If you only focus on entrees and sides as you learn to cook, you’ll miss out on making one of the most rewarding dishes to prepare: appetizers. With the correct presentation, even beginners can easily prepare restaurant-worthy appetizers.
Photo: Angela Bailey on Unsplash
The next time you host movie night or throw a party, don’t order take-out. Instead, try one of these three foolproof appetizers.
How do you get started with this classic Italian appetizer? Buy a baguette, cut it into medallions, toast them, and decorate!
You can choose from many toppings for your crostini, and you can combine them a million ways. Some classics include prosciutto, sauteed eggplant, gently sauteed onion, tomato, olives, roasted peppers, spinach, and cheese. You can also branch out into more complicated toppings like homemade spinach and artichoke dip and hummus.
In general, you should follow two guidelines while topping your crostini.
First, use an adhesive. Unless you’re using hummus or a similar dip, it’s a good idea to put down a layer of cream cheese before adding anything else. Cream cheese gives your crostini a creamy (but not overbearing) flavor and holds the rest of your ingredients together.
Second, make your crostinis colorful! The real difference between restaurant food and homemade food is presentation, in which color plays a huge part. So, if you’re adding sauteed eggplant and onion to your crostini, make them pop with a bright slice of roasted red pepper. If you’re using tomato, sprinkle a bit of finely chopped green onion on your dish to add some green. The contrasting colors will make your tasty food beautiful.
Tex-Mex Trifecta Dips
Chips and dip is tried and true, but you shouldn’t just rely on the store-bought stuff. Instead, make three small bowls of homemade pico de gallo, guacamole, and black bean salsa. Then, surround them with a ring of tortilla chips. It’s easy-as-pie, beautiful, and delicious too!
The black bean salsa takes the longest, so start with it. To start, toss a big handful of fresh corn kernels in cumin and olive oil before roasting them in the oven. Next, combine the roasted corn with a can of rinsed black beans, a small diced onion, a handful of diced roast red pepper, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, and salt in a mixing bowl. That’s it! Your black bean dip is ready.
Next, make the pico de gallo, a Mexican dish that’s basically a cross between a salad and a salsa. Start by putting a colander inside a mixing bowl. Then, add three large diced tomatoes, another small diced onion, one to two minced jalapenos, a generous amount of chopped cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Mix it all together, and then let the tomato juice drain from the colander into the mixing bowl for a few minutes.
Save the easiest dish for last. To make the guacamole, add a few spoonfuls of pico de gallo to three mashed avocados (use a fork to help with this). Once you’ve mixed it all up, you can enjoy its contrasting flavors and colors.
Just-Right Roast Potatoes With Special Sauces
If you’ve made roasted potatoes before, they were probably delicious. (They’re potatoes, when aren’t they?). However, you can always level up. This recipe puts your spuds on par with the best restaurant french fries, and then you can go a step further by creating your own low-effort dipping sauces.
The biggest key to amazing roast potatoes is boiling them with salt and baking soda before baking. The salt flavor settles deep into the potato flesh, and the baking soda helps them crisp up in the oven. Drain the potatoes after about 10 minutes. Let them steam, uncovered, on your counter, for a few more minutes. After that, shake them vigorously before tossing them in olive oil (and rosemary, if you like). Finally, pop them in your oven, which should be preheated to its highest temperature.
While your potatoes bake, shake them every ten minutes. Every oven is different, but, within 15 minutes, they should be browned and crispy enough to flip. Remember to keep them moving. If you don’t, they’ll lose some crunchy goodness when you unstick them from the pan.
In between potato checks, you can work on the most exciting part of this appetizer - the sauces! You just add your flavors of choice to two household staples, ketchup and mayonnaise. Start by trying curry powder with your ketchup and minced garlic, cilantro, or basil in your mayonnaise. If you want to do something more complex, add minced garlic, onion, tabasco, cumin, and paprika to some mayonnaise for a southwestern fry sauce.
For optimal presentation, each of the sauces you make should get its own small dipping bowl. Then, when your potatoes are ready, pile them around your sauces on a large platter before serving.
Alex Moore is a professional writer and editor who is currently teaching communicative English at a private university in Chile. Before moving abroad, he worked as a writer and editor at the Association for Talent Development (ATD). In his free time, you can find him cooking, eating, reading, traveling through Latin America, or playing chess with his fiance.