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Start Your Party with Easy Appetizers

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Perhaps it’s because I grew up hearing the adage, “Don’t eat before meals or you’ll spoil your supper”, but I have never been adept at creating appetizers. My focus has been on the main dishes and the appetizer was more of an after-thought and usually resulted in something store-bought and simple, like hummus and chips. Then, I volunteered to prepare the appetizers for a fund-raising dinner for more than 100 attendees and the realization hit that “more than the usual” would be expected. That’s when I turned to my two favorite “foodie” magazines, Bon Appetit and Food and Wine and searched for recipes that were not only delicious, but easy to prepare.  Here are my four favorites…any one of which could be a memorable beginning to your next dinner party.
Avocado Cream
(adapted from Bon Appétit, March 2015, p.82)
2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon apple cider  or specialty vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (or 2 teaspoons dried cilantro)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds
Additional coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and fennel fronds for serving
Process avocados, sour cream, vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro and 2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds in a food processor until the mixture is smooth and thick.

To serve, transfer the avocado cream to a small bowl and top with cilantro leaves and more fennel fronds.
Serve with corn chips.
Feta with Sumac and Black Sesame Seeds
(adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2014, page 82)
serves 12
1 ½ pounds feta, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or marjoram leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 ½ teaspoon black sesame seeds
1 ½ teaspoon ground sumac
Olive oil for serving

Slice the feta into slices approximately ¼ inch thick. Place the feta slices in a single layer on a serving dish. Sprinkle the oregano, sesame seeds and ground sumac over the sliced feta. Drizzle with good quality olive oil. Serve at room temperature with crackers.
Note: This is best when prepared in advance to allow the seeds, spices and olive oil to marinate the feta cheese, making it soft enough to scoop with a cracker.

Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Dip
(adapted from Food and Wine, November 2014, p22)

makes 2 ¼ cups
½ cup walnuts
2 cups pitted briny green olives
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves (or 3 teaspoons dried tarragon)
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pomegranate seeds (from one-half fresh pomegranate)

Spread the walnuts in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and shake or stir until toasted, about 5 minutes. Let cool.  Combine walnuts, green olives, tarragon, pomegranate molasses, black pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and ingredients are blended.   Transfer mixture to a small bowl and stir in the pomegranate seeds
Serve with chips of your choice.
Note: This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for 2 days. Serve at room temperature.

Roasted Beet and Walnut Dip
adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2014, p.20
makes about 1 ½ cups
1 pound beets, green tops removed, washed, dried, peeled and roasted
tablespoon + 1 ½ teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, divided use
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper, divided use
½ cup walnuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried dill), plus additional for finishing
2 tablespoons crème fraiche, plus additional for finishing
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon blood orange infused olive oil (or similar flavored oil)

Preheat the oven to 400⁰. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix the olive oil with ¼ teaspoon of both the fine sea salt and coarse ground black pepper in a medium bowl. Wash, dry and peel the beets. Slice the beets and then cut them into 1 inch chunks. Add the beets to the olive oil, salt and pepper, and use a spatula to turn the beets to coat in the oil mixture. Place the marinated beets in a single layer on the parchment-covered baking sheet. Roast for approximately 15 minutes. Remove beets from oven and toast the walnuts by scattering the walnuts around the beets on the roasting pan, then return the beets and walnuts to the oven to continue roasting for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the beets and walnuts from oven and allow them to cool to touch.
Crush the caraway seeds with a mortar and pestle to release the essence of the seeds.
Process the chopped, roasted beets, toasted walnuts, dill, 2 tablespoons crème fraiche, the Sherry vinegar, ½ teaspoon crushed caraway seeds, sea salt, coarse ground black pepper and blood orange infused olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Season the spread with additional fine sea salt and coarse ground black pepper, if desired.
To serve, top the spread with additional crème fraiche and sprinkle with additional caraway seeds and dill sprigs. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, if desired.  Serve with  chips of your choice.



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