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Christmas Eve appetizers - suggestions on menu?

I host Christmas Eve for my family. it's the one holiday I get, and I love it! The general idea is several hours of appetizers (our favorite course) while we're playing games, then sit down at the table to a bit of French Onion soup and Christmas cookies.

For the appetizers, I like to get as close to the "seven fishes" concept as is practical as an homage to my ancestry, although not iron clad. There will be 15 or so people this year, ranging from age 8 to AARP eligible. As much as can be done ahead of time is better! We have some tried-and-true favorites, but I'm always looking for new twists.

I'd prefer everything to be gluten free (so my celiac niece doesn't feel 'special' in a bad way), and so that once I degluten my kitchen work space, I don't need to worry about cross-contamination. I've used firm polenta, corn chips, apple/pear slices, gluten free crackers as "vessels".

Must haves:
Potato nests with creme fraiche and smoked salmon (my sister's favorite)
Crab cakes (using gluten free waffles as the bread crumbs, my nephew's favorite)

Other concepts:
Tuna - some kind of ceviche? Tried it before but definite use error.. it was too oily
Scallops - I've typically done seared scallops on parmesan cheese crackers, which folks love, but a different twist would be nice
Shrimp - Maybe a shrimp avocado salad in Chinese spoons (just got these cool Chinese spoons -- have to use them!)
Shrimp/scallop pate
Baccala salad - traditional Italian, but how to serve?
Potato pancakes with sour cream and caviar - too hard to make ahead? I don't like caviar myself, but it's another fish...
Something with prosciutto/salami - definitely need to have something along this lines :)

I open it to the Chow community... I love reading these boards, and you always give me new ideas! Thanks :)

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  1. why not make tuna tartare with avocado and put that in the chinese spoons?

    scallops: do you make them a la minute, at the party? i love them raw, sashimi style, just with a squeeze of tangerine or yuzu juice over them. maybe some togarashi pepper. depends if you can get super fresh scallops though. seared are also nice over a celery root or parsnip puree. what about retro angels on horseback?

    shrimp, chilled with sambal/mayo for dipping, or butter-poached over steamed watercress. or a greek-style salad of shrimp, olives, parsley and feta.

    what about another smoked fish for the pate, instead of repeating shrimp/scallop? (also seems a waste to turn the glory of scallops into pate.) smoked bluefish or smoked trout, or cured mackerel make great pate. that can be served on black bread rounds or cuke rounds.

    smoked oysters in butter lettuce leaves

    baccala salad on endive leaves.

    what about a side of poached salmon with dill?

    potato pancakes really are best made to order. they only hold for a few minutes, so that's your call. blini hold better and are traditional with caviar. i have had amazing potato pizza topped with creme fraiche and caviar.

    some kind of fish chowder or bisque if you have a crock pot.

    mussels with red sauce or white wine and garlic, with fennel and crostini

    fresh spring rolls with rice noodles, mint and lobster bits

    there are many fans of lobster mac and cheese

    you could also do a seafood lasagne with a white sauce, cut into small pieces for serving. that will hold well at a low temp.

    deviled eggs with flying fish roe (or better still, wasabi fish roe)

    roasted asparagus spears wrapped with prosciutto.

    i think i a cured meats tray, with some pickled or fresh veg would be a good balance here too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      I wonder if I could do the blini with GF BIsquick. I don't know if I will have the time to mess with the mix of GF flours that you need to replace AP. How long ahead would you make regular blini?

      And yes, we usually cook the scallops during the party. My niece is a great cook, and will man that station. The apps come out at different times, so it's really a grazing fest!

    2. We'll be starting with potted shrimps which will fit with the entirely "traditional British" style of the meal.

      1. A sliced, seared fillet of beef?
        Tiger prawns marinated in olive oil, grated ginger & garlic, lemon juice, deseeded mild chopped chilli & chopped fresh coriander then skewered & griddled.
        Thai fish cakes?
        Some form of fish & prawn hush puppies?
        Blinis with topped with wild smoked salmon, creme fraiche & caviar/lump fish roe?
        Tiny meatballs (a good recipe) on skewers with a tomato sauce dip?
        Mini fritattas with your choice of fillings?
        Crab or prawn mixed with a mild mustard mayo & chunks of avocado on top then wrapped in lettuce leaves?
        Bubble & squeak cakes? (left over roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, parsnips etc chopped & mixed with mashed potatoes. Make into little patties & fry until very well browned on each side. You could make ahead & bake in oven. MUST have sprouts in!!!)

        1 Reply
        1. re: psycho_fluff

          I do love the meatballs idea. And I've always wanted to do little filet/horseradish bruschetta. But that might be too much "meat" for the Christmas Eve thing. Maybe I'll have to have a New Year's Day party...

          Thai fish cakes? Tell me more!! Same with fish and prawn hush puppies (fried? Would they need to be done last minute?)

          Tried the frittatas before, but while it gets inhaled at brunch, didn't go over well as an appetizer. Go figure!

        2. We always serve salami and provolone on Christmas Day, along with our traditional antipasto platter (roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, olives, capers and anchovies). Christmas Eve Feast of the Fishes, just the platter, no meat.

          I'm also doing fried crab balls, plus shrimp cocktail and lobster salad baked in artichoke bottoms. Then I'm being lazy and putting out some fig tapenade I had made and froze, plus some artichoke pesto and a chipotle pesto, which are not home made...lately I love putting out dips like this since there's already plenty of Italian bread. I'm getting lazy in my old age! The one new thing this year is the Bacon Bourbon spread I found here, for Christmas Day of course (we're all old enough to remember the old rules on Days of Holy Obligation!) you cook bacon, onions, bourbon, coffee, brown sugar and I don't remember what else in a crock pot til it cooks down into a spread. I'll let you know if it's a keeper!

