I was hoping to make multiple blog entries to build on the recipes, but when it comes right down to it, there really isn’t any cooking. A bit of prep work, mixing, cutting, blending, but I did not turn the stove on once for this spread. I did turn the stove on to cook my son’s Kobe beef burger that I splurged on while in my favorite splurge market (Fairway – LOVE IT!). Aside from that, anyone can put this together and it will be yummy and appease just about all food preferences (Vegan, Vegetarian, Lactose, Meat-atartans, etc..).
I made this for 7 people. Because of that, I splurged on some very high quality ingredients. If I was making it for more, I would have toned down my spending to stay in budget, but still able to buy great ingredients. You don’t have to. Use what you like and what is in your budget. The key is using fresh ingredients. Get them no earlier than the day before. You need that time to prep, so the day of your party or gathering, all you have to do is plate (or taste and adjust – I did that this morning).
I will list what I used and what I did. However, there are other short cuts you can take, if you prefer or are short on time.
Fresh Vegetables with Hummus
Smoked Whitefish Salad with Smoked Salmon
Fresh Meat Platter
Fresh Fruit (pictured above, use whatever fruit you like)
Deli Olive Bar
Mixed greens lightly tossed with a fresh tasty dressing
Bagel Crisps, Fresh Bread, Pita Crisps and Crackers
Simple, right? It can be even more simplified, as all the above can be bought pre-prepared and just put out on a nice spread. The other thing I like about this, is everyone can mix and match offerings to build their own appetizers. All you have to do is supply the plates, nice presentation, and instruction or ideas on what can be mixed and matched.
Of course I have to make something so I make something or I won’t fee right. What I did was make my own whitefish salad, the hummus, dressing for the salad as well as for the roast beef (will get here shortly) and prepare all the vegetables, fruits and platters. But that was about it. You can pick and chose to buy vs make.
FRESH VEGETABLES WITH HUMMUS
I cut fresh peppers (red, yellow, orange) into strips
I used baby carrots (just open the bag)
I blanched Broccoli crowns (you can use raw if you wish, i like them slightly cooked)
I also added sliced tomatoes (you can use grape or cherry)
Thinly sliced red onion
Other good options are:
Snow Peas or Sugar Snap Peas
Olive Artichoke Hummus Recipe (makes about 1 – 2 cups):
Note: * I usually make this a day in advance, and adjust seasoning and re-whisk it the next day before serving
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (roughly 1 – 1/2 cups you can use fresh)
3 med garlic cloves (you can add more if you like it garlicky)
Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup loosely packed and washed fresh cilantro
1 1/2 TBS Tahini ( if you don’t have, you can use a dark sesame oil)
1/2 – 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (this is where you use the good stuff. The oil is what gives hummus its light and velvety texture. If you are looking to cut down on fat, you could use chicken stock or vegetable stock, but I have never tried it.. but that should not stop you)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like spicy – can also be substituted for with a couple of drops of pepper sauce/Tabasco or toss in 1/2 a fresh jalapeno or other hot pepper)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1 tsp paprika
2 colossal green olives, pitted (with or without the pimentos, or kalamata
1 whole marinated artichoke heart, cut into quarters
1 tsp Kosher Salt (more if needed after tasting)
Steps – here is the easy part:
- Put all in a food processor/blender and blend until smooth. If too dry, you can add extra olive oil, or if you taste and think it needs more lemon juice, feel free. You can also use a TBS of water at a time if you wish to avoid the extra calories.
- TASTE. Adjust with the spices if needed. What I do, is make it a day or at least 4 hours in advance so the flavors have a chance to meld. Then I taste and adjust. Garlic can mellow or become sharper. Salt can become saltier or absorbed, heat levels can mellow or become hotter, especially if you use fresh hot peppers instead of dried or jarred. The key is always taste and adjust.
As for the vegetables, you can use whatever you have in the fridge or what you like. You can even use fresh pita or bread. No hard and fast rules to what is acceptable.
SMOKED WHITEFISH SALAD with Smoked Salmon
I plated this with the salmon on the same cutting board as the Cheese platter (Cheese platter picture) because there was room. The smoked salmon salad can be eaten alone, or one of my favorites is topped with thinly sliced red onion, tomato and a slice of fresh smoked salmon. To keep it less filling, I serve with bagel chips opposed to full bagels. You can also take a whole bagel and instead of slicing it in half, you can get 4 – 6 thin slices out of it. This gives you the fresh bagel without filling up. You want to have room for all the other good stuff you want to put out.
Note: When plating the salmon, only put out a portion of what you have at a time so it does not dry out or become hard around the edges. You can always add more.
Another option is just to have a bagel deli platter for a Sunday afternoon. You can include different cream cheeses, onions, tomatoes, flavored butters (or plain), lettuce, and of course the whitefish salad! That would fill up anyone and NO complaints! Let me know, I will be right over.
If you have a favorite deli, then you can buy the whitefish salad. If you have a good place to buy a whole smoked Whitefish or smoked Trout, then the below recipe is for you!
