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Posts Tagged ‘appetizers’

The holidays may be over, but, as singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen observed some years ago, the party never ends. And you always need appetizers. Guests drop in, and it’s nice to have something special to serve with a glass of wine. I’m partial to palmiers, especially because I can make them when I have a free half-hour and stick them in the freezer. They’ll keep for a month, well wrapped.

I almost always have a package of puff pastry dough in my freezer (it’s a thin box and only sucks up a very small portion of that precious freezer real estate)

Choose Your Own Filling Palmiers
Roll out one square of the two in the package. If you wet your work surface with a damp sponge and cover with plastic wrap, this job is achieved with very little mess.

Rolling toward the center

I always layer my dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll it out so it becomes about two inches longer than it was when I started. Try to roll so the dough becomes more rectangular in shape.

Take off the top piece of plastic wrap and brush the entire flat piece of pastry with olive oil. Now here’s the fun part. Sprinkle with finely grated parmesan cheese and – you choose! I’ve used caramelized onions, olive tapenade, crumbled bacon, my honey’s smoked tomatoes minced fine, minced garlic – the variations are as big as your imagination. The only caveat: use only a couple ingredients.

Now, starting at the left edge, start to roll your pastry toward the center. Use your plastic wrap to help in this process. Once you have reached just to the center, do the same on the right side of your pastry. Your pastry should look like two small rolls lying next to each other, and they will be about an inch tall. Wrap it with the same plastic wrap that you just used for your counter covering. Put in the refrigerator for an hour and then stash in the freezer somewhere where it will be able to keep its shape. If it’s cold from the refrigerator, it won’t form ice crystals after it hits your freezer.

When you’re ready, pull the dough out and let thaw for only 10 minutes (make sure to keep it firm) and then slice to about 1/3 inch thick pieces. Lay the slices flat on an ungreased baking sheet about a half-inch apart. If you have time, you can let them rise for about half an hour at room temp. Pop them in a 400 degree oven till golden brown and serve hot. They’re crisp, delicious and easy!

Hazel

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Apps Not on My iPhone

I never thought this day would come, but somehow it has. Many of my sisters have grandkids. There’s a reason I bring this up. In the past, my house was Thanksgiving central. My sisters who lived in town would come; my aunt would come and my mom would be there.

Before I knew it, I’d have 35 for dinner.

Colorful vegetables dress up any party platter


Everyone contributed. We got my aunt Mary’s wonderful broccoli casserole, my sis-in-law Vicki’s sweet potatoes – well, you get my drift – a feast! When the dining room table was fully loaded, we would announce dinner and the line would form. Laurie and I usually collapsed and let it; we were rarely hungry after the hours of cooking. Everyone would find a place to sit with their plates perched in their laps, a glass of wine resting precariously wherever they could find room, we’d eat, chat, help with the dishes and depart. Usually leaving me with a table still laden with food. I’ve gotten smarter over the years. I encourage everyone to take leftovers. That way I’m not stuck with the duty of “not throwing away perfectly good food.”

But this year, it’s happened; my sisters are preparing their own Thanksgiving dinners with their own new traditions for their grandchildren to remember. Their own recipes to pass down and teach. Their own tables to design and fancy plates to wash. Thus we find ourselves with a very rare occurrence – a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner at my house. Dinner for eight. Wahoo!

Let in-season locally grown fruit be part of your appetizer platter

Normally, we expect our guests to arrive anywhere from noon to six, so we make sure there are appetizers out all day. This year, Laurie and I are whittling down our enormous repertoire of hors d’oeuvres to accommodate our six guests. We usually worry about how to keep starvation at bay while other guests are still driving from fifty miles away. (Something of a challenge, let me tell you: We would tell everyone that dinner was at six, my brother and his wife and brood would arrive at 6:30 with their side dish that needed an hour in the oven, and my brother would tap his foot, asking sarcastically when dinner would be ready. “You said six!”) This year – nope! We’re wondering which few appetizers will appeal the most and which will be expected and missed if we don’t trot them out. How fun is this!

So to kick off the holiday season, we’re giving you our appetizers. You can get the main Thanksgiving dinner from every cooking show on TV, you don’t need us to give you hints. Although, let’s face it: it’s me and Laurie – it’s what we do!