          2 Replies
          1. re: coll

            Lobster salad in artichoke bottoms? Yum! Do you make your artichoke bottoms or use canned?

            1. re: ChiGal1962

              Canned, I get them at an Italian specialty store. I try to keep a few in the pantry at all times. Anything is great in them, just top with a bit of cheese and bake a little.

          2. Not a fish but GF is polenta rounds fried in butter and topped with a sauteed mushroom melange.bound with some tomato paste and soy sauce.

            1. If you haven't already, do a test run on the crab cakes with waffles. In theory, it should work, but GF stuff is so iffy and I'd hate to see you waste a whole batch of cakes AND not have the for your family on Christmas. Some GF bread also smells sour when toasted, esp if soy is involved. If the waffles do not work out, my suggestion would be to get a package of rice crackers - usually in the Asian foods section, but WF has them in their cracker aisle under the 365 brand - and pulverize in a food processor. Good luck to you!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Pomander

                I made these curried scallop cakes last year and they were FAB. I'm sure you could sub in your GF waffles if they work for crab cakes.

                You could use crab elsewhere, say in a "wonton" cup made from rice paper, or in a shot glass of crab bisque.

                What about Vietnamese summer rolls - I presume the rice wrappers are GF? (edit: I see hotoynoodle got there first!



                1. re: Pomander

                  Definitely GF bread products are hit and miss! I have used the GF waffles (zapped up in the food processor) as breadcrumbs in crab cakes several times, and they work flawlessly! Not sure how good they would be as an outer coating on anything, but I'd give it a shot (not for company at first, though!).

                2. This shrimp recipe is a family recipe and it is easy and divine. You can serve it with toothpicks as a cocktail party appetizer or serve it as a salad (see note below)... and you can prep it a few days before. It's just wonderful... and also gorgeous

                  CANDY'S SHRIMP REMOLAUDE

                  2 lbs peeled, cooked shrimp
                  11/2 cup olive oil
                  1 cup red wine vinegar
                  4 T chili sauce
                  1/2 cup Creole mustard (I like to use a mustard that is NOT smooth; one with peppercorns, for instance)
                  1 cup chopped celery
                  1 cup chopped green onions
                  2 bay leaves
                  red pepper

                  mix all ingredients, save shrimp, together to create marinade. Pour marinade over shrimp in a large bowl and let it sit at least one night in refrigerator. (Be sure to remove from fridge at least two hours before so the oil will go back to liquid)

                  serve with toothpicks in pretty bowl as an appetizer.

                  For a gorgeous, wonderful salad :

                  Arrange mixed greens (for this salad, I like baby lettuce and red leaf lettuce) on salad plate. ladle shrimp and marinade over the lettuce and garnish with sliced avocados and, if desired, fresh lump crabmeat.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Tom P

                    The recipe sounds really good. And the make ahead is perfect for these occasions. Thanks!

                  2. I'm riffing on your tune....

                    Tuna - What about slices of seared tuna on a skewer with a drizzle of olive oil that has meyer lemon zest and chopped herbs (cilantro would be my choice)
                    Scallops - This I would do in the Chinese soup spoon. Seared scallop with hot ponzu and sesame oil pour on top.
                    Shrimp - Shrimp avocado salad on a lettuce leave
                    Shrimp/scallop pate
                    Baccala salad - traditional Italian, but how to serve?
                    Potato pancakes with sour cream and smoked salmon!
                    Crisp the salami (fry in a dry pan until the fat is rendered and let it dry) and serve with a feta dip.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Dcfoodblog

                      I've never worked with ponzu -- it's citrus-y, right? Sesame oil scares me. Every time I've used it, I've overdone and it just overtook the dish. Definitely user error, though, so I should try again. Get back on that horse, right? (Although I fell off a horse once, too, and getting back didn't fare a whole lot better!)

                        1. re: coll

                          Whenever I'm using an ingredient that's easily overdone I pour it into spoon (or sometimes the lid to the bottle) first so I can dump any excess off into the sink. Been doing this ever since I was little, when I had a tendency to dump whole bottles of almond extract into things.

                    2. for the seared scallops on parmesan crackers, try wrapping scallops in prosciutto before searing.

                      1. How about baked crab legs? They are quite simple, but have been a big hit for me on Christmas eve (Costco often has frozen ones that are very good).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: abacus2

                          oh my this sounds good...tell me more :)

                        2. Raw Oysters............


                          1. Wow, thank you all for the replies!! Some of these I've tried before (or a version of), but some are new thoughts... I definitely want a combination of family faves and surprises, so you have given me a lot to work with!! I knew you all would :)

                            1. I am making bacon wrapped scallops for our Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner. Would you suggest pan searing the scallops first? Should I partially cook the bacon? What temperature and for how long should I cook the wrapped scallops?
                              Also.....do the Costcos in Toronto (Ontario) have crab legs and scallops? Are they good?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ilv2cookhelvs2eat

                                as alternative, how about replacing the bacon with proscuitto? solves the undercooked bacon problem, and adds a nice salty porkiness.

                                as for cooking the scallops, i get a cast iron pan ripping hot and cook on one side just until the scallops begin to look opaque, the flip them and turn off the heat. they''ll absorb the residual heat from the cast iron.

                                1. re: ilv2cookhelvs2eat

                                  Commercial pre-cooked bacon, which isn't completely cooked, works very well here. Then I would bake them, not sear.