Virginia Willis Blog

Recipes for Thanksgiving Weekend: Easy HDs

Here are a few recipes you can make over the next few days to nibble on. I have a lot to be thankful for – there’s a whole lot of good in my world. I am very grateful. Please consider taking a moment in these next few days and give thanks.

Drive safe and be careful.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

Thyme Toasted Pecans
Makes 4 cups

Southerners always seem to have candied and spiced pecans around to nibble on during the holidays. My grandmother always made sweet pecans crusted with egg whites and sugar, using the nuts she and my grandfather had collected in the fall. So this version, with extra-virgin olive oil and herbs, is a real departure for my family. Recipes such as this, with a short ingredients list, are completely determined by the quality of the ingredients. The shorter the list, the better the ingredients must be. I prefer to use Elliot pecans from Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Georgia. Pecans are the star, but the choice of olive oil and salt is crucial to the success of the dish. Use the finest possible. This recipe is splendidly simple, just perfect with apéritifs and for cocktail parties.

4 cups pecan halves
2 teaspoons coarse salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a large, dry skillet, toast the pecans over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the salt, pepper, thyme leaves, and olive oil.

Add the warm toasted pecans to the thyme-oil mixture. Stir well to combine and evenly coat the pecans. The fragrance is amazing! Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

making ahead: Once the seasoned nuts have cooled, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring them to room temperature before serving.


Belgian Endive with Gold Coast Shrimp Salad

Makes about 30 hors d’oeuvres

We sometimes vacation at Jekyll and St. Simons Islands, part of a region that Georgians call the “Golden Isles” or “Gold Coast.” For many years, it was the vacation retreat of very wealthy families from the Northeast. But it was another sort of gold that inspired the name: according to a local historian, it was named centuries ago by the first settlers, who were dazzled by the golden glow of the marshes at dusk. These marshes, the clear estuaries, and the surrounding waters are also home to sweet wild Atlantic shrimp.

With the endive leaves arranged in concentric circles on a platter, this is an especially attractive addition to the buffet table.

12 cups water
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
1 lemon, halved
1/2 onion, preferably Vidalia, peeled
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
1 pound unshelled large shrimp (21/25 count)
4 to 6 heads Belgian endive
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper
30 fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

To poach the shrimp, combine the water, carrot, celery, lemon, onion, bay leaves, and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes to make a flavorful court-bouillon.

Have ready a frozen freezer pack sealed in a heavy-duty plastic bag or a large heavy-duty sealable plastic bag filled with ice cubes. Make an ice bath to cool the shrimp: transfer several cups (or more, depending on the quantity of shrimp) of the broth to a large heatproof bowl. Place the ice pack in the bowl of broth; move the pack around until the broth is well chilled (drain and add more ice to the bag as needed). Return the heat to high and bring the remaining mixture to a rolling boil. Add the shrimp and boil until the shells are pink and the meat is white, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook.

Drain the shrimp in a colander or remove with a slotted spoon, then immediately transfer to the chilled liquid to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

To prepare the endive, cut off and discard the root ends. Pull the heads apart one leaf at a time. Arrange the leaves in concentric circles like a flower on a large platter.

To prepare the salad, peel, devein, and coarsely chop the shrimp. Place in a bowl with the chopped tarragon and mayonnaise; stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To assemble, place 1 generous teaspoon of shrimp salad near the trimmed bottom edge of each endive leaf. Garnish each with a tarragon leaf. Serve immediately.

making ahead: The shrimp salad can be prepared completely ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. The leaves can be prepared and wrapped in damp paper towels in a sealable plastic bag overnight. Finally, up to 2 hours ahead, the filled endive leaves can be arranged on the platter, covered with a damp paper towel, and refrigerated. Serve chilled.

Pimento Cheese in Cherry Tomatoes

Makes about 32 nibbles, or 4 cups filling

The “pâté of the South,” pimento cheese is the epitome of a summer picnic delight. Everyone has a slightly different recipe, but the primary ingredients remain the same. Don’t be tempted to buy grated cheese, because the end result won’t be creamy enough. Try this stuffed in tomatoes, slathered on a celery stick, or (one of my favorites) straight from the bowl on a spoon.

11/2 pounds grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (about 4 cups)

1/2 onion, preferably Vidalia, grated

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 (4-ounce) jar pimentos, drained and finely chopped

Dash of hot sauce

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

32 bite-size cherry tomatoes

32 small fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

To make the pimento cheese, combine the cheese, onion, and mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir until well combined. Add the pimentos and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Meanwhile, using a serrated knife, slice off the top third of each cherry tomato. Using your index finger or a very small spoon, remove and discard the seeds and inside flesh of the tomatoes.

To fill the tomatoes, place the pimento cheese mixture in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or use a medium sealable plastic bag with one of the corner tips snipped off. Fill each tomato with the mixture, allowing a little to rise above the tops. Garnish each tomato with a parsley leaf. Serve immediately.

making ahead: The prepared cheese filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. The cherry tomatoes can be prepared up to 24 hours before serving: prep the tomatoes and store them, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with damp paper towels. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill.

variation: For real comfort food, try warm pimento-cheese toasts. Place slices of sourdough bread on a baking sheet and brown on one side under the broiler. Turn over and thickly spread with pimento cheese. Return to the broiler and toast until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 5 to 7 minutes. Curl up on the sofa and enjoy.


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