For Christmas Eve: Two Do Ahead Recipes and a Cocktail

Note: For last minute shoppers, I will be signing books in Reading Terminal Market’s Center Court on Tuesday, December 22nd and Wednesday, December 23rd beginning at 11 AM. Books are available at Coopermarket in Bala Cynwyd and Joseph Fox Bookshop in Center City. Please pass this along to any harried last minute shoppers you know as I’m sure all your shopping is completed.

My Christmas Eve assignment from my brother-in-law Larry: something with seafood. I married into the tradition of a family Christmas at Larry and Susan’s. And a tradition that centers around food at night and gift exchange in the morning was a welcome addition to my life.

Larry is an excellent cook who handles the seven fishes with gustatory enthusiasm and finesse. Guests get assignments, but the heavy lifting is done by Larry. As Larry and Susan live some two hours away in Tuxedo, NY and as we plan to arrive just as the first bottle of sparkling wine is popped, my plan needs to be very do ahead with a minimum of last minute preparation.

Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

These simple to prepare seafood cakes are made from shrimp and scallops with an accent of fennel and sundried tomatoes. They can be made fully ahead and reheated. Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients — it’s mostly shopping with a little chopping. The final coating of a little flour gets a flavor boost from the addition of ground toasted fennel seed, but this is totally optional. The do ahead green olive tapenade adds a piquant bite. You can make miniature versions and serve as an hors d’oeuvres for a crowd. The green olive tapenade also makes for an excellent sitting around hors d’ouvres — a change from the more typical black olive tapenade. Reheating takes just ten minutes in the oven.

Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, parsley, olives, anchovies, capers and pepper and process until finely chopped. Add olive oil and process until smooth.

1 pound shrimp, peeled
1/2 pound dry scallops, divided
3 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced fennel
2 tablespoons diced sundried tomato
1/2 cup diced scallion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fennel fronds (the whispy leaves that look like dill)
1 lightly beaten large eggs
1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
2 tablespoons fennel seed (optional)
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup flour
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided

Do ahead Cakes may be made up to three days ahead and reheated in 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

1 Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to medium sauté pan over low heat. Heat oil. Add fennel, onion and garlic and cook about 5 minutes until translucent. Add sundried tomato and dry vermouth and cook until there is just a small residue of liquid. Off heat. Set aside and allow to cool.
2 Add shrimp and 1/4 pound scallops to work bowl of food processor. Pulse into paste. Transfer to medium mixing bowl.
3 Cut remaining scallops into small cubes. Cubes should be between an eighth and quarter inch.
4 Add to mixing bowl cubed scallops, sautéed vegetables, basil, parsley, fennel fronds, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
6 Making cakes: Have a small bowl of water to moisten hands making it easier to work with sticky shrimp mixture. You will make 12 cakes. Form ball with 3 ounces mixture. Flatten into cake about 1/2-inch thick by 3-inch diameter. Lay out cakes on rimmed cookie sheet. Chill at least one hour or up to two days. If making hors d’oeuvres, reduce 1 ounce cakes.
7 Optional: In small dry pan over moderate heat, toast fennel seed until it lightly tans and releases its fragrance. Immediately transfer out of pan to stop cooking. Cool. Transfer to spice grinder and grind until powder.
8 Combine flour, optional ground fennel seed and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a dinner plate. Lightly coat seafood cakes all over with flour.
9 Add 2 tablespoons oil to medium sauté pan over low-moderate heat. When oil is hot, add cakes and cook until first side is well-browned, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until second side is browned, another 2 minutes. Don’t cook over too high a heat or outside will brown before inside gets cooked. Continue until all cakes are cooked, adding more oil as needed.

Yield 12 3-inch cakes or 30-26 hors d’oeuvres-sized cakes

Green Olive Tapenade
do ahead Tapenade can be made up to a week ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups good quality green olives, rinsed, drained and pitted
2 anchovy filets, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, parsley, olives, anchovies, capers and pepper and process until finely chopped. Add olive oil and process until smooth.

Serve tapenade on the side, family-style or top seafood cakes.

Yield 1 cup

To dice fennel, start by cutting into slices and dice the slices.

You want a thin layer of liquid left in pan to add flavor to cakes.

Dry toasting optional fennel seed. From here it goes into a spice (coffee) grinder.

Cooking seafood cakes in batches. Add oil as needed.

The finished result: Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade. You too can do this with crowd-pleasing results.

An Entertainer’s 911: Roasted Sweet and Hot Peppers

A big, colorful bowl of roasted sweet and hot peppers is an Entertainer’s 911. They are at the ready, whenever guests show up. Add crostini or good bread and you have an instant “sitting around” hors d’oeuvres. My inspiration for this was a saute of Long Hots at Ralph’s on 9th Street on Friday where Christina and I met Noah and his friend Jake for a little post-Oregon Avenue Christmas tree purchase dinner. (Noah just rented a house with two friends on League Street in the heart of the Italian market.)

