If you’re like most people, your first thoughts of holiday entertaining are happy thoughts – you see yourself as the perfect host, looking relaxed as you and your friends toast each others’ health and nibble on homemade appetizers while enjoying your beautiful holiday decor.
But there’s a sinking feeling as you realize that this dream of celebrating in style requires lots of time – time to shop, cook, decorate – in addition to your daily work activities, gift shopping, holiday events and taking care of kids or visiting family.
Many aspiring hosts decide it’s just not worth it. Chef Lindsay Cameron Wilson suggests keeping it simple by finding recipes and ingredients, like fresh mussels, that are easy to prepare and impressive to serve.
“What’s most important is keeping it simple and finding recipes that seem complex, but are actually quite easy. That’s why I like fresh blue cultured mussels so much,” she says. “They’re a special treat, and so easy to prepare.”
Wilson’s rule is the less you have to do on the day of your party, the better. Do whatever you can beforehand by breaking down your preparation into easy steps that you can complete well in advance of your occasion. Cleaning and decorating can be done in the days leading up to your event. Rearrange furniture and clean out the coat closet a few days beforehand so that you leave yourself enough time to take care of the finishing details like setting the table. By having so much accomplished early, you can focus on your menu and shop for your fresh items, like cultured mussels, on the day of your party.
Wilson suggests picking only a few recipe-based appetizers and limiting the number of things that will keep you in the kitchen during your party. She recommends selecting food you can prepare in advance so you can focus on your guests and actually enjoy the party yourself.
“Depending on how many people are coming, one cheese tray, one seafood dish, one dip and olives, nuts or sweets can easily cover a cocktail party for 12 to 16 people,” says Wilson. Party food planning can be tricky, but a good rule of thumb is to prepare one pound of food per person, plus beverages and dessert.
Wilson recommends fresh farmed mussels as an ideal holiday appetizer because they are delicious, healthy and can even be made ahead. She suggests Blue Mussels on the Half Shell as a simple festive option that can be prepared in advance of your soiree.
Blue mussels on the Half Shell
36 fresh cultured blue mussels
1/4 cup white wine or water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup parsley, dill and coriander, mixed
2 cup medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
Stir the fresh blue mussels in a colander while rinsing in tap water. Set aside for a few minutes. Tap any that are open and discard those that don’t close in response to the tap. In saucepan, bring water or wine to boil. Add fresh blue mussels, cover and steam over high heat until open (five to eight minutes). Remove from heat, reserving 2 tablespoons of cooking liquid. Remove mussel meat from shells, reserving half shells. In a bowl, combine reserved liquid, oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley mixture and tomatoes; add fresh blue mussels and stir gently. Cover and refrigerate for three hours.
To serve, place a mussel in each half shell and cover with tomato mixture. Arrange on platter.
You’ll also be doing your guests a favour, since fresh blue cultured mussels are not only tasty; they’re a healthy seafood choice, Wilson adds. Mussels are very low in fat and carbohydrates. An average serving of mussels is only about 90 calories. They provide a full day’s serving of omega-3s, and contain high levels of zinc, iodine, vitamins B and C and iron. In fact, they have three times the absorbable iron as a comparable serving of beef.
Get revved up for holiday entertaining by visiting the Mussel Industry Council website at www.discovermussels.com. Representing the mussel industry in Canada, their site features information and cooking tips to prepare fresh blue cultured mussels for the budget-conscious host. Also featured on the website is a chance to win a trip for two to San Francisco.