You know those food memories that swirl deep in your brain? I’ve got one for ambrosia. My grandparents used to make it every Christmas, a stripped-down version that included fresh orange and grapefruit sections, sliced bananas, shredded coconut and maraschino cherries. They left out marshmallows – I happily discovered that creamy version years later – and if nuts were included, I emphatically directed my spoon around them. In fact, I tended to avoid the grapefruit, too, in favor of the sweeter oranges, mild bananas and gaudy cherries. The way those flavors mixed with tropical coconut was a transformative diversion for picky kid weary of casseroles.
There are two kinds of New Year’s Eve participants: those who go out, and those who stay home.
I’m generally planted in the latter camp….have been for years….and if you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’re casting about for something special to serve for dinner, something that screams romance, friendship, family or just final decadence before resolutions come home to roost.
I’m here to recommend one of my all time favorite soups, Emeril’s corn and crab bisque. Done right, with its perfect balance of dairy and stock, its tender corn and succulent jumbo lump crabmeat, this soup delivers elegance in a way that others don’t. I’ve served it as a main course and as a starter, and each time I’ve placed it on the table, it’s earned rave reviews.
The best party dishes are ones that fit two criteria: you can make them ahead and serve them at room temperature. And marinated seafood, like classic West Indies salad and southern pickled shrimp, fits them both. Think of them as a sort of Gulf Coast ceviche, even though you’re beginning with cooked seafood.
The Mobile, Alabama favorite, West Indies Salad, is made with crabmeat, minced onions and an oil and vinegar solution, and Charleston-born pickled shrimp, involves fresh boiled shrimp riding it out in a tangy marinade for a couple of days before serving. They’re delicious crowd pleasers that offer a refreshing counterpoint to party buffets where the rest of the line-up can be heavy.
For the record, I’m a big fan of the mini-marshmallow.
One of my greatest food memories is cozying up to a marshmallow-y fruit salad — classic Southern ambrosia – that someone brought to my maternal grandfather’s after funeral gathering. I’ll never forget the way the baby marshmallows melted into the citrus juice, creating creamy goodness and a perfect comforting texture. I couldn’t stop eating it. Years later, I similarly fell in love with something called Green Stuff, a congealed cottage cheese and marshmallow fruit salad made by an old boyfriend’s mother and always served at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Yum. I love a bowl of trashy.
But as much as I savor marshmallows, and as much as I bow down to tradition, this year, I wanted an all-natural version of the classic holiday side….
Need a quick hors d’oeuvres for the holiday frenzy? Cucumber cups filled with something creamy and wonderful are a great place to start. I filled these with fresh Gulf lump crabmeat blended with a little mayo, lemon juice, capers, some chopped celery and a little salt. I found Persian cucumbers at Trader Joe’s, but you can also use English cukes. The goal is to find a cucumber that’s on the thinner side. Peel it, cut it into manageable widths and scoop out the pulp gently from one side, leaving a “floor” on the other. Fill the cup with the crab mixture and place on a pretty plate. A regular cucumber also works fine. Just slice it into thin discs and serve the crab on top, as shown.
One-bite snacks like these are perfect starters for heavy Christmas day meals or with evening cocktails. Great with rosé or sparkling wine. Enjoy!
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Shrimp and corn. Artichoke and oyster. Gumbos of all sorts. Cozy soups with memorable ingredients add so much to get-togethers with friends and family this time of year. From casual family suppers to Christmas day lunch to New Year’s Eve dinner, holiday meals invite something luscious and warm.
I love soups right now for so many reasons, not least of which is that there are great seasonal raw materials to work with, including game, fresh seafood, root vegetables and leafy greens. But what I also love about soups is their spontaneity. More often than not, home cooks aren’t following instructions by the book when they get out their stockpots. They’re discerning what ingredients to include and what to leave out, and they’re tasting, adjusting and correcting by feel and by gut. Many are mimicking the soup styles of their forbears, while others are diverging in inventive directions. Whatever the case, soup is one of those from-the-heart dishes meant to inspire and soothe. Now is the perfect time to make some for your friends, family and for yourself.
Here’s an easy version of shrimp and corn.
Shrimp and Corn Soup
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup light roux
2 cups homemade shellfish stock, or one 15 oz. can good quality seafood or shellfish stock
2 bay leaves
1 16 oz. package frozen white corn
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ½ cups skim milk
1 pound large headless shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh chopped parsley for garnish
In a Dutch oven, sauté onion, celery and garlic in olive oil until soft. Whisk in roux, then add stock and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Continue to whisk until roux is thoroughly incorporated. Add corn and simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Add cream and milk and return to simmer. Add shrimp to hot liquid and watch carefully, ensuring they poach, but do not overcook. This should take about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
When ready to serve, garnish soup with fresh parsley and serve with warm, crusty French bread.