I love the combination of sweet and hot — a common Asian flavor profile, but less so in Western cooking. Start by selecting a mix of mostly sweet with a few hot peppers added for interest and surprise. If you have a total of seven peppers, no more than two should be hot. None of the peppers pictured below are very hot — just pleasantly so. However, take care whenever handling hot peppers. Do not touch your fingers to your eyes or other soft membrane and wash your hands and cutting board when done.

Types of peppers purchased Saturday at Reading Terminal Market.
Pictured above beginning at the bottom center is a dark, moderately hot poblano. To the left and running clockwise: a moderately hot Anaheim, orange and yellow sweet peppers, a green bell pepper, assorted mild frying peppers, long hots and a moderately hot banana pepper.

Roasting whole peppers over intense heat chars the skin — softening it and/or enabling you to peel your peppers, while the peppers also get cooked from the inside by the steam that builds up. The simplest way to roast peppers is on an outdoor grill with ample space to roast all in one batch. You can also roast peppers — one at a time — by placing directly on the cooking grate of a gas burner. This is an easy way to roast a single pepper. But if you are roasting the big batch and your grill is buried under two feet of snow, then the broiler method works best.

Broiling Peppers

Pre-heat broiler to high. Begin by very lightly rubbing each pepper with olive oil. Place peppers on a sturdy rimmed baking sheet and place on upper oven shelf, but not so high that peppers touch broiler. As peppers broil, blister and darken, rotate peppers to cook all over. Kitchen tongs is the ideal implement to do this because you do not want to poke a hole in the pepper and release the steam.

Peppers in the broiler.

Firm and meaty sweet peppers take to charring and peeling. Thinner skinned peppers just need a light charring — mostly blistering to soften the skin as you will not peel these. Remove peppers from broiler, place in bowl. When cool enough to handle, cut away or pull away stem. Split peppers in half with skin side down. Gently scrape away and discard seeds by scraping gently with a paring knife. While doing this it is helpful to keep your scraping area clean of seeds with a dough scraper, damp cloth or knife blade as the seeds will adhere back on to just cleaned peppers and you will have to scrape them off again. Be patient.

Ready for removing stems, splitting, scraping away seeds and cutting into strips — julienne.

Once seeds are scraped away, remove black char from peppers. Not every bit needs to be removed. Next, make small stacks of peppers and cut into julienne strips. Very long strips should be cut in half. Place pepper julienne in bowl. Add lots of chopped garlic — about a teaspoon of chopped garlic for every pepper, good olive oil, salt and pepper. I also like to add some cracked toasted coriander seeds, but strictly optional.

A festive bowl of holiday peppers

In selecting peppers, pick a nice holiday mix of lots of sweet red and orange peppers with green peppers — ideally more red than I selected above. Roasted peppers will keep in the refrigerator through the entire holiday season.

Winter: Pomegranate-Lemon Martini

At Home’s seven Sections are organized from hello to good-bye beginning with Section 1: Welcoming Guests. And there are few better ways to welcome holiday guests than with a “house cocktail” such as my Pomegranate-Lemon Martini. It is one of four Four Seasons of Martinis included in At Home.

Four Seasons of Martinis — Winter — From At Home
Typically, martinis are made one at a time in a shaker with ice, which serves the function of diluting the alcohol a bit. But you don’t want to be bothered making drinks for each guest when you have a big group. Below, we’ve given you recipes for cocktails that can be made in a pitcher ahead, using water to dilute the alcohol instead of the traditional ice.
do ahead Martinis can be made up to one day ahead and chilled until serving.

General Procedure
In a pitcher, combine vodka and all other liquids. Stir. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving. Pour martinis into glasses and garnish each one with recommended garnish.

Winter: Pomegranate-Lemon Martini
21⁄2 cups lemon-flavored vodka
2⁄3 cup limoncello
2⁄3 cup lemon juice
3 cups pomegranate juice
3 cups water
long strips of lemon peel, for garnish
serves 6

These martinis go down very easily. As with serving any alcohol, as host you have the responsibility to make sure your guests do not drink and drive. If you have any concerns or a driving guest seems impaired, stop drinks early and extend the evening. Do not let an impaired guest drive.

At Home for the New Year – Still the Perfect Gift

At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining is an ideal house gift throughout the holiday season and for the host of a New Year’s gathering. Online ordering is easy.

Thank you for visiting.

1 Comment

Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Holidays, Recipes, Tips

One response to “For Christmas Eve: Two Do Ahead Recipes and a Cocktail

  1. Pingback: Easy Oscar-Winning Menu « At Home By Steve Poses Blog

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