HOLIDAY PRE-PARTY

OCC_009Seafood Appetizers & Drink Pairings

By Mark DeWolf

If your house is like mine, the holiday season seems to start weeks before for the big day. Why not invite friends and family over for a holiday pre-party with gourmet nibbles and delightful cocktails? It’s a delicious start to the season.

PLANNING AHEAD OVERBOARD APPETIZERS

When it comes to seasonal parties, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. While there are many things that can only be done in the week leading into the event, there are items that require some preplanning. A few weeks before the event, starting think about the following:

Who’s Coming?
It’s entering the holiday season, so to soften your own ego bruise, only count on 60 -70 per cent of who you invite to make it as invariably there is a lot going on for everyone this time of year.
Theme
If there is going to be a theme, plan on identifying it before sending out the invites. Be sure to suggest a dress code, particularly if you want everyone to dress in their most chic outfit or Sunday’s best.
Invitations
Send out invitations. Old-fashioned, handwritten invitations say you really care. But, reality dictates an immediate response, so an easy way for guests to RSVP is to send an electronic invite. A number of online invitation services are available. Be sure to ask for any dietary restrictions.
Safety First
Be sure to list cab company phone numbers or a link to their websites on your invitations. Better yet, suggest downloading a taxi company’s mobile app. Halifax’s Casino Taxi and Yellow Cab along with Sackville’s Satellite Taxi all offer apps to assist with getting home safely.
Make the Grocery List
Plan your menu well in advance so when the time comes you’re not stressed about the grocery run. Enter the ingredients on an Excel spreadsheet with columns for quantity required, stores where the item can be purchased and if you want, a column for the section in the store where you’ll find it (i.e cold beer section, wine (by country), spirit aisle, fresh vegetables, dairy, cheese, meat, frozen foods etc.). You’ll be surprised how much time it saves you and you won’t have that “I forgot the butter” moment when you are leaving the store.

Overboard Appetizers

‘Tis the holiday season so why not go overboard and make appetizers featuring local seafood? Fresh seafood never goes out of style, so we’ve devised recipes that are both classic and modern, including everyone’s favourite —seared scallops — but instead of wrapping them in bacon, we’re topping ours with pancetta jam. We are also serving some flavourful sauces to pair with oysters served on the half shell, mini crab cakes, lobster stuffed potatoes and a delicious new way to enjoy salmon. They all make great matches to sparkling wine. Dive in and enjoy these holiday hors d’oeuvres, which make delicious conversation starters.

Bubbling Over

If you are going overboard with great seafood appetizers, why not serve the best local wines available? Nova Scotia has gained an enviable reputation for the quality of its Traditional Method sparkling wines led by producers such as L’Acadie Vineyards, Benjamin Bridge and Blomidon Estate, amongst others. This holiday season be sure to cast your line into the sparkling wine section and catch a bottle of locally made bubbly.

Occasions Recommends
L’Acadie Vineyards Vintage Cuvée, Nova Scotia, $27.00
Benjamin Bridge Brut, Nova Scotia, $44.99
Blomidon Cuvée L’Acadie Brut, Nova Scotia, $29.99

Oysters Duo
While oysters served on the half shell is a delicacy in its own right, I like to spice up the affair by accompanying them with some flavourful sauces such as a homemade North African inspired harissa and salsa verde.

Harissa
Preheat an oven to 450°F. Place 4 red peppers on a baking sheet. Roast for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place in paper bag. Allow to cool. Remove skins from peppers, deseed and chop. Place roasted pepper, 3 teaspoons freshly ground cumin, 3 teaspoons freshly ground coriander, 1 teaspoon paprika and 2 small Jalapeños, seeds removed and diced, in a blender. Add 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 3 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup mint leaves and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Makes 1 jar
Prep Time: Less than 1 hour
Total Time: Less than 1 hour

Salsa Verde
Combine 1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley leaves, 1/4 cup of finely chopped mint leaves, 1 shallot (minced), 1 clove garlic (minced), 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar in a blender. Purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in a 1/4 cup capers in a bowl and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Makes 1 jar
Prep Time: Less than 30 minutes
Total Time: Less than 30 minutes

Scallops with Pancetta Jam
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Scallops with Pancetta Jam
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  1. Method: Make the Pancetta Jam by placing pancetta in a pot set over medium heat. Sauté until browned on all sides. Remove pancetta with slotted spoon and set aside. Lower heat to medium-low and add the onion. Sauté until soft. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add espresso, Sherry vinegar, brown sugar and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, return pancetta to pot and then reduce to simmer. When it is thick and syrupy, remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place a large pan over medium-high heat. Pat scallops dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper. Add half the olive oil to a large pan set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, sear half the scallops, 2-3 minutes per side. Repeat. To serve, place scallops on platter. Top each with a teaspoon of pancetta jam and thinly sliced basil leaves.
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Lobster Stuffed Mini Potatoes
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Lobster Stuffed Mini Potatoes
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  1. Method: Place potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from water and set aside to cool. When cool, use a paring knife to remove a thin slice from top of potatoes and carefully scoop out the inside of potato, leaving a shell. Place the potato tops and inside flesh in a bowl with the sour cream. Mash. Stir in the cream cheese, bacon, chives, green onions and lobster meat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fill the potato shells with the lobster mixture. Place potatoes on a baking sheet or in a baking dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and lightly dust with paprika. Garnish with additional chopped chives, if desired.
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Mini Crab Cakes
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Mini Crab Cakes
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  1. Method: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and peppers and sauté until peppers are soft. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine reserved pepper mixture with crab meat, chives, basil, 2/3 cup of the bread crumbs and mayonnaise. Mix thoroughly by hand. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Measure out 2 tablespoon portions of the crab mixture. Place spoonfuls of the mixture on a parchment lined baking sheet and flatten so they become discs. Place baking sheet in fridge for an hour to chill. In a bowl, whisk eggs together. Prepare three separate bowls; one with eggs, one with remaining bread crumbs and one with flour. Dip crab cakes in flour, then dip into egg mixture and finally in bread crumbs. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is hot, add crab cakes. Work in batches so the pan is not overcrowded. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side. When cakes are golden brown on each side, transfer to paper towel to drain. Place crab cakes on a platter and top with microgreens.
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Gin Cured Salmon
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Gin Cured Salmon
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  1. Method: Pat salmon dry and place in a non-reactive bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the gin, lemon zest, orange zest, dill, maple syrup and salt in a bowl. Pour marinade over the salmon fillets and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours. While the salmon is curing, make a quick sauce by combining the horseradish, sour cream, lemon juice and orange in a bowl. Mix until well combined. When ready to serve, brush excess salt and curing mixture off salmon. Remove the skin from the salmon and using a very sharp knife, cut the salmon into thin slices. Place salmon on plates topped with sliced red onion, and capers. Serve pumpernickel bread and sauce on the side along with chilled gin.
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