Mary writes: I’ve agreed to bring an appetizer to both my sister’s Christmas Eve dinner and a New Year’s Eve party at my husband’s work friend’s. So, if possible, I’d like to make the same thing twice because it will be two completely different crowds and they won’t know any better – my husband definitely won’t notice! The other thing is that I’d love for the appetizer to be dressy enough for both occasions, so no dips please. Thanks!
Tony’s take: I like the idea of double-booking one appetizer for two events, Mary. Why not? These are stressful times, so working on one app should only make your challenge that much easier. You could make something to freeze and then pull out before each occasion: things with puff pastry or phyllo would work, but neither would offer up the fancy/fresh vibe I think you’re shooting for (though, I do think you’re being a little hard on dips). Instead I’ll let you in on my own little hors d’oeuvres secret: endive spears. That’s right, endive. Pale, yellowish-green leaves, slightly bitter, but dressy and elegant when topped with a dollop of filling and arranged on a party plate. Slice the bottom part of the endive core off, break into individual leaves, and top with a spoonful of smoked salmon and creme fraiche. Or bounce it up a bit by dicing sweet potato and apple, sauteing until browned and caramelized, and pairing with chopped fresh thyme and creme fraiche (or sour cream). The whole thing takes about 20 minutes, can be served at room temperature (or even made a day ahead if you want to gently reheat the filling in the microwave), and screams “I am elegant and in touch with seasonal cooking (and not the one that put out that canned spinach and artichoke dip)!!”
Serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer.
How to make it: Peel 1 medium sweet potato (about 8 ounces) and cut into 1/2 dice (about the size of a fingernail); do the same with an apple (something firm and tart like a Granny Smith). Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potato, reduce the heat to medium, sprinkle generously with kosher salt (about 3/4 tsp.), and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potato becomes tender and browns in places, about 8 minutes. Add the diced apple, 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, and a pinch of chipotle powder (or cayenne) and cook, stirring, until the apple softens a bit, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste; stir in a couple slices of crisped and crumbled bacon if you feel so moved – the flavors would be perfect.
To assemble, slice 2 heads endive into individual leaves by cutting off the bottom 1/2 inch of the core, removing the outer leaves that fall free, and cutting another 1/2 inch and so on until you have about 20 leaves in total; use any of the smaller inner pieces for a salad. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the endive spears, top with a small dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream (about 1/3 cup total) and a sprinkling of some more fresh thyme. Arrange on a serving plate and pass.