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Friday, December 30, 2011

Two Quick Last-Minute Appetizers for New Year’s!

If you’re still trying to figure out what to serve with glasses of champagne tomorrow night, then consider one or both of these appetizers. Each is quick, easy, and delicious, and would make a fabulous beginning to ring in the new year. Oh, and did I mention that both can be prepared ahead so there’s no last-minute hassle.

For one of these nibbles you spread crispy baguette slices with fennel-scented goat cheese and then top them with colorful slices of smoked salmon. For the other, you simply fill large Medjool dates (you can find them at many supermarkets this time of the year) with some creamy blue cheese, add a sprinkle of chopped toasted almonds, and them pop them in the oven for a few minutes. Both of these delectable appetizers are sure to help you ring in 2012 in good taste!

Smoked Salmon, Fennel, and Goat Cheese Toasts

8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, finely crushed (Place seeds in a self-sealing plastic bag and  crush with a meat pounder or rolling pin.)
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 1/2 tablespoon olive oil or more if needed
30 thin baguette slices

12 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
Lemon peel strips for garnish
Tarragon sprigs for garnish

1.Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a medium nonreactive bowl, mix together goat cheese, chopped tarragon, fennel seeds, lemon peel, and pepper. Set aside

3. Brush oil on both sides of baguette slices and place in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake until bread is just crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Cheese mixture and toasts can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover cheese mixture and chill. Cool toasts and store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

4. To assemble toasts, spread cheese mixture over toasts. Top with salmon, trimming to fit. Garnish each toast with some lemon peel and tarragon sprigs. Arrange on a platter. Makes 30 servings.

Roasted Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Almonds

12 medium Medjool dates (available in most supermarkets)
A  4-ounce piece blue cheese such as Bleu d”Auvergne or Maytag Blue, at room             temperature
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (See note.)

1.Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Have ready a medium baking pan or dish.

2.  Slice the dates lengthwise, cutting just enough (but not all the way through) to remove the pits. Fill the cavities of the dates with a scant teaspoon of blue cheese, depending on their size. Save extra cheese for another use. Sprinkle dates with chopped almonds, and arrange in the baking pan. (Dates can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)

3. Bake dates until warm and cheese has melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and arrange on a small serving plate or place them in a long, narrow olive tray. Serve warm.  Makes 12 dates.

Note: To toast almonds, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes for sliced almonds. Watch carefully so nuts do not burn. Remove and cool.

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