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Carrie’s Kitchen: Time to start thinking about Thanksgiving appetizers

It’s a late Thanksgiving this year, so we have a little extra time to plan ahead. But where to start? What foods deserve to be highlighted during this most food-centric holiday that is uniquely American?

I’ll get back to you on that. After all, I have three more weeks to share Thanksgiving ideas. For now, let’s start at the beginning of a feast: with the appetizers.

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There are lots of different ways you can go with appetizers, and if you plan to have an extended period of time before the main meal, you should plan on having three to five different kinds, each fulfilling a different kind of desire. You want them to balance each other, with some heavy and some light, some with meat and some vegetarian, some salty and some a little sweet, some hot and some cold. The possibilities are endless, which can get overwhelming! So, here are three fall appetizers that I plan to make.

First, an appetizer classic, meatballs. There are a million ways to make meatballs, but I was intrigued by these turkey meatballs that feature mashed sweet potatoes inside of them with a little bit of maple syrup and hot sauce, served with a creamy maple dipping sauce. You can get mashed sweet potato by baking it and scooping it out of its skin and then mashing it. There’s nothing really fancy going on technique-wise, but with all of these flavors, you’re going to get a lot of bang for your buck.

Next, while you might have seen combinations of pear and brie together before, this hors d’oeuvres adds caramelized onions and wraps them all together in flour tortillas for a quesadilla, which you then drizzle with balsamic glaze. I don’t think I’m going to be able to wait until Thanksgiving for these. This sounds like dinner on a gloomy day when I don’t feel like cooking.

And finally, for something even more on the sweeter side, or maybe the sweet-tart side, these cherry and cheese crostinis. Try to buy a very thin loaf so you can cut the slices into small enough disks to make this a two or three-bite serving. I would lightly warm the bread, then layer on a wine-soaked cheese like a creamy Bellavitano, and top it with your slightly sweetened and thickened cherries that have also received a touch of balsamic. Mmwah! My mouth is watering just thinking about these.

Check back next week when I get more into Thanksgiving planning. Enjoy!

Sweet potato and turkey meatballs

For the meatballs:

1 small onion finely chopped or grated

1 pound lean ground turkey

2 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

1 large egg

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1/2 cup breadcrumbs or Panko

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1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste

¼ cup olive oil

For the creamy maple dipping sauce:

1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper or to taste

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the meatballs except for the oil. Make sure the mixture is combined well.

Form the meatballs into small 1-inch balls.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Add the meatballs and fry until golden all around, about 7 minutes. You will have to do this in 2 batches, so do not overcrowd the meatballs.

Fry the meatballs in the skillet, a few at a time, turning them around so that they fully brown on all sides about 7 minutes. Transfer onto a plate and repeat with all meatballs.

In a small bowl whisk together all the dipping sauce ingredients and serve with meatballs.

Pear, brie and caramelized onion quesadillas

For the balsamic glaze:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the quesadillas:

1/2 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly and separated

1 pear, cored and sliced thinly

2 ounces Brie cheese

3-4 sprigs thyme (stems removed)

6 tortillas

1 tablespoon vegan butter or coconut oil

Heat butter in a pan over medium high heat.

When hot, add the onion slices in (the onions should sizzle), and reduce heat to medium so you don't burn the onions.

Swirl the onions around to ensure it's all covered, and allow to caramelize for 15 minutes, stirring once every 5 minutes. The onions should be soft enough to cut through with the spatula, and will be very tender. If the oil in the pan dries up, add water 2 tablespoons at a time to help finish cooking the onions.

While the onions are caramelizing, in a pot over medium high heat, heat all the ingredients for the glaze and stir. Watch carefully; the glaze should begin to thicken after 5 minutes and you want it thick enough to stick to the back of a spoon, but not to thicken into a glob. It becomes very thick very quickly so watch carefully.

Once glaze has thickened, remove from heat.

Split the ingredients equally through both tortillas or wraps and then fold them over individually. In a pan over medium high heat, or on a mini grill, place the tortilla. Heat through on one side for 3 minutes, then flip, and heat through on the other side for another 3 minutes.

When both sides are crisp and cheese is melted, slice with a pizza cutter. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.

Tipsy cheese and cherry crostinis

1 cup fresh cherries or thawed frozen, cut in half and pits removed

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 block of Gunn’s Hill Tipsy Cheese, or other wine-soaked cheese

1 baguette

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Parsley, for garnish

Mix together the water and cornstarch.

In a saucepan over low to medium heat, add the halved cherries, water/cornstarch mix, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook until the cherries are soft and the juices turn syrupy.

Once the cherries are cooked, set them aside to cool.

Slice the baguette into ½-inch slices. If you wish, you can toast the slices or leave them fresh.

Lay the baguette slices out on a serving platter, add slices of the cheese, then add dollops of the cherry mixture to each crostini.

Drizzle with extra cherry syrup, add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and garnish with fresh parsley.

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