oh so easy hors d’oeuvres

If you were to ask me what I think the most challenging part of planning a dinner party was I’d have to say the hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. I truly feel like they can set the pace for the rest of the meal. If your hors d’oeuvres are uninspired and lame, you can be pretty sure your guests will be anticipating the same out of your dinner. And if they’re overly fussy and complicated your guests may pass on them all together. But… when done right they’re capable of making even the most last minute of gatherings feel like a special occasion. I bet you never realized what a slippery slope hors d’oeuvres could be!

I’ve been known to serve fancy little wonton wrappers with pesto and goat cheese, homemade sweet bean piroshki and yummy curried butternut squash soup as an hors d’oeuvre or first course, but sometimes complicated and fussy is precisely my goal. However a casual get together calls for much simplier fare, something along the lines of freshly steamed shrimp with cocktail sauce, spinach dip with crudites, or a lovely antipasto plate with some tasty cheese, fruit, herb roasted olives and slow roasted tomatoes. I know, that last part sounds eye-rollingly complicated, right? Well I’m here to tell you it’s not, not at all. And the best part is that the olives and tomatoes can be made ahead of time so all you have to do is arrange yourself a little platter of tasty morsels on the day of the party and hors d’oeuvres are served!

Orange + Herb Roasted Olives
I used a mixture of small brined Nicoise, Picholine and Kalamata olives and large green Italian Cerignola olives for this recipe.

olives

2 cups assorted olives (3/4 pound)
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. orange juice
12 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. grated orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a small bowl toss together all of the ingredients except for the orange zest. Roast until sizzling, stirring half way through, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Remove thyme and rosemary springs and transfer the olives to a bowl, toss with the orange zest. Serve at room temperature.

*adapted from food & wine

Slow Roasted Plum Tomatoes
These are delicious paired with a little cheese, on a sandwich or just as is. Typically I use fresh herbs over dried whenever possible, but in this case since the goal is to dehydrate and reduce the tomatoes I prefer to use dried herbs.

tomatoes3

2 lbs. plum tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
dried thyme
garlic powder
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 225°F. Slice each tomato in half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet.
  2. Drizzle each half with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 3 hours.
  3. After 3 hours has elapsed drizzle each half with balsamic vinegar and continue to roast for another 2-3 hrs or until they become very flat and wrinkled (this will all depend on the size of your tomatoes). Let cool and serve or refrigerate for a later use.

alakazam… pesto!

Ahhhh Spring… The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and my thoughts have turned to planning my vegetable garden. For me there is nothing more satisfying than tending, harvesting and enjoying veggies produced in my own little backyard.

Part of what appeals to me most about vegetable gardening is the sheer possibility. The possibility that you’ll have a bumper crop of string beans and become this summer’s “String Bean Queen”, the possibility that you’ll plant the eggplant too close to the yellow squash and create some crazy hybrid vegetable and even the possibility that the pumpkin you and the kids were so excited to grow, ends up a total bust.

How I love the daily nurturing and fervent watching for the slightest growth, flower and finally fruit. It gives me such joy! Long before I ever had actual raised beds to plant in I was an avid container gardener. Then it was mainly the growing of herbs, tomatoes and a little lettuce that made me happy. I used those early garden successes in every fashion I could think of, but more than just about anything else I made pesto. Tons of pesto in fact; traditional basil and pignoli, kale and toasted walnut, mint and almond and even arugula and pistachio. I was “The Pesto Queen”!

Pesto is one of the most versatile sauces I can think of. It’s great as a spread on crackers or sandwiches, yummy mixed with some Greek yogurt and served with raw veggies, makes a tasty salad dressing when thinned out with additional lemon juice and oil and can even enliven a simple bowl of minestrone soup.

But the thing that I truly love the most about pesto is that it tastes just like Spring. Fresh, green, unhurried and full of promise.

I wish for you a Spring brimming with promise and possibility…

Arugula and Pistachio Pesto
This pesto is fantastic just about anywhere, but particularly good as a sassy little appetizer with goat cheese and won ton wrapper cups (see recipe below). 

6 1/2 cups of arugula, packed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup salted and roasted pistachios, shelled
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Boil six cups of water in a medium-sized pot. *Working in small batches, quickly blanch arugula and then shock it in a bowl of ice water. Wring the blanched arugula dry and place in a food processor.
  2. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, pistachios, garlic, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. If the pesto is too thick add a bit more oil and lemon juice. Use immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container.

*I always blanch whatever type of green I’m using to make pesto. You don’t have to, but it helps keep your beautiful pesto bright and green, rather than turning brown in a day or two.

Goat Brie & Pesto Cups
These are a snap to make but look like you’ve toiled for hours.

24 wonton wrappers
pesto (homemade or store bought)
4 oz. goat Brie cheese
shelled pistachios, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray and gently mold the wonton wrappers into each cup. Then lightly spray each raw wonton cup with the cooking spray.
  2. Bake the wonton cups for about 6-7 minutes, until they turn a light golden brown. Remove the baked cups from the muffin pan and allow to cool for a few minutes before filling.
  3. Fill each cup with a square of goat cheese, a 1/4 tsp. of pesto and garnish with a pistachio.

oh, what a tart!

We entertain a lot at my house; holidays, birthdays, barbecues and the always popular “my kids are at a sleepover, I’m coming by for a drink…” And while I have my go-to appetizers I always try to come up with something a little different, a little more delicious than last time.

One tasty little nibble that has become an absolute must have around here is Fresh Raspberry and Brie Mini Tarts. Sounds complicated, right? It’s not. In fact its so easy you’re not going to believe you haven’t thought of it yourself.

Fresh Raspberry and Brie Mini Tarts
These little gems are also delicious topped with fresh blueberries or blackberries.

2 packages phyllo mini tart shells
1 small wheel of Brie
6 oz fresh raspberries
honey

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Place the tart shells on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  2. With a vegetable peeler remove the rind from the brie and cut into small cubes. Place one cube of cheese into each tart shell and bake for 4-5 minutes or until cheese is just melted.
  3. Top each tart with a 1/4 tsp of honey and one raspberry. Serve and enjoy!

*inspired by epicurious