With holidays upon us, you sometimes never know who will be stopping by to bring some cheer along with an empty stomach.
Avoid greeting house guests with panic over what you're going to serve and instead offer up some yummy starters.
Kim Rawson is a communications consultant in the Berkshires with a passion for cooking. With the holidays fast approaching and Thanksgiving looming, Rawson is ready to take on any guests with several tasty appetizers made right in her kitchen.
"My mom's Round Bread Dip is a long-standing holiday favorite in my family," Rawson said from her Pittsfield home. "The dip itself is a snap to put together. It's delicious right away, but it's even better the second day as a leftover — though not as pretty."
On the next day, Rawson continued, the bread bowl has absorbed the flavors of the dip, the party is over, and that's when you can tear pieces from whatever remains of the bread bowl to use for dipping and "happily pig out."
"I have many happy childhood memories of this particular appetizer, along with the Junior League of Boston's Artichoke Squares, a recipe I've made many times over the years. I always seem to have the necessary ingredients on hand, including marinated artichokes, so it's a quick and easy homemade appetizer, even last minute."
Rawson said the recipe is from "Presenting Boston ... A Cookbook by The Junior League of Boston, Inc.," which is no longer in print. It was the second cookbook her mother gave her as a young woman starting out on her own, and Rawson said it has stood her in good stead for decades.
"From my early days as a novice cook to today, I always buy Junior League cookbooks whenever I find them in my travels," Rawson said. "The recipes are family and time-tested, regionally inspired, and typically really good. Their cookbooks typically devote many pages to appetizers."
Maureen O'Neil, from Bennington, Vt., is used to feeding a crowd, as food service manager for the Abbey Food Group, which provides meals to all the schools in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. She also was the former owner of the highly rated Alldays and Onions restaurant in Bennington, and the Spiral Press Café in Manchester, Vt.
Among O'Neil's appetizer favorites is bruschetta — a grilled bread with the toppings of broad choice. She makes it two ways, and won't hesitate to whip up either when friends come to her door.
"Bruschettas are also perfect for larger parties," O'Neil said. "You can pre-toast/grill your bread, have your toppings all prepped and ready. Guests could actually put toppings on their own toasts, or do it for them right before serving.
"One thing I've learned from all my years in the business, is that when you have time to relax and enjoy your company, whether invited or unexpected, that is what you should do," O'Neil said. "Sit down, relax, converse, sip, eat and enjoy. During the holidays, I turn to appetizers when I am entertaining. I keep them simple, and tend to stock my refrigerator and pantry with fresh, easy and even ready to use items."
Courtesy of Maureen O'Neil
2 cups shredded Vermont sharp cheddar cheese
1 Tbls Honeycup mustard
Fresh tarragon or favorite herb
French baguette slices
Cooked cocktail shrimp
Combine cheddar cheese, egg, mustard and herbs. Toast French baguette slices. Once toasted, top with shrimp and a heaping tablespoon of cheese mixture. Broil until bubbly and brown.
Mom's Round Bread Dip
Courtesy of Kim's Mom, via Kim Rawson
"Deliciously addictive and even better the second day!"
Round loaf pumpernickel bread
1 small pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 pkg. Knorr cream of leek or vegetable recipe mix
2 cups Hellmann's mayonnaise
2 cups sour cream
2 or 3 scallions, finely sliced
Mix dip ingredients together in a bowl. Slice top from bread (set aside for the lid) and hollow out the center with a spoon, reserving the scooped out bread. Fill bread bowl with dip mixture and top with the lid. Tear reserved bread into chunks for dipping and store in plastic until ready to serve.
Courtesy of The Junior League of Boston, modified by Kim Rawson
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
2 6-oz. jars marinated artichoke hearts
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. oregano
1/8 tsp. Tabasco
1/2 lb. Cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbsp. parsley, minced
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Drain the juice from one jar of artichoke hearts into a frying pan. Discard the juice from the second jar. Chop artichokes; set aside. Saute the onion and garlic in the artichoke liquid until the onion is transparent. Beat eggs in a small bowl until frothy; add bread crumbs, salt, pepper, oregano and Tabasco. Stir in the cheese, parsley, chopped artichokes and onion mixture. Turn into a buttered 7 x 11 inch baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan, then cut into 1-inch squares. Serve cold or reheat at 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes.