Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Veggie Appetizers

. . . So (continuing from my previous post on Thanksgiving yesterday) . . . as I was saying, I was in charge of bringing the appetizers. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of funky old cookbooks that give lots of eye-opening recipes for canapés and hors d’oeuvres, or maybe it’s ’cause I’m seriously missing Gourmet magazine (major, painful withdrawal, folks), but I decided to have some “fun” with this task.

And Thanksgiving—whew! What kind of appetizers won’t ultimately injure your appetite for this, most possibly the biggest feast of the year? Unless you’re having a party where the appetizers function as the dinner itself, you don’t want them to be heavy. At Thanksgiving, you don’t need something to “tide you over”—Lawseh. You need something to pique your appetite, and that’s about all.

So I decided: No breads or crackers, and no meat. No cheese tray. All too heavy. Instead, I was going to focus on raw, fresh veggies. But I wanted to get away from the usual carrot and celery sticks, pile of broccoli florets, and a bowl of sauce to dip them into. And hey, I have the time to put some effort into this, so why not get more creative?

Another thing I decided: These should all be bite-size. Don’t you hate it when you bite into a lovely little hors d’oeuvre, and half of it collapses into your hand and drips down your shirt front?

Finally, I wanted them all to harmonize somewhat—which means no “United Nations” of flavors. Pick out a cuisine and its flavor palette and stick with it.

So here’s what I ended up with: stuffed tomatoes, stuffed cucumber cylinders, and canapés made using sliced yellow squash instead of crackers or mini toasts. All with a Mediterranean/Greek theme. I’m rather proud of them!

There aren’t actual recipes to relate, as it’s more about combinations and construction. So descriptions follow each photo.

Hummus-stuffed grape tomatoes. Yes, the grape tomatoes are still coming on in the sunny front side of our house! For the bigger grape tomatoes, I cut just a thin slice off top and bottom so they’d stand upright, then sliced the tomatoes into halves, making two cups. Scooped out the guts using a thin sharp knife, small melon baller, and heck, my fingertips.

The filling was hummus. Then, I had puréed some roasted red bell peppers with a tiny bit of chipotle (for added smokiness and zip), put that purée into a ketchup-type squeeze bottle, and squirted a bit of that into the hummus. It blurped out of the top in an attractive way. Then I garnished the top with a little cube of feta and a tiny sprig of fresh thyme. (Yeah, our herb garden is still going strong, too!)

Next slide, please . . .

Tzatziki-filled cucumber cylinders. Here, I bought some “gourmet” little cucumbers from Schnucks, which always has a great produce selection. (No, they’re not paying me to say that!) I cut these into cylinders maybe three-quarters of an inch tall. Again, I wanted folks to be able to eat them a single bite. I used the small melon baller to carve out a bowl in one of the sides, then filled it with a homemade tzatziki sauce.

Because tzatziki sauce usually has cucumber already in it, and I was going to be putting this into cucumber pieces, I made my tzatziki without cuke. (You can find lots of recipes for tzatziki—mine had garlic and fresh mint in it.) By the way, the thicker you can get the yogurt to be, the better, for this construction.

The garnish is finely diced kalamata olives. Pretty, huh?

Okay, next slide . . .

Finally, yellow squash with cream cheese–pesto sauce: round slices of yellow zucchini squash topped with a dab of cream cheese (I used the lower-fat Neufchâtel) mixed with pesto (I make up a big batch of pesto and freeze it in zip-bags so it’s always on hand). Garnished with a thin round of grape tomato, poked into the cheese at an angle, and a sprig of fresh parsley. (Hooray for the herb garden!)

I wanted these all to be so pretty it would almost hurt ya to eat them. But the punchy flavors kept that from happening, I guess, because there weren’t many of these left after the party!

The best part was that these were fun to make.

If you can manage it, cooking should always be fun, huh?

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