5 Appetizers That Impress & Relieve Stress

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Let’s face it, it’s not only during the holidays when we need easy appetizer ideas. Handy dandy, simple offerings are in demand throughout the year. These 5 appetizers can certainly be used anytime, but will surely be useful right about now.

Now when it comes to navigating entertaining, we can be the driver of our own roadmap. It’s up to us to take control. It can be as elaborate as a sit down plated meal with several courses. Or as simple as making a salad, a vegetable and protein. Or even simpler (and better!) a huge bowl of pasta. But it is up to each host/hostess to decide whether to make it complicated or easy. Admittedly, there are times when entertaining calls for a little more pizzazz. And I would venture to say that the holidays definitely require a little more brio. Believe it or not, adding an appetizer to any meal can elevate an evening. I always want my guests to feel special, whether it’s a weeknight meal, an weekend dinner or a big party celebration, and I’ve found that serving appetizers somehow ups the ante and makes any event feel special. But please, let’s not confuse special with hard and stressful.

How I plan out what appetizers I will serve depends on my mood, and it can swing full pendulum, from easy breezy all the way to ones that require a day of prep, cook time and time in plating. For me, it all comes down to how much experimenting I want to do, and how much time I have to play. But that’s just me. I like trying new things and being adventurous. But sometimes, I need speed and simplicity. Luckily, in my experimenting I have come up with a few apps that don’t take a ton of effort, and really please my guests.

Here are Apps that impress AND relieve stress.
(Disclaimer: In no means are these appetizers magical or medicinal in their ability to relieve stress. It’s soley their ease, and delicious impact that creates a stress free zone! Well, I might consider that magic.)

Shaved Parmigiano with Roasted Peppers & Hazelnuts

This is as easy as using a flick of the wrist. That is, one that is holding a vegetable peeler. Simply shave slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Roll roasted pepper strips up into rosettes or twirls. (A good jarred kind is the way to go. Even I admit, roasting your own peppers is more work than it’s worth. This is definitely one time when homemade doesn’t make sense!) Arrange the platter as you like. I like all the peppers in the middle with the cheese acting like a moat. Then generously sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. It seriously could not be simpler.

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Platter of Crunch - Fennel Bites & Cucumber Carrot Roll Ups

I always like having a platter with a fresh offering. Not only does it help to refresh the palate but it’s a satisfying treat for the vegetarians. Create a platter full of fresh vegetables. You can use whatever you like but I love big chunks of fennel drizzled with olive oil, course sea salt and pepper. Ribbons of English cucumber plain or rolled up with carrot shreds. The carrots were marinated in a basil balsamic vinaigrette. Check out the recipe here.

My method for platter arrangement is color blocking. I think this looks inviting. Do what pleases your eye and your palate.

 Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh Ricotta with Herbs & Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Well, if you took my advice in late summer and roasted a bunch of tomatoes and stored them away, then this one is as easy as opening that container. (Now you understand why I suggest this because the tomatoes can be used in so many ways.) But if you don’t have any roasted tomatoes in your freezer, making a fresh batch is not difficult. Click for The Great Tomato Caper post. For the rest of the dish, simply buy fresh ricotta and spoon it into a bowl creating a nice mound. Generously sprinkle course sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, chopped basil and drizzle with good olive oil. Arrange the roasted tomatoes around and serve with crusty bread.

 This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

Sauteéd mushrooms & polenta chips

This one takes a bit more time, but you can actually do some of this ahead of time. I’ve served this appetizer several different ways. Click here for the recipe. In this version I made the polenta squares thinner so they act more like a cracker. Your guests can make their own little bite with as much or as little sauteéd mushrooms as they want. Heck, if you also serve the Ricotta dish, guests can top their polenta squares with mushrooms and a bit of ricotta!

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Dry Cured Meat & Arugula Platter

This seriously could not be simpler than buying and arranging. Pick up your favorite dry cured meat and serve it up with some spicy baby arugula. Guests can roll up the meat with some zest greens for a crisp, salty bite. I love keeping it simple and rustic by serving it right on a wooden board.
Some dry cured meats that I like to serve: Bresaola, Prosciutto or Serrano ham, Capacollo, Mortadella, Coppa.

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I hope these few ideas help keep your stress levels down this holiday season. I really don’t like that I keep repeating that, but it is true that the holidays, and entertaining can be just that - intense. I’m here to help in any way I can, because for me, gathering together with the people you love, serving them food you all love is a glorious thing. And something for which we can all be grateful.

Stirred with love, these apps are just as easy as the ones we download on our phones!

