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Fabulous first courses.

THE FIRST COURSE IS A LOT LIKE A PRETTY RIBBON. IT SETS UP anticipation for good things to come. The aim of such an offering is to bring not only satisfaction, but attention, too. Not unexpectedly, therefore, much consideration is often devoted to appearance as well as taste in creating artful tidbits such as these: caviars as fine as your purse permits triangulated on crisp pastry, artichokes cut to show off with shrimp, pink smoked salmon draped beside a golden citrus sauce, wild mushrooms daringly perched on crunchy polenta boards. Sound complex? It's more show than effort.

Art Deco Caviar

In a hurry? Skip the pastry and use 8 toasted white bread triangles as the base for these appetizers; the results aren't quite as fancy, but you'll feel more relaxed.

1/2 pound (1/2 of a 1 lb. package) puff pastry, thawed if frozen About 3 ounces (1/3 cup) salmon or other red caviar About 2 ounces (1/4 cup) sevruga or other dark caviar 3 ounces (about 1/2 cup) neufchatel cheese 2 tablespoons light sour cream or unflavored nonfat yogurt 1 tablespoon instant toasted onion 30 to 40 chive spears (about 12 in. long), rinsed and drained Lemon wedges

On a lightly floured board, roll puff pastry until it is slightly larger than 4 by 16 inches. Trim edges, cutting straight down with a sharp, floured knife, to make a 4- by 16-inch rectangle. Cutting the same way, divide rectangle into 4 squares (4 in. each). Cut each square in half diagonally to make 8 triangles.

Carefully (to avoid crumpling edges) place pastry pieces well apart on a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet. Pierce each all over with the tines of a fork. Bake in a 375|degrees~ oven until a rich golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer the racks to cool. As soon as the pastries are cool, use them or pack them airtight and let stand at room temperature up to a day.

If caviars taste quite salty (or are dyed), place them individually in a fine strainer and rinse gently with cool water. Pat bottom of strainer with a towel to remove excess moisture; cover and chill caviar while assembling appetizers.

In a small bowl, smoothly mix together cheese and sour cream. Stir in onion. Spread mixture evenly on tops of pastry triangles.

Cut 16 chive pieces, each 1 1/2 inches long. Finely chop remaining chives. On each cheese-topped triangle, position 2 chive pieces to divide surface into 3 equal areas; press down lightly to hold in place.

Using a small spoon and a slender skewer or toothpick to guide, fill 1 area on each pastry with chopped chives; fill another with red caviar, and the last with dark caviar. Serve at once, adding lemon to taste. Serves 4 or 8.

Per piece: 196 cal. (60 percent from fat); 7.2 g protein; 13 g fat (1.4 g sat.); 12 g carbo.; 461 mg sodium; 111 mg chol.

Artichokes with Thai Shrimp Salsa

1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar (or 1/2 cup rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon sugar) 1 tablespoon mustard seed 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 4 thin slices (each about the size of a quarter) fresh ginger 3 large (4 to 4 1/2 in. wide, about 3/4 lb. each) artichokes 3/4 pound shelled cooked tiny shrimp 1/3 cup minced pickled scallions 1/4 minced fresh cilantro (coriander) 1/4 cup minced fresh or 2 tablespoons crumbled dried mint leaves 2 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla) or soy sauce 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot chili oil Fresh cilantro and mint sprigs, rinsed and drained

In a 6- to 8-quart pan, combine 1/4 cup vinegar, mustard seed, pepper-corns, and ginger with 4 quarts of water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, remove coarse outer leaves from artichokes and trim stems flush with bases. With a sharp knife, cut off top third of each artichoke. With scissors, trim thorny tips off remaining leaves.

Immerse artichokes in cold water and swish back and forth vigorously to release debris; shake out water.

Place artichokes in boiling liquid. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until bottoms are tender when pierced, about 35 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid. Let artichokes stand until cool enough to touch (if making ahead, wrap airtight and chill up to a day).

Pour cooking water through a fine strainer and reserve seed.

In the stainer, rinse shrimp with cool water; drain and mix with reserved seed, remaining vinegar, pickled scallions, minced cilantro, minced mint, fish sauce, and chili oil to taste. If making ahead, chill airtight up to a day.

With a large, sharp knife, cut each artichoke in half vertically. Remove sharp pointed inner leaves and scoop out fuzzy centers. Set each half on a salad plate. Spoon shrimp mixture equally into artichoke cavities. Garnish with cilantro and mint sprigs. Serves 6.

Per serving: 114 cal. (11 percent from fat); 15 g protein; 1.4 g fat (0.2 g sat.); 11 g carbo.; 657 mg sodium; 111 mg chol.

Smoked Salmon with Citrus Melange

1 teaspoon each grated orange and grated lemon peel 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/4 cups orange juice 1/4 cup lemon juice 2 teaspoons cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon water 3/4 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon 4 to 5 cups (about 3 1/4 oz.) mixed salad greens or mesclun, rinsed and crisped 3 tablespoons finely chopped roasted, salted pistachios

In a bowl, combine orange and lemon peels with 1 tablespoon sugar; press with a spoon to mingle flavors.

In a 1- to 1 1/2-quart pan, combine remaining sugar and the juices. Boil, uncovered, on high heat until reduced to 1 cup. Mix in peel with sugar and cornstarch mixture; stir until liquid boils again. Let cool; if making ahead, cover and chill up to 4 hours.

Fan salmon slices equally along 1 side of 8 salad plates, rippling them slightly. Tuck equal portions of salad greens beside fish, leaving about 1/4 of plate empty; spoon cool sauce into empty area, and a little over greens. Sprinkle with nuts. Serves 8.

Per serving: 104 cal. (30 percent from fat); 8.7 protein; 3.5 g fat (0.6 g sat.); 9.7 g carbo.; 362 mg sodium; 9.8 mg chol.

Wild Mushroom Polenta Boards with Roasted Garlic

1 medium-size head garlic 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or salad oil 1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms 1/2 pound fresh chanterelles 1/2 pound fresh oyster mushrooms 1 tablespoon minced fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons crumbled dried rosemary leaves 1 tablespoon minced fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage 2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 3/4 cup regular-strength chicken broth Polenta boards (recipe follows) 2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese Fresh rosemary and sage sprigs (optional)

Cut garlic head in half crosswise. Pour 1 tablespoon oil into an 8- or 9-inch-wide pan. Place garlic, cut sides down, in pan. Bake in a 350|degrees~ oven until cut sides are golden brown, about 45 minutes. When cool enough to touch, squeeze cloves from skins; discard skins. Mash garlic.

Meanwhile, quickly immerse mushrooms in water to rinse. Lift from water; drain. Trim the shiitake stems and the discolored stem ends of chanterelles and oyster mushrooms. Thinly slice the shiitakes and chanterelles.

In a 5- to 6-quart pan, combine remaining oil, mushrooms, and minced rosemary and sage. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until mushrooms are juicy, about 8 minutes. Uncover; stir often until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are browned, 15 to 20 minutes. (If making ahead, cool, cover, and chill up to a day; reheat to continue.) Add garlic and cornstarch mixture; stir until boiling.

Lay polenta boards side by side on a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet; spoon hot mushroom sauce equally onto centers. Sprinkle mushrooms with cheese. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until sizzling, about 2 minutes. With a spatula, transfer to 6 plates; garnish with herb sprigs. Serves 6.

Per serving: 212 cal. (30 percent from fat); 7.7 g protein; 7 g fat (2.2 g sat.); 32 g carbo.; 188 mg sodium; 7 mg chol.

Polenta boards. In a food processor or a bowl, mix 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup polenta or yellow corn-meal, 1/4 cup instant nonfat dried milk, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. Add 1 tablespoon butter or margarine; whirl or rub with fingers until coarse crumbs form. Add 1/3 cup water; whirl or stir with a fork until dough begins to form a ball. Pat into a ball and knead briefly on a lightly floured board until dough sticks together smoothly.

Divide into 6 equal portions; cover with plastic wrap. On a well-floured board, roll 1 piece at a time into a randomly shaped 6- to 7-inch round. Put on a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Repeat to shape remaining pieces, spacing slightly apart on sheet (you'll need to use 2 pans, or bake in sequence).

Bake in a 350|degrees~ oven until crusts are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. If making ahead, wrap cool crusts airtight and hold up to a day.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Holiday Entertaining; recipes
Author:Weber, Christine B.
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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