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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Graduation Time!

Following a week of drenching New England rains, this past Saturday arrived with cloudy skies that miraculously changed to sun-filled ones by the afternoon. The good weather was just in time for a celebration my husband and I were hosting to honor six of his students who were graduating from Amherst College.
Each of these young people—four girls and two boys—was receiving their degree with honors so we had plenty of champagne chilled for toasting and a table laden with platters of appetizers for nibbling. I chose some of my all-time favorites for this fete, all of which could be conveniently prepared in advance. Our menu included:
 Mushroom Pâté with Garlic Toasts
Melon Slices Marinated in Pernod and Mint
Savory Mexican Cheesecake with Tomato Salsa and Chips
Smoked Salmon with Lemon Crème Fraîche
Asparagus Topped with Chorizo, Hard Boiled Eggs, and Scallions
Creamy Orzo Flans
Although everyone piled their plates high with samples of each, some dishes disappeared more quickly than others. The melon and the little flans were gone in a flash, and guests ate seconds and even thirds of the pâté and the cheesecake. However, it was the smoked salmon sprinkled with paper-thin red onion slices, served on dark bread with dollops of a lemon and herb-scented crème fraîche that was the clear winner. Surprisingly, it also happened to be the quickest and easiest recipe of the day’s offerings.
The directions for assembling this simple, yet delectable dish follow. Serve the salmon with glasses of bubbly to honor all those graduates who are donning caps and gowns and picking up diplomas.
Smoked Salmon with Lemon Crème Fraîche
3/4 cup crème fraîche (see cooking tip)
3/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp (scant) finely grated lemon zest
10 to 12 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
Dark, wheat, or multi-grain bread, sliced, each slice quartered   
In a small serving bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cover and chill, 1 hour or more. (Lemon crème fraîche can be made 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)  
To serve, arrange overlapping salmon slices on a platter. Sprinkle onion slices over the fish and season generously with several grinds of black pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
Stir 1 teaspoon chives and 1 teaspoon tarragon into the crème fraîche mixture; sprinkle remaining herbs over. Arrange bread in a napkin-lined basket. Serve salmon on bread slices garnished with a generous dollop of crème fraîche. Serves 6 to 8  
Cooking tip: Crème fraîche, a thick cream used in French cooking, is available in the dairy section of many supermarkets. If you can't find it, whisk 1 cup heavy cream and 1/3 cup sour cream together in a medium nonreactive bowl. Let stand at room temperature until thickened, 6 hours or longer. Cover and refrigerate. (Crème fraîche can be stored up to a week, covered, in refrigerator.) Makes about 1-1/3 cups.

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