Have you ever sat down for a meal–with friends, family or even alone–even though you didn’t think you were all that hungry? But, somehow, after a few bites you realize you’re ravenous and finish a meal as usual?

That is the power of the appetite. And appetizers exist to wake up that appetite and get you in the mood for food.

750 Best Appetizers cover
As I’ve mentioned before, though, many night I’m quite happy to have lots of little things and variety over a single-entree meal. This can take some doing, however, as the preparation of many smaller bites usually outweighs the pleasure in eating them.

Which is why, when I browse through 750 Best Appetizers, by Judith Finlayson and Jordan Wagman, I’m happy to see a good mix of make-ahead and quickly prepared dishes throughout the book along with those that may take a little more work. In fact, with so many recipes to choose from, the longest task might just be deciding which ones to make!

Many avid cooks–myself included–say that reading a new cookbook is like reading a novel. It’s more than merely a reference book to be kept in the kitchen. What I love most are cookbooks that support this sort of reading and 750 Best Appetizers does just that by including a snippet of information alongside each recipe and many feature additional tips relating to sourcing of ingredients and serving suggestions.

But the true test of any cookbook is in the recipes themselves: how are they? I tried out three of them this holiday season, shared below, all with very good results.

The falafel recipe included below was astounding–I’d always thought of falafel as dense and dry, these are spicy and, even after chilled, quite moist. For the tortilla I substituted a baked sweet potato that I happened to have on hand and the recipe was just as wonderful for the substitution (and the colors were very appetizing together). Finally, the meatball recipe yielded over 50 1-inch meatballs when I made it, I believe the 30 1/2-inch morsels mentioned in the recipe to be a typo. But if there’s going to be a typo, I’d rather it be so much in our favor! We actually served the meatballs and their sauce over egg noodles for dinner rather than use them as an appetizer that night.

With New Year’s Eve coming up and the year ahead full of entertaining possibilities, this might be a good book to check out–the Salsa chapter alone would be enough to keep a different dip on the table each week for almost a year!

Mini Falafel Sandwiches

Makes 36 sandwiches / Vegetarian Friendly, Middle-Eastern / pg [276]

Mini Falafel Sandwiches

These crispy Middle Eastern balls are just wonderful for a lunch or dinner appetizer party.Although we have created the perfect sandwich, these balls are just lovely all on their own tooor dipped into Easy Hummus (page 52) or any of the hummus recipes.

Tip: Mini pita bread, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter, can be found in select stores. Regular size pitacan work here too by slicing into quarters forpie-like shapes.

• Candy/deep-fry thermometer
2 1?2 cups cooked drained chickpeas (625 mL)
3?4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (175 mL)
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
3?4 tsp ground cumin (3 mL)
1?2 tsp hot pepper sauce (2 mL)
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided (250 mL)
6 cups vegetable oil (1.5 L)
3?4 cup Easy Hummus (page 52) or store-bought (175 mL)
36 3-inch (7.5 cm) pita bread, tops opened to form pocket, cut in half (see Tip)
1?2 cup shredded carrot (125 mL)
1?2 cup diced cucumber (125 mL)

1. In a food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse chickpeas, cilantro, garlic, salt, cumin and hot pepper sauce until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer to a bowl and fold in about 21?2 tbsp (37 mL) of flour. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes, until chilled, or for up to 1 hour.

2. When you’re ready to cook, place oil in a deep saucepan or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until temperature reaches 350°F (180°C). (You can also use a deep fryer;follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) Form chickpea mixture into about 36 balls, about2 tsp (10 mL) each and lightly dredge in remaining flour. Add falafels to hot oil in batches and fry until balls rise to the surface and are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

3. Add a dollop of hummus on the inside of each pita bread half. Place 1 falafel ball inside.Garnish sandwich with equal amounts of carrots and cucumber and serve immediately.

Potato Tortilla with Peppers

Makes 12 to 16 pieces / Vegetarian Friendly / pg 365

Potato Tortilla with Peppers

If there is one item that is ubiquitous in tapas bars in Spain, it is the tortilla — an omelet that contains potatoes and is usually served at room temperature or cold. Here spicy chorizo sausage bumps up the flavor.

Tip: To microwave potato for this recipe: Place scrubbed potato in a microwave-safe dish. Add cold water to a depth of about 1?2 inch (1 cm), cover and microwave on High for 2 minutes. Leave the lid on and let cook for at least 5 minutes before running under cold water.

• Large nonstick ovenproof skillet
1 potato (8 oz/250 g), cooked in its skin,cooled and cut into 1?2-inch (1 cm) cubes (see Tip, left)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (30 mL)
1 red onion, thinly sliced on the vertical
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 long red chile or jalapeño pepper,seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs
1 cup shredded sharp (aged) cheese, such as Cheddar (250 mL)

1. In a large nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add potato, red onion,red and green bell peppers, chile pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, until peppers are softened and potato and onion just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat broiler. In a bowl, beat eggs. Pour over onion mixture and sprinkle cheese evenly over top. Reduce heat to low, loosely cover and cook until eggs are set, about 6 minutes. Place under preheated broiler and broil until top is nicely browned. Unmold and cut into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variation: Potato Tortilla with Chorizo: Substitute 1?2 cup (125 mL) shredded Manchego cheese and 6 oz (175g) cured (hard) chorizo, diced, for the cheese.

Oh-So-Retro Swedish Meatballs

Oh So Retro Swedish Meatballs

These were a cocktail party standard way back when. Serve them in a shallow serving dish or a deep platter, speared with cocktail toothpicks. They will disappear in a flash. Make sure your guests have napkins or a plate to catch any drips.

Tip: You may want to use a whisk while combining the flour mixture and hot stock, to minimize the possibility of lumps.

Makes about 30 meatballs / Beef , retro cocktail party staple/ pg 503

• Small to medium (2 to 31?2 quart) slow cooker

1 lb lean ground beef, preferably sirloin (500 g)
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs (250 mL)
1 onion, grated
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (10 mL)
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (30 mL)
1/2 tsp salt (2 mL)
1/2 tsp allspice (2 mL)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (30 mL)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour (45 mL)
1?2 tsp cracked black peppercorns (2 mL)
2 cups beef broth, heated to the boiling point (500 mL)
1?2 cup sour cream (125 mL)
1?2 cup finely chopped dill fronds (125 mL)

1. In a bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, lemon zest and juice, salt,allspice, and pepper to taste. Mix well. Using your hands, shape into balls about 1?2 inch(1 cm) in diameter.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meatballs in batches and cook,stirring, until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware as completed. Add flour to pan and cook, stirring, until frothy but not browning, about 2 minutes. Stir in peppercorns. Add beef broth and cook, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 2 minutes (see Tips, left). Pour over meatballs.

3. Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until meatballs are cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to a serving dish. Add sour cream and dill to stoneware and stir well. Pour over meatballs and serve.

Excerpted from 750 Best Appetizers by Judith Finlayson and Jordan Wagman © 2011 Robert RoseInc.www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Colin Erricson, www.robertrose.ca

I was supplied a copy of the book for review, the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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