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Another tech related absence. This may go on for a bit but I’m hoping that the results are worth it for both you and me so please be patient, I will post as often as I am able.

Back to the food served for my mother’s 85th, we are now moving on to appetizers. I like to try to serve stuff that doesn’t tip the fat and calorie meter so that 1) there’s still room to enjoy dinner even after pigging out on appetizers and b) My brother, one of the guests that night, is a heart patient, my 85 year old mother is also a heart patient, and it is my goal to never be a heart patient. So get ready, you are going to love these for the simple reason that they are delicious as well as healthy and low on the calorie scale in comparison to the usual fare.

I made 2 dips – one easier than the other.

Ann’s Black Olive Tapenade

Black bits and red bits still visible though photo is so blurry...
Not a paste: Black bits and red bits still visible though photo is so blurry…

This is so easy you almost have to laugh.

  • 1 can black olives – rinsed and drained
  • 1 large roasted red bell pepper*
  • 1 clove of garlic – crushed through a press
  • salt to taste
  • drizzle of really good Extra Virgin olive oil

Drop the first 3 ingredients into a food processor (affectionately called “fo-pro” by Michelle over at “Thursday Night Smackdown” who is desperately trying to get that sobriquet to catch on so I thought I’d give her a boost on that as well as credit for coming up with it in the first place), and give it a few pulses while drizzling in about one tablespoon or less of the oil, until everything is in tiny pieces (see bad blurry photo where this is not visible at all) and holds together a bit. Taste, then add salt to your liking and give it one more zzhzzh in the fo-pro.

You don’t want to blend this all the way into a paste or it will be hideous. You want to still be able to see black (olives) and red (peppers) distinctively, otherwise it turns a really ugly brown that no-one will eat. Don’t ask me how I know this, I’ll burst into tears (I’ve said this more than once. Now you know that coming up with these recipes isn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t have me to write out these instructions and post them for me on a handy-dandy blog). I’ve garnished this plate with the leaves from carrot tops (see photo), use whatever you want or nothing at all.

You do want to press the garlic first because you are not doing a thorough blend and you don’t want to end up with large pieces of raw garlic. You want the flavor of that well blended throughout the dip. If you are averse to garlic for some reason (vampire?) you can leave it out but it is probably best you stop reading my blog now and forever. There is nothing for you here. Trust me.

* I get my roasted red peppers from the olive bar at my local Hannaford’s market. Not everyone has access to that, of course. I’ve never used the kind you get in jars, but you can give it a try, I’m sure it’s fine. Just make sure you drain it first. You don’t want any extra liquid in there.

You can also roast your own red peppers, very simply, but it does cut down on the “quick and easy” aspect of this dip just a bit. Take a large red bell pepper, and put it directly on your stovetop burner, gas or electric. Turn it as the skin blackens. The idea is to totally blacken all the skin without really cooking the pepper. When the skin is all black, put the pepper in a paper bag folding over the top a few times to seal, and let it sit. Once it has cooled, open the bag, pull out the now soggy-ish pepper and rub off all the black bits. Cut open the pepper, remove the stem and all the seeds and any white ribbing inside (this part is really indigestible) and voilá, roasted bell pepper. If you want to make a bunch of these and store them (excellent idea, they go great in everything, salads, pastas, appetizers, veg dishes, etc.) just pack them down in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Done.

My Own Spinach Artichoke Dip

This is another one of those so easy you have to laugh things.

The Green Stuff
The Green Stuff
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained.
  • 1/2 to 1/3 bag baby spinach (do not try to use frozen variety)
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • salt to taste
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • Optional: Top with a few toasted pine nuts and garnish with a few leaves of parsley or whatever you’ve got handy.

Again, toss everything except the oil and salt into the fo-pro and give it several pulses, stopping to scrape down the spinach so it all gets well blended. The object of this dip is a paste so you will be doing more blending with this dip than the olive dip. Drizzle a little oil down the opening as you blend, and use your own judgement as to how much. Just barely enough to help bind all this together into a paste. Taste, add however much salt you want, give it a last few zzhzzhs in the fo-pro. The result will be a bright green paste very light and fresh in flavor. Completely vegetable based, no saturated fat.

NOTE: For some reason that I’m sure Alton Brown could tell you but I can’t because I have no understanding of the chemistry of food, the garlic flavor in this particular dip just intensifies exponentially as time goes by. I recommend making this just before serving or if you have to make it in advance, use half the garlic or it will be overpoweringly strong, and the idea is that this is an artichoke-spinach dip, not a garlic dip.

I like to serve these 2 dips with crackers and or mini-pumpernickel bread as well as some crudite` for dipping. At the party the other night I had both cracker stix and the the mini-pump as well as a couple of handfuls of baby carrots and celery sticks from the heart. The visual effect is stunning and it takes almost no work. The hardest part is washing the fo-pro afterwards.

OK, thirdly, I served a Pinzimonio, which is a fennel salad, contrary to whatever you may read through Google results. Take it from someone who lived in Rome for 20 years. My knowledge does not come from books, a class, or Maryann Esposito, but from neighborhood kitchens in Trastevere, my old neighborhood in Rome where at the time, we were the only Americans for miles.


Pinzimonio in progress
Pinzimonio in progress
  • 1 fennel (finocchio in Italian, and close as I can write it out, pronouced “Fee-Nah-Kee-Oh”).
  • Coarse sea or Kosher salt
  • Fresh coarse-ground black pepper
  • Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Rinse the fennel, cut off the green tops, slice off the bottom (thin slice just to remove connective heart) and cut down the middle vertically from where the green tops were, through the bottom. Rotate and make another similar cut at right angles to the first. Peel apart the layers, and you will end up with sections. Cut these down (see picture) so you have manageable sized wedges, spread them on a platter so that they can be dressed, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper. Serve. I know, that was hard. You should rest now. Have a glass of wine. You earned it.

So that’s three appetizers that take minutes, are all healthy and relatively low cal, serve up nicely, will be universally liked, and no one will miss the nachos, believe me (unless you are serving for a Super Bowl game and then I don’t even want to know how badly you get beaten to a pulp for skipping the buffalo wings and fried stuff).

Cheese board: not much was needed....
Cheese board: not much was needed….

To round out the offerings, I added some stuffed olives (from said olive bar at Hannaford’s) and 2 cheeses, a gorgonzola dolce (creamy in texture, buttery in flavor, almost too good to be true) and a chevre, both budget busters, but how many times does your mother turn 85 (only once, lets hope)? Besides, with the plethora of other stuff, not much cheese was needed, and there was even a tiny bit of each left over along with a few olives (but the rest of everything disappeared).

Appetizer plate
Appetizer plate with my olive tapenade, cracker stix, baby carrots, celery, assorted stuffed olives and Pinzimonio

Not shown on this page: Basket of mini-pumpernickel bread.

Served all this with, what else, my Limoncello Cocktail

FREE BONUS: Both the dips made here make excellent and very tasty next day sandwich spreads in lieu of mayo or other fatty spread. That is of course, assuming you actually have any left.


As with all my recipes, these are not necessarily for beginners. I don’t always give exact proportions, expecting you to be able to adjust to your liking and dietary needs. And as always, I live to hear what you made, how you liked it and what modifications or improvements you made. Feedback is key, people – use the comment box and let ‘er rip!

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