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!

 

The Art of a Charcuterie & Cheese Platter

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As the holidays come barreling down the highway, ideas for what to serve are top of mind. With all the hustle and bustle, a good way to fill the table, fill your guests and keep sane during the season is to offer up a beautiful, bountiful charcuterie platter as part of your appetizer/cocktail hour.  There are many ways to stack up all your meats, cheeses and other nibbles, but a tried and true method is have a wide selection,  keep like items together and spread the color around for visual impact.  

Sure, there are plenty of other rules like; offer 3 different types of cheese (cow, goat, sheep). Or one should be hard, another soft, one should be mild, one should be strong, blah blah blah.  Joking aside, these are some decent guidelines. But your own instinct and good judgement are the very best rules to follow.

I say, buy and serve what you love and what you think your guests will enjoy. Sometimes I serve four cheeses. Sometimes three or five.  There are no hard and fast rules but I will share some of the tips that my heart follows, and thus do my platters.  

  • I like to offer up a 'palate party'. Put forth different items that will excite all the sensory notes on your tongue. Cheese and meat for the savory elements, fruits both fresh and dried for sweetness, nuts or chick peas for crunch, olives for a salty bite. You get the idea.

  • Use bowls for smaller items. They contain them plus create height giving the platter a bit more interest.

  • Add fresh items like vegetables or greens

  • Include small spoons or forks so guests can easily pick up food

  • Arrange each item in groupings, either neatly and orderly or nicely bunched together

  • Be colorful. Spread the hues around so that similar colors aren't next to one another.

  • Fill your charcuterie platters chock full of goodies. Depending on what you have available and how you want your guests to feast should determine what goes on your platter. Pull out what you have and see if it's the right mix.

  • If it may seem overwhelming, then place all your items on the board to help provide a visual sense.

Using fruit of the season is a wonderful complement to cheese. If your cheese, meat and fruit choices feel like they are all in the same color scheme, tuck some herbs or greens on the edges for some visual anchoring.

Using fruit of the season is a wonderful complement to cheese. If your cheese, meat and fruit choices feel like they are all in the same color scheme, tuck some herbs or greens on the edges for some visual anchoring.

Let's build a platter.  

Here is 2 types of dry cured sausage, 3 types of cheese, Marcona almonds, olives, dried apricots, gluten free crackers and short bread sticks.

Here is 2 types of dry cured sausage, 3 types of cheese, Marcona almonds, olives, dried apricots, gluten free crackers and short bread sticks.

Filling the bowls.
For some small items like nuts, you can snuggle them up to another offerings. However, I find that items with liquid, like olives, are best contained.  Once I have one small bowl, then I usually like to add another for balance. Also, a suggestion is to stay within a color scheme when choosing vessels.  I have presented my platters with and without bowls.  It's just how the mood hits me.  Design at will.

Create Height:
For more visual interest, place a big hunk of cheese then arrange the cut pieces around it.  This creates structure and height but also shows your guests the cheese in its original state.

Make it Easy to Eat:
When presenting cheese and meats, I prefer cutting each one so they are readily available for guests.  They can just pick up a few pieces and go.  I have noticed that trying to cut with all the other items on a platter can be difficult. For cheese, I look for the natural and most logical way to cut a particular cheese.  Each one has its own best way to present it.  Some are better in big chunks while others work beautifully in elongated triangles. Much like people, we come in a myriad of shapes and sizes but all mingle together.

Presentation:
Keep cutting and placing and building up your board.  Place items around and see how they feel in the space. They can always be shifted around.  You can't make a mistake.

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Build it up:
Keep at it until you get it just the way you want. Generally, I just go with the flow.  Insert here, augment there to create a platter that looks appealing and complements my other appetizer offerings.  My suggestion is play around until you get a sense of how the meats and cheeses and fruits and other snack-ables like cozying up together.  

If you are wondering what these tiny round nuggets in the center bowl are, why those are my  Spicy Chick Peas  that make a perfect addition to a platter or alone for cocktails.

If you are wondering what these tiny round nuggets in the center bowl are, why those are my Spicy Chick Peas that make a perfect addition to a platter or alone for cocktails.

When it comes to dry cured meats like Prosciutto or Serrano ham, you can rock and roll 'em up. 

 

Serrano ham

Serrano ham

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Other times, they are best when gathered to make little bunches.

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Other dry cured meats can be folded or curled like trumpets for a tidy look.  I think it's the uniformity that makes it appealing and appetizing.  

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Now that you have the basics, here are a few other tips plus other platters I have created in the past to get a sense or arrangement.

I am an equal opportunity employer when it comes to my serving ware.  So I like to put into play a variety of shapes and sizes when I build my platters. Incorporating the shape of those boards/platters helps to paint the picture of the final layout.  If you have curves (like I do...) embrace them, work with them and arrange your items
in a circular fashion.  

Also, introduce veggies when you can. Since crackers can be heavy, I adore including cucumbers. (I use either English or Persian, as they have less seeds.) They work just like bread or a cracker as a delivery vehicle, and are a great alternative for gluten free and carb free folks.  Plus they burst onto the scene with a green that just makes me smile.

When you do use crackers and want to keep it all contained, include them nestled in so that guests can grab whatever their heart desires all from one place. 

Abundancia: Figs, triple cream goat cheese, Moroccan oil cured olives, Serrano ham, Fuet, cheeses, grapes, nuts, onion jam (recipe coming soon) Mary's Gone Gluten Free crackers.

Abundancia: Figs, triple cream goat cheese, Moroccan oil cured olives, Serrano ham, Fuet, cheeses, grapes, nuts, onion jam (recipe coming soon) Mary's Gone Gluten Free crackers.

The introduction of dips, such as hummus, right in the midst of it all augments your offerings with a creamy factor. I'm a big fan of tucking greens in and around. Arugula provides a lovely, spicy bite that dances well with all these flavors.  The greens not only brighten the platter but provide a crispness that both lightens and refreshes the palate.

Notice how I didn't use a bowl for the nuts here but instead just piled them amongst their friends.

Notice how I didn't use a bowl for the nuts here but instead just piled them amongst their friends.

Sometimes you can make a big impact by mixing nice and neat items that anchor the others that are just mounded up abundantly in the middle.

No matter how you decide to arrange your charcuterie platter, have fun with it. With every grab of a piece of this and a slice of that your guests will be delighted with your bountiful offering.