I’ve noticed lately that some of the re-pins from my Pinterest boards are pins for holiday appetizers – more to the point, Christmas Themed appetizers. Wow – I know we like to start planning ahead, but Halloween isn’t even here yet! And poor Thanksgiving is left by the wayside as we rush from the sugar high of Halloween head long into the madness of Black Friday. I’m all in favor of thinking ahead and making plans – the holidays are hectic enough, it’s best to have a plan – especially with all those office parties and pot lucks coming our way. But if it’s all the same, I’d like to slow it down a little.
To celebrate Thanksgiving last year, we had a big family gathering – just like in the “old” days. Uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, every extended branch was there in some capacity. It was a warm and wonderful get together. A day spent eating and chatting and eating some more. Growing up, Thanksgiving was one of my all-time favorite holidays. The house smelled wonderful – the spice of fresh-baked pumpkin pies and the aromas of a large stuffed turkey roasting in the oven. Oh, those were the days, before “deep-fried” turkeys and turkeys roasted inside a bag while the stuffing is baked in casserole dishes. Dad would start his stuffing the day before by making his own seasoned bread cubes. He was usually up long before the sun, chopping and cooking up his wonderful giblet stuffing. The huge bird was then “stuffed”, its skin rubbed with lots of butter that had been seasoned with all sorts of things – poultry seasonings, smoked paprika (for that deep golden color) and a blend of herbs that were a well guarded secret. It took hours upon hours for the turkey to roast to a beautiful, deep, rich caramel color with crisp skin and moist meat. The air outside was brisk, while the kitchen warmed by the oven. I so enjoyed watching Dad lovingly tended to his bird, and he seemed to know instinctively when to baste and when to build that perfect “tent” of aluminum foil at the end. Oh the wonderful smells of Thanksgiving – nothing else compares! Back then, Mom and Dad did it all. By the time we sat down to a long line of tables, Dad was exhausted but beaming with pride. And what a spread – mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, stuffing, turkey, candied sweet potatoes, warm breads with lots of butte. Cranberry jelly always adorned the table, although few really seemed to eat it much. (When I first ventured out on my own, I had Cranberry Jelly on the table despite the fact that NO ONE ate it. The jelly was simply a part of the Thanksgiving Table, and so it was there, untouched). Let’s not forget the big bowls of black olives – perfect for sticking on the ends of our fingers!
These days, when we get together everyone brings a dish or two to share. It simply makes things easier on everyone. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I went just a little nuts with appetizer table – everything had a turkey theme – from the veggie platter to the cheese spread and spinach dip. It was fun. And that’s what the holidays are all about – lots of good eats, lots of family love, lots of fun – those are the ingredients for warm memories!
Let’s start with the veggie platter. There really isn’t a “recipe” for the veggie platter. It’s less about amounts and more about arrangements. The best way to make a Turkey Veggie Platter is to get a large assortment of vegetables – the more colorful the better. Don’t worry if your platter doesn’t look like the ones in the magazines and such. Make it your own – and above all else have fun. Kiddo was in charge of last year’s platter. He looked at the picture, read the instructions and then did his own thing. Although it didn’t look anything like the photo example, it was adorable.
Red Leaf Lettuce
red bell pepper
yellow bell pepper
green bell pepper
Line a serving platter with lettuce leaves. Place celery sticks around leaves in a circular patter, leaving about 1/4 of the platter open for the “turkey”. Lay carrot and asparagus tips over the celery, leaving part of the celery exposed.
Slice the bell peppers crosswise and then cut each circle in half. Cut one 1/2″ piece off of one of the red pepper slices and set aside (this will be used for the face). Set aside the bottom part of the peppers for the turkey’s body.
For the feathers: Cover a platter with the leaves of lettuce. To make the turkey’s feathers, start with forming a circle with the cucumber slices towards the bottom of the platter. Above the cucumbers, form a semi-circle with the red peppers, then the yellow peppers, then the green peppers. Place the baby carrots vertically above the last row of peppers.
