and it tastes a lot fresher. You can just use straight sour cream or try this dip base and add the onions to it.
Simple Onion Dip
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup caramelized onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Stir all of the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate the dip for at least 1 hour so all of the flavors can blend together nicely. The prepared dip can keep covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
For the caramelized onions, if you have never done it before, simply melt 1 tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of vegetable oil over high heat. Add about 4 onions, halved and sliced thin, 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are deep brown, about 40 minutes. Take them off the heat, stir in 1 tablespoon of water, season with salt and pepper, and you’re done.
Yes, it takes some planning ahead if you are going to use caramelized onions, but they are so tasty, not just for dips but as a condiment for nearly anything.
If you want to make something ahead of time and like nuts, you can try this recipe for spiced nuts. I tried this with some mixed nuts and a spice blend I got from PepperMary’s Spice Blends and boy was it good. I used the Cajun Blend for the nuts, but Mary was kind enough to send me samples of her other spices, which I plan to try after Thanksgiving on some fish that I got. Thanks Mary, they are awesome. I also used the Mesquite Blend on a London broil I marinated last night for dinner and it had a nice taste and kick to it. Give her stuff a try if you get the chance.
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound of mixed nuts, unsalted
2 tablespoons sugar, maple syrup or honey
4 teaspoons PepperMary Cajun Spice blend (or other spice blend you like) or:
2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon paprika
Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 275 degrees. Whisk the egg white, water and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and toss to coat. Drain in a colander for 5 minutes.
Toss the sugar, maple syrup or honey with the spice blend or desired spices with the nuts. Spread the nuts evenly on two parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until the nuts are dry and crisp, about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally and rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Remove from the oven and let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet, about 30 minutes. Break the nuts apart and serve.
These can also be made ahead and stored at room temperature wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for up to 1 week.
If you still aren’t sure what to make, you can always try going for an antipasto platter. This lets you put out a variety of meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables that people like and you can pretty much choose what suits your crowd the best. I put together just a few ideas in this one.
1/2 pound soppressata salami or other dry sausage, skin removed and sliced thin
2 cups mixed olives, black and green, marinated, such as Kalamata, Nicoise or others
1 jar marinated roasted red peppers
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
Arrange all the items on a platter for people to choose as finger foods. You could always add other cheeses, like marinated mozzarella, or other meats like ham, or even some marinated and grilled vegetables like eggplant, asparagus or zucchini, and some sliced tomato. The options are endless with this. Have some good extra-virgin olive oil on hand if you want to do any marinating of anything.
Okay, I think that covers the appetizers. There are a lot of other choices out there, that I didn’t go into, but I could be here all day writing suggestions and I still have prep work myself to do. Later on today, I will post a couple of dessert options if you are still looking for ideas. Check back and see what I have. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day!