Sep 1, 2012

Appetizers... "Dips & Chips"

Shrimp with Lemon Crème Fraîche
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What would an American social get together be without appetizers. In this country we like to think of appetizers as being a very American thing. Of course the truth is that other cultures also have appetizers but with different names; in the Middle East and Greece, they call them "meze", the Italians celebrate with "antipasto", the Spanish with "tapas", the Hawaiians with "pupus", the Chinese with "dim sum", and so on around the world. Appetizers have started the meal since the third century B.C. when the Athenians introduced the first hors d’oeuvre buffet, complete with garlic, sea urchins, cockles and small pieces of sturgeon placed in front of the diners on small plates. 

In recent times, appetizers have changed considerably. In fact, over the past ten years exotic appetizers, now referred to as "Nasty Bits", are the latest trend. Gone are the days when shrimp cocktail, chicken salad and cheese on sticks were the only appetizers being served. These days you are as likely to be offered pickled quail eggs wrapped in bison sausage, fried ducks tongue, sesame jellyfish with chili sauce, stuffed nasturtium blossoms, or even live octopus sashimi, where the suckers apply a gentle suction on your tongue as you swallow them. Today people are trying anything and everything, the more bizarre the better.

Whether exotic or classic, hot or cold, fancy or simple, appetizers provide an opportunity for socialization before formal and casual get together's while whetting the appetite for more courses to come. A simple way to start your exploration of this first course is with dips and chips, they are the ultimate party food that your guests will love trying.

Dip Recipes:
Shrimp with Lemon Crème Fraîche
Ever tried Crème Fraîche? It's very easy to make at home. You only have to remember to make it ahead of time, then enjoy this simple, elegant French cream, flavored with lemon and fresh chives.

1 cup whipping cream (1/2 pint)
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel, divided
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, divided
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper to taste
20 medium sized shrimp (31/40), with tails left on, and boiled in salted water for 3 minutes, then chilled
4 white wine glasses, or martini glasses

To make crème fraîche, combine whipping cream and sour cream in a large glass jar. Cover with lid and shake for 15 seconds. Let stand, lid removed, and covered with a dish towel, at room temperature (about 70°F) for 24 hours, or until very thick, stirring once or twice during that time. Put the lid back on the jar and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Whisk crème fraîche, lemon juice, 1 1/2 tablespoon grated lemon peel, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chives, salt, and cayenne pepper in small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to serve, carefully spoon crème fraîche mixture into 4 wine glasses and sprinkle with remaining chives and lemon zest. Attach 5 cooked shrimp to each rim of 4 glasses and serve. Makes 2 cups of dip, for 4 servings. Note: The bacteria present in the crème fraîche keeps it from spoiling, as long as you keep it refrigerated for up to 7 days after it is made.

Chunky Guacamole
2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/3 cup finely chopped sweet onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
hot sauce (optional)

Mash the avocados with a fork until chunky. Stir in the lime juice, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and hot sauce, if using. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper. Serve at room temperature with corn chips. Makes 8 servings.

Taramosalata Dip
An explosion of flavors marks this exquisite Greek appetizer. This is a very addictive caviar dip traditionally made from carp roe, a lot of olive oil, bread or mashed potatoes. I use tobiko (flying fish roe) for the fish roe because it is a beautiful orange color, not that expensive, and available here in Hawaii.

6 ounces tobiko
1 cup crustless white bread cut in to cubes (use good Italian or French bread) or mashed potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, minced
4-5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Soak the bread in a little water for a few minutes then squeeze dry, or use mashed potatoes. Put all ingredients, except the tobiko, into a food processor and blend well. Add the tobiko and blend until well mixed in. Put in to serving dish and chill for at least 1 hour. Serve with honey roasted pita points (recipe below). Note: For presentation, press mixture into a small round bowl that has been lined with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one hour. Just before you are ready to serve, lift out corners of plastic wrap to remove mixture from bowl on to serving plate. Gently remove plastic wrap from molded mixture and decorate with additional tobiko. Serve with toasted pita points, broken flat bread, or Japanese rice crackers (recipe below). Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Marinara Dipping Sauce
This is a traditional Italian marinara sauce that should be served with warm crusty baguette slices.

2 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
10 plum tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
pinch of ground cloves to counteract the acidity
1/4 cup water
15-20 chopped fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil and saute garlic until light brown and softened. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, water, basil, and salt and pepper. Bring contents of the pan to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

Avocado Hummus
This is a wonderful way to use avocado combined with chickpeas and other tasty flavors.

