During the holidays, I take great comfort in having spur-of-the-moment hors d'oeuvres available. I don't mean the kind that require defrosting, spreading, rolling, wrapping or last-minute heating. I mean delicious, even elegant hors d'oeuvres that require absolutely no work at the last minute.
A good cheese crock is this kind of treasure. So are pates and rich seafood spreads. You can use your microwave to good advantage in the preparation of these make-ahead foods.
Here are my versions of favorite appetizers. If you have time to prepare extras, they make wonderful homemade gifts.
The cheese crock improves with age, so make it a week or two in advance. Taste the mixture before you pack it into the crock. You may want to add a personal touch of flavor--a dash of hot pepper sauce, a dash of curry powder or a bit more garlic. I like to add chopped pecans.
BRANDIED CHEESE CROCK
4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese
3 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Crackers or cocktail rye bread rounds
Place Cheddar and cream cheeses in 2-quart microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 2 to 5 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, until softened. Stir in brandy, olive oil, mustard, garlic and salt. With electric mixer, beat well until thoroughly blended. Mixture will be soft and creamy.
Pack into 1 (3- to 4-cup) crock or bowl with tight-fitting lid or seal with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 week before using. Serve with crackers or cocktail rye rounds. Makes about 3 cups.
If there's time, allow this pate to stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving. This is a dense, meaty pate that tastes best on buttered crackers or bread. The bits of raw onion lend a nice texture to the smooth meat mixture.
PATE OF CHICKEN LIVERS
1 pound chicken livers
1 cup water
4 black peppercorns
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Black olives, chopped hard-cooked egg for garnish, optional
Place chicken livers in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. With tines of fork, pierce each liver to allow steam to escape as livers cook. Add water and peppercorns.
Cover casserole and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 16 to 20 minutes, stirring after 8 minutes, until livers are tender. Livers will be pink inside. Drain livers, discarding peppercorns.
Puree livers in food processor fitted with steel knife. Beat butter, onion, lemon juice, bourbon, salt, thyme and nutmeg until combined in small bowl. Stir in pureed liver.
Pack mixture into well-greased 1 1/2- to 2-cup mold. Cover and chill thoroughly, then turn out onto serving plate. (Or pack mixture into attractive serving crock and cover until served.) Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with olives and chopped hard-cooked egg. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
This spread can be made up to five days in advance. Let it stand at room temperature for one hour before serving so it can soften to a spreadable consistency. If your serving container is microwave-safe, you can soften the spread in the microwave, but use LOW (30% power) and watch carefully to prevent melting.
POTTED SHRIMP CANAPE SPREAD
2 pounds shrimp in shells
2 1/2 cups water
1 large bay leaf
1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely minced or grated onion
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place shrimp, water, bay leaf, garlic and vinegar in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Cover and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 8 to 11 minutes, stirring every 4 minutes, until ends of shrimp look opaque.
Allow shrimp to cool in liquid. Remove shells and sand veins from shrimp and rinse to clean. You should have about 2 cups cleaned shrimp. Chop shrimp medium fine.
In medium mixing bowl, beat butter with onion, mace and salt until fluffy. Mix in chopped shrimp. Spoon mixture into 3- to 4-cup bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until serving. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving. Garnish top with chopped parsley before serving, if desired. Makes about 3 cups.