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“What can I bring?”

Welcome quick-to-put-together contributions to any celebration
7 MINUTE READ
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7 MINUTE READ
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I hear “What can I bring?” a lot when we invite family and friends to share our table. Salads are an especially popular “bringable,” as are desserts and a most-often-requested make-ahead side dish: mashed potatoes. Nowadays, I especially like the looks of a charcuterie board with cured and smoked meats — an impressive quick-to-put-together contribution to so many occasions.

A charcuterie board

Photo of a charcuterie board

What’s appealing about this splendid array of cured and smoked cold meat, with its sweet, salty and tangy tidbits, is its versatility: Bring it for the first course of a dress-up dinner, or partner it with cocktails or, when there’s a game to watch, beer and cider. For a crowd of 12, you need a generous pound and a half of cured or smoked meat. Choose from the following suggestions, keeping in mind the amount you need. Feel free to tinker with amounts, but be wary of too many varieties or guests will have a hard time choosing.

  • 8 oz (225 g) prosciutto or Virginia ham, very thinly sliced and overlapped on the board
  • 6 to 8 oz (170 to 225 g) smoked duck breast, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz (112 g) of the following: Mennonite summer sausage, Hungarian salami, hot or mild soppressata or capicollo, folded over or rolled
  • 4 oz (112 g) kielbasa and/or Spanish chorizo or Portuguese chouriço, in thin slices

Cheese: Something spreadable like herbed cream cheese or easy-to-pick­up wedges of bloomy Camembert. Keep meat the focus and let the cheese tempt vegetarians.

  • Slice sourdough baguette and, for colour and taste contrast, dark pumpernickel rye, adding plain or whole grain crackers and the Seedy Crackers below for the soft cheeses.
  • Add-ins: a pint of cherry tomatoes and small bunches of seedless grapes, roasted peppers, green olives and glossy wrinkly black olives, sharp little cornichons or dills, dried apricots and figs, walnut halves and pistachios in shells (both unsalted), chutney and eggplant salad.
  • Include a couple of containers of toothpicks for snaring the treats and another for the used picks.

Super seedy crackers for cheese

A favourite of New Zealander Jocelyn Buchanan, whose teaching career included years with the Toronto District School Board. The recipe has been slightly adapted.

  • 1 3/4 cups (430 ml) all-purpose flour
  • 1 /2 cup (125 ml) each flax seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sesame seeds and sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) steel cut oatmeal, also known as Irish or Scottish oatmeal or pinhead oats
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder 1 cup (250 ml) water at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) canola oil

Set out 4 rimless baking sheets (cookie sheets). Cut 5 pieces of parchment paper, each long enough to line a baking sheet. Set aside. Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, seeds, oatmeal, salt and baking powder. Pour in the water and oil; stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a soft, elastic and moist dough. Divide the dough into quarters and shape each into a thick square.

Preheat oven to 400° F (200°C).

Place 1 piece of parchment paper on the work surface. Set 1 square of dough in the centre and cover with a second sheet of parchment. Press down on the paper that tops the square to enlarge slightly; with a rolling pin, roll the dough as thin as possible, ideally to a 12- to 13-inch (30- to 33-cm) square. Remove top layer of parchment and reserve it to use as the bottom parchment for the second piece of dough. With a long knife, without cutting into the bottom parchment, score the dough into cracker-size pieces. Slide the entire piece of dough and parchment onto 1 of the baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, parchment paper and baking sheets.

Bake 2 sheets at a time, rotating and changing racks halfway through, until the crackers have darkened slightly and are firm to touch, about 12 to 15 minutes. Slide the whole sheet and crackers onto a rack to cool. Make­ahead: Layer crackers in airtight containers to store at room temperature for 4 to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 120 crackers.

Honey cream pumpkin pie

Photo of a Pumpkin Pie

A delicious twist on classic pumpkin pie – perfect for Thanksgiving or any other fall celebration.

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups (410 ml) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) liquid honey
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7 ml) ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) grated fresh ginger or 1 /2 tsp (2 ml) ground dry ginger
  • 1 /2 tsp (2 ml) grated nutmeg
  • 1 /2 tsp (2 ml) salt
  • One 9-inch (23-cm) deep single-crust pie shell

Topping:

  • 1 /2 cup (125 ml) whipping cream

Set oven rack to lowest setting. Preheat the oven to 425° F (220°C).

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Whisk in the pumpkin, cream, honey and vanilla. Scatter flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt overtop; whisk gently until well blended.

Pour the filling into the pie shell; it will come very close to the rim. Very steadily place the pie on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° F (180°C) and bake the pie until the centre is set but still very slightly jiggly and the tip of a paring knife inserted 1 inch from the edge of the pie comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Pumpkin pie is at its best the day it’s baked, but you can make it ahead by covering and refrigerating it for up to 1 day.

Topping: Whip the cream and either garnish the whole pie for bragging purposes or invite the indulgers to spoon cream over their piece.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Make-ahead mashed potatoes

Homemade mashed potates

Some say that the turkey is the linchpin of a fall feast, but we know it’s the mashed potatoes! Here’s how to make them a day or two ahead and just heat up as the turkey is being carved.

  • 6 large oval russet potatoes, 3 1/2 lb (1.5 kg)
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ cups (375 ml) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) 18% cream
  • 1 /2 cup (125 ml) butter, cubed
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) each minced parsley and chives
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) Dijon mustard
  • 1 /2 tsp (2 ml) pepper
  • Salt, to taste

Peel potatoes; cut into chunks. Cook, covered, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to low heat for about 30 seconds.

For the best smooth mashed potatoes, put the spuds through a food mill or ricer. Second best, but still delicious: mash. Have a full workout. Mash in the sour cream, cream and butter, finishing off with the parsley, chives, mustard and pepper. Taste, adding salt if desired.

Spread evenly in a 13×9-inch (33×23-cm) baking dish. Let cool; cover with foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Ideally bring to room temperature and reheat in 375° F (190°C) oven for about 30 minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

Variations: For Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, add 4 tsp creamy horseradish with the mustard. For Garlic Mashed Potatoes, boil 6 large cloves of peeled garlic with the potatoes; mash potatoes and garlic together.

Fall greens with extras

A salad that has it all — dried cranberries, salty feta, tangy vinegar — all balanced with the nicely bitter of baby arugula.

  • 8 cups (2 l) baby arugula
  • 3 cups (750 ml) shredded radicchio 1 cup (250 ml) thinly sliced mini cucumbers
  • 1 cup (250 ml) very thinly sliced radishes
  • 1 cup (250 ml) crumbled feta
  • 1 cup (250 ml) dried cranberries
  • 1 cup (250 ml) roasted sliced or chopped hazelnuts

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) minced shallots
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp (2 ml) each salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) hazelnut oil or olive oil
  • Granulated sugar, optional

Dressing:

In a jar, shake together the shallots, mustard, salt, pepper, balsamic and wine vinegar, and oil. Taste, adding a pinch of sugar if desired. Make-ahead: Refrigerate dressing for up to 4 days.

To assemble the salad, toss the arugula, radicchio, cucumbers and radishes together in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat evenly. Divide among 8 salad bowls and dress the top of each with sprinkles of feta, cranberries and hazelnuts. Tip: Bring the salad undressed; pack the cucumbers and radishes separately from the arugula and radicchio.

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