1 large ripe avocado
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained but reserve some of the liquid
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 4 tablespoons Tahini (ground paste made of sesame seeds)
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt, to taste

Cut avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop out the flesh and place it in a food processor or blender with chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and a little of the saved liquid. Process until smooth and creamy, adding more liquid if desired. Season with salt to taste. Serve with toasted pita points, raw veggies or crackers. Makes about 3 cups.

Spanish Cottage Cheese Dip
Cottage cheese has been around for ever, and people love it. This dip recipe takes a classic and turns it into something better.

1 (24 ounce) container cottage cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup monterey jack cheese, grated
2 green onions, sliced thinly
2 -3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cumin (optional)
black pepper

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. For best results, use regular cottage cheese and sour cream rather than reduced fat. Serve with tortilla chips and salsa. Makes 8-10 servings.

Crab Dip with Fresh Spinach
Using imitation crab in this dip makes this a delicious and affordable favorite.

1-8 ounce package-cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups Havarti cheese, shredded
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
6 ounces imitation crab meat, flaked
1 cup fresh baby spinach, shredded

To make this imitation crab dip, first, preheat the oven to 350˚F. In a medium size bowl, combine the cream cheese, Havariti cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, chives and horseradish. Gently fold in the imitation crab meat and spinach. Spray a 1 quart sized baking dish with non-stick coating and pour in crab mixture, then bake for about 25 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with toasted pita points, or your favorite cracker. Makes about 3 cups of imitation crab dip.

Anchovy Pepper Spread
A blend of roasted flavors for a rich spread, I love it!

4 red bell peppers
5 anchovies, rinsed and chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
garnish with additional capers

Place the peppers on a baking sheet and place on the middle shelf of your oven. Broil on high until the peppers turn black, turning often. When completely black, about 20 to 25 minutes, remove from oven and cover with foil until they are cool. Peel the black skin from the peppers and discard. Cut peppers open and remove the seeds. Cut peppers into chunks and place a food processor with remaining ingredients. Pulse processor until mixture is blended but still chunky. Let the pepper dip rest at room temperature for about 30 to 60 minutes, and garnish with additional capers. Serve with toasted French bread or honey roasted pita points. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tomato Tapenade
A simple recipe with complex flavors, delicious!

1 cup sundried tomatoes, either oil packed or dried
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

If tomatoes are dried, soak in boiling hot water for 30 minutes and drain well. If oil-packed, drain well. Place into food processor and process until coarsely chopped. Remove from processor and place into a bowl. Add garlic to food processor, and mince well. Add capers, and mince again. Return the tomatoes to the processor as well as all remaining ingredients. Process until texture is slightly rough, but well mixed. Chill for 15 minutes before serving. Makes 1 cup.

Indian Mango Chutney
This recipe is a sweet combination of flavors that could accompany an Indian meal, served with grilled or roasted meats or just spread over crackers and cheese.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 (about 2 cups) green or ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup fresh lime juice or vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium flame. Add the minced ginger, coriander and turmeric and saute to lightly cook the ginger and toast the spices, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mango softens and the chutney becomes glossy. Remove from heat and cool completely. Put into a clean glass jar and store refrigerated. Will keep for several weeks. Note: For variations to this recipe, you can add 1/4 cup raisins or 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut to the simmering chutney. Or substitute other fruit for the mangoes. Apricots and plums work nicely. You can also add other spices if you like, a pinch or two of cloves, cinnamon, or fennel seeds, or stir in some toasted and chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans at the end for an interesting texture. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Chip Recipes:
Sometimes it's fun to make your own crackers (chips), they taste better than store-bought, and your friends will be impressed that you made them yourself. The key to a good and reliable cracker is obviously a good cracker recipe, like the ones below. Here you will find a variety of chips that go well with whatever dip you like.

Black Sesame Wonton Crackers
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of black pepper
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
24 wonton wrappers, cut on the diagonal
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl, beat egg white. Stir in honey and soy sauce; set aside. In another small bowl, mix together sugar, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds; set aside. Divide wontons evenly between prepared baking sheets, arranging in a single layer. Spray wontons lightly with cooking spray and turn over. Using a pastry brush, generously brush wonton wrappers with egg-white mixture and sprinkle with sesame-seed mixture. Bake until golden and crisp, rotating pans halfway through baking, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on pans about 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store crackers in an airtight container up to a week. Makes 48 crackers.

