Muffy Vhay: Dress up simple fare for the holidays |

Muffy Vhay: Dress up simple fare for the holidays

Muffy Vhay
Cocktail Sauce
Jim Grant | Nevada Appeal

With all the shopping, cleaning, wrapping and other holiday commitments, none of us have much extra time to make fancy meals, elegant appetizers, or other complicated culinary creations. The solution? Dress up simple fare with festive, elegant and best of all, make-ahead sauces.

The options for sauces and their flavor enhancements are almost endless. Most good cookbooks have whole chapters — or more — on the subject, but really, with a few basics under your belt, you’re good to go. We’ll talk about a few savory (as opposed to sweet dessert) sauces; a few hot and a few cold ones. The cold sauces can often double as dips. Tartar sauce and cocktail sauce, both served cold, are readily available in most supermarkets, but they are so much better and less expensive if homemade. You probably have most of the ingredients at home already, with the exception, perhaps, of capers and horseradish.

Among hot sauces are all the pan sauces and gravies and an immense assortment of cream sauces. Most of the cream sauces start with a similar base and are easily made and enhanced with all manner of additions — mushrooms, cheese, herbs, and so on. Then there are a few unusual sauces, some with ethnic origins, and some family favorites, like “Dear David Sauce,” a specialty of my late father-in-law, and now made by his son, my husband. This simple sweet-sour sauce is superb on breast of duck (the original preferred use), as well as other game birds and some game. We also use it to bathe “little smokies,” the tiny, spicy hot dogs that big and little boys like so much.

My favorite pan sauce is a simple lemon-caper sauce, which is good on chicken and seafood (especially salmon, sole, and shrimp). All these recipes are quick and easy to prepare, and are quite flexible — use what you have.


Measurements are approximate; use more or less to suit your taste. Makes about 1 cup. Good on seafood. For a “slimmed down” version, use “light” mayonnaise, or substitute half the mayonnaise with plain low-fat yoghurt.

Mix together in a small, pretty serving bowl the following ingredients:

3/4 cup good quality mayonnaise (such as Best Foods)

Approximately 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice, dill relish, sweet relish, chopped green onion, and capers

1 teaspoon, or to taste, soy sauce


Best made a couple of hours ahead, or the day before.

Mix together in a small bowl:

1 cup ketchup

2-4 tablespoons (depending on how hot you want it) cream-style horseradish

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce


Heat together in a small saucepan or the top pan of a chafing dish equal parts (for example, 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup) of Dijon mustard and red currant jelly. Warm until jelly melts. That’s it! Then, taste, and add more of one or the other if you want.


Dust with flour the meat or seafood you’re going to serve and sauté. When cooked, set meat aside to keep warm while you make the sauce. Deglaze the pan with the juice of a lemon; add one tablespoon (or as much as you want) of capers, salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Heat, pour over the meat, and serve.

David and Muffy Vhay own Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast. Contact the ranch at 775-882-3643.