It happened fast this year: A few weekends ago it was so chilly I actually built a fire (even though I had already cleaned out the fireplace), then before I knew it I was headed to the beach to cool down. Now summer is here, and we're all looking for ways to cook less and still eat well. To help, I've updated three classic spreads that double as practical sandwich fillers by day, and classy hors d'oeuvres come evening.
The inspiration behind these spreads struck at the restaurant Empire State South in Atlanta, where I was visiting my younger daughter and her husband.
Perusing the menu, I was immediately drawn to the section called "Snackies for the Table." There were several choices — cheeses, charcuterie, oysters on the half shell — but the most intriguing one was simply called "In Jars."
We got deviled ham, trout mousse, pimento cheese and boiled peanut hummus, all presented in little Mason jars with a basket of crackers and breads. We dug in, and in no time were scraping the jars, wishing we had another round rather than the entrees that were on the way.
I was determined to create similar friendly spreads. I started with deviled ham, which I thought would be the biggest challenge, but turned out to be quite simple. Though I had compiled a complex ingredient list, including sweet pickle relish and hot pepper sauce, I quickly discovered that the key to good deviled ham is, well, good ham!
Look for a dry-cured, well-smoked hunk — not waterlogged deli ham. Then it's simple: Just toss the cubed ham in the food processor with a little mayonnaise, mustard and Worcestershire. That's all you really need. The only reason I added the paprika was to improve the color (although you'll also add flavor if you use smoked paprika — also known as pimentón).
Empire State South makes a spread with smoked trout, but because that's not widely available, I used hot-smoked salmon. I mixed it with all the classic accompaniments — capers, red onions, dill, lemon zest — and just enough cream cheese to bind it. This one is a big winner.
Hummus, the hugely popular Middle Eastern spread, is typically made with chickpeas, so I was particularly intrigued with Empire State South's boiled peanut version. Unfortunately, buying raw peanuts is difficult, even for those who live in peanut country, and roasted peanuts just don't work in this recipe. But edamame (soy beans) are widely available. They're in the frozen-foods section of most well-stocked grocery stores, and come in their shells or shelled. Of course, if you have a choice, opt for shelled. This pretty pale-green bean offers a nice color change from the usual chickpea beige.
Check out the super-short ingredient lists and easy instructions for these spreads on the next page. You can whip them up in just minutes, and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or more. (My recipe for pimento cheese is at Three Many Cooks).
Next page: Edamame hummus, smoked deviled ham and smoked salmon spread. »