Entertaining over the holidays can be a bit of a trick. Planning a menu, cutting greenery, getting the girls to help put up decorations. It’s something I do love to do despite the work. My brother, sister-in-law and I recently hosted my mother’s 80th birthday party. How does it happen that our parents get older? In any event, the party was definitely a challenge because my mom is a great cook and she is, well . . . a bit fussy. I remember wanting to hide under the table in restaurants when she imperiously inquired of a server, “Are you sure that this fish isn’t frozen?” Our relatives from Germany were there, my brother's house was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the occasion—I think my mother did, too.
This appetizer reminds me of friends—Karen, who called me to ask for the recipe after I tried it out on her, and Anne, who introduced me to the original version. As usual, I’ve made my own changes, with a result that’s both dead easy and fun both to eat and to cook. It also brings back memories of making it at my cottage, a place I loved. The sun was going down, friends had dropped by, and in no time at all, we were sharing this tasty snack.
Heat about 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron pan. Have ready about 24 sizeable uncooked shrimp, washed and dried; 2 cloves of chopped garlic; dried chili peppers to taste; lots of coarse salt and some black or green olives. When the oil is heated, toss everything in the pan and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute or two—just long enough to coat everything with the oil. Put the pan under the broiler for about 5 minutes. The shrimp should be almost caramelized, the olives crinkly. Take the pan out of the oven, put the shrimp on a platter and serve. This appetizer is delicious—spicy, salty and hot all at once. It’s especially great paired with something sweet, like an ice cold glass of sparkling wine or iced sherry.
I’ve been experimenting a bit on friends and neighbours and have developed this neat little recipe. Small potatoes boiled and cooked just to tender, cooled and cut in slices make a great base for many delicious toppings: goat cheese spread (recipe is below) and a dollop of chutney as in the photo above, or a slice of smoked salmon and dill are great choices. But just pick any of your favorite spreads, top them with gruyère or your other favourite cheese and grill, or even just sprinkle them with coarse salt and pepper, and bingo—you have a terrific and unique starter!
Goat cheese spread: Toss 1 small log of soft goat cheese, a handful of chives or green onions and parsley and some freshly ground pepper in the food processor, or mince the herbs and mash it all together with a fork. Spread on the potatoes, crackers or slices of baguette.
When guests arrive, I think the best thing is to offer a special cocktail—it doesn’t have to be fancy—and pass bite-sized (not two bites, one) appetizers. In my experience, it feels like an occasion when you pass a plate of something tempting you’ve created—it makes them feel special. (They’re often more likely to try something new, too.) As a bonus, it gives you a chance to have a few words with your guests and move around the room and speak to everyone. Here are a few easy appetizer ideas that fit the bill perfectly.