Appetizer Parties Made Easy

If you still want to throw a holiday party, there's plenty of time.

On The Early Show Friday, cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie showed how to easily put together dishes that will delight your guests.

Ritchie and co-anchor Hannah Storm cooked up a storm at the flagship Williams-Sonoma store in Manhattan.

Ritchie had hints on how much food to prepare and how to choose a combination of snacks that work well together.

When choosing recipes for an appetizer party, a few items are essential, Ritchie says.

You'll want something salty to start the evening. Ritchie always has bowls of nuts sitting out when people walk in the door. The salt sparks guests' appetites and prompts them to have a drink.

Plan on serving something made with vegetables, something with meat, and something with seafood. At least one of your appetizers should also involve bread, which fills people up.

The question of how much to prepare is always a big one and it's better to err on the side of too much rather than too little. In general, make sure you have enough for each guest to have at least two tastes of each item. You may want to round out your spread with a plate of meats, such as Italian cold cuts and cheeses.

Keep in mind that your food is going to be sitting out for at least a couple of hours, so everything you make should be able to stand and taste good at room temperature. If you want to prepare a couple of hot appetizers, Ritchie suggests passing them around to guests at the beginning of the party.

All the dishes Ritchie suggests can be made ahead of time, either the night before or earlier in the day. That gives the host and hostess plenty of time to get their homes and selves ready for the party, without worrying about the food at the last minute.
RECIPES

INDIAN SPICED NUTS

This snack satisfies Ritchie's salt requirement. It's easy to make an ordinary can of mixed nuts into something special. With this recipe, you simply toss the nuts with a little butter and some spices, then roast them in the oven for about 20 minutes. The nuts can be served warm or at room temperature. Although Ritchie uses Indian flavors, you can substitute other flavors if you wish. For example, using rosemary, lemon and garlic would make yummy Italian-flavored nuts.

The garam masala Ritchie suggests is a spice mixture similar to curry powder. The spice and other flavoring ingredients are added to the nuts.

Mixed nuts offer the most choices for your guests, but if a single nut — cashews, peanuts or almonds — is your favorite, roast it alone with the same spice mixture. In every case, be sure the nuts are fresh. Vacuum-packed tins labeled with expiration dates are usually good guarantees of freshness, as are nuts sold in bulk at a market with a high turnover. The nuts are roasted at a relatively low temperature to avoid burning and to give them time to absorb the fragrant spices.

2 cups lightly salted mixed nuts
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp. garam masala (see related recipe at right)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Preheat an oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

In a bowl, toss together the nuts, butter, ginger, garam masala, cumin and cayenne until the nuts are evenly coated with the spice mixture. Spread the nuts out in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

Roast the nuts, stirring 1 or 2 times, until golden and fragrant, 20 to 22 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.

You can also roast the nuts up to 24 hours in advance and store them, tightly covered, at room temperature. To serve them warm, spread them on a baking sheet and reheat in a 350°F oven for about 5 minutes. Serves 8.

Variations:
Chili-Spiced Nuts: Omit the ginger. Add 1 Tbs. chili powder and increase the cumin to 1 tsp.

Italian-Spiced Nuts: Substitute hazelnuts for the mixed nuts, if desired. Omit the ginger, garam masala and cumin. Add 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tsp. grated lemon zest and 1/2 tsp. finely chopped garlic.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Roasting, by Rick Rodgers, Melanie Barnard & Bob & Colleen Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2004).

CHERRY TOMATOES

This dish is an easy way to serve vegetables and cheese, and the colors are quite festive. You simply scoop out the pulp from the tomatoes and fill them with a mixture of goat cheese and basil.

The easiest way to scoop out the tomato's insides is to use a grapefruit knife.

Cherry Tomatoes Filled with Goat Cheese:

For a refreshing appetizer, fill bite-size cherry tomatoes, round or pear shaped, with a savory mixture of goat cheese flavored with basil. Minced tarragon or chervil can be used in place of the basil.

24 cherry tomatoes, a mixture of red and yellow
1/4 lb. fresh goat cheese (chèvre)
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Cut the top off each cherry tomato. Using a small spoon, scoop out the pulp to make a hollow yet sturdy shell. Drain off any juice that accumulates in the shells.

In a bowl, combine the cheese, basil, salt and pepper. Mix with a fork until well blended.

Using the small spoon, fill each tomato with about 1 tsp. of the cheese mixture. Arrange the filled tomatoes on a platter to serve. Serves 4.

  • Brian Dakss

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