Appetizer Throw Down

While our simple, family-only New Years celebration started with modest goals, it began to get out of hand when we devised the Appetizer Throw Down. Rather than a Bobby Flay style competition of chef against chef, our throwdown was conceived as appetizer against appetizer. Over the course of New Years Eve and New Years Day (and even beyond as it turned out), we would use a family panel to judge 6 appetizers that ranged from simple to fancy - with both adults and kids doing the judging.

The throwdown menu was composed in order of fanciness:
Round one got off to a start with the first three items - and you'll notice the kid friendliness. The judging criteria were:
  1. Presentation: 1 to 3 points
  2. Taste: 1 to 5 points
  3. Would you like to eat more? 0 or 3 points
  4. Should we make it again? 0 or 3 points
Well, the key to round one was presentation. I put the three cheeses on a marble cheese board and then stick a cheese knife vertically into the center wedge of cheese. As it turned out, that was the difference between winning an losing - a dangerous looking knife in prominent display. The problem was that the kids all wanted to keep stabbing cheese in a dramatic way. While French Onion Dip was a clear favorite over Cheddar Horseradish Dip, the cheese stood alone - eventually impaled with not one but two cheese knives.

Oh - the cheddar dip is very good - different from most other dips, since the base is shredded radish. Even radish lovers wouldn't know it's in there, since the horseradish is the dominant flavor. It's got a summertime feel and reminds me of a sophisticated version of pimento cheese.

Round two involved the Puffs we had at Christmas dinner, the family favorite Bacon and Corn Gougeres which we've been making for about a year now, and a purely Mom and Dad appetizer of tapenade with Goat Cheese. The six appetizers were too much, so we used New Years Day and the following few days to taste the rest, with the pretty much expected result of Gougeres winning out. However, that was only because the kids outnumbered the adults.

The Goat Cheese Tartines with Tapenade were the best of the bunch, and are quite easy to make. Note that I used less goat cheese than shown in this picture, since if you have decent goat cheese, you don't need that huge portion.

One thing to be sure to do is make your own tapenade. It takes nothing more than a couple minutes with a food processor, and will be far more economical and WAY better tasting than a jarred commercial tapenade. I used this recipe from Wolfgang Puck that was made exceptional by the well balanced proportion of black to green olive, judicious amount of capers and anchovy, and most importantly fresh herbs. Fresh oregano, a greatly underused but easy to grow herb is present again. This tapenade is a definite keeper and will become a background staple going forward.

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