By far, the most popular dilemma this time of year is what to serve as an appetizer. I hear (almost daily) "I love making the main course but I hate making the appetizers."
Relax, there is no need to worry — below are several easy, delicious appetizer ideas to draw on when time is of the essence (which is definitely the case for me these days as a busy new mom, caterer and food-shop owner in the middle of what we call our "crazy season").
Accordingly, this column is a tad "shortter" than usual.
I wish you all a very happy holiday season filled with good friends, good family and great food. Season's eatings!
Easy appetizer ideas:
• Take some regular or Grissini breadsticks (which are longer and thinner than regular breadsticks) and coat 1/3 of the breadstick with a herb-flavoured room temperature cream cheese.
Wrap thinly sliced smoked salmon around the cream cheese portion of the breadstick.
Alternatively, spread the breadstick with mascarpone cheese (a triple-cream spreadable cheese from Italy, often used in tiramisu) and wrap with thin slices of prosciutto.
• Marinate olives (green or black, large or small, pitted or not — whatever you have on hand or enjoy most) in a bit of olive oil with chili flakes, a splash of vinegar, the zest of a small orange and pinch of sugar.
Bake them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree F oven until warm — about 11-14 minutes. Delicious served on their own or served with good-quality feta and fresh bread.
• Take a tip from Dana Shortt Gourmet's executive chef, Mark Saraiva, and wrap a log of goat cheese (you can use a plain, herb or dried fruit variety) in strips of bacon that have been already partially cooked (do not use raw bacon).
Bake in a 375-degree F oven until bacon is slightl crisp and cheese is hot— about 15-20 minutes. Serve with crackers and/or fresh bread.
• Cut an English cucumber into one-inch pieces. Scoop out the seeds with a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to form a little "cup."
Make your own mini Greek salads by stuffing the cucumber cup with crumbled feta, a half-sliced grape tomato and a half-sliced or very small (pitted) olive. Garnish with a sprig of fresh oregano.
For an even easier version, stuff the cup with good-quality store-bought olive tapenade and top with a crumbling of feta cheese or goat cheese.
• Seriously, who has the time to make fondue on the busy days leading up to Christmas Day? Make a "cheaters fondue" — take a round loaf of bread (sourdough is great) and slice off the top of the loaf, a quarter of the way down.
Cut the top into small cubes. Remove enough of the interior bread to fit a 4-inch wheel of brie or camembert inside.
Wrap foil around the bread (leave the cheese exposed) and bake in a 450-degree F oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
If you like crusty bread, remove the foil after eight minutes or so. Serve a little chutney or pepper jelly on the side if desired.
• Wrap plump, pitted medjool dates in a half strip of bacon and bake in a 375-degree F oven until bacon is crispy, about 20 minutes. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, stuff each medjool date with goat cheese, cream cheese or mascarpone cheese and a nut (pecan, almond or date) before wrapping in bacon.
The sweet date and salty bacon (and creamy cheese, if added) really works well.
For additional easy appetizer ideas (Swedish nuts, cheese plates and more) search for my earlier columns. Or, you can try the "news" page (for my newsletters) and/or the "recipe" page of my website at www.danashortt.ca .
Presentation is key — always remember that people eat with their eyes first. Look no further than your own china cabinet for interesting vessels and stemware to present your hors d’oeuvres.
For instance, the wrapped breadstick appetizers look superb displayed in a brandy sniffer or pilsner glass (or any other funky stemware that you have on hand).
The bacon-wrapped goat cheese looks fantastic displayed on a bed of fresh herbs (thyme or rosemary work well as they don’t wilt from the heat) on a wooden cutting board, surrounded with a scattering of plain or candied nuts, some dried fruit and crackers.