Are you ready for some football?

Rustic Cheese Spread
Photo courtesy Donna Kelly
Story by Linda East Brady
(Standard-Examiner)
Mon, Jan 28, 2013
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Super Bowl Sunday is nearly upon us — a time when folks gather around the TV set to flaunt team colors and loyalties.

And no matter if they glue themselves to the big screen, or kick back and visit in a quiet corner, guests are bound to bring a hearty, midwinter appetite.

One way to handle the festive football feeding frenzy is with an assortment of appetizers. You can please most palates with this sort of soiree.

Provo’s Donna Kelly and her sister Sandra Hoopes, of Phoenix, are cookbook authors who have gathered a wide array of bite-sized treats bound to please in “200 Appetizers” (Gibbs Smith, 2012).

“Appetizers to me have a more fun feel to them than a sit-down meal — a social aspect,” Kelly said. “You can also more easily feed larger groups of people, too.”

She points out that appetizer parties are more fun for the host, too, since most can be made in advance, placed when the guests arrive, and refreshed throughout the party.

“It’s not like managing a bunch of courses, but you still get a variety of foods and tastes,” she said.

Much like the idea behind tapas from Spain or dim sum from Asia, appetizers are bite-sized bursts of flavor that won’t bore.

“If you are a foodie, this sort of party gives you a chance to try everything,” said Kelly.

Small portions keeps taste buds intrigued. Plus, since samplers don’t have to commit to a huge helping, they tend to be more adventurous with their choices. She also recommends putting a mixture of flavors and textures out at the same time.

This is Kelly’s sixth cookbook for Layton-based publisher Gibbs Smith. She and Hoopes, both Tucson, Ariz.-born, also work together on a food blog (www.everydaysouthwest.com) inspired by their border-country birthplace.

Kelly, who works for the state attorney general’s office prosecuting domestic violence and sex crimes, confessed she turns to cooking to unwind from her demanding, often heart-rending, career.

“You might say I got into cookbooks to take my therapy to the next level,” she said. “I really love cooking and promoting it whenever I can.”

For a super Super Bowl Party, Kelly suggests going with heartier fare, to help chase away the wintertime blues. “Keep the watermelon slices for another time, perhaps,” she said.

One of her family favorites is making cornbread waffles, and covering them with chili, rather than syrup. She also makes tamale tartlets with a dab of masa dough baked in a mini-cupcake pan, then filled with tamale meat or chili.

“The colors make a pretty presentation,” she said, of the golden masa and brick-red chili that make up the dishes.

Kelly’s recipe for popcorn shrimp is baked, so it’s better for you and less messy to prepare than the deep-fried variety. She also points to the book’s cheese tartlets as a Super Bowl suggestion, a recipe that originated with Julia Child,

“And make sure and throw in at least a few dips,” Kelly added. “They are delicious and can easily be made ahead of time.”

Kelly recommends the Rustic Cheese Spread, perhaps her favorite recipe out of the 200 she gathered and created for the book.

“It is so easy, plus you can use up the leftover bits of cheese in your cheese drawer, and serve it with bread or crackers or both. It is a great example of one of my favorite things about this book. I love these low-maintenance goodies you can just put out there and you’re done.”

RECIPES

A trio of recipes from “200 Appetizers” (Gibbs Smith, 2012):

Two Bit Tamale Tartlets

2 1/4 cups masa harina

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into cubes

12-ounce can beef, chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups favorite chili

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

4-ounce can sliced black olives, drained

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Add masa, baking powder, salt and butter to bowl of food processor and pulse to small crumbs. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in broth until well-blended.

Using one heaping tablespoon of masa mixture, press masa into a small disc in the palm of hands, and then press in bottom and up the sides of a lightly oiled 12-cup mini muffin pan. Repeat for a total of 24 shells. 

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until shells are crispy and solid on bottoms and lightly browned on tops. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

Using a fine-mesh strainer, press excess liquid from the chili, to make it thicker. Heat chili in microwave oven for about 90 seconds, until heated through. Stir cheese into chili. Spoon one heaping teaspoon of thickened chili into tart shells. Top with one olive slice. Serve warm. Makes 24.

Gift Wrapped Shrimp Bites

12 medium uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined

Canola oil spray

2 tablespoons favorite Southwest spice rub or chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

6-12 green onions, depending on size

6-ounce jar roasted red peppers

Roll each shrimp into a round, with the tail on the outside. Skewer with a toothpick through the center, so that shrimp hold their round shape while cooking. 

Lightly spray each shrimp with oil. Coat with spices, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and broil or grill just until the shrimp turn opaque, about 1-2 minutes per side. Let cool to room temperature and then remove toothpick. 

Cut 12 strips of the green portion of the green onions off, keeping the green portion intact and as long in length as possible. Heat the green strips by dipping them in boiling water or by heating them in an oiled frying pan just until they are softened and bendable, about one minute, turning frequently.

Cut peppers into either circles or squares the same diameter as the curled-up shrimp. Place pepper pieces on top of shrimp and wrap softened onion strips around each piece, tying a bow or knot. Serve warm. Makes 12.

Rustic Cheese Spread

16 ounces assorted bits of cheese, such as cheddar, Gruyere or Parmesan

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Dash cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients, except water, in food processor and process for about 2 minutes, or until very smooth. Add the water a few tablespoons at a time until a smooth and spreadable consistency results. 

Serve at room temperature with assorted crackers or toasted bread slices. Makes 3 cups.  

Helpful hints

•  As a general rule, serve six appetizers per person if serving in advance of a big meal, and 12 per person if serving appetizers only.

•  Set up appetizer stations at different locations around the room so that everyone can mingle and meet while sampling the goods. 

•  Variety is the key. Serve appetizers prepared in different ways — one fried, one in a puffed pastry and one cold item made from raw veggies or fruits, for example. Think presentation — serve a colorful item alongside plainer fare. Make some dishes crunchy, and others creamy. And making something for varied diets is also a nice way to ensure a variety of taste sensations, and it will be appreciated. Think vegetarian, gluten-free or low-calorie appetizers mixed in with a few more robust selections.

•  Plan your dishes to make sure you are not stuck in the kitchen cooking, missing your own party. Do this by making at least some of the appetizers ahead of time, and also have a few on hand that can be served cold or at room temperature.

•  Food safety is the most important concern when hosting any party — no one wants to sicken their guests. Keep them safe and satisfied by keeping cold foods cold and warm foods warm. Also, set out food in batches, so nothing sits around longer than two hours.  

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