Off the Tray

Off the Tray

Sometimes I think appetizers are the hardest recipes to come up with. We attach ourselves to a few winners, but soon enough they become overdone and boring. It took the seven-layer dip about 20 years to move off the popularity charts if, in fact, it ever did, and who knows when the hot dogs in barbecue sauce will ever die?

I do hope guacamole never bites the dust, and hummus is as permanent I think, as Middle Eastern cuisine. The cheese board has become a main stay for every kind of party, and thanks to many vendors of fine cheeses, it’s easy to put a good one together.

Are there rules for designing a cheese board? I asked Sean Cassera, a cheese expert at Whole Foods Market at Arabella Station, and he said to choose cheeses that you love. For him, that means a soft brie, an earthy goat, a salty hard cheese, a nutty Alpine and a French blue. (See sidebar for examples.)

Accompaniments: nuts, fresh berries or grapes, dried fruit, olives and sprigs of fresh herbs such as thyme or basil. For crackers, Cassera recommends something neutral as well as sliced baguette. The board itself should be dark so the cheeses and colorful companions pop. For the board, he prefers black slate or dark wood such as cherry or antique to contrast with cheeses.

We are lucky to live in seafood heaven where delectable shellfish don’t break the budget. Many dips enhance simple boiled shrimp. My favorite is remoulade, but shrimp match well with flavors such as dill or basil and creamy cheeses or horseradish. Lump crabmeat can be turned quickly into a spread or hot dip, and oysters and shrimp are divine wrapped in bacon and grilled.

Sliders are popular for a cocktail party. The recipe here is a shortcut on the hamburger with an Italian flair. Handy well-seasoned meatballs sliced in half are quick to serve with jarred marinara and provolone.

May is a month of parties – showers, graduations, weddings – and there are many other reasons for quick-to-make appetizers – a visit from out-of-towners, a sports event on TV or just a romantic evening. Then you can put your time and effort into having a good time outside the kitchen, a lesson I am still working on.




1 dozen prepared meatballs such as Carando Sicilian

1 dozen slider buns

1 small jar marinara sauce

1 1-pound (12 slices) package provolone cheese


1. Cook meatballs in a large skillet until browned on all sides and done in the middle. Remove from skillet and, when cool, slice in half horizontally.

2. Over a medium cookie sheet, spread heavy-duty tin foil with about 6 inches extra foil on each side. Place bottom halves of buns on the foil.

3. Place two halves of meatballs, flat sides down on each bun. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of marinara sauce over meatballs on each slider. Cut cheese slices in half, and top sliders with two pieces each. Cover with top bun. Place another piece of foil on top of the sliders, and fold the bottom foil over them to keep sliders in place. Set aside until ready to serve.

4. Before serving time, heat oven to 350 degrees. When hot, place sliders in oven and heat until hot, about 20 minutes. Place sliders on a platter and serve. Serves 6.

Note: You will have marinara sauce left over. Use for another purpose or double the recipe.



2 pounds large shrimp

1 bag crab and shrimp boil seasoning

2 tablespoons salt

Juice of ½ lemon plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

¼ cup Creole mustard

3 tablespoons horseradish

1/3 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons minced green onions

2 tablespoons minced celery

1 teaspoon Tabasco

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Bring a 3-quart pot of water to a boil. Add seasoning bag and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and juice of ½ lemon. Add shrimp and bring back to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and when cool enough to handle, peel and devein. Set aside or refrigerate until an hour before serving.

2. Place olive oil in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in vinegar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice, whisking until well-combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover and allow flavors to combine for at least an hour before serving. Serve in a small bowl surrounded by shrimp. Serves 8.


Cheese Board

Picks from Sean Cassera, Whole Foods:

St. Angel French triple-cream brie

Bucherondin French goat cheese

Manchego Spanish hard cheese

Le Marechal Swiss Alpine cheese

Saint Agur French blue cheese



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