Saturday, December 29, 2012

a few of my favorite appetizers (just in time for your New Years gatherings!)

I'm still deciding what I am whipping up for the New Years party we're going to this year. The invitation told us to "wear sparkles" (check! and now my husband cannot roll his eyes that I packed a shimmery little number along with my ski just never know when a party dress will come in handy, now do you?) and to bring "your favorite dish". Ah, the pressure is on. So, I've started thinking about some of my favorite appetizers that are crowd-pleasers-- but that will also allow me to ski all day, and come home with just a few minutes to spare...

In the winter-- particularly when it's all snowy outside-- really you cannot beat a baked brie. Everyone loves it, and it takes mere minutes to assemble. That pic above is last night's batch, which was precariously balanced on my lap in all of its' warm, gooey deliciousness, as we were heading to a friend's for afternoon skating and cocktails. It's simply: brie (or similar cheese, sliced horizontally) smothered in a tapenade (last night's was Artichoke-Almond), pop the other half of the brie on top, smother a little more tapenade on top of that, then into a 375 oven for the time it takes for you to change out of your ski clothes (or just spray some perfume, as the case may have been last night-- say 10 minutes, whoa that's a lot of perfume... anyway, until it's melted through. Serve warm with crackers or thinly sliced bread.   

For those who don't trust my description above and like the step-by-step photos, here you go. For New Canaan readers, Walter Stewart's Market is usually very well-stocked with Gracious Gourmet tapenades and spreads. These are kind of my go-to filling for any baked brie. My favorites are their Balsamic Four Onion spread, Fig Almond spread, and Spiced Sour Cherry ones, but this recipe will work with whichever one sounds good to you! And for those who are out here in Idaho, Atkinson's Market in Sun Valley carries a nice selection of tapenades and spreads in the front of the market over by the beer and wine. Convenient. 

Another decadent, warm, cheesy, casual appetizer is my Creamy Baked Salsa Dip. Mmmm. That's another good one. In fact, bookmark that one for any lazy, chilly weekend...

Alright, but we cannot live on melted cheese alone now can we?

For those who are still going casual, but have the black-eyed pea superstition gig swirling around their heads, I suggest whipping up a batch of this simple-- but totally decadent-- black-eyed pea dip.

Or, you can go a healthier route and make black-eyed pea hummus served in cucumber cups. I teach you how to make cucumber cups here.

I love cucumber cups. You can stuff them with anything, depending upon your audience, season and occasion. I've stuffed them with Edamame Hummus, Harissa-White Bean Dip (pictured above, a puree of white beans, harissa paste and lemon juice with salt & pepper to taste), a White Bean Bacon Dip (that I really must photograph and post for you all sooner rather than later) and Soy Chorizo Dip (pictured below, with the recipe here). Dress them up or down, these vessels always fly off the plate.

Depending upon where you live, you might be able to score endive this time of year. If so, these Parmesan-Walnut stuffed Endive Spears are impressive looking and crowd-pleasers (in addition to being a nice, healthy alternative to a cocktail party spread).

And then there's the ever-popular smoked salmon paired with capers, onions, fresh dill and cream cheese or creme fraiche. Friends brought these to our home on Christmas, and they made me swoon. I have also mashed the cream cheese + capers + finely chopped onion + fresh dill into a paste.... and put a dollop on a hearty (usually Hawaiian) potato chip, topped with a piece of smoked salmon. My friend, Ally, introduced me to that app years ago, and it's remained a go-to. The only caveat is it not being humid. If it's humid, the chips get soggy and no one likes a soggy chip.... Don't have to worry about that in Idaho in December.

And last but not least, my absolute go-to appetizer for prettiness, unique taste, and popularity: Feta-Fig Tartlets, which are featured several places, including my most recent contribution, to Fox News Magazine! As long as you can get your hands on some of the phyllo shells, you can whip these up (here's the recipe), or your own version with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes-- really, anything that sounds good to you!

This should give you a few ideas, if you're bringing something to a New Years gathering! I look forward to hearing what you whip up!!

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