There’s one appetizer that we absolutely insist on. It was published years ago in Bon Appetit. Here’s the link to Black Pepper Almonds. Sometimes these never make it out of the kitchen–cooks get first crack at them.

Hazel

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Summer's best! Grilled artichokes, heirloom tomatoes and caponata

I must admit, I’m not a fan of summer heat — but I am a fan of all the fun we have in summer with our parties, plays and concerts. And there’s nothing quite like a Hollywood Bowl picnic.

Laurie and I love to come up with ingenious ways to outdo ourselves for our decadent sunset meals in the lovely hills. We scoff at the other attendees’ Gelson’s boxed picnics and scheme week after week to achieve the perfect combinations in our homemade extravaganzas. My timing gets pretty tight because I have an 8-5 job almost 100 miles east of the Hollywood Bowl, so I rush home to pack whatever I prepared the night before. This week, we turned the task of making the appetizer over to our nephew Ryan, who loves classical music and German techno rock equally, and who is a damned good cook too. (We’re so lucky in our nephews: they’re smart, they’re fun and they cook!) A couple of years ago Ryan ran across an artichoke recipe that caught his eye, but he quickly made it his own.

This is a pretty simple recipe, in keeping with our motto: entertain without killing yourself or your budget. (Parties come in all sizes, after all–and this is a party for four.)

Grilled Garlic Artichokes

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, zested and then quartered (use two lemons if they’re small)
¾ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, stripped from the stems
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Zest the lemon or lemons and then cut them into quarters. Place the zest in a medium bowl; you’ll be using it in the grilling sauce. Squeeze the juice from one lemon wedge into the water. Trim the the artichokes, then cut them in quarters lengthwise. Remove the chokes and place the quarters in the bowl of lemon water to keep them from turning brown.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat your outdoor grill to medium high.

Add the artichokes to the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes; they should be bright green when you take them off the fire. Drain the artichokes. Juice the remaining lemon quarters and pour the juice into the bowl with the lemon zest. Stir in the olive oil and garlic, season with salt and pepper and the herbs. These herbs are merely guidelines; if you prefer tarragon or basil, go ahead and use them. Sometimes Ryan adds a little mustard if he’s in the mood.

Brush the artichokes with the garlic marinade and place them on the hot grill. Grill the artichokes for five to ten minutes, basting with marinade and turning frequently, until the tips are a little charred. Pour any remaining marinade over the charred artichokes (though there usually isn’t any, so you may want to increase the quantities slightly if you want extra) and pack into a picnic container. We generally use zip-lock plastic bags, which are lightweight and disposable if you’re so minded. Ryan usually keeps them warm for a couple hours by popping them into his un-iced chest. They are always still warm by the time our picnic supper starts at 6:45 at the Bowl.

Serves four as an appetizer–though I have served them by themselves for dinner, along with some yummy grilled bread and extra marinade.

Simple, huh? They don’t taste simple; they’re delicious.

Hazel

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By Mel

At Laurel’s Queen of Hearts birthday party there were three kinds of beautiful soup, a crowd of desserts, and a table full of other edibles. Much of it was gourmet stuff with foreign names. All of it was delicious. But to kick off the evening we served an enormously popular appetizer that has been around for decades and takes about three seconds to prepare.

If you ever went to a party in high school or college, you may already know what appetizer I mean. Rarely is something so simple so beloved by millions, many of whom were not even born when it first made its appearance on the back on the package.

I have no idea how it was invented, but I like to think it happened this way: Some average Joe or Joan in the office took home an envelope of the product, and in a blinding moment of incredible luck and creativity, he or she put together a party dish that has taken on a life of its own. What is it? It is onion dip.

Everybody loves something. Mel loves onion dip.


I don’t normally give recipes — Laurie and Hazel handle that — but I’ll take my life in my hands and give this one a shot:
Tear open an envelope of Lipton dry onion soup mix.
Stir it into a pint of sour cream.

That’s it.
Now you has jazz!

Dip your favorite cracker or chip into it, and enjoy a taste that has been showing up at parties since the 1960s that I know about — perhaps even before.

