More Appetizers Than You Can Shake a Skillet At!


Have you ever sat down for a meal–with friends, family or even alone–even though you didn’t think you were all that hungry? But, somehow, after a few bites you realize you’re ravenous and finish a meal as usual?

That is the power of the appetite. And appetizers exist to wake up that appetite and get you in the mood for food.

750 Best Appetizers cover
As I’ve mentioned before, though, many night I’m quite happy to have lots of little things and variety over a single-entree meal. This can take some doing, however, as the preparation of many smaller bites usually outweighs the pleasure in eating them.

Which is why, when I browse through 750 Best Appetizers, by Judith Finlayson and Jordan Wagman, I’m happy to see a good mix of make-ahead and quickly prepared dishes throughout the book along with those that may take a little more work. In fact, with so many recipes to choose from, the longest task might just be deciding which ones to make!

Many avid cooks–myself included–say that reading a new cookbook is like reading a novel. It’s more than merely a reference book to be kept in the kitchen. What I love most are cookbooks that support this sort of reading and 750 Best Appetizers does just that by including a snippet of information alongside each recipe and many feature additional tips relating to sourcing of ingredients and serving suggestions.

But the true test of any cookbook is in the recipes themselves: how are they? I tried out three of them this holiday season, shared below, all with very good results.

The falafel recipe included below was astounding–I’d always thought of falafel as dense and dry, these are spicy and, even after chilled, quite moist. For the tortilla I substituted a baked sweet potato that I happened to have on hand and the recipe was just as wonderful for the substitution (and the colors were very appetizing together). Finally, the meatball recipe yielded over 50 1-inch meatballs when I made it, I believe the 30 1/2-inch morsels mentioned in the recipe to be a typo. But if there’s going to be a typo, I’d rather it be so much in our favor! We actually served the meatballs and their sauce over egg noodles for dinner rather than use them as an appetizer that night.

With New Year’s Eve coming up and the year ahead full of entertaining possibilities, this might be a good book to check out–the Salsa chapter alone would be enough to keep a different dip on the table each week for almost a year!

Mini Falafel Sandwiches

Makes 36 sandwiches / Vegetarian Friendly, Middle-Eastern / pg [276]

Mini Falafel Sandwiches
These crispy Middle Eastern balls are just wonderful for a lunch or dinner appetizer party.Although we have created the perfect sandwich, these balls are just lovely all on their own tooor dipped into Easy Hummus (page 52) or any of the hummus recipes.

Tip: Mini pita bread, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter, can be found in select stores. Regular size pitacan work here too by slicing into quarters forpie-like shapes.

• Candy/deep-fry thermometer
2 1⁄2 cups cooked drained chickpeas (625 mL)
3⁄4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (175 mL)
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
3⁄4 tsp ground cumin (3 mL)
1⁄2 tsp hot pepper sauce (2 mL)
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided (250 mL)
6 cups vegetable oil (1.5 L)
3⁄4 cup Easy Hummus (page 52) or store-bought (175 mL)
36 3-inch (7.5 cm) pita bread, tops opened to form pocket, cut in half (see Tip)
1⁄2 cup shredded carrot (125 mL)
1⁄2 cup diced cucumber (125 mL)

1. In a food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse chickpeas, cilantro, garlic, salt, cumin and hot pepper sauce until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer to a bowl and fold in about 21⁄2 tbsp (37 mL) of flour. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes, until chilled, or for up to 1 hour.

2. When you’re ready to cook, place oil in a deep saucepan or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until temperature reaches 350°F (180°C). (You can also use a deep fryer;follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) Form chickpea mixture into about 36 balls, about2 tsp (10 mL) each and lightly dredge in remaining flour. Add falafels to hot oil in batches and fry until balls rise to the surface and are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

3. Add a dollop of hummus on the inside of each pita bread half. Place 1 falafel ball inside.Garnish sandwich with equal amounts of carrots and cucumber and serve immediately.

Potato Tortilla with Peppers

Makes 12 to 16 pieces / Vegetarian Friendly / pg 365

Potato Tortilla with Peppers
If there is one item that is ubiquitous in tapas bars in Spain, it is the tortilla — an omelet that contains potatoes and is usually served at room temperature or cold. Here spicy chorizo sausage bumps up the flavor.

Tip: To microwave potato for this recipe: Place scrubbed potato in a microwave-safe dish. Add cold water to a depth of about 1⁄2 inch (1 cm), cover and microwave on High for 2 minutes. Leave the lid on and let cook for at least 5 minutes before running under cold water.

• Large nonstick ovenproof skillet
1 potato (8 oz/250 g), cooked in its skin,cooled and cut into 1⁄2-inch (1 cm) cubes (see Tip, left)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (30 mL)
1 red onion, thinly sliced on the vertical
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 long red chile or jalapeño pepper,seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs
1 cup shredded sharp (aged) cheese, such as Cheddar (250 mL)

1. In a large nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add potato, red onion,red and green bell peppers, chile pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, until peppers are softened and potato and onion just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat broiler. In a bowl, beat eggs. Pour over onion mixture and sprinkle cheese evenly over top. Reduce heat to low, loosely cover and cook until eggs are set, about 6 minutes. Place under preheated broiler and broil until top is nicely browned. Unmold and cut into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variation: Potato Tortilla with Chorizo: Substitute 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) shredded Manchego cheese and 6 oz (175g) cured (hard) chorizo, diced, for the cheese.

Oh-So-Retro Swedish Meatballs

Oh So Retro Swedish Meatballs
These were a cocktail party standard way back when. Serve them in a shallow serving dish or a deep platter, speared with cocktail toothpicks. They will disappear in a flash. Make sure your guests have napkins or a plate to catch any drips.

