Party it up with Appetizers Galore!




I love how everyone I’ve been talking to is in holiday mode. It can be from anything to buying presents, baking cookies or decorating their homes. What I love most is getting together with friends, new and old at holiday parties. This is where some of the best stories for the year come out but also some really fine food! I had been invited to a holiday party last weekend where I didn’t know too many people but I really wanted to meet the chef who was catering, Guelph’s Connie Raso. I am always drawn to the food, I find the kitchen is a great place to be when you don’t know too many people because you are sure to get good eats but you can also mingle and talk to the people around you and ask if they like the food or what they think it is. Food is a great conversation starter as well as a link to everyone around you. It doesn’t matter if you have nothing in common because really you do! By being at the same party and enjoying the same food, the commonality is found and what luck a conversation is started!
That is kind of how I met Connie. I had heard about her from my good friends Lorraine and Gail at Thyme to Cook as Connie, like myself teaches there. So surely I had to meet her and chat with a fellow Southern Italian-Calabria family girl. With a quick conversation it was easy to see we thought very similar things about food and enjoying it in its simplest forms and showcasing flavours were a common goal we both had. Connie has worked in different restaurants in Italy and Canada and now works freelance and is a personal chef. What does that mean? Well she is busy hopping from job to job. After the party on Friday night she was going to spend Saturday prepping homemade pasta sauce for 150 people at a Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser. What love a chef has for food to commit their life to it. I feel the same way.
I chatted with Connie about her appetizers at the party and decided that at this time of year we could all use a few more appetizers in our entertaining routine and asked if she would share some of hers. I’m happy to say that she did and I am sharing them with you. I’ve adapted them slightly to make them easy to prepare at home, but I think you will be happy to prepare, share and eat them with your guests this holiday season as Connie did with me and all the guests at this holiday party.

Smoked Salmon served on Buckwheat Blinis
Tender little pancakes are topped with lemon cream cheese and smoked salmon to serve up with ease. This is a perfect nibble to enjoy with some sparkling wine.

2 tsp (10 mL) traditional active dry yeast
2 tbsp (25 mL) lukewarm water
1 ¾ cup (425 mL) lukewarm buttermilk
1 cup (250 mL) all purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) buckwheat flour
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
2 eggs, separated
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter, melted
½ cup (125 mL) cream cheese
1 ½ tsp (7 mL) grated lemon rind
1 tsp (5 mL) lemon juice
1 lb (500 g) thinly sliced smoked salmon
Chopped green onions (optional)

In a bowl, dissolve yeast in water and stir in 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of the buttermilk and let stand for 10 minutes or until it begins to froth.

In another bowl, combine all purpose and buckwheat flours and salt. Sift flour mixture into the buttermilk mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in remaining buttermilk.
Whisk egg yolks into the batter. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour or until batter is bubbly.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks and fold into the batter. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Lightly brush nonstick skillet with some melted butter and heat over a medium high heat. Spoon 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the batter for each blini and cook for about 1 minute, until bubbles break through. Turn blini over and brown for another 30 seconds.
Remove from pan, and overlap on a plate so they do not get soggy; repeat with remaining batter

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, lemon rind and juice. Spread some of the cream cheese mixture onto the blinis. Roll sliced salmon around your finger to create a rosette and place on cream cheese blini. Sprinkle with green onions to serve if desired.

Makes about 32 blinis.

Tip: You can use 1 pkg (8 g) active dry yeast for the 2 tsp (10 mL) of yeast.


Baked Fontina Cheese Puffs with Sundried Tomato and Black Olive Tapenade
Little packages of cheese are wrapped with puff pastry and tucked inside are bold flavours of sundried tomatoes and black olive tapenade. If you have a pizza cutter you can use it to cut the dough, but a knife works well.

½ cup (125 mL) chopped sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
½ cup (125 mL) pitted ripe black olives
1 clove garlic,
Olive oil (optional)
1 pkg (400 g) frozen butter puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 chunk of fontina cheese (about 3 ½ oz/100 g), cut into 32 small pieces
1 egg, beaten

In a food processor, combine sundried tomatoes, olives and garlic. Puree until smooth, adding olive oil if necessary to make smooth paste.

Lay one of the puff pastry sheets out on floured work surface and roll out to 12 x 12 inch (30 cm x 30 cm) square and cut the pastry into 16 equal squares.

Place one piece of cheese in centre of each square and top with about 1 heaping tsp (5 mL) of the tapenade. Take one corner of pastry and bring to centre and cover cheese. Bring side corners in, and fold over to completely cover. Repeat with remaining squares and place seam side down on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pastry and filling ingredients.

Brush the top and sides of pastry with egg and bake in 375 F (190 C) oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is warm.

Makes 32 pieces


Citrus Crab salad
Using little Asian soup spoons is an easy way to present simple appetizers. Every guest can pick one up and pop it in their mouth to enjoy or add it to their plate as they mingle through the evening.

1 cup (375 mL) crab meat
1 small head fennel, trimmed and very thinly sliced
2 oranges
½ cup (125 mL) mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine crab meat and fennel; set aside.

Using a serrated knife cut both ends off oranges. Using sawing motion, cut skin and white pith off and discard. Cut orange between membranes into segments and chop into bite size pieces. Squeeze remaining orange membrane juices into another small bowl to make 2 tbsp (25 mL) of juice. Whisk in mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste.
Pour dressing onto crab mixture; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Taste and season before serving in Asian soup spoons and garnish with fennel fronds.

Makes about 1 ½ cups (375 mL).

Tip: Look for frozen snow crab meat in the seafood section of the grocery store, it comes in 227 g (7 oz) packages or you can use simulated crab meat (Pollock) for the crab in the recipe.

If you do not get 2 tbsp (25 mL) of fresh orange juice from your oranges, you can use regular orange juice in the recipe.

You can also easily double the crab in the salad for more crab flavour. Try serving it on a bed of mixed greens for an easy first course for your next dinner party too.

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