The first real dinner party I ever threw was definitely a learning experience. I went totally overboard and made about a million different hors d’ouevres. I can’t remember them all, but I think there was a fig and olive tapenade, some type of bruschetta, a huge cheese and charcuterie platter, veggies and hummus, and possibly spiced nuts (homemade, of course). For the main course I made shrimp and chorizo paella. It was absolutely delicious, and nobody ate it. Everyone was so stuffed from all the appetizers that they just sort of poked at the paella on their plates, maybe managing a tiny forkful or two. When the party was over, we had an absurd amount of leftovers. Alex was eating paella for lunch for over a week. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard him complain about too much chorizo.
These days my approach as a hostess is much more refined. I purposely limit the appetizers I serve with drinks, because I want my guests to actually be hungry when we sit down to dinner. My go-to recipes are Giada’s rosemary and olive oil popcorn, the cheese and black pepper crackers from my second cookbook, and either olives or some kind of fancy pickle. That’s it. No baugettes and brie. No chips and guacamole. Definitely no pigs or blankets of any kind.
That’s why I’m so pumped to see the relish tray making a big comeback this holiday season. What is a relish tray? It’s basically a really light spread of crudite, some kind of relish or dip, and olives, pickles, or giardiniera. Your grandma is probably quite familiar with the concept. It’s a classic, and I think it should be part of your Thanksgiving this year, possibly in place of your pimento cheese ball and gut-busting spinach-artichoke dip.
These Brussels sprout pickles would make a perfect modern relish tray addition. (For more ideas check out these recipes from Rick Rodgers!) Peppercorns, mustard seeds, garlic, bay leaves, and a few sprigs of fresh dill are packed in a jar (you could also use an empty plastic quart container) with halved sprouts, and then submerged in a cider vinegar brine. Two days later they are ready to go. The whole recipe takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. What could be easier than that? Leftovers will last for a least a few weeks in the fridge. Alternatively, you could process jars in a hot water bath, in which case they would keep for about a year on the shelf.
Brussels sprouts are usually sold at the supermarket in either 12-ounce bags or 8-ounce containers. This recipe will work with 12 or 16 ounces.
- 12 to 16 ounces Brussels sprouts
- 20 whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh but dried is OK)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (do not use table salt)
- Cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise through the core and put them in a big Mason jar or plastic quart container (you could also divide the ingredients between two jars). Add the peppercorns, mustard seeds, garlic, bay leaves, and dill.
- In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, and salt to a boil and simmer until the salt dissolves. Pour the mixture over the Brussels sprouts. Let cool to room temperature, then seal the jar or container and transfer to the refrigerator.
- Allow the pickles to brine for at least two days before eating. The pickles will last for at least a few weeks in the fridge.