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Cooking and entertaining go hand in hand for me. I love doing both! No matter the occasion, gatherings at my home always start with some fantastic appetizers. Delicious dips, piping-hot poppers, and crispy potato skins are just some of the starters I’ve included in this chapter. All are easy. All are tasty. And all are sure to keep your guests coming back for more.
I usually figure on four or five appetizers per person with before-dinner cocktails. Give your guests just enough small bites to tempt their appetites, but also leave room for the rest of the meal you’ve prepared. If I’m throwing an appetizers-and-drinks-only party, then I double the amount of appetizers.
The secret to throwing memorable parties? Organization. That means planning ahead. Way ahead. Creatively balance your menu with made-the-day-before dips and hot appetizers. Do as much prepping and cooking ahead of time as you can. You don’t want to spend the entire party pulling trays of Cheddar-Ham Cups, Skewered Buffalo Chicken Tenders, and Chicken Nachos from the oven while everyone else is laughing it up in the living room. Dips taste best when made in advance so the flavors have time to develop. Fill and fry the Cheeseburger Dumplings a day or two ahead, then pop them in the oven when the first guests ring your doorbell. Then get the party started!
with pico de gallo
When you’re hosting a party, it’s fun to make dishes that are “out of the box.” This recipe is one of those—and it’s right out of a muffin pan. Your guests will think you spent hours making these cups, but actually, the process is simple. Just press egg roll wrappers (look for them in the produce section of your grocery store) into a mini muffin pan and bake. The filling for these cups is a classic, garlicky guacamole topped with a bit of pico de gallo—a fresh salsa. Some folks like a smooth guacamole, others chunky. I like the best of both worlds—smooth with a little chunkiness. Concerned about the heat? Cut back on the jalapeño.
Makes 36 cups
Vegetable oil spray
1 pound package egg roll wrappers
4 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime
3/4 cup jarred pico de gallo
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon seeded and minced jalapeño
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray mini muffin pans with the vegetable oil spray. If you have just one muffin pan, the cups will need to be made in batches.
Cut the egg roll wrappers into quarters. Place a square in each of 36 mini muffin cups, gently pressing the wrappers against the bottoms and sides. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove the cups from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
Halve the avocados, remove the pits, and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Sprinkle the avocados with the lime juice.
Add the pico de gallo, garlic, olive oil, jalapeño, and salt. Using a fork, mash the mixture to the desired smoothness or chunkiness. Fill each egg roll cup with a spoonful of the guacamole. Top each one with a bit of the sour cream and a sprig of cilantro before serving.
white bean and
sun-dried tomato dip
When you’re asked to bring an appetizer to a party or a family gathering, wow them with this easy-to-put-together dip. Pops of color from sun-dried tomatoes and bright green herbs make this savory spread a winner, and guests will no doubt hit you up for the recipe.
Makes 3 cups
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon onion powder
Pinch of cayenne
1 3- to 4-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and patted dry
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
Toasted pita chips
Put the beans, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, onion powder, cayenne, sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, salt, and black pepper in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is smooth.
Put the dip in a serving bowl. Before serving, garnish with the chives and serve with a basket of toasted pita chips. The dip can be refrigerated up to one to two days.
in a bread bowl
While you’ll find this popular appetizer in many restaurants, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make at home. The hardest part is hollowing out the bread and not eating all the pieces!
Makes 4 cups
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 10-ounce package chopped frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1/3 cup (21/2 ounces) shredded mozzarella
Bread bowl (see below) or pita chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 1-quart ovenproof baking dish.
Mix together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, Parmesan, pecorino, garlic, basil, garlic salt, kosher salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Gently stir in the artichoke hearts and spinach. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top.
Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbly and lightly browned on top. Transfer the dip to a bread bowl (if using) or serve warm with pita chips or small toast.
cheesy pepperoni dip
with pizza dippers
One of my favorite foods on the planet is pizza. I love it hot. I love it cold. Thin or thick crust. In any form or fashion. In true foodie tradition, I also love being creative with pizza. This recipe includes everything I want in my pie—in the form of a mouthwatering dip. It’s cheesy, it’s flavorful, and it’s fun.
Makes 32 dippers
Pizza Crust Dippers
2/3 cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 13.8-ounce cans refrigerated pizza dough
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Cheesy Pepperoni Dip
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup prepared pizza or tomato sauce
11/3 cup chopped pepperoni
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup sliced scallions
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Cheddar
3/4 cup (3 ounces) plus 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
To make the dippers, combine the Parmesan, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder in a bowl. Set aside. Roll out one pizza dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut into 18 squares. Then cut each square in half diagonally to form 2 triangles. Arrange the triangles on a baking sheet and brush each one with olive oil. Sprinkle the Parmesan mixture over the triangles. Repeat with the remaining pizza dough. There will be a total of 72 triangles. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
To make the dip, whisk together the cream cheese, sour cream, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, garlic, pizza sauce, pepperoni, bell pepper, scallions, Cheddar, and 3/4 cup of the mozzarella in a bowl. Evenly spread out the mixture in a shallow 2-quart ovenproof dish.
Bake for 15 minutes, until bubbly. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella. Bake for 5 minutes more. Serve hot with the dippers.
You know how I love to feed crowds. Well, one of my all-time favorite crowd-pleasers is a ginormous platter of my cheesy, zippy, crunchy nachos. While nachos are often made with ground beef, I like to mix things up every once in a while by using shredded chicken for a different flavor profile. Leftover chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken makes these nachos easy to prepare.
MAKES 6 TO 8 SERVINGS
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1 13.5-ounce bag tortilla chips
2 poblano peppers, roasted (see below) and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 8-ounce package shredded Mexican cheese blend
4 to 5 scallions, minced
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Stir together the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt in a small bowl. Add the shredded chicken and toss evenly to coat.
Spread the tortilla chips in an even layer on a large baking sheet. Evenly top the chips with the chicken, followed by the chiles, tomatoes, and black beans. Finish with the cheese and scallions. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the nachos are heated through. Remove from the oven and top with the cilantro. Using a wide spatula, transfer the nachos to a serving plate.