Basque Pintxos

This is not so much a recipe, as a tip on what to serve the next time you want starters for a meal, or a meal eaten by hand.

I just returned from a long weekend in Bilbao, Spain; it’s a thriving city on the Bay of Biscay.  The Basque have one food that they are probably most famous for:  Pintxos (pronounced “Pintchos”).  These are a similar concept to the Spanish Tapas, but far more elaborate.  5 or 6 of these will make a meal.  Any good Pintxos bar worth its salt will have a wide variety spread out along the length of the bar (which is not usually for drinking at, but for selecting your food), and they pride themselves in personal specialities, so you have to bar hop to get the full experience; I’m sure they’ve got a local term for it – bar hopping, pub crawling, or as my husband and I dubbed it, “Pintxopping”.

They usually come served atop a slice of toasted Baguette bread, and some of the combinations we had were:  Diced crab with tomato sauce; an unusually non-distinct mushroom patè fried in a hushpuppy-like batter; crab and vegetables sautèd in tomato sauce and served in an open clam shell, overbaked with cheese; baked squid atop a fish pate; a skewer of breaded and fried vegetables; a variety of fish and seafood in spring roll wraps; breaded chicken on a skewer with rounds of goat cheese; one bar’s signature Pintxo was a mound of crab meat overbaked with a quid-ink-tinted cheese, in the shape of the local mountain.  The possibilities are endless!  Below is an example found on Pinterest; if you want more ideas and recipes, you’ll find them there.  En Guete!



Salted Dates Stuffed with Feta Cheese

Dates with FetaThe combination of coarse sea salt and the sweet dates with the tangy taste of Feta is truly addictive!  These wee appetizers are quick, easy, and will likely make you groan with the great taste as it explodes on your taste buds.

Serve them warm; you can either heat up the oven to 190°C (375°F) and bake for 5 or 6 minutes, or zap them in the microwave; I prefer the latter as it is far more energy-efficient, quick, and literally last-minute before guests sit down at the table, or couch, or wherever you’re serving your appetizers / starters / hors d’oeuvres.

I served this appetizer along with a recipe for Apple & Date Chicken Curry (coming soon!), and smoked Basmati rice, with Apple Tiramisu for dessert.

Plan for 6-8 per person, more or less.

Salted Dates Stuffed with Feta Cheese

Dates – de-stemmed and pitted

100-200 gr. Feta Cheese, sliced into date-slit-sized wedges

Coarse sea salt

TIP:  Dates are much easier to handle if your hands are wet – they won’t stick as much.

To prepare the dates, slice a knife along the length; pry the opening open with your fingers, and slip the seed out of the centre, being careful to leave the ends of the dates intact if possible.

Stuff each date with a wedge of Feta (or any goat cheese), and then sprinkle all of them with coarse sea salt (table salt is not recommended, as you don’t want them uniformly salty – just accented with it).

Just before serving, either bake (as above) or zap in the microwave less than a minute (mine took about 30-40 seconds); you just want the dates warm and the cheese soft, not melted out of the fruit!

Easy Bacon & Cheddar-Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

This recipe was originally from Betty Crocker; I’ve adapted it for actual ingredients (none of this plastic, toxic cheese whiz, thank you!) and tweaked it to the present recipe.  The next time you have guests to impress but don’t have a huge time budget, whip these babies up!  En Guete! (Swiss German for “Have a good one”, or… Enjoy!)

Easy Bacon & Cheddar-Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes


Image: Betty Crocker

12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half crosswise & de-seeded
1/2 Cup grated Cheddar cheese
1/2 Cup soft cream cheese (e.g. Mascarpone, Ricotta)
bacon, cooked and crumbled – either mix into the cheese or sprinkle it atop each tomato half
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Take a small spoon and scoop out the tomato halves to remove juice and seeds.
Blend the grated Cheddar and the soft cream cheese together until it’s fluffy; adjust amounts to get a good consistency for piping (if your cheeses are cold they will pipe at a different consistency than if they are room temperature).
Pipe* cheese spread on top of each tomato half. Sprinkle each with chives. Arrange on serving platter.

