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Holiday Relishes: No Cooking Necessary

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During a quick march through the store earlier this week I had a shameful thought: “Why cook?”

One can pick up the roasted, dressed and accessorized bird at many locations in town, vegetables and salad greens are trimmed, sliced, diced and packaged, just waiting for you to pick them up. Spreads and cheeses and pies and bread and—well, absolutely everything is there for the taking.

The flavors of cranberry and orange go savory in this White Cheddar Cheese and Cranberry Spread.

But a new Cooking Channel has debuted, and shows on the Food Network continue to thrive (though I think they are more about testosterone and entertainment than real cooking). This gives me hope that there are still everyday folks like myself who love to cook their own.

My SavorSA colleague, John Griffin, reminds me, however, that relishes don’t need much work at all.

So, here is a list of items that tempted me to fill my shopping cart at Whole Foods (until I reminded myself that I could easily make most of them, and far more cheaply).  And we offer two easy-to-make spreads that can go on your relish bar or table: Green Olive and Artichoke Tapenade and a White Cheddar Cheese and Cranberry Spread.

But no way am I making those little fresh mozzarella balls or cleaning a pound or two  of shrimp or making fresh brioche for Thanksgiving breakfast, though the thought is dangerously tempting. The roast turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy will all be made in my kitchen — these are pleasures, never chores. And that is a real blessing.

Some suggestions for guest-pleasing relishes that are as easy as walking down the aisles at your favorite store:

  • Browse the olive bar at any number of stores in the city. A mixture of black and green olives is always welcome.
  • Marinated mozzarella cheese balls I’ve mentioned. I prefer to get these fresh (unmarinated) and marinate my own with a bit of olive oil and fresh-chopped herbs.
  • We also suggest marinating your own artichoke hearts, as the bottled versions are so heavy on the oil. The ones on the Whole Foods salad bar, though, looked better than the jarred versions.
  • Cooked, cleaned shrimp and a bottle of cocktail sauce. Everyone loves cold shrimp cocktail. I like to add and extra tablespoon or two of horseradish to bottled cocktail sauce. Squeeze the prepared horseradish (look for the kind with no added sugar) in some paper towel to make it dry so that it doesn’t make the cocktail sauce runny and unappealing. Jumbo lump crab and freshly cooked cold lobster is, of course, good — if your pocketbook allows. Put them out on a mound of crushed ice with lemon wedges and parsley.
  • Carrot and celery sticks, radishes and more veggies can usually be found freshly trimmed. (Make sure they are pre-washed, too.)
  • Pickled vegetables: Look for these at the farmers markets, or pick up pickled beets, okra or green beans at the store.
  • To fresh vegetable trays add one of the spreads, tapenades or hummus mixtures available. For something different, serve with pita chips.
  • I have anchovy and smoked fish lovers at most Thanksgiving dinners. Know your guests and pick up some smoked whitefish, salmon, fresh anchovies or canned to put out. For the anchovy lovers, wrap the fillets around trimmed radishes and serve with slices of baguette and unsalted butter.
  • A favorite Spanish appetizer of mine is albacore tuna salad (you can always pick this up) with mashed avocado stirred in. Add an extra touch of lemon juice, and it’s a spread that you’ll find yourself making time and again.

Photograph by Bonnie Walker

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