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The Thanksgiving menu is a fairly standard one: A bird, some potatoes, stuffing, an assortment of sides and a plethora of pie. Your family expects and respects tradition so you don’t want to risk tinkering with the dinner. But what about the before feast? Folks show up with an appetite on Thanksgiving Day and you’re certainly not going to head straight to the table.

That’s where you can have some fun with a variety of appetizers that serve to keep your guests satisfied while they smell the turkey roasting (and also keep them out of the kitchen so you can put on the final touches on the dinner).

The fruits and vegetables of the season are so colorful and full of flavor that you can incorporate a healthy and satisfying start to the holiday with very little effort.

Setting out bowls of nuts and some fresh vegetables is one way to do it, but you can ramp up the occasion with a few touches.

For instance, whip the walnuts into a spicy walnut muhammara, a traditional Mediterranean dip made from sweet peppers, walnuts and spices. Pears and goat cheese come together for a creamy crostini with a balsamic glaze; cranberries need not be relegated to a side dish, either. Use them to top a buttery brie tucked inside a wonton. Brussels sprouts? You bet, only this time wrap them with bacon and set out a lemony dip. It’s guaranteed the dish will be empty by the time dinner is ready. And if your guests are trying to stay healthy during these calorie-ridden days, substitute roasted sweet potato rounds for crackers and make a Southwestern-style tapas with black beans and cheese.

This is also the time to come up with a few fun cocktails to celebrate the holiday. Cider, hard or regular plays a big role here, as does sparkling wine and fruit juices. And pumpkin comes into play long before the pie gets served. Be playful, but be cautious, you don’t want your guests to get too toasted before the bird even comes out of the oven.

Balsamic Glazed Pear and Goat Cheese Crostini

Recipe from USA Pears

2 pears

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon honey

24 baguette rounds, toasted

1/2 cup spreadable goat cheese

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted (See Note)

Ground black pepper, if desired

Slice pears stem-side-up into 12 quarter-inch width vertical planks. Cut large slices in half lengthwise for a total of 48 slices.

Heat vinegar, butter, and honey in large frying pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until reduced by half, about 2 tablespoons. Add pear slices and continue cooking for 1 minute, turning once.

Place 2 pear slices on each baguette round and top with 1 teaspoon goat cheese. Sprinkle almonds over cheese and garnish with fresh pepper, if desired.

Note: To toast almonds, place in heavy frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes or until tan with toasted aroma.

Per serving: 80 calories; 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 34 percent calories from fat); 11 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 5 mg cholesterol; 115 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Cranberry Brie Appetizer Bites

Recipe from Ocean Spray

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel

25 3 1/4-inch square wonton wrappers

1 8-ounce brie round, cut into 24 3/4-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24 miniature-muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Add cranberries; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer about 3 to 4 minutes or until cranberries pop and mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and peel.

Press 1 wonton wrapper gently into each muffin cup, allowing ends to extend above. Spray edges of wonton wrappers with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until bottoms of cups are beginning to brown.

Place 1 cube of brie in each cup; place sheet of aluminum foil over each pan to prevent excessive browning. Bake 3 to 5 minutes or until brie is soft. Remove from oven, top each with about 1 teaspoon cranberry mixture. Makes 24 appetizers.

Per serving: 65 calories; 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 4 percent calories from fat); 7 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 10 mg cholesterol; 105 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Spicy Walnut Muhammara

Recipe from California Walnut Council

3/4 cup walnuts

1 cup roasted red peppers, drained

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes

2 tablespoon tomato paste

1/8 teaspoon salt

3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Place all ingredients (except basil and the 2 tablespoons olive oil) in a food processor or high powered blender and puree until smooth. Garnish with olive oil and basil. Serves 6.

Per serving: 217 calories; 22 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 91 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 194 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Sweet Potato Rounds

This recipe can serve as many or as few as you like. Sweet potatoes take the place of crackers or bread to create a flavorful yet low calorie appetizer. Recipe from Martha Stewart.

2 unpeeled sweet potatoes

1 cup spicy black beans

1 cup crumbled cotija cheese

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/2 cup shredded Monteray Jack cheese (optional)

1/3 cup chutney, salsa, or pesto (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice sweet potatoes 1/2 inch thick, and place in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast until browned on bottoms, 30 to 35 minutes. Top with spicy black beans, crumbled cotija cheese, and cilantro leaves. You can also try them with the cheese of your choice and chutney, salsa, or pesto. Serves 6.

Per serving: 214 calories; 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 38 percent calories from fat); 25 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 28 mg cholesterol; 553 mg sodium; 10 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Bacon Wrapped Brussels Sprouts with Creamy Lemon Dip

Recipe from Foodnetwork.com.

18 medium Brussels sprouts (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

One 12-ounce package center-cut bacon (about 18 strips)

1/4 cup pure maple syrup, plus 1/2 cup more for serving

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Zest of 1/2 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons juice

Crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the stem ends from the Brussels sprouts, and halve lengthwise. Put them in a medium bowl, and toss with 1 teaspoon salt.

Lay the bacon strips next to each other on a work surface. Brush liberally with about 1/2 the maple syrup, then halve crosswise. Wrap each Brussels sprout half with 1 strip of bacon, syrup-side out, so the seam is on the flat side. Place the sprouts seam-side down on a rimmed baking sheet, leaving a bit of space between them. Brush them with a bit more syrup, and grind a little black pepper on top. Roast, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the bacon is crisp and the sprouts are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the mayonnaise, most of the lemon zest and all the lemon juice in a small serving dish. Sprinkle the remaining lemon zest on top. Put about 1/2 cup maple syrup in a second small serving dish, and stir in as much black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes as you like.

Transfer the sprouts to a platter, and serve with the lemon mayonnaise and peppered maple syrup, for dipping. Serves 8.

Per serving: 287 calories; 18 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 56 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 19 g sugar; 26 mg cholesterol; 764 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Slow Cooker Apple Cider Sparklers

Here’s a way to fill the house with enticing aromas and keep your guests delighted. The best part is that you add the ingredients, set the cooker and forget it. Recipe from Betty Crocker

1 quart (4 cups) apple cider

3 cinnamon sticks (3 inch)

3 whole cloves

1 piece (1 inch) gingerroot, peeled

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Grated peel of 2 lemons

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Grated peel of 1 orange

3 tablespoons orange juice

1 vanilla bean, split, seeded

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) sparkling white wine or champagne

Orange, lemon and apple slices, if desired

Pour cider into 3-quart slow cooker. Add cinnamon sticks, cloves, gingerroot, nutmeg, lemon peel, lemon juice, orange peel, orange juice, vanilla bean and brown sugar; mix well.

Cover; cook on Low heat setting 3 hours. 3 Remove cinnamon sticks, cloves, gingerroot and vanilla bean before serving. Keep cider warm in slow cooker, or transfer to heatproof pitcher if serving immediately. Ladle or pour cider into mugs, filling halfway; fill rest of mug with wine. Garnish with orange, lemon and apple slices.

Pumpkin Old Fashioned

Why wait for dessert to enjoy the pumpkin? Serve this cocktail and get the day off to a sunny start. Recipe from about.com.

1 1/2 ounces bourbon whiskey

1/2 ounce Grand Marnier

2 tablespoons pumpkin puree

Dash of bitters

1 ounce maple syrup

Orange peel twist or rosemary sprig, for garnish

Combine bourbon, pumpkin puree, Grand Marnier, bitters and syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with orange peel or rosemary sprig. Makes 1 cocktail.

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