- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Food magazines and cookbooks make Thanksgiving entertaining look effortless, but my friend Ann told me she finds this all very depressing. So I reminded her that professional caterers have legions of helpers and a stocked freezer of ready-to-heat appetizers.

My offhanded remarks gave her an idea. Instead of hiring someone to take the mess off her hands, she decided to revamp her menu with make-ahead appetizers. A caterer friend gave her two foolproof recipes.

• Pesto-stuffed mushrooms that can be stuffed and frozen on cookie sheets up to two weeks in advance. Ann would simply reheat them before arranging on platters.

• Vegetable pate served in a hollowed-out round of rye bread. This can be prepared days in advance. The loaf can be hollowed out that morning, wrapped tightly so that it stays fresh and filled with pate just before serving. Ann would arrange the bread cubes, cherry tomatoes and whole snow peas alongside.

Pesto-stuffed mushrooms

16 large mushrooms

3 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon minced, drained pimentos

1½ tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs

⅓ cup minced fresh basil

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon ground Parmesan cheese, optional

1 teaspoon minced toasted almonds

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Salt, pepper

Remove stems from mushrooms by wiggling them until they loosen. Mince stems; set aside. Place caps, round side up, on ungreased baking sheet. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mushrooms exude moisture. Set aside.

In 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, saute shallots, pimento and garlic in sesame oil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from browning. Add minced mushroom stems and cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add bread crumbs, basil, parsley, cheese, almonds, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well.

Stuff mixture into mushroom caps. Freeze on large baking sheet until solid. Store in freezer in heavy-duty resealable plastic bags.

To serve, preheat broiler and broil still-frozen stuffed mushrooms 5 to 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and heated through. (Do not thaw or they will become soggy.) Serve immediately. Makes 16 appetizers.

Vegetable pate in a rye round

1 large round loaf rye bread

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup sake, white wine or defatted broth

½ large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

½ green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 cup sliced wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles

2 stalks celery, minced

½ cup toasted walnuts

½ cup minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon ground rosemary

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups whole cherry tomatoes

2 cups whole snow peas

Slice top off rye loaf and scoop out, leaving 1 inch crust all around. Reserve 1 cup bread crumbs for recipe; freeze remainder for another use.

In 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and sake, white wine or broth until bubbling. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add green and red bell peppers, wild mushrooms and celery. Cook 5 to 8 minutes, or until wild mushrooms exude moisture. Add a tablespoon or so of water if mixture appears dry.

Remove from heat and place in food processor or blender. Add walnuts and process until thick and smooth. Stir in bread crumbs, parsley, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, salt, basil and oregano. Adjust seasonings to taste.

To serve, spoon into hollowed-out rye bread round. Serve croutons, cherry tomatoes and snow peas alongside. Makes 15 to 18 servings.

• Note: Pate can be spooned into covered container and refrigerated for up to three days.


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