Spruce up a Yule buffet with an economical seafood mousse

Seafood mousses made from canned fish cost only pennies but look like a million. And they always add a special touch to any holiday buffet. Attractive to the eye and delicious to eat, a mousse provides a lighter dish for festive spreads that often tend to be heavy with cakes, cookies, and goodies at this time of year.

A mousse has three essential ingredients. The primary one in this case is fish. The second ingredient is the binding agent -- cream, eggs, gelatin, or mayonnaise. The third is a lightening agent such as beaten egg whites or whipped cream.

Food processors and blenders have made the preparation much less intimidating than in the past when it took hours to grind or blend the fish. Here are some to try. Clam Mousse 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin 1/2 cup cold water 1/2 cup boiling chicken or beef stock 561/2-ounce cans minced clams, drained 2 cups finely chopped celery 2 cups mayonnaise 1 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk 1/4 cup lemon juice 2 tablespoons prepared creamy horseradish 2 tablespoons grated onion Salt to taste Lettuce Sliced tomatoes, green grapes, pimento strips, parsley for garnish

Lightly oil 2 1-quart molds or 1 2-quart mold. Soften gelatin in cold water, then add to boiling stock and stir until dissolved.

Thoroughly combine remaining ingredients except lettuce and garnishes. Add dissolved gelatin and blend well. Pour into prepared mold and refrigerate overnight, or until firm.

Unmold on lettuce-lined serving platter and garnish with sliced tomatoes, grapes, pimentos, and parsley. Makes 10 to 12 servings. Salmon Mousse 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/4 cup cold water 1/2 cup boiling water 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon grated onion 1/2 teaspoon liquid hot pepper seasoning 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste) 115 1/2-ounce can red salmon 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water to soften in a large bowl, about 5 minutes. Add boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Let cool 5 minutes.

Add mayonnaise, lemon juice, onion, hot pepper seasoning, and salt. Mix until well blended. Chill until consistency of unbeaten egg white.

Drain salmon and pur'ee in blender. Fold into chilled gelatin mixture. Gently fold whipped cream into salmon mixture. Turn into a 4-cup mold.

Refrigerate about 4 hours or overnight. Unmold and garnish with sprigs of fresh dill, if you wish. Serves 6 as an appetizer; 4 as entree. Crab Mousse 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin 1/2 cup cold water 110 3/4-ounce can cream of mushroom soup 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature 1 16-ounce can crab meat or 1 pound fresh or frozen crab meat, drained, shell bits removed, flaked 1 cup mayonnaise 1 green pepper, diced 1 4-ounce jar whole pimentos, drained and chopped 1/2 cup diced celery 1/2 cup diced cucumber 1/4 cup chopped green onions 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon white pepper Lemon wedges (garnish)

Lightly oil a 6-cup mold. Soften gelatin in cold water. In top of double boiler, heat soup to boiling. Add cream cheese and stir to blend. Add softened gelatin and mix well. Remove from heat and refrigerate until mixture just begins to thicken.

In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients except lemon wedges. Add thickened gelatin mixture and blend gently.

Pour into prepared mold and refrigerate overnight or until firm. Unmold onto serving platter and garnish with lemon wedges. Serves 10 to 12. Creamy Tuna Mousse 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/2 cup cold water 1 10 1/2-ounce can condensed cream of celery soup 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened 1 7-ounce can tuna, drained and flaked 1/2 cup shredded carrot 1/3 cup chopped celery 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Sprinkle gelatin on cold water to soften. Heat, stirring, until gelatin is dissolved. Blend soup with cream cheese. Stir in gelatin and remaining ingredients. Pour into 1-quart mold. Chill until firm.

Unmold and serve on salad greens. Garnish with parsley and carrot curls, if desired. Serves 4.

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