Honey Roasted Pita Points
These pita points are easy to do and go with so many dips.

2 pitas (flat bread purchased at your grocery store)
unsalted butter
sea salt
dried thyme (or whatever spice you like, garlic powder works well)
dried rosemary (or whatever spice you like, Italian seasoning works well)
Note: You could even make sweet pita points by adding cinnamon instead of the two herbs above, play with it.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Cut your pita rounds into eighths. Pull those pieces in half so that each piece consists of only one layer of pita. Place each pita piece on the cookie tray, rough side up. Spread each piece of pita with a thin layer of butter. Do the same thing with the honey. Sprinkle each piece with a pinch of sea salt, thyme and rosemary, or the herb of your choice (adjust according to taste). Bake in the oven for 6 minutes. Rotate your pan and bake another 6 minutes, or until the chips are browned and crispy. Keep a close eye on the chips towards the end of their baking time as they can quickly go from brown to burned. Let the chips cool. Makes 32 chips.

Japanese Rice Crackers   (Senbei Crackers)
Rice crackers are very popular in Japan and are just the thing for an unusual chip.

2/3 cup sweet rice flour (Mochiko)
1/4 cup cooked white rice
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon salad oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons shredded nori (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place rice flour, cooked rice, oil, and salt (and nori, if using) in a food processor and pulse 5 times. With the motor running, add the water until a dough forms. Turn onto a clean surface and knead for 2 minutes. With wet hands, roll tablespoon sized balls and place between two sheets of plastic wrap or inside a Ziploc bag. Using the back of a glass press ball until flat (super flat). Place discs onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip crackers and bake for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce and honey. Brush sauce onto the tops of crackers and top with sesame seeds. Place crackers back into oven. Turn oven off and allow crackers to dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

Manchego Wafers
Manchego cheese comes from Spain and is made from the milk of sheep. The cheese is firm, and has a buttery flavor that is not too strong. It's one of my favorite cheeses, and makes a delicious wafer.

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 ounces Manchego cheese, finely grated (1 cup)
Special equipment: a 2-inch round cookie cutter

Pulse butter, flour, salt, cayenne, and cheese in a food processor just until a dough forms. (Do not overwork dough, or biscuits will be tough.) Gather dough into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough into a roughly 14-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Working quickly, cut out rounds with floured cookie cutter and arrange 1/2 inch apart on a buttered large baking sheet. Reroll scraps (but only once; chill first if soft) and cut out more rounds, arranging them on same baking sheet. Prick each round 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake in middle of oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer biscuits to a rack to cool. Note: If your kitchen is warm, roll out dough between 2 sheets of wax paper. Makes about 3 dozen small wafers.

Peasant Crackers
I call these peasant crackers because they are rough and full of character. A delicious change from the ordinary.

1 cup bread flour
1 cup instant polenta
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk, shaken to blend
flour, for work surface

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. In a food processor or a blender, combine the flour, polenta, pepper, sea salt, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and cheese. Process to blend. Add the butter and process just until the mixture resemble coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and process until the dough just forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds. Wrap in plastic and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes. Cut the dough into quarters. Set one quarter on a lightly floured surface; cover the remaining pieces with plastic. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Using a 1 3/4-inch biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out rounds of dough and arrange them on a nonstick baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake until the crackers are golden and crisp, 9 to 12 minutes, checking carefully after 9 minutes. Crackers will start to turn golden. Once cool, transfer to airtight containers. The crackers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Makes 75 crackers.

Crispy Scottish Oatcakes
These crispy oatcakes can be served with your favorite jam, for a sweet appetizer or for breakfast, or with liver paté.

2 cups oatmeal, old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pulse the oats in a food processor to break them up a bit. Mix the oatmeal, flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Bring the water and butter to a light boil in a small saucepan. Stir the water-butter mixture into the oat mixture until it forms a mass. Add more water if necessary to bring the ingredients together as a dough. Set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes. Roll the oatcakes dough out to 1/4 inch thick and cut into 2-inch rounds. Place the rounds onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden-brown and lightly crispy on the edges, serve warm. Note: Add a little sweetness to your oatcakes by stirring about 1/2 cup of brown sugar into the flour mixture. Also, instead of cutting the oatcakes into rounds, simply press out the dough to an even thickness on a baking sheet and bake according to directions above. Cut into squares, or whatever shape you like, after removing from the oven.

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