What does this dip have that makes it so enticing? First, of course, is the ease of preparation. But easy appetizers have been coming and going since the invention of the cookbook. What makes this one immortal is the delicious flavor, the satisfying fat content, and great mouth appeal.

I suppose there are people who don’t like sour cream and others who don’t like onions; some would sneer at the ready-made pre-packaged ingredients. They don’t have to eat it. More for us.

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Ruth D. Silverman, a longtime editor and writer for IronMan magazine and author of the WordPress blog Ruth in Hollywood, makes a wonderful shrimp mousse for her annual Oscar party and can occasionally be persuaded to make it for other gatherings. I was lucky enough to talk her into making it for my solstice party this year.

She says the mother of her lifelong best friend, Phyllis, used to make it for special occasions, including the party that followed Ruth and Phyllis’s high school graduation. It has all the hallmarks of a 1950s or early 1960s recipe, so it’s been around for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from the back of a package at some point, but I know it only by the name Ruth gives it:

Mrs. Wanetick’s Famous Shrimp Mousse

3/4 pound shrimp
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 can tomato soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 package unflavored gelatin
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 onion
1/4 c or so celery
dash tabasco

Chop the shrimp, celery and onions fine. Squeeze the lemon juice over all and let stand in a mixing bowl while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
Dissolve the gelatin in the cold tomato soup in a saucepan, then bring it to a boil. Mix the cream cheese into the soup. Pour the soup mixture over the shrimp mixture, add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into a mold or molds and chill. It makes about four cups of mousse–enough for your party and leftovers for breakfast.

Ruth feels very passionately that shrimp ought to taste like shrimp (can’t disagree with that!) and will spend quite some time searching for the right shrimp for this mousse. Perhaps she will devote space on her own blog to that search as her Oscar party nears.

Happy New Year!

Laurie

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Our sister Margaret, in Northern California, has what she calls fend-for-yourself night on Fridays. And even though she calls it that, Margy spends more time assembling a dazzling array of appetizers than she would cooking a complete family meal. But it’s fun – and there are usually cocktails involved, even better! She does a combination of re-created leftovers, cheese and crackers, and new stuff. It almost always includes carrots and Ranch dip, as that was all her daughter would eat for a period in her life. (But that’s a different tale.) We posted Margaret’s Kahlua-Pecan-Topped Brie a couple of weeks ago, in case you’d like to check out one of her recipes.

Her birthday happens to be today (Happy Birthday, Margaret!), and she will be celebrating it with her family (that’s a hint, Marty). But then she’s heading down to Southern California, and this Friday, which just happens to be New Year’s Eve, she’ll be having appetizers and champagne cocktails with her sisters. So we’re thinking about some especially festive appetizers.

One of my favorites (and I have the scars to prove it) is an unlikely combination of bacon and prunes. Yes, prunes. Here’s what you do: Warm some mediocre port and macerate pitted prunes in it for a couple of hours, until they’re plump and soft. Stuff a pecan half in each prune.

Cook bacon slices about halfway. Drain the slices and let them cool enough to handle, then wrap a slice around each prune. Fasten with a toothpick. At this point you can stick them in the fridge for a couple of hours, until you want them.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the bacon-wrapped prunes on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan and bake until the bacon crisps up, about ten minutes. Serve warm. There are no amounts given here because it’s really up to you: Make as many or as few as you like. However many you make, it won’t be enough.

Hint: don’t slop boiling bacon grease over your hand. That’s what I did one Christmas Day about 15 years ago. I spent the afternoon in the emergency room. Second worst Christmas of my life. I was so hungry! And my family ate all of my bacon-wrapped prunes while I was waiting there in the emergency room with my hand wrapped in ice.

Laurie

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Emergency Appetizer

Need one in a hurry? You’re going somewhere and you’re supposed to bring one–and you were busy shopping, wrapping and drinking eggnog (ugh!–but that’s just me) and didn’t get to it?
Okay, here it is, the world’s easiest but really good appetizer:

Simple and delicious

Three ingredients: spicy jam, cream cheese and crackers. Slap the cream cheese on a plate (you can see that I like mascarpone, but I got a good deal at Costco, so I have it in the fridge), dump half a jar of a peppery jam over it and serve it with crackers. You’re all set.

Laurie

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