Just because our 2020 New Year's Eve get-togethers will be smaller, it doesn't mean they have to be any less festive. Appetizers make any meal a party and these three options are no exception.
Puff pastry is one of my favorite go-to appetizer ingredients. It can be coated in Parmesan cheese and cut into strips before being baked into quick and easy cheese sticks, perfect to pair with a glass of bubbly. It can be wrapped around sausage and cut into bite-sized pieces before being baked into a delightfully grown-up version of pigs in a blanket. And it can be sprinkled with sugar and baked into a flaky cookie to accompany a bowl of ice cream.
Its versatility is exactly why I like to always have a box in my freezer.
One of my favorite uses is as a pastry base in Goat Cheese Tomato Cups. Goat cheese is combined with cream cheese, Parmesan, sour cream and a touch of garlic before being spooned into muffin tins lined with squares of puff pastry. A half of a cherry tomato is set on top before the cups are baked into bites of flaky, cheesy goodness, perfect for any gathering that needs an injection of flavor.
Candied nuts also are on my kitchen to-do list this time of year; few things are so easy and so addictive. Many people might feel a bit intimidated, though, by anything "candied" as it typically entails cooking with hot sugar. Sweet and salty, these Honeyed Almonds are a great recipe for the uninitiated.
Whole raw almonds are toasted and tossed with a mixture of honey, sugar, butter and salt that's been briefly cooked until it's teetering on the edge of caramel. The almonds get an additional coating of sugar and salt before being cooled on a greased baking sheet.
The whole dish takes less than 20 minutes to make, but the result is a snack that works on a cheese platter, on their own as a predinner tidbit or as a lovely gift for family and friends.
Fondue is a perennial wintertime favorite and for good reason. Dipping something yummy into something even yummier is a winning strategy for any affair and this Beer Cheese spin on classic Swiss fondue doesn't disappoint.
Gruyère is the traditional cheese of choice for fondue. It's a good melting cheese with a nutty, slightly salty, slightly sweet flavor. In most fondues, a mountain of shredded Gruyère is melted into simmering dry white wine. In our version, the wine is replaced with pilsner beer, and along with the Gruyère, we're adding a generous amount of sharp Cheddar. Beer cheese never tasted so good.
Of course, a fondue isn't a fondue without an assortment of dippers. Since beer loves sausage and pretzels, I cut up both to serve alongside more typical fondue options like chunks of crisp apple, boiled potatoes and cooked veggies.
This dish works well served with other appetizers, but if your group is particularly small, it can also be a hearty main dish.
Whether your party is a fancy intimate gathering, or a cozy night on the couch watching your favorite movie, one or all of these appetizers are sure to satisfy.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.
Beer Cheese Fondue
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.
Note: Wine and cheese may seem like natural partners, but pilsner beer and a mixture of sharp Cheddar and Gruyère cheese are the winning combination in this flavorful fondue. The cheese can take longer than expected to melt completely. Give it time, but if it still seems to be clumping together, add an additional 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. The acid breaks down the protein in the cheese and helps to smooth out the fondue. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1/2 lb. Gruyère cheese, shredded
• 1/2 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
• 1 tbsp. cornstarch
• 1 clove garlic, cut in half
• 1 c. pilsner-style beer
• 1 tbsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
• 1 to 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• Soft pretzels or rustic bread, cooked bratwurst or kielbasa, cooked baby potatoes, parboiled cauliflower or broccoli florets, apple chunks
In a large bowl, combine cheeses and cornstarch. Toss to coat.
Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the cut side all over the inside of a medium, heavy saucepan. Discard garlic. Add the beer and mustard to the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and a handful of cheese mixture. Stir constantly until the cheese is completely melted. Continue adding cheese mixture, 1 handful at a time, allowing cheese to melt between additions. Add lemon juice as needed (see Note) and stir until smooth.
Transfer to a fondue pot or chafing dish. Keep warm and serve with dippers, as desired.
Goat Cheese Tomato Cups
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Tangy, creamy goat cheese, topped with cherry tomato halves, is baked inside crisp, flaky puff pastry cups. The result is an addictive two-bite appetizer that will disappear as soon as it hits the table. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 oz. soft mild goat cheese
• 2 oz. cream cheese, softened
• 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/4 c. sour cream
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
• 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package), thawed, rolled out to a 12- by 9-inch rectangle, kept chilled
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, add the goat cheese, cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, sour cream, egg yolk, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir to thoroughly combine.
Cut puff pastry into 4 strips. Cut each remaining strip into 3 squares for a total of 12. Place one pastry square into each cup in the muffin tin.
Divide cheese filling among the squares. Place a cherry tomato half, cut side up, on top of the filling. Chill for 15 minutes.
Bake until the pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Run a sharp paring knife around pan edges to loosen; turn out cups onto rack to cool slightly before serving.
Makes 2 cups.
These candied nuts, perfumed with honey, are a quick and easy snack. They make a lovely, sweet addition to any cheese plate. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 c. raw almonds with skins
• 1/4 c., plus 2 tbsp. sugar, divided
• 2 tbsp. honey
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 3/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the almonds in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, until toasted. Transfer to a large bowl.
Grease a large, rimmed baking sheet.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar, honey and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, do not stir. Boil for 3 minutes. It will darken slightly as it cooks, but if it begins to go past the golden brown stage, remove it from the heat immediately to prevent burning.
Pour the hot syrup over the nuts. Stir well. Transfer the nuts to the greased baking sheet and immediately separate with a fork. Let cool for a few minutes, until the coating is just setting, and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and salt. Toss to coat. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.