All about apps: Not those ... New Year's Eve appetizers!

News-DemocratDecember 23, 2013 

Your thoughts today likely are not on Dec. 31. Perfectly understandable. But by Thursday or Friday, after rediscovering the floor in your family room (amazing how much space torn wrapping paper takes up), you'll have to start contemplating food for your New Year's Eve party. Well, and cleaning up.

Some cooks have classics. Novices may try something new. Or, perhaps it's time for something trendy.

There's a little bit of everything here, from Barbecue Water Chestnuts like my mom used to make back in the 1970s, to healthy Pineapple-Chicken Lettuce Wraps. In between are spicy meatballs, a new take on a cheeseball, roasted shrimp and a stuffed baguette.

Enjoy tomorrow. Merry Christmas. Savor having family and friends around you. Then, get out paper and pen and start plotting a great party for the last day of 2013.

BARBECUE WATER CHESTNUTS

10 to 12 strips of bacon

2 8-ounce cans whole water chestnuts, drained (should have around 10 to 12 chestnuts per can)

1 cup ketchup

1 cup packed brown sugar

20 to 24 toothpicks, soaked in water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Partially cook the bacon (it should be floppy enough to wrap easy around water chestnut), drain on paper towels, cut each slice in half.

While bacon is cooking drain the water chestnuts and soak the toothpicks in water.

Wrap half a piece of bacon around each water chestnut and secure with a toothpick (the toothpick can be pushed right through the water chestnut to secure). Place wrapped chestnut on broiler pan or low-sided baking sheet lined with foil.

Bake 10 minutes or until bacon starts to crisp.

While bacon is crisping, mix ketchup and brown sugar in saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.

Once crisp, transfer water chestnuts to baking dish and pour ketchup mixture over them.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and return to oven and cook the coated water chestnuts for another 10 minutes. Best served warm but can be served at room temperature. Makes 20-24.

The Baltimore Sun

This recipe calls for demi baguettes, which are smaller than the regulation-sized baguettes you most often find in stores. If you're using a full-sized baguette, cut it in half or in thirds to make it easy to hollow out. Leave the ends intact and, in the absence of trimmed ends to plug the fillings, just tightly wrap each baguette section. Also, whether using demi or standard baguettes, pick out ones that are more rounded than flat, so they're easier to stuff.

Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Baguette Slices

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped canned artichoke hearts

3 cups tightly packed baby spinach

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg (5 or 6 scrapes of fresh nutmeg on a rasp)

2 demi baguettes (or 1 regular-sized baguette)

1/2 cup crumbled tomato-and-basil-flavored feta cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a dry saute pan over medium heat. Toss the walnuts in the hot pan until fragrant and a test bite is soft, warm, and a bit chewy. Transfer the walnuts to a large bowl (large enough to hold the filling) to cool.

In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to swirl a bit, add the artichokes, spinach, chili powder and nutmeg. Using tongs, toss until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add to the bowl with the walnuts and allow to cool.

With a serrated knife, cut about 2 inches off one end of each baguette and reserve. Use the knife to hollow out the inside of each baguette, leaving just 1/8 inch of bread as a shell. Be careful to not puncture the outside of the bread from the inside while hollowing each baguette. Save the bread for bread crumbs.

Add the feta and Parmesan cheese to the large bowl. Stir to combine. Give a taste; everything should be salty enough courtesy of the cheese.

Use a spoon to stuff each baguette with the filling, then use the handle of a wooden spoon or something similar to pack the stuffing in tight. When done with each, invert the untrimmed, tapered end of each baguette into the open end to seal in the filling. Tightly wrap each baguette in aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and raise the temperature to 400 degrees. Open the aluminum foil and brush both baguettes with the remaining oil. Return to the oven uncovered and cook until golden, 5 to 8 more minutes.

Rest, slice, and serve. Allow the baguettes to cool until just warm. Using a serrated knife, cut 1-inch slices along the length of each baguette. If transporting the baguettes to a party, keep the slices in the form of a baguette and wrap them back up in the same aluminum foil. These are also great cold or at room temperature. Feel free to slice, cool completely, then rewrap and refrigerate.

"Sunny's Kitchen: Easy Food for Real Life" by Sunny Anderson (Clarkson Potter, $22.50)

Chipotle Meatball Appetizers

1 can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls (8-count)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 3 tablespoons adobo sauce (from 7-oz can)

12 frozen Italian-style meatballs (1/2 ounce each), thawed, halved

4 pieces mozzarella string cheese (1 ounce each)

1 medium avocado, pitted, peeled, cut into 24 small slices

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24 mini muffin cups with cooking spray.

Separate dough into 4 rectangles; press perforations to seal.

Cut each rectangle into 6 squares. Press each square in bottom and up side of mini muffin cup.

Bake 6 minutes. Remove from oven. Using handle of wooden spoon, immediately make 1 1/2 -inch indentation in center of each cup.

2 .Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in chipotle chili and the adobo sauce, meatballs and 2 tablespoons water. Cover; reduce heat to low. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally or until thoroughly heated. Remove meatballs from skillet. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon of the sauce into each cup. Top each with one meatball half, cut side up.

3. Cut each piece string cheese lengthwise in half; cut each half crosswise into thirds. Top each meatball with 1 piece string cheese. Bake 6 to 10 minutes longer or until edges are golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cups.

4. Top each meatball cup with 1 avocado slice; secure with wooden toothpick. Serve warm.

Makes 24 servings, each with 90 calories, 6 grams fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 5 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams protein. Exchanges: 1/2 other carbohydrate, 1/2 high-fat meat, 1/2 fat. Carbohydrate choices: 1/2.

Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest 2013, Top 100 Recipes: Carolyn Westerback, of Gresham, Ore.

This recipe is also called "Everything That's Great about a Burrito in Cheese Ball Form." You could add cooked (and cooled) chorizo or taco-seasoned ground beef instead of or in addition to black beans, if you'd like.

Mexican Black Bean Ball

2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons minced red onion

3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Crackers or pita chips, for serving

Using a stand mixer or a bowl and a spatula, mix together the Cheddar, beans, cream cheese, onion, 2 tablespoons cilantro (reserve the rest for coating the cheese ball), cumin, salt and cayenne, if using, until combined. Form the mixture into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Before serving, coat the cheese ball in the remaining cilantro. Serve with crackers or pita chips.

"Great Balls of Cheese" by Michelle Buffardi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99)

ROASTED SHRIMP COCKTAIL

1 quart grape tomatoes, halved

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar glaze

1 tablespoon horseradish

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Set the halved grape tomatoes in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Toss together and let sit over a bowl or in the sink to drain for 20 minutes.

After the tomatoes have drained, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with the balsamic glaze. Roast 15 minutes.

Stir the horseradish and the shrimp into the tomatoes on the baking sheet, then return to the oven and roast for another 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Can be served on individual spoons or in a wide, shallow bowl with toothpicks.

Servings: 8, each with 70 calories, 1 gram fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams sugar, 12 grams protein, 210 mg sodium.

Associated Press

PINEAPPLE CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAPS

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

2/3 cup pineapple salsa, strained

2 tablespoons chopped cherry peppers

Soft lettuce leaves, such as Boston or Bibb

In a medium bowl, gently mix together the chicken, salsa and cherry peppers.

Arrange the lettuce leaves in a single layer on a serving platter. Spoon 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture into the center of each lettuce leaf, leaving enough room on each leaf for guests to grab the leaves and wrap around the filling.

Servings: 8, each with 60 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol; 1 gram carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 30 mg sodium.

Associated Press

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