What do you serve when guests stop by unexpectedly during the holidays?
No need to panic. No need to run to the grocery store.
Just follow the lead of the Williamsburg area’s food professionals. They know how to raid their refrigerators and come away with last-minute, crowd-pleasing appetizers.
“It all would depend on what’s in the cupboard, so to speak,” said Travis Brust, executive chef at the Williamsburg Inn.
For Samuel W. Edwards III, president of S. Wallace Edwards & Sons Inc., the go-to ingredient – not surprisingly – is Virginia ham.
“I know how to make hams, but I’m not much of a chef, to be honest with you,” he said in a recent interview.
For last-minute visitors, he and his wife like to serve crostini with a thin slice of Edwards’ prosciutto-like Surryano ham, a dollop of soft goat cheese, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a small arugula leaf, he said.
Another option is one Edwards calls “ham fantastics.”
For these, take Pepperidge Farm dinner rolls, slice them in half and lay on thin layers of Virginia ham and Swiss cheese. Reassemble the roll and pour on top a sauce made of butter, mustard and poppy seeds.
Edwards also takes a cue from his mother, who served ham salad at New Years.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said; just grind up leftover country ham, mix it with mayonnaise, relish, chopped celery and some pickle juice. Serve on crackers.
Simplicity is key for Brust, too.
For wine and cocktails, he makes crostini using broiler-toasted slices of leftover French bread. And he tops the homemade crackers with whatever he has in the refrigerator.
Like Boursin cheese and smoked salmon.
Or shaved Virginia ham and a spread he makes from a half-cup of butter, and a tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and honey.
Or a slice of brie cheese, topped with preserves or apple butter.
Or chopped leftover steak and mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil.
For vegetarians, he layers the crostini with goat cheese and roasted red pepper. Or he puts a diced cucumber salad, with dill and sour cream, on hummus.
One of his favorites, though, is crostini with caramelized onions, smoked trout and capers.
“That’s an awesome combination,” he said.
If all else fails, you can always put out a candy dish or some candied nut trail mix, Brust said.
“Figure people will be coming over at some point,” he added.
If you prefer to serve liquid refreshments, another chef suggests making your own eggnog and serving it as a flight, like craft-beer samples at a brewery.
“It’s easy,” said David McClure, chef de cuisine of the Williamsburg Winery at Wessex Hundred. “And it’s kind of cool as an appetizer.”
To make eggnog, he said, take a quart of heavy cream and bring it to a boil. Whisk in four egg yolks slowly, and keep it on low heat for a few minutes until it thickens.
In a separate dry pan over low heat, mix together one tablespoon of allspice, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a cup of brown sugar. Let the brown sugar melt a bit. Turn the heat off the cream mixture and whisk in the sugar mixture, until the sugar dissolves fully.
Don’t let the eggs scramble.
You can drink the eggnog once it cools, McClure said, but it’s best if you let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
For a spiked version, he recommends bourbon, whiskey or a gin with a fresh juniper flavor.
For a flight, pour the eggnog into shot glasses and serve in trios – one flavored with toasted cardamom, another with a bit of maple syrup or local honey, and a third with a spoonful of candied cranberries.
“It’s fun,” McClure said.