Smoked Whitefish Salad Recipe (makes about 2.5 – 3 cups)
Notes: *** I took advantage of some high quality ingredients available to make this. Use what you like and can find, it will still turn out excellent.
***Making it a day in advance is important, as you want the flavors to meld and infuse the salad overnight for optimal results.
I even took some steps in this recipe to cut calories… You can use reduced fat on the dairy items if you wish. I don’t recommend non-fat as the texture and taste just aren’t there.
This recipe is easily reduced should you not need this full amount. But as far as I am concerned, I like making extra as I could eat it all week!
2 stalks or 1/2 cup of Celery, finely diced (I cut it into thin strips lengthwise, then dice)
1/2 cup red onion finely diced (you can use white onions if you have them. Sweeter onions work best)
1 cup fresh plain cream cheese (I used a farm fresh cream cheese, but your favorite brand will work too – you can use reduced fat)
1/2 sour cream (I used reduced fat)
3 – 4 TBS Mayo (I used reduced fat)
1 TBS fresh lemon juice (about the juice from 1/2 a small lemon)
2 – 2.5 cups packed smoked Whitefish picked, pulled apart/flaked and deboned (you can use your favorite smoked white fish, such as trout if you can’t find Whitefish). I was able to yield this amount from a 1.5LB smoked fish. I actually bought a 2.5 pound fish, and used just over 1/2 of it. The remaining was enjoyed on its own.
A few good grinds of fresh pepper
NO SALT is needed as the fish will give ALL the saltiness needed.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the cream cheese, sour cream, mayo, lemon juice and fresh pepper together until smooth and combined. Taste. I needed, add extra mayo, cream cheese or pepper. You want it to feel rich and slightly buttery on the tongue. It should not taste lemony, but the lemon adds a little vibrance to the mixture waking up the taste buds.
- Next, stir in the celery and onion until combined. Taste again. The onion and celery will release more flavors and a little crunch.
- Prep the fish (this gives the base mixture a little time to come together). It is best to remove the meat from the fish when it is cold, as it will slide off the bones easily. If it is too warm, the meat tends to stick to the bones. If you want a wet salad, use 2 cups packed fish. If you want a drier salad so it’s mostly fish – use 2.5 or more cups of fish.
- Add the fish to the cream cheese mixture, stir well and refrigerate. Over night is best. If you don’t have over night, than allow at least 4 hours.
- Stir again, taste and adjust if necessary.
- Serve. I used toasted bagels, water crackers, fresh bread, bagel/pita chips, a spoon works great too.
Optional: Fresh Parsley or Dill if you like. I did not use any, but that should not stop you if you want some fresh herbs in there.
You can also use this base to make chicken or tuna salad or other fish you happen to have. Put a spoonful over a salad for a healthy lunch. You will be the envy of all of your co-workers!
My son took the picture and it came out a little blurry. Oh well – I thought I would still use it and make it look artistic as if that was what I meant to do 🙂
There is no cooking on this one, just selecting great cheese that you like, unwrapping them and putting a knife where you or your guests can cut to order. I do not recommend pre-cutting all the cheese (3 or 5 slices is ok), as if it is not all eaten, the cheese can dry out and you may end up tossing your $$ out the door. It is ok to put the cheese tray out 1 hour before guests arrive to bring it to room temperature so the flavors start to release.
Having 3 – 5 different selections is more than enough for a cheese platter. And selecting 1/4 pound chunks is enough for a group under 10. Not everyone will eat all selections. If you know a particular one is a favorite, then go ahead and get a bigger piece.
Below are the cheeses I chose for my gathering. I had never had them before and the store I go to allows you to taste first. My guests are also very adventurous in food, so going with something I did not know was a no brainer for me. We all like to try new things and decide if it will become a staple or a “Well – that didn’t go over so big, nix that going forward.”
The cheeses I chose for this were:
Molterno with Truffles (Very good, thinking of using the extra to make a gourmet truffled mac & cheese or risotto – hmm see a new recipe on the horizon)
Grafton Village 4yr Sharp Cheddar (Very sharp and good)
Cambozola Blue (nice creamy blue cheese, great for spreading and great flavor)
Italian Ubriacone (infused with red wine – good, but not as good as the Molterno)
Spanish Mahon (mild new favorite. I gobbled this up)
When putting together your cheese selections, think of having a hard cheese, soft cheese and one in between. If you do more than 3 cheeses, then you can add more to any class.
Other options that make great cheese platters and you can find at your local super market:
Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs (you can easily make this by chopping fresh herbs and mixing in with the goat cheese)
You can also include the cheese spreads (like Boursin) you may find at the deli or refrigerated section. Chose what you like and are Pretty much anything you like.
When putting it together, be sure to have a knife and cheese labels available for each different cheese. This will prevent a milder cheese being over taken by a strong cheese left over on a shared knife.
Don’t forget the fresh bread and crackers.
