A month ago, during a momentary lapse of reason, throwing a holiday party seemed like a festive idea. Now, ready or not, here they come -- those freeloading friends, co-workers and nasty-assed relatives, dropping by to guzzle your booze, inhale your food and drag mud throughout your home, all in the name of a little Christmas cheer.
You can't bail at the last moment because that would ruin the holiday spirit. You can't hire a caterer because that would be too expensive, and you can't serve store-bought pâtes and cheeses because that's just plain lame. In order to help you through this culinary crisis, I have decided to reveal two of my very best recipes. Consider them your year-end bonus for being a faithful reader of my column. These appetizers are so damned tasty that I promise your guests will flee early for fear that if they linger too long they will be forced to reciprocate next year with equal panache.
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CHIPOTLE DRY RUB SHRIMP WITH A CILANTRO DIPPING SAUCE
The herbs and spices do all the hard work, leaving you with plenty of energy to fend off the party crashers who are drawn in by the wafting aromas.
2 pounds 12-15 count shrimp (translation: 12-15 shrimp per pound)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/3 - 2/3 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (can be replaced with cayenne pepper)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh cilantro, leaves and stems discarded before measuring
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1. Shell, clean and devein shrimp. (Tails may be left on for aesthetic reasons.) Pat dry.
2. Toss shrimp with oregano, thyme, lemon pepper, chipotle pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Ideally, let them sit in the refrigerator for an hour for the spices to meld with the shrimp.
3. Blend cilantro in a food processor until liquefied. Stir in sour cream, lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
4. Heat a dry, well-seasoned iron skillet or other heavy pan over high heat. When pan is hot, place shrimp in pan so that each one is side down (i.e., not too overcrowded). Cook for approximately 1 minute and turn over for another minute, or until shrimp is no longer translucent. Repeat as necessary to cook all shrimp.
5. Serve warm, or at room temperature, with cilantro dipping sauce.
Le Secret: The chipotle pepper adds a unique smoky flavor to the shrimp.
- Cilantro sauce will keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- Shrimp can be cooked a day in advance, or better yet, mixed with spices in advance, then pan-cooked just before serving.
Warning: Be sure to cover up your smoke alarm before cooking the shrimp. Trust me on this.
This twist on the classic French tapenade is rich, fruity and aromatic.
3 cups black Kalamata olives, pitted
Zest of 2 medium-sized oranges
Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh Italian parsley, stems removed and discarded before measuring
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, stems removed and discarded before measuring
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 thin sourdough baguette or rustic crackers or bagel chips
1. Purée all ingredients (except the bread) in a food processor to make tapenade.
2. Cut baguette into thin slices and toast in a toaster or in the oven.
3. Spread tapenade on crisps just before serving or let guests assemble themselves.
Le Secret: Use good fresh kalamata olives and err on the generous side of the herb portions.
The Adventure Club: Use leftover olive paste on bruschetta, pizzas or pastas.
Alternatives: Other types of black olives may be used, but at great sacrifice to the overall flavor.
Advance Prep: Tapenade will keep well in the refrigerator for several days.
- Although no salt is added, the natural composition of kalamata olives makes this appetizer quite salty.
- If you are using a blender to purée, you may need to add some extra oil to facilitate blending. After blending, place in a bowl. Excess oil will rise to the edges of the bowl. Drain off.
- Keep refrigerated.
Christmas Cocktails: Click here for three cocktail recipes from my column last year.
Music To Pit By: Various Artists "Invocation" (sacred music from around the globe), 6 Degrees Records/Polygram
Kalamata olives are difficult to find in grocery stores and overpriced in most delis. For the best olives at the lowest prices, go to any Greek or Middle Eastern market.