At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, sometimes I enjoy the cocktail hour snacks that I have assembled before a dinner party more than the dinner itself. As a home cook I am incapable of making a simple dinner for a few people. Even the most casual dinner invitation that I extend eventually turns into a big to-do. There's the menu-planning, the shopping for food and complementary wines, the last-minute whirlwind cleaning of the house, the setting of the table, and oh, and the cooking.
There is a moment, usually an hour or so before people start arriving, that I lay out a spread of snacks because I know that no matter how well I have scheduled, dinner will never be on the table when I planned it to be. These little bites act as a reassurance to me: Everyone will be occupied with food and drink, and I can continue my dinner preparations at a more leisurely pace. Having a decent spread of hors d'oeuvres is priceless—it will instantly alleviate whatever real or imagined dinner-party stress you might be suffering from.
And the greater the spread of hors d'oeuvres, the more time you have to make sure that the rest of your meal is prefect. This recipe for Smoked Trout Spread adapted from Gourmet Today by Ruth Reichl and John Willoughby will have your guests occupied indefinitely. Serve it with cocktails and no one will be even the slightest bit concerned with when the actual meal is going to hit the table. I whipped this one up the other night, and it was magical. It's simply smoked trout puréed with a generous amount of butter, lemon, and dill. The recipe recommends serving with with whole-grain crackers, but I found that those mini loaves of pumpernickel bread are an even better match.
Win 'Gourmet Today'
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Gourmet Today to give away this week.
- 1 pound smoked trout fillets, skin discarded, any remaining slivery skin scraped off
- 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup cold water
- Whole-grain crackers, for serving
Flake trout. Transfer 2 cups to a food processor (reserve the remaining trout), add butter, shallots, dill, lemon juice, hot sauce, and pepper, and blend until smooth.
With the motor running, add water to trout mixture in a slow stream, then process until water is completely absorbed, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the reserved trout. Pack the mixture into a 4-cup glass or ceramic mold or bowl. Cover surface with wax paper, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to blend flavors; bring to room temperature before serving.
Serve with crackers.