To make the turkey’s body and face: Break two toothpicks in half. Put two of the toothpicks where the eyes will go in the yellow squash. Push the black olives onto the toothpick making sure that the toothpick doesn’t go all the way through. Cut a triangle out of the leftover bottom from the red pepper. Attach with a toothpick below the eyes. Attach the reserved red pepper piece to the left of the yellow pepper “beak”.
For the Legs: Cut the piece of celery in half lengthwise. On each piece, carefully slice lengthwise from the end of the celery piece to almost the center. Do this twice on each piece. Place the celery in ice water and place in the refrigerator until the ends curl. When curled, nestle the un-curled end under the cucumbers.
Serve with vegetable dipping sauce on the side.
Smoked Turkey Cheese Ball
2 packages (8 ounces each)
6 ounces deli smoked turkey, finely chopped
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese (white, yellow or a blend of both)
2 Tablespoons chives, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons port wine
3 packages (3 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
Brown, orange and yellow paste food coloring
6 large oval crackers
1 large sweet fresh Red Bell Pepper (turkey head/neck)
1 Marinated Roasted Red Pepper from a jar (turkey wattle)
1 Baby Carrot (beak)
1 Black Olive (eyes)
1 cup Pecan Halves (feathers)
In a small bowl, beat the ingredients for the smoked turkey ball until well combined. Shape into a ball; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm.
In another small bowl, beat cream cheese and milk until smooth. Divide among four small bowls. With food coloring, tint one bowl brown, one dark orange and one light orange (using yellow and orange); leave one bowl plain.
Transfer each mixture to a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag; cut a small hole in a corner of each bag.
For turkey tail feathers, decorate the top halves of large oval crackers with tinted cream cheese. Set aside until ready to assemble.
Using the red pepper, form the turkey head and neck. For beak, cut a small triangle from carrot. Cut a small slit in the head, insert carrot and help secure in place with cream cheese. Break a small toothpick in half. Insert toothpick just above where the eyes should be. Cut the narrow ends from two small black olives, fill with a little cream cheese and place over toothpicks to secure in place. Cut the wattle from a strip of roasted red pepper, pat dry. Drape wattle over the beak. If necessary, secure with a small piece of a toothpick and hold with cream cheese. Set the face aside.
Remove the smoked turkey ball from the refrigerator, unwrap and place on a serving platter. Insert back tail feathers, followed by several rows of front feathers made from the pecans. Place the head onto the body, press to secure. If the wattle won’t stay in place – don’t go nuts – just go without. (As you can see by the photo, mine did not wish to cooperate).
Spinach Dip in a Sourdough Turkey Bowl
Ingredients – Spinach Dip
1 Package Dry Vegetable Soup Mix
1 Package Thawed, Well Drained Chopped Spinach
1 Can Water Chestnuts, Chopped
16 oz Sour Cream
1 Cup Mayonnaise
Ingredients – Turkey Bowl
1 Large Sour Dough Round Loaf, hollowed
Cocktail Bread for serving
For Dip: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours before serving, but best if chilled overnight.
To Serve: Cut the top “round” from a large round loaf of sourdough bread. Set top aside. Scoop out the soft sourdough bread to create a bread serving bowl. Fill “bowl” with spinach dip. From the top section, cut out the shape of a turkey’s head, beak, wattle and feet. Use two small pieces of the soft bread to roll into eyes. Secure eyes, beak and wattle into place using toothpicks. To form the feet, cut little “V’ shapes to make the claws. Tuck feet under the main bread-bowl body. Fill cavity with spinach dip. Place head over dip filling. Arrange soft bread from hollowed out “body” anc cocktail bread or baguettes to form feathers around the body.
Be creative – have fun – make it your own.
These little “Gobble” up appetizers were as much fun to make as they were to eat. I hope they find their way to your Holiday Buffet Table and that you enjoy them as much as we did.