There was a time when a woman would be embarrassed to admit she didn’t like to cook. It just wasn’t done.
Not anymore. As boxed cake mixes, Rice-A-Roni, electric can openers, microwaves and supermarket rotisserie chickens came along, anybody could fake cooking. And do an OK job at it.
And that’s OK.
At a cooking demonstration at Fezziwig’s Marketplace in O’Fallon (fezziwigsmarket.com) last week, one woman readily admitted she didn’t cook — and that’s why she was there.
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Owner Ellen Leaf Moore chuckled; she’d heard it all before. She wasn’t surprised that the dining area of her demonstration kitchen was packed for her “5 in 25” class.
“I’m going to do five appetizers in 25 minutes,” she told us. We believed her: Ellen can smile and cook and talk at the same time, a feat most of us there that night would never try to achieve. But, we were willing to watch Ellen (and her staff) work. Then, we got to eat. I took notes.
First, you should know that Ellen’s answer that night to many time-related questions about preparing fast appetizers was answered by buying something premixed or premade. Call it convenient gourmet food, such as a raspberry compote, horseradish dill dip and packaged smoked salmon.
This may be a fast way to make appetizers, but it’s not necessarily cheap. It’s all about priorities, really.
If you’re willing to spend more to get the job done faster, then these quick recipes are for you. I’ve included four simple appetizers and a tiny dessert with general instructions; recipes really aren’t needed. And, you can do these on the fly: add what looks like the right amount of something, then taste. You can always adjust.
1. Holiday Brie: Spend the bucks and buy a round of brie. Bring it to room temperature. Ellen then spread a cranberry-jalapeño compote (sold at the shop) over just the top.
Note: What’s a compote, you say? It’s fruit cooked in water with sugar and spices until it pretty much resembles preserves. Feel free to substitute a chutney, a pepper jelly or a tart preserve. Try to stay with something red for the holidays.
Also, Ellen says to always take a small slice out of the brie before serving it. Sometimes guests don’t want to be the first one to make a cut.
2. Snow-Covered Rosemary: It’s not edible, but do this anyway. Ellen put some Sprite (I think 7Up will work, too) in a shallow bowl, dipped fresh rosemary branches in it, then dipped the rosemary in powdered sugar. It looked like snow-covered evergreen. She added these to the top of the brie, along with some fresh cranberries. It looked awesome, but do it just before serving.
Note: Anybody can do this. And, everybody will notice. So, spend the money on some fresh rosemary.
3. Gourmet Cocktail Meatballs: Ellen preheated the oven to 400 degrees. She took a bag of thawed frozen meatballs from Sam’s Club and cooked them, covered, in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Then, she combined the meatballs with a mix of raspberry compote (there’s that word again) and barbecue sauce, stirred and stuck them in the oven, covered, for 20 minutes.
Note: Feel free to once again substitute a chutney. Actually, any seedless jam/preserve will work, too, if your barbecue sauce is spicy enough.
4. Martini Dips: Put a softened block of cream cheese in a medium-size bowl and mash it up a bit. Open a package of smoked salmon and chop some finely. Here’s where Ellen added Emerald Isle Onion Horseradish Dill Dip (she sells it at the shop) and gently combined it all.
Presentation is everything here: Ellen took a big martini glass and gently lobbed the mixture into it. She set the glass on a rectangular tray, added a spoon and a sprig of fresh dill to the dip (for a little added color) and a scattering of pita chips around the base.
Note 1: My thinking on this one is that you could add to the cream cheese and salmon some onion powder or onion flakes, sprinkle on some dried dill and add a dollop of horseradish mayo and possibly approximate what you’d get in the store-bought jar. But, that defeats the purpose of not doing any work, doesn’t it?
Note 2: Try any dip in a martini glass; it just looks so classy. And, spring for some good dippers like pita chips or gourmet crackers. Baby carrots work well, too, though with a less-chunky dip.
5. Peppermint Brownies: Buy a container of brownie bites at the supermarket. Ellen beat a half-cup peppermint candy-cane dip sold at the shop with a half-cup of softened butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla extract to make frosting. She then piped it onto the tops of each tiny brownie.
Note: Buy a can of vanilla frosting, add peppermint extract and thin with a little milk or softened butter. Add a drop of red food coloring to turn the icing pink. Fill a zip-lock bag, cut a corner out of it and pipe away. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Add some crushed peppermint candies on top, if you’re so inclined.