Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spelling Appetizer Is Easier Than Spelling Hors d’oeuvre

Roasted Beets, Feta Cheese and Candied Walnuts with Mixed Greens (photo by Andy Mills)

I first heard the word ‘appetizer’ when I was a kid, helping my mother set up a card table in the living room.  We’d put out a pitcher of tomato juice and a plate of Ritz Crackers.  The red and gold color combo worked for me.  I felt very grown up with my glass of TJ and a cracker, waiting for dinner to be served.

My next encounter with appetizers came a few years later on New Year’s Eve.  My friend Lynne was visiting, and our task was making appetizers for my parents’ friends.  We used a gadget that looked like a miniature cookie press—a 2-inch-long metal tube with a plunger at one end.  The idea was to press the open end into thin slices of cheese, ham, cucumber and salami until the tube was full.  Then we would insert a toothpick through the slices, and push the plunger.  Out popped a 2-inch cylinder of sliced stuff.

Lynne and I had great fun varying the order of the slices.  Years later she got a job in the New York test kitchen of a major food company.  Were these appetizers the beginning of her career?

Over the years my tastes became more sophisticated.  I discovered brie cheese, pate, stuffed grape leaves, taramasalata, seven-layer dip, guacamole, tapenade, samosas, spinach dip and stuffed mushrooms.  The appetizer list is endless, and my appetite for them is endless as well.  I could make a whole meal out of appetizers. 

Here is one of my favorites, first eaten in a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Roasted Beets, Feta Cheese and Candied Walnuts with Mixed Greens – serves 6-8 
4 medium-size raw beets
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 5-ounce bag mixed greens
Vinaigrette Dressing
Candied Walnuts (see recipe below) 
Scrub beets and wrap them tightly in foil. Place foil package in a pan (in case it leaks) and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.  When cool, rub the skin off the beets and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. 
While the beets are in the oven, make the Candied Walnuts.
Combine the beets, feta and mixed greens in a large salad bowl, toss and add vinaigrette dressing.  Sprinkle on the candied walnuts or serve on the side. 
Candied Walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
Dash salt
1/2 pound walnut pieces 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
Combine the sugar, honey, water and salt in a medium-size pot and bring to a boil.  Stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved.  Add the walnuts and continue stirring until they are covered with the sugar mixture and there is none left in the bottom of the pan.
Pour the coated nuts onto the foil-covered pan and, with a spoon or rubber spatula, carefully spread them out in a single layer,  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the nuts begin to brown.  Be careful they don’t burn.
Remove from the oven and let cool.  Separate the nuts with your hands or a spoon.  Use as many as you wish for the salad and store the rest in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  They will last for several months.
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