June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:38 PM
"I attended one of my favorite kind of potlucks last week, an appetizers/wine party. We were each to bring an appetizer, along with the recipe for sharing, and various wines and waters were provided by the hostess. Even though I didn't know all of the invitees well, I did know them well enough to know I could count on some good food. Appetizers, hors d' oeuvres, tapas, whatever you choose to call them, are the best way I know to sample a lot of dishes without eating yourself into distress. As it turned out, this particular party was what I consider ideal - good food, good wine, good company, good conversation and good music. You can't ask more than that of an evening out, can you?And, yes, I did come away with some recipes. Because it will soon be picnic, potluck, summer holidays time and thus also time for some new ideas for your spring/summer entertaining, I'll just use all the rest of our space today to pass along the recipes. Some are not really new, but have perhaps a slightly different twist; one or two may require some substitutions in their ingredients (noted in the recipe). All far surpass the old days of clam dip, onion dip, cheese balls and chips. Happy grazing!RecipesThis first one did not come from the party I mentioned above but from a seafood fest I attended a couple of summers ago; I've been intending to share the recipe for quite a while, and now is the time. You can use the shucked oysters available in jars at the supermarket, if you can get very small ones, but fresh-shucked would obviously be best. You can also buy already cooked shrimp, but don't use the little, tasteless canned cocktail shrimp. Even frozen shrimp, thawed and/or cooked, will taste better.Shrimp and Oyster Fritters1 cup flour1 t. baking powder1 cup water1 t. minced garlic1 finely chopped pimiento3 green onions, finely chopped and including some of the green4-6 drops TabascoPinch of salt, or to taste1/2 lb. shrimp, cooked and chopped18 small fresh shucked oysters1. In a bowl, mix together the first three ingredients. Add all remaining ingredients in the order listed, stirring just to mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let rest for 1/2 hour.2. When ready to serve, heat vegetable oil in a deep fry pot or deep skillet to 325 degrees. Drop fritter mixture by small spoonfuls into the oil and fry until golden brown on all sides, turning gently if necessary. Don't crowd fritters. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve hot with lemon wedges and/or seafood sauce for dipping.And now a great cheese appetizer you can vary as indicated; or make up your own version.Panela Cheese with Cilantro1 panela cheese, approx. 12 oz. (Panela is a mild, white Mexican cheese usually aged in small baskets so it is normally round with basket markings on the outer surface; look in the specialty cheese section of the supermarket. If not available substitute a round mozarella.)4 cloves garlic, crushed1/3 cup quality olive oil1/3 cup vegetable oil1 T. finely minced cilantro leavesToasted baguette slices or sliced, toasted Mexican bolillosCilantro sprigs, for garnish1. Set the cheese in a baking dish and prick the top of the cheese all over with a fork.2. Mix together the two oils; add the garlic and cilantro, mixing well. Pour about 1/4 cup of the oil mixture over the cheese, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Bathe the cheese at least 4 more times with the oil mixture while it is sitting.3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the cheese about 15 minutes, or until softened and just beginning to melt. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve immediately as spread for the toasted bread slices. Reheat for a few minutes if it begins to become too hard to spread easily. Note: Variations might be minced fresh basil leaves instead of cilantro, or crushed dried oregano. You could also substitute a spicy chili oil (to taste) for some of the oil if you wanted a hotter version of this appetizer. As you see, there are lots of possibilities with the basic cheese.I'm fond of almost any type cheese so cheese balls are always good, if somewhat boring. However, I ran across this very interesting variation at the aforementioned party and boring it is NOT! Margarita Cheeseball1 lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated6 garlic cloves, minced (or to taste; I'd have used a couple more)1 bunch green onions, chopped and including some of the tops (1 bunch is about 6 onions, I think)2 T. butter, softened8 oz. cream cheese at room temp.Grated zest of 2 oranges1 t. curry powder1 t. mustard powder1 t. ground coriander1 t. cayenne (don't gasp; it gets absorbed and it's not that hot)2 T. gold tequila (don't use the tequila blanca, it has a different flavor)2 T. Cointreau or other orange flavored liqueur2-3 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed and ground in a spice grinder or processor (or use ancho chili powder or other chili powder, to taste)1. It's easiest to do this in a food processor. Put grated cheddar in the processor, add garlic and onions and blend. Add butter, cream cheese, orange zest, curry, mustard, coriander and cayenne; mix well. With the processor running, slowly add the tequila and Cointreau.2. Remove mixture from processor; form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until slightly firm. When ball is firm but not hard, form into your desired shape, then roll in finely chopped dried chili peppers or, if preferred, simply roll in minced fresh cilantro leaves. Wrap again and refrigerate overnight. Serve with crisp, garlic-flavored croutons or toast rounds, or crackers of choice. This cheese ball ages well and can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks.These little tarts, rather like miniature quiches, were a big hit at the party and the woman who brought them said they're not that difficult to prepare. They're delicious.Cheese Spinach Tartlets6 slices white bread (firm works better, not soft like Wonderbread)10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry1 cup heavy cream3/4 cup cheese (Manchego, Cabrales, which is a strong Spanish bleu cheese, or gorgonzola, or other bleu cheese)1/2 t. salt, or to taste depending upon cheese used1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper1/8 t. ground nutmeg2 T. pine nuts, lightly toasted1. Lightly oil 24 muffin cups (1-3/4 inch wide cup). Using a 1-1/2 inch round cutter, cut 4 rounds from each slice of bread (or cut as many as possible from a slice and use as many bread slices as necessary to make 24). Place the 24 rounds on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until just pale golden, turning once to do both sides. Gently press the toasted rounds into the bottom of the muffin cups.2. In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, cream, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg until well blended. Spoon the mixture into the bread cups and sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake (oven is still at 400 degrees) about 15 min. or until filling is set. Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve.(Note: Yes, you can also use those already made little quiche shells; follow instructions for baking then filling.)We've barely scratched the surface of good things for an appetizer buffet but we're out of space once again. More appetizers another time. "