Over the past few days, I have been working on two new starters for holiday entertaining. One is served at room temperature, the other hot. The former, an Avocado-Goat Cheese Spread, is delectable offered with toasted pita wedges, cherry or grape tomatoes, julienned slices of sweet red bell peppers and green onions. It is also mouthwatering as a dip to accompany skewered cooked shrimp.
The other appetizer is a small round of Camembert, topped with honey-glazed walnuts and almonds and popped in the oven until the cheese is soft but stills holds its shape. It's an impressive dish that requires little work.
You could offer either of these to begin a buffet supper or serve both at a large open house. The avocado chevre spread can be assembled a day ahead and will retain its lovely, pale-green hue. The Camembert can be topped with nuts and arranged on a baking sheet several hours ahead, ready to bake for a few minutes before serving it.
Avocado-Goat Cheese Spread
Makes 2 cups dip, enough to serve 8 to 10
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces creamy chevre (goat) cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 / 4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 / 4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons diced seeded jalapeno chilies, plus up to 1 teaspoon extra, if desired
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
garnishes of toasted pita wedges, cherry or grape tomatoes, julienned strips of sweet red bell peppers or skewered cooked shrimp (see Note)
Process avocados, cream cheese and goat cheese in food processor, pulsing, until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Add lime juice, shallots, garlic, cumin, salt, 2 teaspoons jalapeno chiles and cilantro and process to mix well, 20 to 30 seconds more. Taste mixture and add more jalapenos for hotter, spicier taste.
Mound mixture in nonreactive serving bowl. (Spread can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
To serve, place bowl on serving platter and surround with pita wedges, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers or shrimp. Serve immediately.
Note: This spread is also delicious served surrounded with tortilla chips. Try using white, yellow and blue corn tortillas for visual appeal.
Baked Camembert with Honey-Glazed Walnuts and Almonds
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1/4 cup whole unblanched almonds
1/4 cup walnut halves
1 (8-ounce) round Camembert
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 very generous pinches cayenne pepper
2 tart, crisp apples or 2 ripe but slightly firm pears, cleaned, halved and cut into thin wedges
Spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet. Bake on center rack at 350 degrees until toasted, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully as nuts can burn easily. Remove and cool.
Arrange Camembert on foil-lined baking sheet. Spread nuts on top of cheese and drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with cayenne. (Cheese can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Bake cheese on center rack at 350 degrees until softened and warm but not bursting, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cool 3 to 4 minutes. Lift cheese on foil to serving plate. Cut away and discard excess foil. Surround with apple or pear wedges