*To pipe the cheese, use either a piping tool that you have, or the following if you don’t have anything fancy:  Fill the cheese into a zip-lock or sandwich plastic bag, and squeeze it down into one corner; nip the corner off just a small bit with scissors; fill it into the cherry tomato halves; if you want it a bit more decorative, run the tines of a fork in a pattern across the cheese.

Appetizers: Tips and Types

Over the years I’ve collected tips, tricks and lists of foods for quick ideas.  Here is a sampling of types, tips and tricks for appetizers.  Enjoy, and have fun exploring!


ANTIPASTO, ANTIPASTI, OR ANTIPASTA?  The Italian word is “antipasto” & literally means “before the food” (“pasto” comes from the Latin “pastus,” the past participle of the verb “pascere,” to feed). “Antipasti” is the plural of antipasto, & “antipasta” is just plain wrong.

Beggar's Purse

Beggar’s Purse

BEGGAR’S PURSE:  A beggar’s purse is an appetizer composed of a crepe topped with a savoury filling & tied with thin strips of chives. The visual effect resembles a little purse.

DIM SUM:   Dim Sum means little heart or touch your heart. This Cantonese cuisine, which dates back to the 10th century AD, usually consists of small dishes, served in tiers of bamboo steamers or small to medium-sized plates, & varieties include savoury pastries, dumplings, filled buns, noodles, sweet pastries, vegetables, meats, crisp croquettes, sticky cakes, & fried rice. Families, friends, & co-workers alike all gather for this very social meal.

HORS D’OEUVRE:  Simply an appetizer before a meal, hors d’oeuvre (pronounced “or duhrv”) is French in origin.  Comprised of “hors” which means outside, “de” meaning of, & “oeuvre” meaning (the main) work, it means a dish outside of the main course.  Customarily served with cocktails, they are usually one –  or two – bite size & can be cold or hot.  The purpose of the hors d’oeuvre is to whet the appetite; if there is a long waiting period between when the guests arrive & when the meal is served, for example, during a cocktail hour. Antipasto is the Italian word for hors d’oeuvre, literally meaning “before the meal.”  In Italian cuisine, this typically consists of cold foods such as cheeses & raw or marinated vegetables, as well as meats, especially cured meats such as prosciutto & sometimes salads.

RUMAKI HORS D’OEUVRE:  Combine a piece of chicken liver that’s been marinated in soy sauce, garlic, & ginger, with a water chestnut slice & a strip of bacon; skewer it together with a toothpick, & grill or broil it till the chicken liver is cooked & the bacon is crisp.

SAMOSA:  Have you ever eaten samosa?  Do you know what they are? Samosa (pronounce it sah–MOH–sah) are deep–fried East Indian snacks (I‘ve also seen them as appetizers on the menu of one or two restaurants).  A triangular piece of pastry is wrapped around a filling of meat and/or veggies, & frequently these delicious goodies are served with a dipping sauce.

TAPAS:  A “tapa” is a small meal or snack eaten between main meals. Its origin is credited two ways beginning in Spain. Spanish king Alfonso the 10th, the Wise, was ill & had to take small bites of food with some wine between meals. He then ordered all inns to serve food with wine. The small meals were welcomed by farmers & union workers, which allowed them to continue working until it was time for the main meal. The other story claims that tapas began in Andalusia, the home of sherry. Customers & travellers were given pieces of bread to cover the glasses. “Tapa” means lid or cover. This led to innkeepers adding ham, sausage, seafood, or cheese to the bread. Tapas have evolved into an array of dishes, which are eaten at all times of the day & night.


SAVORY BISCUITS:  One thing you could do way in advance are tiny savoury biscuits (especially nice with a little cheddar, poppy or sesame seed or a fresh herb worked into the dough). Cut them into shapes with canapé cutters (or small cookie cutters), bake & freeze. When you’re ready to serve, thaw, warm just a bit & split & serve with … slivers of ham & Dijon, a really nice cheddar with chutney, brie, smoked turkey & havarti, a hint of onion & smoked salmon…whatever you like.

BACON/PINEAPPLE BITS:  Wrap pineapple chunks with bacon, Broil. Serve with Chinese Mustard.