 

Indian Spiced Potato Pancakes

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Since I can’t eat bread... Pause for the appropriate sigh of sympathy, I’m always searching for something that will act like bread. Either as a layer to be used for toppings or to help scoop things up. So, when I aspired to make an Indian style meal for my husband and sister, I of course purchased some yummy naan like bread for them. Leaving me without a vehicle to push and scoop up my food. And as I lifted these soft yeasty breads of out my shopping bag, I was even more convinced I needed to treat myself to something equally yummy. I remembered that we had potatoes and figured I could craft myself an Indian style pancake that would do the trick.

So besides the no yeast limitation, another issue (or should I say issues) for me, is no eggs and no wheat. Shall we pause again, for a bigger sigh of sympathy. I dare say, yes. Without eggs and wheat flour, how the heck does one hold things together? And, I’m not just talking about ingredients. My emotions need to be stabilized, too! (Remember when I made salmon burgers? There are some clues. Check out that recipe here.)

Some people make potato latkes with grated potatoes. Others make them with mashed potatoes, but most use flour and eggs to bind them. I thought about using ground flax seeds mixed with water to bind, as that is a usual egg substitute but instead harkened back to the concept of combining textures to hold them together just like I did with the salmon burgers.

 These were my ingredients: Idaho potatoes, potato flour, hot peppers, scallions, cilantro & spices

These were my ingredients: Idaho potatoes, potato flour, hot peppers, scallions, cilantro & spices

So I boiled and mashed some of potatoes and grated the rest. Then combined them together with the spices and a tad bit of potato flour.

ingredients

3 c potatoes, boiled
1.5 c potato, raw, shredded
1 t fresh cilantro, minced
1/3 c scallions, sliced
1 T red/green long hot pepper, small dice
1/4 t curry powder
3/4 t salt
1/4 t cumin powder
2 T potato flour

 Salt, cumin & curry: The spices that make it special.

Salt, cumin & curry: The spices that make it special.

Instructions

1. Cut and boil some of the potatoes. When done, drain well and mash them up.

2. Meanwhile, chop, mince, dice the other ingredients. Don’t grate the remaining potato until you are ready to
combine, or soak in water to avoid browning. But then make sure you squeeze out all the excess liquid.

3. Combine all ingredients and then add potato flour.

 Mise en place: everything in place and ready to assembly.

Mise en place: everything in place and ready to assembly.

 That’s a nice looking mixture about to take form.

That’s a nice looking mixture about to take form.

 Simply add the potato flour to combine throughout.

Simply add the potato flour to combine throughout.

4. Form into patties. You can go freeform with your hands or use some form to help shape them.
I used approximately 2 T of mixture, and formed them into 2.5” rounds and 1/2” thick. I also
made a few very thin. I liked both thickness for different purposes.

 First I used the small ramekin because it was on my board holding the spices.

First I used the small ramekin because it was on my board holding the spices.

 Then I remember that I had an actual mold that was the same size, so I used that instead.

Then I remember that I had an actual mold that was the same size, so I used that instead.

5. Fry in a cast iron pan with olive oil until you get a good crust on both sides.

 Over medium high heat is how you get these crispy, giving you crunchy texture on the outside and soft potatoe-y goodness on the inside.

Over medium high heat is how you get these crispy, giving you crunchy texture on the outside and soft potatoe-y goodness on the inside.

 These lasted but a moment in my house. After this shot was taken, but one or two were left!

These lasted but a moment in my house. After this shot was taken, but one or two were left!

Holy crap, these things were delicious, and with a delayed kick. These potato pancakes were part of an entire Indian inspired meal. If you read the post featuring Dal, which incorporated the long hot peppers, then you will know that I didn’t think those peppers had a lot of heat, so I added jalapeños to the Dal. When making these pancakes, knowing that the rest of the meal had spice in each dish, I didn’t want to add more heat. So I only used the long peppers, and didn’t add jalapeño. Thank goodness I didn’t. I never expected these to have a kick, but for some reason in these potato pancakes, the heat from the peppers came shining through in a very pleasing ‘I want more’ way.

One more note. I will admit that just like anything you fry to get that crisp outer coating, they are best when freshly made and served immediately. They taste great warmed up the next day and day after, but they just don’t have that fresh crispy edge.

 Here are the ones that I made thinner. As you can see, they are even crispier. Either way; thick or thin, they are quite tasty and satisfying.

Here are the ones that I made thinner. As you can see, they are even crispier. Either way; thick or thin, they are quite tasty and satisfying.

You can serve this a thousand ways, beside as a side to an Indian inspired meal. Here are a few other ideas.

