Toast the new year with flavorful finger-food appetizers

Whereas the big family gatherings of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas called for elaborate sit-down dinners, we loosen the rules for New Year's Eve. Stand up and mingle. Eat with your fingers. Run with sparklers, outdoors of course.

A New Year's Eve party menu of finger foods is a festive antidote to all the fancy meals that have gone before. Out with the old, in more ways than one, eh?

This year, ring in 2014 with an array of toppings for crackers, crostini and crispy bagel and pita chips. Grocery aisles are full of possibilities for the bases of your flavor towers, which can include offerings for meat eaters and vegetarians.

Read labels carefully when buying your bases because many are flavored with everything from sun-dried tomatoes to pesto to garlic. That's fine if those flavors pair well with your toppings, but they can easily overpower more delicate ingredients. It's better to go with a plain base and let the goat cheese do the talking.

You can approach your two-bite canapes a couple of ways. If you're making a sauteed mushroom and herb topping, arrange it in a bowl surrounded by pita chips or some such, and provide a spoon for guests to prepare their own bite. This works well for tapenade, too. Most of these toppings can be made in advance and warmed, if need be, just before serving.

For toppings such as roast beef with blue cheese or sliced pears, fig jam and sharp white cheddar cheese, prepare them and serve on a tray. Don't make too many at a time, or they can get soggy.

The last party of the year should be the best, don't you think? Turn to Page 6E for 10 tasty ways to make that happen, and a recipe for homemade crostini should you be that ambitious.

Toppings times 10

The following toppings can be used for pita and bagel chips, crostini or any other crusty base you come across in the grocery store. Be wary of flavored chips because the taste can clash with toppings. Keep the base simple and let the toppings do the talking.

1Saute button mushrooms in olive oil with chopped fresh thyme; spoon over a generous round of goat cheese.

2Smear crostini with fig jam and top with a slice of sharp white cheddar and thinly sliced ripe fresh pears. The juicier the fruit, the better. A drizzle of honey can stand in for jam.

3Layer a thin cucumber slice and smoked salmon on a crispy base or even a slice of cocktail bread. Dollop with sour cream and chopped fresh chives.

4A generous smear of cream cheese topped with hot pepper jelly on a multigrain cracker is a spicy mouthful.

5Mix blue cheese with sour cream and smear on a crostini, then top with a rolled slice of roast beef.

6Chicken and waffles are all the rage these days, and you can make a bite-sized version starting with mini frozen waffles. Toast the waffles and top with a warm chicken nugget and drizzle of syrup. These are best eaten as soon as they are made.

7A small spoonful of prepared pesto is topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on a crusty baguette slice.

8White beans and capers are a classic combination and as a topper quite flavorful. Drain and rinse a can of cannellini or great northern beans and smash them slightly. Add minced red onions, rinsed capers, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of white-wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Use a sturdy base for this heavy topping.

9Tarragon shrimp salad, made with tiny cooked salad shrimp, mayonnaise, minced celery and chopped tarragon, is delicious with plain pita chips.

10If you want to make avocado-bacon spread for New Year's Eve, buy your avocados today to ensure they are ripe by party time. To make the topping, spread the base of your choice with mashed avocado and top with crumbled bacon. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>EASY

Artichoke-Dill Topping

2 cans (14 ounces each) artichoke hearts in water, rinsed, squeezed to remove excess liquid and chopped

1/3 cup light mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Coarse salt and ground pepper

In a bowl, combine artichoke hearts, mayonnaise, lemon juice and dill; season with salt and pepper. Spoon onto crostini or other crispy base.

Makes enough for 30 appetizers.

Source: Marthastewart.com

>>MODERATE

Chicken Parmesan Crostini

Toasts:

1 sourdough (or regular) baguette, sliced into 24 (1/4-inch-thick) pieces

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken Parmesan:

8 uncooked chicken tenders, each cut into 3 pieces

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

4 slices provolone cheese, each cut into 6 pieces

1 1/4 cups marinara sauce, homemade or store-bought

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush baguette slices with oil and place on a nonstick pan. Season with salt and pepper. (You can make the toasts up to three days ahead to save time on the day of your get-together. After baking, let cool and store in airtight containers.)

Bake bread slices for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Keep the oven on.

Place flour in a shallow dish, beaten eggs in a second shallow dish, and bread crumbs in a third shallow dish. Dredge chicken pieces in flour, then in egg and then in bread crumbs. Warm oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute chicken for 4 to 5 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Place chicken on a sheet pan and top each piece with a small slice of provolone. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until cheese melts. Spread about 1 tablespoon marinara on each toast and top with a piece of chicken. Top crostini with extra marinara and serve warm.

Makes 24.

Source: Tiny Food Party! by Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park (Quirk, 2013)



>>EASY

Crostini

"Crostini" means little toasts in Italian, and they are typically made from smaller loaves like baguettes, unlike bruschetta, which tend to be larger and are rubbed with cut garlic before toasting. Crostini can be made ahead, cooled completely and frozen in airtight containers.

1 baguette (8 to 10 ounces), sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 60 slices)

3/4 cup olive oil

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange baguette slices on two large, rimmed baking sheets; brush both sides with oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through (if undersides are not browning, turn crostini over once during baking). Let cool on baking sheets. Top crostini with desired toppings and serve. (Crostini can be frozen for later use. Cool completely first and then store in airtight containers.)

Makes about 60.

Source: Everyday Food

>>Easy

Two-Olive Tapenade

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons brined capers, drained

1 1/2 cups pitted black olives

1 1/2 cups pitted green olives

1/3 cup chopped, roasted red bell peppers (jarred okay, but drain and blot)

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Toasted baguette slices or crackers

Roughly chop the garlic in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the capers and process until they are finely chopped. Add the olives, bell peppers and basil and pulse a few times to coarsely chop them. Pour in the oil, then pulse until the mixture is just blended, but not perfectly smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and serve with toasted baguette slices or crackers. (If made ahead, cover and refrigerate the tapenade for up to 3 days.)

Makes about 3 cups, enough for 30 appetizers.

Source: Party Appetizers by Tori Ritchie (Chronicle Books, 2004)

Toast the new year with flavorful finger-food appetizers 12/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 5:59pm]

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