ClareMom: Appetizers, Anyone??

I love to entertain. To me, there’s really no sound sweeter than the chime of the doorbell and the pitter-patter of footsteps coming in the door.

When people come to our home, I want them to immediately feel comfortable. I love it when people take off their shoes, help themselves to a drink, and curl up in a chair or on the couch. And, when they stay all day or half of the night, I know the party has been a success. There’s no rushing people out the door around here.
It never fails that guests show up to my house hungry. I’ve learned that the best plan is to have two or three starters for my guests to munch on while they’re waiting for the main event. These snack options can range from store-bought potato chips to sliced kielbasa to a cheese board. I am particularly happy that Reasor’s and Wal-Mart have added gourmet cheese cabinets to their deli areas. Walke Brothers also has a nice selection of cheeses and meats. These items make party planning a snap.
When I really want to impress my guests, I make two or three appetizers that have six ingredients or less, but pack a flavor wallop. Here are three options that are always gobbled up in a flash:
HOT BAR NUTS
This recipe is based on one I found in an Ina Garten cookbook and it is one of my husband’s favorites. To make it, you will need:
1 lb. lightly salted cashews
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
2 teaspoons golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the cashews out on a cookie sheet. Toast them just until they are warm, about 5 minutes. Do not burn them! In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, ground red pepper, brown sugar, and butter. Add the warm cashews to the mixture and toss to coat. Serve them warm with beer or mixed drinks, although we like them just fine when they’re cold, as well. They’re crunchy, salty, sweet, and give you just a small kick of heat.
HOT BACON AND SWISS DIP
If I have a large crowd coming, I usually double this recipe and keep it warm on low in a crock pot, which is how it got the name “Crock-Pot Crack.” Serve it with Ritz crackers, Fritos corn chips, or pieces of cubed French bread. To make it, you will need:
1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese (I use the 1/3 less fat kind, ’cause it makes me feel better about myself!)
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 c. Swiss cheese (or more…my philosophy is that there’s never enough cheese in anything!)
5 green onions sliced, including some of the tops for color
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled (or more…I have the same philosophy about bacon that I do about cheese!)
1/2 sleeve of Ritz crackers, crushed
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Soften the cream cheese in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, Swiss cheese, and green onions. Mix well. Place in a baking dish you’ve sprayed with a little nonstick spray and smooth it out. Top with the bacon and cracker crumbs. Bake until bubbly. Serve immediately.
CANDIED BACON
I got the inspiration for this dish after visiting Summerside Winery in Vinita for lunch one day. They serve something similar with peppered bacon and an apple vinaigrette, but I like my version even better. My son, Jared, calls it Candied Bacon and the name has stuck. But if you’d prefer, you can call them Bacon-Wrapped Dates. To make it, you will need:
8 slices of thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon (notice the bacon theme??)
16 pitted dates (you can find these on the cereal aisle at Reasor’s)
16 toothpicks
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon or more of milk
A sprinkling of parsley flakes (optional)
1/4 cup Raspberry Blush Vinegar
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bacon in half so that you have 16 half pieces. Take dates and wrap them up in the bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place bacon-wrapped dates on a baking sheet sprayed with a little cooking spray. Bake until the bacon is done and slightly crisp. Drain bacon-wrapped dates on a paper towel. Meanwhile, stir together the cup of sour cream with some milk to thin it slightly. Spread this mixture in the bottom of a serving platter. Sprinkle with parsley flakes. Place bacon-wrapped dates in the sour cream. Serve with a small bowl of raspberry blush vinegar. Guest pick up the candied bacon and dip it in the vinegar and eat. Have a plate nearby to collect used toothpicks.
There you have it – three quick, easy, and very tasty options to serve your guests as they wait for a meal.
Don’t forget the Henderson Family Rule: “If you didn’t get enough to eat while you were here, you didn’t try hard enough!”

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