  • Top with sour cream and add smoked salmon or trout

  • With fried eggs, maybe add hollandaise sauce, or raita

  • Dollop of hummus, Baba Ghanoush or Tabouli

You see where I’m going. I trust you will come up with your own long list. Or do as I did... Eat them all on their own!

Spicy Eggplant, Potato, Carrot Hash

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Well, I’m back to my usual something from nothing tricks. The way I usually cook. Just pulling items out, in whatever quantities I have and figuring things out as I go. No real plan. Only agenda is to feed my hunger. When I’m in this mode, I don’t measure. But because I love you, I cut up whatever ingredients I took out and measured each one. This way you would have approximate amounts as a guide. For those of you who don’t necessarily need to follow a recipe for amounts, have fun. For those who usually use follow a recipe to a T, I encourage you to use your taste buds as a guide for judgement on approximating amounts. Look into a pot and say, I think that is enough onions, or carrots, or whatever. Once you get a feel for it, you will feel empowered. But, if you like sticking to a recipe, that’s cool, too.

AND as usual, the impetus for this creation emerged when I remembered buying white eggplant, but neglected to make it during the week. Panic struck when I wondered if I waited too long. Then relief filled my heart when I saw they were still in good shape. And so the story began; out came the eggplant, and with the fridge door swung wide open I started pulling ones item out at a time, looking through the drawers and shelves, and cupboards to see what else might be available.

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Here’s what I came up with. After I pulled everything out and chopped it up, I would have just starting cooking. But as promised, I measured it all for you. I very much appreciate that you take the time to read and try these recipes so I want to make experimenting easy and fun.

ingredients

  • White eggplant (4 c cubed)

  • Heirloom carrots (2 c cubed)

  • Long hot peppers (1/2 c sliced)

  • Red onions (2.5 c sliced)

  • Idaho Potatoes (4 c cubed)

(You will need 3/4c oil, salt and pepper to taste.)

When I saw this pile of gorgeous veg, I immediately thought HASH. No, not the kind you smoke; the yummy, crispy kind you usually have with eggs. Only I planned on making it as a side dish for dinner.

Since each of these ingredients takes different cooking times, my approach was to cook each separately and then bring them all together at the end. While I was cooking my mind kept ping ponging thoughts on whether this would need a salsa. There was mint, parsley and cilantro standing by in the fridge. It got me thinking about making a chimichurri style dressing to brighten the whole thing up in the end.

Salsa Ingredients

1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1/3 c Olive Oil (you can use less if you want it less liquidy)
1 large garlic clove
1 T, shallot, minced (optional)
1/2 t lemon zest
squeeze of lemon juice
Salt, preferably coarse

I use a mortar and pestle but you can also use a mini blender to combine the ingredients.

Here’s how this something from nothing adventure turned out.

 The salsa line up.

The salsa line up.

Instructions

  1. Cut and slice all the ingredients as noted above.

 Heirloom carrots. Yellow and purple gorgeous chunks.

Heirloom carrots. Yellow and purple gorgeous chunks.

 What a beautiful array of potatoes, onions, spicy peppers, white eggplant. Ready and willing.

What a beautiful array of potatoes, onions, spicy peppers, white eggplant. Ready and willing.

2. Start with the potatoes first because they will take the longest. Add them into a hot cast iron skillet with 1/4 c oil, add salt and pepper. Then turn the heat to medium low. Once they are crispy on the outside and tender in the middle, remove them and set aside.

 Nice bite sized chunks.

Nice bite sized chunks.

 Is there anything more satisfying than crispy potatoes? I think not.

Is there anything more satisfying than crispy potatoes? I think not.

3. In the same pan, add 1/4 c oil, then add the eggplant and half the sliced onions, salt and pepper. Cook until they have a nice crust. Remove and set aside.

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 Get a good sear so the eggplant don’t get mushy. You want a nice bite to them.

Get a good sear so the eggplant don’t get mushy. You want a nice bite to them.

4. In the same pan, add 1/4 c oil, carrots, remainder of the onions and peppers. Cook until done.

 Look at how bright and vibrant this looks.

Look at how bright and vibrant this looks.

 Cook until the vegetables are softened and nicely caramelized.

Cook until the vegetables are softened and nicely caramelized.

5. Add everything back in the pan and cook until all the flavors meld together.

 Add everything together to combine and let the flavors marry.

Add everything together to combine and let the flavors marry.

6. Make the Chimichurri style salsa by smashing garlic, cilantro, salt in a mortar and pestle (or a mini blender). Add some lemon zest and juice and oil and whisk together.

