- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A few years ago, I was asked to do a television and radio tour for a large food organization. I was delighted to be associated with a company whose products I used constantly. The surprise came when I learned that the tour would take place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

This was not a random choice: Surveys by the company showed that Americans do more cooking and entertaining in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than at any other time of the year.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. Like countless others, I love to entertain and am invited out often during this festive season. Our calendar is filled with invitations to open houses, brunches and cocktail parties, not to mention potluck events for groups to which we belong.

My women’s investment club has planned its annual party for early December, and each member has been asked to bring appetizers. In addition, my spouse and I are hosting a small open house a week later. For both gatherings, I plan to include a pair of quick and easy appetizers I recently created.

One is for warm goat-cheese-and-chutney tarts, the other for marinated Mediterranean olives. For the tartlets, I’ll minimize the work by using purchased mini phyllo cups to fill with mango chutney and mounds of creamy goat cheese.

Baked until the shells are golden and the cheese has softened, the tarts are then garnished with a sprinkling of parsley. The other appetizer involves only a quick assembly of ingredients and has the added advantage of improving in flavor when made a day or more in advance.

Dark and green olives are tossed in a marinade of wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, fennel seed and hot red pepper flakes. Both of these starters look attractive and taste delicious, but neither will cost you much more than 20 minutes in the kitchen, a definite advantage during this hectic time of year.

Goat-cheese-and-chutney tarts

15 store-bought mini phyllo cups (see note)

1 small jar mango chutney

1/3 cup soft, creamy goat cheese

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Place phyllo cups on an ungreased baking sheet. Put 1½ tablespoons chutney in a small bowl. With scissors, snip the pieces of mango into small bits. Spread a generous 1/4 teaspoon of chutney on the bottom of each shell, then top with a generous teaspoon of goat cheese.

Bake tarts on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until pastry is golden and cheese has softened, about 12 minutes or longer. Watch carefully. Remove from oven and transfer tarts to a serving tray. Sprinkle each with some parsley. Serve warm. Makes 5 to 6 servings.

Note: Athens brand mini phyllo shells are available in the frozen-pastry section of many grocery stores.

Marinated Mediterranean olives

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds (see note)

3/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, plus more if needed

1 cup (6 ounces) green Mediterranean olives such as picholine or Lucques

1 cup (6 ounces) Kalamata olives

Place vinegar, oil, garlic, fennel seeds, salt and red pepper flakes in a medium nonreactive bowl and whisk well to blend. Taste, and if you want a spicier flavor, add a pinch or two more (up to 1/4 teaspoon) red pepper flakes. Add olives; stir well. (If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate.)

Olives can be prepared one week ahead. Bring to room temperature before serving so that the oil, which will have congealed, will liquefy. To serve, place in a medium glass or ceramic bowl. Makes 2 cups olives.

Note: Crush fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. You also can place them in a resealable plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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