We’ve got another one under our belts and there’s just enough time left to think about how to ring in the new one. It will be quiet for me, I think, after enjoying family visits and lots of special occasion meals. If you’re considering having family or a few close friends over, and want to serve the most delicious nibbles ever, I’m on your side today.
Refrigerated Red Pepper & Ginger Jam
Making jam hardly seems like an easy party solution, but this divine concoction is simple and can be made days in advance. If you really don’t want to fuss, by all means buy the ready-made version available in lots of grocery stores.
I like mine on the piquant side, so halve the hot peppers for a tamer result. If you want an even more fiery mix, use a couple of habaneros or hot Thai chilies, but warn your guests.
If your party is over and you have some left consider yourself fortunate, because this confection is absolutely fabulous spread on a baked ham or lamb, heated with pan juices and served over chicken or pork, or just spread on bread with sliced cold cuts and cheese.
This recipe makes a couple of large jars and keeps in the fridge for at least three weeks.
3 large red bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 serrano or 4 jalapeño peppers, left whole
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 thumb-sized piece fresh gingerroot, peeled but left whole
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice — no pulp please
1/4 tsp. salt
Put the red bell peppers in a heavy-bottomed pot along with whole hot peppers and vinegar. Smash the ginger with the blade of your knife and add. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for about 20 minutes, until peppers are quite soft. If the pot threatens to go dry jut add a little water.
Remove from heat and cool a few minutes; discard the whole hot peppers and the ginger. Puree the rest in a blender or food processor and strain through a sieve, pushing as much through as you can with a spoon. Return the smooth puree to the pot and add sugar. Cook uncovered, stirring often, until mixture is reduced, thick and jammy, about 20 minutes. Again, add a little water if mixture gets too dry. Stir in lemon juice and salt and bring back up to a boil for another five minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Spoon this miraculous substance onto a brick of cream cheese and serve with crackers or baguette slices.
For a slightly more elegant service, cut planks of several varieties of cheese and serve with small pots of jelly to encourage dipping and drizzling.
Arrange fresh grapes, whole nuts and crackers around the jam and cheese and you have a party feast.
One more thing, make the fishcakes that follow and watch people go crazy for them with the pepper jam on top.
If your mom’s salt fishcakes seem quaint and old-fashioned to you, think again. Salt cod has become a go-to party dish for the rich and famous, so I’m all for trotting out my mom’s recipe, with a couple of minor changes to help these hold together in your guests’ fingers.
Salt fish are like snowflakes — no two are the same.
I always start two days in advance and I taste the soaking water after the first 12 hours. If it’s really salty, I’ll consider up to another full day of soaking. You can adjust the recipe a little as you go, but really salty fish could ruin the result.
This amount will serve a crowd but feel free to double or triple if you’re feeding the block. These make perfectly good full-sized fishcakes as well, of course.
1 lb. skinless boneless salt cod
1-1/2 lbs. baking potatoes
1 large onion, minced
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup (approximately) vegetable oil, for frying
Soak cod in lots of cold water overnight; repeat if fish is really salty. Rinse and place in a pot. Cover with lots of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover halfway and simmer over low about 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly and cool enough to handle. Break into small pieces. Taste it now for salt. If you would happily eat it as is, you should add about 1/2 tsp. salt to the fishcake mixture before coating in crumbs and frying. If it is on the salty side, follow the recipe as it is.
Boil potatoes in lightly salted water and mash; set aside to cool.
Fry onion in butter until soft but not brown. Place in a large mixing bowl and add cod, potatoes, egg, parsley and pepper.
Form into small cakes — two bites each are the perfect party snack — and roll in crumbs, pressing to help them adhere. Fry on both sides in hot oil until brown and crispy. Drain on a rack or paper towels and keep hot in the oven at 325 F until all are cooked. Serve with red pepper jam, bottled chili sauce, tartar sauce or just as they are. If you’re using cocktail plates and forks instead of napkins consider offering sweet mustard pickles or pickled beets on the side.
Fruitcake & Chocolate Rum Balls
Even if your party is just too chic to serve sliced fruitcake, you can make good use of those holiday flavours in these simple but fabulous sweet treats. There’s always a hunk of cake leftover in my fridge but it’s worth buying one from the grocery store just to make these.
1 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp. dark rum
1-1/4 cups fruitcake, chopped finely or broken into small pieces
1/2 cup (approx.) sifted icing sugar
Put chocolate chips and butter in a large, deep bowl. Bring whipping cream almost to a boil, either in the microwave or in a small pot, and pour over chocolate and butter.
Stir until melted and smooth. Immediately add fruitcake and stir to combine thoroughly. Chill for an hour or until stiff enough to handle. Roll into bite-sized balls — I coat my hands in non-stick cooking spray to make this easier. Roll balls in icing sugar and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.