 The salt and pepper act as a abrasive to mince the mint.

The salt and pepper act as a abrasive to mince the mint.

 Lemon zest brightens and makes all the ingredients sing.

Lemon zest brightens and makes all the ingredients sing.

 I made my salsa more on the liquidy side so I could drizzle it on. You can add as much or as little oil as you desire.

I made my salsa more on the liquidy side so I could drizzle it on. You can add as much or as little oil as you desire.

 A medley of robust flavors.

A medley of robust flavors.

The combo of the vegetables was quite tasty. The zesty salsa only amped up all the flavors. I ate it for lunch, dinner, and I might have even had a little for breakfast, too. I even added some broccolini to it.

 With some sautéd broccolini, this made a tasty lunch dish.

With some sautéd broccolini, this made a tasty lunch dish.

Other uses:

  • Put this combo instead an omelette, or just scramble it into eggs

  • Grilled flank steak or shrimp and serve it fajita style

  • Smash it together, form patties and sear them into little pancakes

    I leave the rest of the serving ideas to your imagination. What’s in your fridge this weekend? Go explore!

Tapenade or Pesto - Oven-Dried Tomato, Pecan, Basil Spread

Did I mention I had a freezer full of tomatoes? Well, I do. Oven roasted, slow roasted, and oven-dried. Containers and containers filled with jewel colored, candy tasting goblets of goodness.

 My cart with 4 - 25lb boxes. Seemed like a good idea at the time but when I got home I thought, Wow this might take a while!

My cart with 4 - 25lb boxes. Seemed like a good idea at the time but when I got home I thought, Wow this might take a while!

 This wasn’t even 25 full lbs. I had oodles more of roasting to go!! But I persevered with spectacular rewards.

This wasn’t even 25 full lbs. I had oodles more of roasting to go!! But I persevered with spectacular rewards.

 The tomatoes come out tender with concentration flavor. Sweet like candy but with a savory richness that enhances any dish. These are the oil roasted ones. I used oven dried for this spread recipe. No oil is used when oven drying tomatoes. But as you can see, the oil roasting method uses a ton of oil. I use Oleo, a Spanish Olive Oil from Spain. You can buy it at   Despaña  .

The tomatoes come out tender with concentration flavor. Sweet like candy but with a savory richness that enhances any dish. These are the oil roasted ones. I used oven dried for this spread recipe. No oil is used when oven drying tomatoes. But as you can see, the oil roasting method uses a ton of oil. I use Oleo, a Spanish Olive Oil from Spain. You can buy it at Despaña.

 This is the way to oven dry the tomatoes. No oil is added, as you want them to dry out slowly in a low temp oven for 8-10 hours.   Recipe here

This is the way to oven dry the tomatoes. No oil is added, as you want them to dry out slowly in a low temp oven for 8-10 hours. Recipe here

 To store them, all you need to do is place them in an airtight jar, fill with fresh olive oil and store in the fridge. They last months like this.

To store them, all you need to do is place them in an airtight jar, fill with fresh olive oil and store in the fridge. They last months like this.

I will admit that I went overboard this tomato season but I felt I had good cause. I was stocking up for a family trip in November. Truth be told, even with that trip I was as gluttonous as Violet from Willy Wonka, but instead of turning blueberry violet, I’m a gorgeous shade of ruby red.

In my quest to provide you… and me, with ideas on how to use up your tomatoes, I came up with this spread of sorts. It’s almost like a pesto, but not quite. It’s half tapenade and half pesto. Tapenesto? Pestenade? Ugh, It’s a concoction. How’s that for a name?

Seriously as easy as: blend it up, pour it out, spread it on anything type of recipe.

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Ingredients

5-6 oven dried tomatoes (or sun-dried)
3 oven roasted garlic cloves
4 c basil, loosely packed
2/3 c oil
1 t salt
1/4 t lemon zest
2 T lemon juice
1 1/3 c pecans, toasted

 Toasted pecans

Toasted pecans


Instructions

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  1. Toast the pecans in a pan over low heat or in the oven just until lightly toasted.

  2. In a blender or food processor, buzz up the roasted garlic and oven dried tomatoes until chunky.

  3. Add the basil, and buzz until combined

  4. Add the pecans

  5. Drizzle in oil, add salt, lemon zest and juice and buzz until chunky consistency.

 Basil, so green and fresh, it will add that herbaceous quality to this ‘dip’.

Basil, so green and fresh, it will add that herbaceous quality to this ‘dip’.

 Rich, liquid gold pouring in.

Rich, liquid gold pouring in.

