Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mom, COOK! (Because you're so damn good at it) - Part 1 - Appetizers

Good day all!

I'm back to tell you about the greatest cook I know and someone who always keeps my culinary aspirations soaring while humbling me with her talent. Of course, I'm talking about my Mom.

As the mother of seven children, six of whom were boys, she had to restrain herself in what she made when we were kids. Because there was a whole lot of picky in there. I admit being the one of the worst culprits. To this day, I feel a pang of guilt when I eat vegetable soup because of the royal stink I'd raise when it was on the menu when I was 7. In many ways, we were spoiled rotten by the quality of the food we ate growing up. Rare were the nights of pizza, McDonalds's or TV dinners, even with 7 mouths to feed! Mind you, this is a little bit before the days (like now) where the cost of healthy food is far greater than that of processed crap.

Just an example: When a birthday rolled around, the menu was decided by the birthday boy/girl and we could have whatever we wanted (although we always chose Chocolate Cake for dessert!). I'm pretty sure I had Southern Fried Chicken and Corn Fritters as my bday dinner of choice for about a decade straight.

Recently Mom decided to compile all her "greatest hits" into a bunch of Word documents for easy dissemination to her kids and grandkids.

And you, lucky readers, get to reap the reward along with all the rest of my siblings!

So, the plan for is to present some of my favourites amongst the recipes she's compiled over a few posts. This is the food I grew up on. Lucky me!

 Before I get into it, I'll give honourable mentions (and links) to items posted in previous entries that came from the genius of my mother:

- Doomsday Bars (from June 30, 2010) - This recipe was first given to my Mom by a colleague or student about 20 years ago. The whole clan was hooked from the get-go. Now I've made it an annual tradition at Blue Skies.

- Curry Dip (from "Classic Appetizers" - August 20, 2010) - The best, easiest way to get a kid to eat his/her veggies. A staple of get-togethers in the 70s and 80s. Addictive!

- Tourtière (from "Les mets d'chez nous - première partie" - March 24, 2011) - A staple of Quebecois cuisine and our Xmas dinners.

So, already you've had some insight into how good the eating was growing up in our house. Well, strap in, lots more to come! Today we're going to cover appetizers. Apologies for the lack of visual stimulus.


1 - Salmon Pâté

This is another classic from the 70s-80s that takes very basic ingredients and combines them into addictive treats (Mom really mastered this concept). This is pretty much a standard appetizer at every family gathering. Serve with crackers or bread/crostini.


- 1x 8 oz. package of cream cheese (the brick kind)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2x 8 oz. cans of red (Sockeye) salmon (I suppose you could try using fresh or frozen salmon, but that would be gilding the lily, as they say)
- 1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
- 1 tbsp of lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp chopped onion
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 2 tsp prepared horseradish
- 3 tbsp parsley


- Drain salmon and remove skin.

- Place all ingredients in Food Processor and mix until well blended (if you're like me and try to avoid using the food processor as much as possible, I imagine bashing this mix together with a mortar and pestle would produce an interesting result).

- Refrigerate until firm.

2 - Brandied Cheese
As with so much great food, it's a deceptively simple recipe, but I betcha dimes to donuts it would be a hit in any restaurant that served it. It will certainly impress your guests!

- 1x 8oz package of cream cheese, softened (again, brick kind)
- 1x 8oz carton of sour cream
- 3 tbsp brandy
- 1 ½ cups [6oz] shredded Edam or Gouda cheese


- In a bowl, stir together cream cheese, sour cream and brandy.
- Stir in shredded cheese.
- Transfer to an 8 inch oven-proof dish.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven about 30 mins or until lightly browned.
- Serve warm with crackers or French bread.

Quote Mom: "I think that I have given this recipe to 256 people." - Make that a few more now...

3 - Mushroom and Seafood Tarts

Sheer, utter guilt-inducing decadence. This was my absolute favourite treat as a kid around the Christmas holidays, and that's including the 12 or so different kinds of cookies! Mom hasn't made these much in recent years, probably because there are a lot of really impressive appetizers out there that aren't nearly this involved in making (see above). But, some day I'm going to give them a go. On a side note, I remember more than once scooping a seafood tart fresh out of the oven and snarfing it in one bite, thus completely burning the inside of my mouth. The filling in these things is like gourmet napalm.

So, basically these are small (2-inches in diameter) puff pastry cups with a hot, gooey, cheesy, creamy filling based on either mushroom or seafood. Soooooo tasty!

Pastry Cups

To make your own cups: Roll out pastry (from whichever source works for you, the dough recipe for tourtière works here, as does any pie or pastry recipe), cut out circles {about 2 ½ inches in diameter}. Fit pastry circles into small muffin cups. Pierce pastry 4-5 times with fork. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 mins. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for about another 15 mins. or until browned. Cool pastry rounds on wire rack.

OR: pastry cups can be purchased at most grocery stores or delis.

Mushroom Filling


- ¾ lb chopped fresh mushrooms
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp dry bread crumbs
- 1 cup béchamel sauce [recipe below]
- 1 tbsp grated Swiss cheese
- 1 tsp finely chopped fresh parsley


- In a heavy, 8-10 inch skillet, cook the green onions in the butter over moderate heat, stirring constantly, for 2 mins or until they are soft.

- Add the chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 mins, or until all the moisture has evaporated and they are beginning to brown lightly.

- Transfer mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process, using pulse mode until the mixture is finely chopped. Do not over process.

- Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the béchamel sauce and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

- Spoon the mixture into the pastry cups. Top with a pinch of breadcrumbs and cheese.

- Place tarts on baking sheet. Heat in 350 degree oven until mixture starts to bubble.

Béchamel Sauce


- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup hot milk
- 3 tbsp flour
- salt and pepper


- In a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the flour, mix well with a whisk. Reduce the heat to low, and heat for 2 mins stirring constantly. Add the milk, turn heat up to med-high and stir constantly with a whisk until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, still stirring. Remove from heat.

Makes about 1 cup.

Seafood Filling


- 1 lb medium-size shrimp ground nutmeg to taste
- 1 lb scallops
- 1 can crab meat
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp brandy or sherry [optional]
- bread crumbs
- cheese (something sharp, like an extra-old Cheddar or a Swiss, usually works well to contrast the richness)
- 1 cup Béchamel sauce [as per mushroom tarts]


- Bring about 2 cups of water to boil in large frying pan. Add scallops and cook until done [about 5 mins].

- Remove scallops with slotted spoon, chop and place in large bowl. Add shrimp to pan and cook until pink.

- Chop and add to scallops in bowl. Drain crab meat, chop and add to bowl. Add the Béchamel sauce, seasonings to taste and brandy or sherry if using. Mix well.

- Spoon filling into pastry shells. Top with pinch of breadcrumbs and cheese.

- Heat as for mushroom tarts.

To Make Ahead

- After filling tarts, place them on a baking sheet. Either refrigerate them, if using in 1-2 days, or if freezing, place baking sheets in freezer. Once tarts are frozen, put them in an airtight container and keep in freezer.

- To reheat, place tarts on baking sheet and put in a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 mins until mixture is bubbly.

- Each recipe will fill about 30 tarts or so.

So, that's just a sampling of Appetizer madness. Last night was the family Easter dinner at my Mom's, where she unleashed hot crab dip, artichoke-cheese spread, and a gourmet refried bean dip. And, as always, deeeeelicious!

'Til next time!

PS: On a side note, I've been missing the charger for my camera for months now, which meant I wasn't able to take pictures of some of my cooking projects. Finally found the damn thing as I was packing up my apartment, so I'll be including pictures of any goodness I produce and blog about in the future.

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