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Food & Drink

Five idiot-proof Thanksgiving starters

For gatherings where you can't get away with just bringing a bottle of wine

Photo: Photo by Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Sweet Potato Soup Shots: a savory take on the omnipresent Thanksgiving root vegetable

Photo: , License: N/A

Welsh rarebit-inspired muffins

Along the Gulf Coast, this down-home recipe is as old as dirt. There are enough Texas vs. Louisiana – or Tabasco vs. Crystal – permutations, though, that you shouldn't hesitate to put your own mark on it.

3 16-oz cans black-eyed peas, drained and well-rinsed (get all that canned-bean juice off!)
3 firm, ripe plum tomatoes, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
5 radishes, finely diced
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (green and light-green parts)
3 serrano chiles, minced
1 bunch cilantro or parsley, minced
1 small jar chopped pimentos, with the juice
1 or 2 cups balsamic vinaigrette (I think it's better with 1)
3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon Cholula hot sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all the vegetables (beans through pimentos) together in a large bowl. Stir together the rest of the ingredients (vinaigrette through pepper), then dump it over the vegetables and toss it all to combine. Refrigerate for at least four hours, preferably overnight, in a sealed or covered container. The longer it sits, the better it gets. Traditionally served with Saltine crackers; Fritos Scoops also work well, or blue-corn chips if you're fancy.

Pear, Thyme and Goat Cheese Toasts

Cocktail pumpernickel, the diminutive version of the dense dark-brown bread, is usually found near the specialty cheese case at the supermarket; it's a friendly alternative to super-crisp crostini, which inevitably shatter mid-bite. If you're pressed for time, skip the cooked fruit and go fresh: Wash but don't peel the pears, slice thinly, toss with a little lemon juice and honey, and press onto the goat cheese mixture.

cocktail pumpernickel (two dozen slices)
1 tablespoon butter
2 peeled and diced Bosc pears
3 tablespoons golden raisins
4 teaspoons honey, divided
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
4 ounces soft goat cheese
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon walnut oil (or a neutral vegetable oil)
2 teaspoons minced thyme
pinch cracked black pepper

Put oven at lowest setting ("warm" or 200 degrees). Lay pumpernickel slices in a single layer on a sheet pan, then transfer to oven. You don't want the bread to toast, just warm up.

Place butter, pears, raisins and two teaspoons of honey into a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add vinegar and continue to cook until pears soften and begin to fall apart, about five minutes more. Set the compote aside to cool.

In the meantime, combine goat cheese, cream, walnut oil, thyme, two teaspoons of honey and pepper in a small bowl and mash vigorously with a fork into a thick creamy paste. If the mixture seems dry or crumbly, add a teaspoon of cream.

On each slice of pumpernickel, place a smear of goat cheese mixture and top with a dollop of pear compote.

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