Phil's International Flair

Welcome to the December issue of Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair! This month's theme is appetizers. Appetizers can be very diverse and tasty as well as decorative. Appetizers can usually be prepared ahead of time and arranged on various platters to create a festive appearance for the holidays.

I have included some recipes for my favorite appetizers and some ideas on how to make your appetizers appeal to the eye as well as the palate. Besides these recipes, be sure to access the Seasoned Cooking archives for additional appetizer recipes from previous columns and other articles. Some additional suggestions would include sushi rolls, devilled eggs, or a traditional vegetable platter with ranch dressing. Whatever you choose to serve during the holiday season, make the appetizers with love in your heart and enjoy!

The recipes presented this month are but a small yet diverse collection of the recipes in my yet to be published book, Phil's Family and Friends Cookbook. Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests. Be well, and good eating!

Now, on to the recipes!

Appetizers for the Holidays!

Holiday Pine Cone

This recipe comes from my sister Corinne who picked it up from some unknown source. The makings from this recipe can be used to make a delightful decorative piece for the winter holiday table. The dip itself is to be molded into the shape of a pine cone and decorated with almonds to emulate the pine cone seeds.
  • One 8 ounce package of cream cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 5 slices crispy fried bacon
  • 1 T. chopped green onion or chives
  • ½ tsp. dill weed
  • Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Chill overnight. Once the dip has chilled, merely form it into a pine cone shape and press the roasted almonds into the shape at angles forming concentric rows. Garnish the "pine cone" with sprigs of real pine leaves and a red ribbon bow for an extraordinary holiday display, and an extraordinary holiday treat. Serve with an assortment of your favorite crackers.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Hawaiian Chicken Wings

Chicken wings always go over big as an appetizer. This particular recipe adds a bit of a Hawaiian flair to the wings by garnishing with pineapple. You can put toothpicks into the pineapple chunks to make it easier for guests to indulge.
  • 36 chicken wings, cut into segments -- discard the wing tips
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup pineapple chunks in juice -- use the liquid in the marinade
  • 2 T. minced onions
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup beer

Combine soy sauce, pineapple juice, ginger, onions, sugar and beer to make a marinade. Add the chicken wing segments to the marinade and marinate 4 hours under refrigeration. After marinating, brown the wings in a skillet with about ¼ cup peanut oil, turning frequently. Once browned, add the marinade to the skillet and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Place the wings on a serving platter and add the pineapple chunks as a garnish before serving. The remaining marinade can be placed in small bowls for dipping if desired.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 4½ hours

Stuffed Tomatoes

Red and green are the colors for Christmas, so it is only fitting that these colors be used in presenting appetizers. This recipe for stuffed tomatoes fits the bill perfectly.
  • 1 brick (8 oz.) cream cheese
  • ½ cup finely chopped black olives
  • ½ cup finely chopped pimentos
  • ½ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 2 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved, with the seeds scooped out

Mix the cream cheese, olives, pimentos and half of the parsley together in a mixing bowl. Reserve half of the parsley for garnish. Stuff each of the tomato halves with the cream cheese mixture and top with a sprinkling of the reserved parsley. Arrange on a platter and decorate with additional parsley sprigs.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Wrapped Pickles

This recipe was contributed by my daughter, Bridgett.
  • 3 large dill pickles
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • ½ lb. thinly sliced roast beef

Pat the pickles dry with paper towels. Spread cream cheese about ¼ inch thick over pickles. Wrap the creamed pickles with slices of the roast beef. Chill about 45 minutes and then slice 1/3 inch thick. Serve on a platter with decorations of your choice.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Pimento Cheese on Crackers

This recipe is good for a quick but not so ordinary appetizer.
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup pimentos
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 5 T. mayonnaise
  • Wheat crackers

Mix the cheese, pimentos, walnuts and mayonnaise in a bowl. Serve with your favorite wheat crackers or spread the mixture on the crackers before serving.

  • Yields: 15 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Salt and Sour Chicken

This recipe was handed down from a work associate. I tried it and found it to be very good as an appetizer or side dish.
  • 3 lb. chicken wings
  • Sherry (enough to cover chicken)
  • 2 tsp. grated ginger root
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1/8 cup cider or rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup soy sauce

Cut the chicken wings into segments, discarding the tips, and put them into a bowl for marinating. For the marinade, pour sherry over the chicken, add salt, green onions, and ginger. Marinate for at least ½ hour under refrigeration.

After the wingettes are marinated, heat a skillet, add the oil and fry the chicken wings until golden brown. When the chicken is done, add the vinegar and soy sauce. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve or they can be refrigerated for a day or so to serve later.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Oysters on the Half Shell

For those who like seafood and shellfish, this is an excellent choice for that fancy dinner accompaniment. Fresh oysters can be procured at most fish markets. It is important to select those oysters whose shells are tightly closed. The smaller oysters will be more tender. When the shells are open or easy to open, then they are already dead and will not make the best table fare. Clams may also be prepared on the half shell per these instructions.
  • 1 dozen fresh oysters (allow 3 to 4 per person)
  • White wine
  • ½ cube butter
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, fresh grated

Open the oysters with a short, stiff knife. This may not be easy if they are really fresh, so follow these directions for best results.

Hold the oyster shell against a cutting board vertically, with the part of the shell which is joined, in your hand. Put the edge of the knife at the opposite end of the shell with the tip of the knife pointed downward toward the board. If the knife slips, you don't want the blade moving toward your hand! Penetrate the portion of the shell which separates the two halves. Wiggle the knife tip if necessary while maintaining a downward force. Once the tip of the knife begins to enter the shell, twist the blade to pry the two halves apart. Once the halves are separated enough, let your fingers do the rest of the work. Don't worry if the shell cracks.

With the shell halves separated, scrape the oyster meat out of the shell with the knife and rinse both the shells and the meat. Select the unbroken shells for serving. Prepare the garlic butter by putting the chopped garlic and butter into a small skillet and heating over medium heat. Turn off the heat when the butter has all melted.

Place each of the oysters in a half shell and baste with a little melted garlic butter. Put one-half to one teaspoon of white wine in each shell and sprinkle with a little of the parmesan cheese. Just before serving, put the oysters in the broiler for three or four minutes and serve immediately. Do not overcook or the result will be tough and chewy.

Oysters can also be served raw, if that is to your liking. Merely prepare the oysters as above, but instead of the garlic butter and cheese, just squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on each oyster. An option is to serve lemon wedges on the side or to provide Tabasco sauce with the oysters and lemon.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Prawn Cocktail

This is a wonderful dish to serve with any meal, or as an appetizer for a holiday meal. The addition of parsley as a garnish will compliment the red color of the prawns for that festive appearance.
  • 2 lbs. large prawns, steamed and chilled (allow ¼ lb. per person)
  • 1 cup catsup
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (horseradish may be substituted)
  • Juice from 1 fresh lemon
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crushed ice

The prawns may be steamed ahead of time and chilled in the refrigerator. After the prawns are steamed, allow them to cool and remove the shells, leaving the tail in place. Prepare the cocktail sauce in a small serving bowl by mixing the catsup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, celery seed, salt and pepper.

Just prior to serving, fill a larger serving bowl with crushed ice and place the bowl of cocktail sauce in the center to chill. Arrange sprigs of parsley around the center bowl on top of the ice to enhance the green and red color scheme. Arrange the steamed prawns around the edge of the larger bowl with the tails hanging over the edge of the bowl.

This dish is sure to be a hit with seafood lovers!

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 35 minutes