Everyday Kitchen -
We're done shopping and wrapping and planning and fussing. If you indulge in decorating, then your tree is probably up. If you're hosting the main feast, then your turkey - or whatever you're building dinner around - is biding in your refrigerator and your vegetables are awaiting the peeler's blade.
It's far too late to worry about the big bird, so I'm skipping straight to the party fare to help you through the rest of this week and maybe next.
Each of these recipes is delicious and special enough to make it to tonight's table, your New Year's celebration or any party between now and then. You might notice there are no meat dishes here today - feel free to throw on the wings and meatballs, but I'm planning to give the turkey quite a fright tomorrow, so vegetarian just seems right tonight.
Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
These aren't for your casual get-together on any old winter's eve. It's time to pull out the big guns and impress the red velvet pants right off Santa. This recipe is perfect as a first course, before anything you care to plate, or as a party appetizer.
You can serve these finger-sized finger foods from slighter warmer than room temperature right through to ice cold. If you can't find bottled grape leaves but still want to experiment with the exotic Greek flavours, use cabbage and to heck with authenticity.
A food processor comes in handy for chopping, but a sharp knife will do the job, too. Toast pine nuts in a dry frying pan just until they start to brown - watch them carefully or they will scorch. If you can't find fresh mint, substitute 1 tsp. dried. Serve these plain, with a dollop of yogurt or a squeeze of lemon juice, or with the more traditional tzatziki sauce.
1 jar grape leaves in brine - about 40
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/4 tsp. each ground cinnamon and allspice
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
2 cups cooked and cooled long grain rice
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 green onions, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Drain the grape leaves and place in a large bowl. Cover well with boiling water and soak 30 minutes, unrolling the leaves. Drain in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water; set aside. Fry red onion, cinnamon and allspice in 2 tbsp. of the olive oil until starting to soften. Add rice and cook, stirring, until each grain is coated in the oil. Stir in pine nuts, currants, parsley, mint and grated lemon zest. Cook a minute or two; cool. Add green onion and season to taste. Lay the grape leaves flat, stem facing you and the vein side up. Place a spoonful of the rice mixture in the middle of each leaf and roll up tightly, tucking in the ends to enclose the filling completely. Layer stuffed leaves in a heavy pot or baking dish. Whisk together lemon juice and remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil along with a good pinch of black pepper and pour over top. Add enough boiling water to cover then throw in the squeezed out lemon. Cover and simmer on top of the stove 1 hour - when bubbling hot, you can put them in the oven to finish cooking. Cool in the cooking liquid before draining and serving. You can buy prepared tzatziki or add fresh garlic, grated cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to plain yogurt and allow the flavours to combine in the fridge for a while.
Snazzy Deviled Eggs
Retro is in and so are these. No matter what kind of party you are hosting or attending, I guarantee these are always the first to disappear off the table. The flavours are updated just enough to make them more interesting, and to have people ask for the recipe.
12 large eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
2 green onions, minced
2 tbsp. blue cheese, crumbled (optional)
Cover eggs with cold water in a heavy pot and place on high heat. As soon as the water comes to a boil turn off the heat and leave eggs, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold running water. Carefully remove the shells, trying not to damage the whites. With a sharp knife, cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and mash together with remaining ingredients except for the paprika. Spoon into the whites and sprinkle paprika on top. Serve these on a bed of spinach or lettuce to keep them from slipping and sliding on the plate.
Slow Cooker Artichoke Dip
One super-easy, low maintenance hot appetizer is a must at every party, and this one is delicious. No fussing here - prepare it up to three days in advance and refrigerate right in the slow cooker, then put it on at your moment of highest stress. One thing to remember: don't buy pickled artichokes by mistake. Serve this with pitas cut into wedges, celery and carrot sticks, or sturdy crackers.
2 14-oz. jars or cans artichokes packed in water, drained well and chopped
1 cup each grated Swiss and mozzarella cheeses
1-1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
1/2 cup minced onion
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 2 to 3 hours.
Pesto Basil Cheesecake
This makes a spectacular table centrepiece. It easily serves 10 and goes great with crispy crackers and fresh fruit. If you want to make your own pesto, go ahead, but I don't think it makes much difference here.
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. each dried oregano, thyme and basil
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 cup coffee cream
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch cayenne pepper
1 small jar (1/3 to 1/2 cup) green basil pesto
Rub butter around the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Combine breadcrumbs, oregano, thyme, basil and Parmesan and add to buttered pan. Roll around to cover thoroughly with crumb mixture, then allow any remaining to rest as evenly as you can in the bottom. Beat together ricotta and flour until well mixed and smooth. Beat in cream, salt and cayenne pepper. Add eggs one at a time, beating lightly after each addition. Pour carefully into prepared pan. Spoon pesto over top in small amounts; swirl with a knife to create a marbled effect. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until barely set in the centre. Turn off oven and open the door, leaving the cheesecake inside to cool for 30 minutes. Finish cooling on a rack and serve slightly warm, at room temperature or cold.
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 5970, St. John's, NL, A1C 5X7.