Making a meal on a platter or two enticing appetizers has always appealed to me. A bit of one thing, a bit of another – all enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Whether it’s a Friday night pleasure with the family, or a small reunion with friends, the relaxed menu promotes conviviality. When it comes to vacation time, with all the hubbub and busy schedules, it seems like the perfect time to pull out some appetizers and eat.
To follow, are some delicious options. Two recipes refer to grilling to finish them off, which is not usually a problem in Southern California. But if it’s cold or humid outside, cook the skewers and / or lamb lollipops under the broiler in the oven, placing the chops or skewers on a wire rack placed in a rimmed baking sheet. about 8 inches below the broil element, turning them halfway through the broil.
If you wish, complete the menu with a board of cheeses and cold meats, and / or a plate of raw vegetables. And bake or purchase a decadent dessert for a tasty and sweet finish.
Easy sausage skewers with tzatziki
Grilled skewers made from sausage meat lend themselves to this type of casual meal. The sausage, first formed into sturdy meatballs, is threaded onto skewers and patted down to flatten into thick patties. They can be served with a variety of complementary sides. My favorites include store-bought hummus, pita bread, radishes and tzatziki, a yogurt-based sauce with cucumbers, fresh mint and lemon juice.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup unpeeled English cucumber, finely diced (greenhouse wrapped in plastic wrap)
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
To serve: hummus, pita bread cut into triangles, radish
Cook’s Notes: Often times I prefer to use small skewers and just put one sausage patty per skewer.
1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and clean the grates. Remove the sausage from the casings. In a bowl, combine the sausage meat and mix with clean hands. Form meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Thread onto bamboo skewers, two per skewer. Press them to form patties.
2. Prepare the tzatziki sauce: In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, oil, cucumber, juice and mint.
3. Grill kebabs: place them on the grill. Cover and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Turn with a long-handled spatula and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve with Tzatziki, hummus, pita bread and radishes.
Endive boats with smoked salmon
These beautiful endive “boats” can be prepared an hour in advance, placed on a plate and refrigerated. A microverte trim provides a welcome contrast in texture, as well as visual beauty; I buy an assortment of these colorful immature greens at Trader Joe’s.
Yield: About 24
1/2 pound smoked salmon, sliced or trimmed, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
1/3 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
1/4 medium brown (yellow) onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, white pepper preferably but not required
24 large leaves of Belgian endive
Optional: 1 1/2 tablespoons of salmon roe, whitefish roe or red-orange tobiko (flying fish roe sold in Japanese markets)
Garnish: Alfalfa microgreens or sprouts
1. In a food processor, combine the salmon, cream cheese, sour cream or crème fraîche, onion and juice, plus lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more pepper and salt if necessary (often the salmon is salty enough that no salt is needed). Pulse again to mix.
2. Arrange the endive leaves on a plate. Pour the salmon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star nozzle; place a generous rosette of salmon mousse on the big end of each endive. OR, if you prefer a more casual approach (that’s perfectly fine), pour about a tablespoon of salmon mousse on the big ends of the endive leaves (it’s convenient to use two teaspoons of dishes, using one spoon and the other to push it away).
3. If using, top each with a small amount of eggs next to the salmon, about 1/4 teaspoon. Add a pinch of microgreens to each. Serve or refrigerate for up to 1 hour.
Lamb chop ‘Lollipops’
Personal Chef Katherine Louis Boucher knows how to transform lamb chops into succulent Greek “lollipop” appetizers. She says to offer towels to the guests and to sit back to watch the chops disappear.
Yield: 25 chops
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chopped zest and juice of 2 lemons, Meyer lemons preferably
2 fresh jalapeños, halved, seeds removed, thinly sliced; see the cook’s notes
2 medium shallots, minced
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup fresh oregano
/ 4 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
5 lamb chops (from the grill), at least 1 inch from the ends of the bones scraped to clean them
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish: 1 lemon, thinly sliced, Meyer lemon preferred, and 1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Cook’s Notes: Be careful when working with fresh chili peppers; When finished, wash the work surface thoroughly and DO NOT touch the face or eyes.
1. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, jalapeños and shallots. On a cutting board, chop the garlic, oregano and 1/4 cup of the parsley until coarsely chopped; add to olive oil mixture.
2. Arrange the lamb chops in a non-reactive baking dish; top with marinade and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.
3. Heat the grill over medium-high heat. Generously season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Grill until lightly charred, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with thinly sliced lemons and parsley.
Port roasted grapes on blue cheese toast
The counterpoint of grilled grapes infused with sweet port and tangy cheese makes these appetizers a delicious treat. A blue cheese spread is spread over small portions of toast, then topped with a generous spoonful of toasted orbs. The tangy and salty taste of the blue cheese is cut by adding a little mascarpone, but if you prefer, replace it with cream cheese.
Yield: 12 servings, the recipe can be doubled
1 cup of red seedless grapes
2 tablespoons of Port
1 teaspoon of sugar
3 ounces of Gorgonzola
3 tablespoons of mascarpone or cream cheese
Toast: 12 thin slices of French baguette or slices of rustic artisan whole wheat bread, each slice cut in half crosswise after toasting
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the raisins, port and sugar. Roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the grapes begin to soften and the skin begins to shrivel, but the grapes still hold their shape, 25 to 30 minutes. Costs.
2. In a small bowl, combine blue cheese and mascarpone.
3. Spread about 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture on toast. Garnish with raisins, adding a little syrup.
Source: Adapted from “The All-American Cheese and Wine Book” by Laura Werlin (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, out of print)
Question of cooking? Contact Cathy Thomas at cathythomascooks @ gmail.com