Arriving in Paris for our annual winter visit this week, we wondered how we would find the city after a year of devastating events. We unpacked and then walked through our “quartier” happy to see familiar sights. People were busy catching buses and cabs, buying their newspapers, and yes, sipping coffees outdoors in cafes during a spell of mild weather. And, Parisians everywhere were buying their favorite foods to celebrate the new year. I’ll be cooking dinner for friends on New Year’s Eve, so I too was in many of the food shops. The scene at the Grande Epicerie (the incredible grocery store at Le Bon Marché department store) was as frenetic as ever, with shoppers stocking their carts with foie gras and champagne–traditional fare for this season.
As I was planning our menu for December 31, I came across several appetizers perfect for a New Year’s Eve celebration– Pistachio Goat Cheese Grapes, Blue Cheese and Almond Stuffed Dates, and Smoked Salmon with Lemon Crème Fraîche. All are chic enough for this special night, but simple and quick to prepare.
Happy 2016 and may this new year be filled with peace around the world, and with joy and good health for all!
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Three Chic Appetizers
Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes
Bite into one of these delectable morsels, wrapped in creamy goat cheese scented with mint and coated with chopped pistachios, and you’ll savor an enticing combination of flavors and textures. The grapes are juicy and sweet, the cheese salty and smooth, and the nuts crunchy with a slight roasted accent. These appetizers hold up beautifully for 2 days in the fridge, and best of all are a hands-down crowd pleaser.
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) shelled pistachios, salted or unsalted
Scant 1/2 tsp kosher salt, optional
6 oz creamy goat cheese
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped mint plus several sprigs for garnish
20 green seedless grapes, rinsed and patted dry
1. Place the pistachios in a plastic bag and crush them coarsely with a meat pounder or a rolling pin. If the nuts were not salted, add a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt to the bag and shake to mix. Then spread the nuts on a dinner plate.
2. Place the goat cheese in a medium bowl and with a table fork combine it with the chopped mint.
3. Scoop out about 1/2 tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture and press it evenly over all surfaces of a grape. Then roll the grape for a few seconds in the palms of your hands until the coating is smooth and even. Roll the grape in the pistachio mixture and place it on a large plate. Repeat with the remaining grapes. Chill one hour or longer so that cheese is firm. (The grapes can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring the grapes to room temperature 15 minutes before serving.)
4. Using a sharp knife, halve the grape balls and arrange the halves on a serving tray. Garnish with one or two mint sprigs.
Makes 40 servings
Warm Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Almonds
Sweet and salty are the winning combination in these warm appetizers. You can’t eat just one!
12 medium Medjool dates (available in most supermarkets)
A 4-oz piece blue cheese (Maytag Blue, Fourme d”Ambert or other preferably smooth variety) at room temperature
2 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (See note.)
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Have ready a medium baking pan or dish.
2.Slice the dates lengthwise, cutting (not all the way through) just enough to remove the pits. Fill the cavities with about 1/2 teaspoon blue cheese. Save extra cheese for another use. Sprinkle dates with chopped almonds, and arrange in the pan. (Dates can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)
3. Bake dates until warm and cheese has melted, about 8 minutes. Remove and arrange on a small serving plate. Serve warm.
Makes 12 dates
Note: To toast almonds, place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Remove and cool.
Smoked Salmon with Lemon Crème Fraîche
I have served these appetizers on more than one New Year’s Eve. The lemon crème fraiche elevates smoked salmon on dark bread to new heights in this easy recipe.
3/4 cup creme fraîche
3/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
3/8 tsp grated lemon zest
8 to 10 oz sliced smoked salmon
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped chives
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped tarragon
Sliced dark, wheat or multi-grain bread (I like Whole Food’s 9-grain whole wheat sourdough bread)
1. Whisk together crème fraîche, lemon juice and zest in a small nonreactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, an hour or more. (Lemon crème fraîche crème can be made 1 day ahead and actually improves in flavor.)
2. To serve, arrange overlapping slices of the salmon on a platter. Sprinkle red onions over salmon and season generously with several grinds of pepper. Transfer chilled crème fraîche to a serving bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon each of the chives and tarragon. Sprinkle remaining herbs on top. Place bread in a napkin-lined basket. Serve salmon on bread slices garnished with a generous dollop of lemon creme fraîche.