I made this spread without any real need for it but just the desire to test it out. This is me back to my old tricks. Experimenting with no agenda. I’m sure glad I did, ‘cause two weeks later we had weekend guests and it was the perfect compliment to my cheese board. It goes great on bread, perfect on crackers and zippy on cucumbers.

 Cheeses from Spain found at Despaña:   Majorero Pimenton  ,   Zamorano  ,   Mahon Curado

Cheeses from Spain found at Despaña: Majorero Pimenton, Zamorano, Mahon Curado

I’m sure this ‘whatever’ you call it spread would be lovely on grilled chicken or even fish or roasted vegetables. These are the types of ‘whip ‘em up’ ideas I love. The ones that aren’t picky how you use them. They are happy to play on anyone’s plate in any fashion you can think up. And the thing I also learned about this little tapenesto pestenade was that it lasts for 2-3 weeks in an airtight container. How’s that for work horse?

 Up close and personal. Rich and deep in flavor.

Up close and personal. Rich and deep in flavor.

 Name it whatever you like, but it goes with feta cheese, Middle Eastern fare, Italian fare, yada yada yada.

Name it whatever you like, but it goes with feta cheese, Middle Eastern fare, Italian fare, yada yada yada.

 Spread it on bread add fontina cheese and arugula, some dried cured meat and slap the crusty bread… shut…up and eat.

Spread it on bread add fontina cheese and arugula, some dried cured meat and slap the crusty bread… shut…up and eat.

Oh, I’ve fallen in love again. A pesto/tapenade concoction that will have you not caring what you call it. Just as long as you can make it, spread it and devour it.

Tahini-Peanut Dressing

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I am drawn to nutty flavors. So, combining tahini, which is ground sesame seeds, and peanut butter into a dressing, to slather on whatever I can, should be no surprise. It’s a classic combo, and there are many versions out there. I used to make mine with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, but lately have been steering clear of those ingredients. But you can certainly include them to this dressing, too.

What I adore about this thick mixture, call it a dressing, sauce, dip or relish, is that you can use it for some many dishes. I typically incorporate it into my rice noodle bowl, or as a dressing option to Spicy Slaw. It’s also a tasty topping to pork chops, or chicken. It’s the go to mix for satay dipping, but why not for crudités, too, I say. Go ahead and slather it on a grilled tortilla, then fill it up with grilled fish or shrimp with a good helping of slaw for a Asian style taco.

Whenever you hear about musicians being termed as crossover artists, you understand that they are versatile in their craft. I would venture to say that this dressing has them beat. How many musicians can crossover as much as this little dressing. From pasta to veggie dishes to fish or meats, from Asian to Mexican to Indian dishes, this nutty, savory, tangy concoction is the ultimate of multi-duty. And if that’s not enough, it also can hang out in the fridge for awhile, too. But I usually use mine up fairly quickly.

 The stars, peanut butter, tahini, sesame oil, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, scallions and cilantro.

The stars, peanut butter, tahini, sesame oil, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, scallions and cilantro.

Ingredients

1/2 c Tahini
1 c Peanut Butter (I like chunky, but smooth is fine)
1/4 c Sesame Oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 T Lemon Zest
2 T Lemon juice
1/2 T Garlic, crushed
1/4 c Scallions
1/4 c Cilantro
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 t Salt, or to taste
Peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Jalapeño pepper, (optional)

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Instructions

  1. Cut up the scallions, mince the cilantro and crush the garlic in a press.

  2. Add all the ingredients, except the scallions and cilantro, into a blender or food processor and combine to the consistency you desire. If you want it more chunky, buzz it less. If you want a thinner sauce, you can add a tad of warm water or vegetable stock to thin it out. I prefer mine thick.

 Add the cilantro and scallions on top.

Add the cilantro and scallions on top.

On this particular Tahini-Peanut Dressing day, I mixed mine into rice noodles with a bowl full of greens; sliced scallions, arugula, cucumbers, bean sprouts, more cilantro leaves

 I eat this by the bowl full. It’s so satisfying, I usually go for a refill.

I eat this by the bowl full. It’s so satisfying, I usually go for a refill.

 It’s perfect for slaw. Top with more peanuts to add texture and crunch.

It’s perfect for slaw. Top with more peanuts to add texture and crunch.

As I said, you can vary this base dressing by adding soy sauce, tamari, rice vinegar, jalapeño or toasted sesame seeds on top. You can use it for salad dressing, or a marinade. Put it on noodles or veggies… yada yada yada. You seriously don’t need me to make a list. I trust you find all it’s savory uses.

 
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