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'First Impressions' presents party fare that is exotic without being difficult


Tired of being accosted by the same old crab dip, celery stuffed with cream cheese and Swedish meatballs at every cocktail party? Then run, do not walk, to get a copy of "First Impressions," by Betty Rosbottom (Morrow, 288 pp., $20).

Ms. Rosbottom, author of "Betty Rosbottom's Cooking School Cookbook" (Workman, 1987) and director of La Belle Pomme cooking school in Columbus, Ohio, has brought some fresh thinking as to how a dinner party should begin. After all, her "showstopper" smoked salmon cheesecake with dill toasts served on lemon leaves sounds more appetizing than salted peanuts, doesn't it?

To appreciate where Ms. Rosbottom is coming from, it helps to know that her busy schedule includes a weekly cooking column. In it she is invariably describing how she entertained expected and unexpected guests at her home and whipped up gourmet delights at a moment's notice.

"Entertaining is one of the great joys in my life," she writes in the introduction to her new book, "whether at a small, casual, impromptu event or a carefully planned fete for a hundred." She describes appetizers as the "quintessential party food," important in that they "give guests the first impression of the style that will define a dinner or party."

The 175 recipes in "First Impressions" are divided into a dozen chapters, from "Savory Scones, Biscuits and Muffins" to "Great Party Entrees," for which a plate and fork are required. These substantial dishes include roast fillet of beef with Roquefort sauce, Chinese roast pork with red currant sauce, and baked salmon with lime-scented yogurt sauce.

Most dishes, however, are fingers-only foods: all manner of cheese, fresh vegetables, dips and relishes, of course, and tartlets, pizzettes and galettes -- a French, puff pastry creation topped by Ms. Rosbottom's cheese and walnut mix or eggplant and tomato. Her corn and red pepper relish, served with spicy tortilla chips, is made with fresh corn and diced peppers. An unusual combination is the curried apricot mayonnaise served with smoked turkey and grapes.

While these appetizers are more exotic than the usual fare, they are not difficult to duplicate. Ms. Rosbottom helps out with some suggested menus and hints for planning a party. Be aware, however, that the recipes have been measured for large numbers, six portions being the smallest.

A reservation or two: The index is a little uneven, and I can't for the life of me understand why the publisher saved such small type for the most important element: the list of ingredients. I sure needed my trifocals to see the heart of it all.

Ms. Rosbottom and her assistant, Emily Bell, both enjoy curries, so they created the following unusual yet easy dish for the cocktail hour.

Six-layer Bombay cheese Makes 6 to 8 servings.

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/3 cup mango chutney

2 tablespoons flaked coconut, preferably unsweetened

1/4 cup toasted pecans or almonds

1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions, including some of the green stems

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons currants

2 to 3 apples, cut into thin wedges

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Crackers, such as water biscuits

Combine the cream cheese, Cheddar and curry powder in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix until well-blended and smooth. Or beat by hand with a wooden spoon until smooth. Shape the mixture into a disc about 5 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 inch high. Refrigerate to firm, about 45 minutes. The cheese can be made up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated.

To assemble, place the cheese on a serving tray. Spread the chutney on top. Sprinkle the coconut flakes, nuts, scallions and currants over the chutney. The cheese can be prepared an hour ahead and kept at cool room temperature.

Toss the apple wedges with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration. To serve, arrange the crackers and apple wedges around the cheese.

Here Ms. Rosbottom elevates "the humble carrot to new status for an interesting pre-dinner appetizer.

Oriental carrots Makes about 72 to 80 portions.

1 pound carrots

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

6 tablespoons soy sauce

6 tablespoons peanut oil

4 teaspoons finely chopped peeled ginger root

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon hot chili oil

2 teaspoons sugar

6-inch wooden skewers

Several sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

5 to 6 scallions, root ends and all but 2 inches of green stems cut off on a diagonal, for garnish

Peel the carrots and discard the stems. Starting at the stem end, cut the carrots into 3/8 -inch diagonal slices.

Place 3 quarts of water in a large, heavy saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and add the sliced carrots. Boil until the carrots are just tender, but not mushy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. The carrots can be cooked a day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to marinate the carrots, place them in a shallow non-aluminum dish. Combine the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, peanut oil, ginger, garlic, chili oil and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk well to blend. Pour the marinade over the carrots. Marinate for 1 hour -- no longer or the carrots will darken in color because of the marinade. Drain the carrots. The carrots can be prepared to this point a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

To serve, spear the carrots on 6-inch wooden skewers. Arrange the carrots on a serving plate. Garnish with sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and the scallions.

Ms. Rosbottom's serving note: "I like to serve these carrots skewered, but if you do not have the time to do so, arrange the carrots on a serving plate and place the skewers in a small vase or jar."

Universal Press Syndicate

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