Tip: You may want to use a whisk while combining the flour mixture and hot stock, to minimize the possibility of lumps.

Makes about 30 meatballs / Beef , retro cocktail party staple/ pg 503

• Small to medium (2 to 31⁄2 quart) slow cooker

1 lb lean ground beef, preferably sirloin (500 g)
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs (250 mL)
1 onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (10 mL)
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (30 mL)
1/2 tsp salt (2 mL)
1/2 tsp allspice (2 mL)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (30 mL)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour (45 mL)
1⁄2 tsp cracked black peppercorns (2 mL)
2 cups beef broth, heated to the boiling point (500 mL)
1⁄2 cup sour cream (125 mL)
1⁄2 cup finely chopped dill fronds (125 mL)

1. In a bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, lemon zest and juice, salt,allspice, and pepper to taste. Mix well. Using your hands, shape into balls about 1⁄2 inch(1 cm) in diameter.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meatballs in batches and cook,stirring, until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware as completed. Add flour to pan and cook, stirring, until frothy but not browning, about 2 minutes. Stir in peppercorns. Add beef broth and cook, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 2 minutes (see Tips, left). Pour over meatballs.

3. Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until meatballs are cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to a serving dish. Add sour cream and dill to stoneware and stir well. Pour over meatballs and serve.

Excerpted from 750 Best Appetizers by Judith Finlayson and Jordan Wagman © 2011 Robert RoseInc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Colin Erricson,

I was supplied a copy of the book for review, the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

More (or Less) Meatless


The second week of our cooking through Almost Meatless was just as tasty as the first. Maybe even more so?

Shabu Shabu Soup

Shabu Shabu Soup

We started with Shabu Shabu Soup. Traditionally this soup is served as a flavorful broth and a tray of thinly sliced meats and vegetables that cook almost instantly in the hot soup. It’s the sound of the add-ins sliding through the soup that gives the soup it’s name, according to the authors.

Tip for this recipe: to get the thinnest slices of steak without a deli slicer, slice the steak when still partially frozen. Just watch the finger-tips, they tend to go a bit numb doing this sort of thing, increasing the possibility of an ouchie!

This version of Shabu Shabu soup has all ingredients cooked before arriving at the table but it was another excellent choice for a summer meal. Not too heavy and an amazing flavor. The bok choy leaves do lend a bit of bite, along the lines of mustard or turnip greens, but any chance to use soba noodles in a dish makes me very happy (even if I had to check 3 grocery stores before finding them).

Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara

Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara

Next we skipped ahead to the eggs chapter and tried out the Springtime Spaghetti Carbonara. What could go wrong with fresh asparagus, peas and bacon? I’m not entirely sure but there was something just a touch off. Maybe it was the whole-what pasta we used? Maybe it needed more bacon (though, you know, that’s pretty much a given)? Or, maybe it just wasn’t what we were after that day. Who knows. It was fine as far as a pasta disk goes but it wasn’t the best thing we tried from the book.

Finally, it was time for the Albondigas. I just love saying that word: al-BON-di-gaas. Lamb and Irish-oat meatballs, a little spicy from the chipotle pepper, cooked in a rich tomato (or, in our case, roasted red bell pepper sauce). I had a pound of ground lamb and only needed half that so I made a double batch with plans for the leftovers already brewing.



One of the few recipes that came with serving suggestions, instead of lime rice we made lime quinoa and served it with the suggested flour tortillas. It was a nice little accompaniment to the spicy meatballs and helped dampen some of the fire. The steel-cut oats really added to the texture of the lamb and kept in a significant amount of moisture for the lean lamb.

The leftovers? Well, I’d been craving a meatball sub for quite some time and saw this as my opportunity to act on it. Picking up a load of french bread and provolone cheese, we spread the split loaves with mayonnaise (adds a wonderful creaminess to the acidic sauce on the meatballs) and lined them with provolone before popping them under the broiler to melt the cheese. The meatballs and sauce were added, another half slice of provolone on top and back under the broiler until the cheese melted again and the edges of the bread crisped.

Mom taught me that pickles make a lovely counterpoint to the rich taste of both tomato sauce on a meatball sub as well as barbecue sandwiches, so I added a little relish to my sandwich as well. Oh, so, yummy. A little extra grated Parmesan on top and these sandwiches totally cured my craving. In fact, a little queso fresco on top of the standard albondigas wouldn’t go amiss should we make these again!



And, hey, I got to drag my baguette pan out of storage–it makes the perfect holder for toasted subs to get maximum crispiness on the edges without spilling any of the filling!

After working our way through the cookbook (selected recipes, that is), did it fulfill those cover-flap promises?

Eating less meat is…

  • healthier? Probably. I mean we did eat less meat and more veggies. Did we, like, lose any weight in the process? Nope. If anything I felt heavier after some of these recipes than some of the balanced and properly portioned meaty meals we’ve eaten in the past.
  • cheaper? Definitely not. My grocery bill was the same if not more for 7 days of eating out of her book. Mostly from the vegetable requirements and specialty items that needed to be tracked down. I’m betting if you had a farmer’s market nearby (one that isn’t open only during workdays, for instance–sometimes it seems like you have to sacrifice a “normal” workday for access to healthy eating) or access to smaller portions of meats you might actually be able to save some cash. Keep in mind, too, that we already had several items so the higher bill came with the somewhat-shortened list.
  • eco-friendly? This one’s harder to say, for sure, but we definitely used less packaged items, created less trash and all that. It would take much more than a week, though, to really create any sort of environmental change.

All in all I enjoyed trying these recipes and look forward to making others at another time. I just don’t think I’ll be using this as my meat-adjusted bible any time soon.