Funny, I wasn’t going to include this section as I thought I did not need to expand on it.. but low and behold I had a bit to say.
FRESH MEAT PLATTER
As with the Cheese section, anything goes and you can do some cooking, or just grab that number at the Deli Counter and let the professionals go to work.
Note: When plating the meats, only put out a portion of what you have at a time so it does not dry out or become hard around the edges. You can always add more.
Hard and cured meats such as salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, corned beef or ham can be deli sliced thin a few days in advance. However, if you use a softer meat like rare roast beef, turkey and chicken it is best to have them fresh sliced the day you will server the platter. Roast beef in particular, as once it is sliced, the juices will run out making it dry and lose it’s nice bright color. That sorta happened to the roast beef in the picture above, however, a simple dressing can help to fix this and/or avoid it all together. I will list the recipe further down.
In the picture above I have three different meats: Prosciutto, Italian Hot Coppa and marinated Roast Beef. the deli counter has so many offerings. Other options include Pepperoni, Salami, Serrano Ham, many different kinds of turkey, ham, chicken, Chirozio, summer sausage, and the list goes on. You can stick to all Italian meats, or mix it up. I like to mix it up.
With the Prosciutto I had some rolled and some laying flat. The flat pieces were meant so one can pick it up and wrap it around a succulent piece of melon on the tray next to it.. soooo good and a great way to get your fruit servings for the day. 🙂 How you wish to display them is up to you and your artistic preferences.
One thing I did with the roast beef when I noticed the problem, I trimmed each piece of parts I did not like. I rolled them and then brushed them with a flavored oil. This worked very well and keeps the meat very tasty. The same oil can be used on chicken and turkey if needed.
Flavored Oil Dressing:
1/2 TBS dried Oregano, crushed
1/4 cup Good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp Mirin (it is Rice Wine, if you don’t have substitute a pinch of sugar = 1/4 tsp)
1 tsp White or Red wine vinegar
1 turns of fresh pepper
Put all into a jar with a lid. Shake and let sit about an hour longer is better as it will soften the oregano and flavor the oil. Then, shake again and brush on the rolled meat generously and let sit at room temp about 1/2 hour or in the fridge up to 2 days if you are not going to use right away. It’s really good and keeps the meat moist and adds flavor. Any left overs will go great in a salad or a sandwich.
Click here for my Beef Carpaccio recipe. I will probably go back to this next time as you can’t beat it.
Or other options are serving a tartare. You just have to keep it cold and minimize how long you keep it out. Click here to be directed to my tartare post.
DELI OLIVE BAR
I LOVE LOVE LOVE olives and pickles. In fact my friend and I went to NYC for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. We came across a pickle booth, that happened to be right next to a Vodka booth.. I can just say the Pickle-Tini was born (the Vodka booth didn’t have olives… how can a vodka booth not have olives?).
This is an assortment of Queen Olives stuffed with pimentos, kalamata olives, marinated artichoke and the fresh half-sour deli pickles. Yummm.
This is any easy one. Get your favorite olives, pickles, other marinated items, drain them (of course keeping the liquid and containers for any left overs), and put into a bowl, platter, olive tray or whatever. Then just eat them.
Another way to enjoy is to make a spread out of them. Dump them in to a food processor, add a little olive oil, a clove or two of garlic, some fresh parsley, anchovies, fresh pepper and process until as chopped as you can get. Then spread on a cracker and go.. hmmmmmmm. If you happen to have a block of parmesan cheese on your cheese tray, top your olive spread with a thin shaving on a piece of fresh bread. Caution, this is salty. so having fresh bread is key as it will absorb some of the salt.
Purchase the prepackaged mixed greens that are available everywhere or make your own combination. There is no wrong way to do this. Toss with your favorite dressing or use the below simple dressing idea. The word of caution here is to dress a little of the salad greens at a time and just so they get a little wet. You don’t want them soaked with dressing and you also don’t want it sitting out too long as the lettuce will wilt. Another option is you can put the dressing on the side and let each dress their own salad. And they can add to the salad from all the items you have out around the table. Kind of like a salad bar.
1 TBS chopped Garlic
1 TBS chopped Shallots
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or use red or white wine vinegar if you don’t have sherry vinegar)
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
Put all into a glass jar with a lid, shake and taste. If you think it is too strong with the vinegar, add a little more oil. Let sit for at least 2 hours, shake again and adjust seasoning.
This will last in the fridge for a few days and is a great salad dressing in general. You can also add a tsp or two of Dijon mustard.
So that covers my quick and easy entertaining menu. I hope you take some of these ideas for your next gathering and expand on them as well.
The one thing I don’t have on here is dessert. Well – My friend Jackie usually takes care of that. If she doesn’t come, I always have chocolate, cookies or ice cream around the house, so I don’t think of it. And to keep calories light, I did include fruit. So that could be a dessert.
Simple dessert ideas will have to be another post. Until then – enjoy the savory recipes I post!
Happy spring and memorial day weekend.