CHERRY TOMATOES WITH PATE:  Hollow out cherry tomatoes & fill with your favourite pate.

CHICKEN OR SEAFOOD SALAD:  A good hors d’oeuvres is to take wonton wrappers ( or egg roll wrappers cut in ¼’s). Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray, push one wrapper down into well leaving corners hang over top, spray again & then bake at 350°F (180°C) until crisp & lightly brown (I think about 15 minutes – watch the first batch to see how long it takes as I can’t remember). Remove from pans and cook on wire racks. After cooling these can be stored in covered containers until ready to fill. Fill with chicken or seafood salad. They hold about 1 Tbs.  As these can be made ahead & quickly filled they are good to serve. Also are filling.

TART SHELLS:  Go buy those little tart shells in the freezer section & buy a brie cheese & a jar of Major Gray Chutney. Put a small amount of chutney in the bottom of a shell & then a small chunk of brie & bake them off. Makes great finger food & very tasty. Cut the rind off the brie.

HEARTS OF PALM WITH SMOKED SALMON:  Roll a slice of lox around one piece of canned hearts of palm – slice into ¾ inch slices. When I ran out of smoke salmon I used prosciutto. The salmon wrapped pieces went quickly.

QUICK & EASY KIELBASA:  Cut kielbasa into bite size pieces. Spread in oven-proof baking dish. Cover with whole cranberry sauce, sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake till hot & sort of crispy on top, 350°F (180°C) for 20-30 minutes.

TORTILLA WRAP:  I take softened cream cheese & add things like diced ham and crushed pineapple, or diced ham, finely chopped green onions, garlic powder & dill, or dried beef, red onion, & garlic powder. Whatever you add, you mix well with the cream cheese. Then I spread the mixture on large tortilla shells & roll up. Then I put them in a long pan or on a platter & wrap up and put in the refrigerator overnight so they will firm up some. The next day I take & cut them into about 1″ slices & they have a pinwheel effect. They aren’t difficult & are pretty popular. What you add to the softened cream cheese is really up to your imagination, & budget.

SMOKED SAUSAGES:  Heat up some Lit’l Smokies & serve with a dip made by blending & heating equal parts red currant jelly & yellow mustard. These will disappear so fast you won’t know what hit you.

CRACKERS:  Almost anything served on a cracker, dips, spreads, etc., taste just as good on a slice of cucumber, assuming you like cucumbers.

HEART OF PALM:  An elegant appetizer is hearts of palm, cut into 1-inch slices, with strips of nova salmon or lox wrapped around, & speared with a toothpick. A little chopped fresh parsley, dill or chives sprinkled on top is attractive. Serve with a side dish of mayonnaise mixed with capers & drops of lemon juice to taste.

HAM ROLLS:  Mix softened cream cheese with horseradish & Worcestershire to taste. Spread on boiled or deli style sliced ham, roll up, chill & slice into bite size pieces. I do the same with a dill pickle. I also spread salami with a good mustard, add a piece of cheese & repeat as above. My husband likes a piece of lettuce rolled up in these too. Since they go pretty quick, the lettuce doesn’t get limp. I have used various luncheon meats with various fillings & they have all been hits. You can use your own ideas to roll up. I never have anything left.

POTATO CHIP CRISPER:  Before serving potato chips alongside the rest of the dinner, warm them up in the oven at 200 degrees for five minutes in the bowl you will serve them in. This brings out their flavour and makes them crisp again.

CREAM CHEESE TOPPINGS:  Cream cheese – has long been a versatile food to build a quick appetizer around.  Top cream cheese with any of the following for a quick & easy appetizer:

  • green pepper jelly
  • drained small shrimp & cocktail sauce
  • chopped pickle or pickle relish
  • a dash of Worcestershire sauce & chives
  • chopped chutney & a dash of curry powder

Each of these combinations can be served with crackers, thin–sliced toast or chips.

QUICK WEDGES:  Make sure to have unusual chutneys or jellies on hand to pour over a square of cream cheese or a wedge of Cheddar then serve with crackers.

RELISH TRAY TIP:  Marinate celery , carrot  & cucumber sticks & onion slices in Italian dressing for a relish tray.