Calgary's crab apple trees and lilacs are finally starting to bloom, coaxing everyone out into their backyards.
On sunny days, restaurant patios are packed, but if you have your own at home, it’s a perfect spot to gather, and the place spur of the moment get togethers are often the most likely to happen.
Here are five easy snacks to pull together that require very little cooking time — and minimal dishes afterwards.
Goat cheese with herbed olive oil
Marinated goat cheese in garlicky herbed olive oil quickly became my go-to party snack; it’s perfect any time of year, but particularly great when I have fresh herbs at the ready on my windowsill. It’s wonderful with soft, spreadable goat cheese - but would be fab over a chunk of feta too, roasted in the oven or in a small cast iron skillet on the grill. Adapted from Gourmet:
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or thinly sliced
- 8-10 whole black or pink peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
- Leaves of 2-3 sprigs of thyme
- ¼ tsp. coriander seeds, lightly crushed (optional)
- 1 250g log soft goat cheese
- Crackers or crusty baguette
Combine the oil, garlic, pepper and herbs in a small jar; keep in the fridge until you’re ready for it, then remove the lid, microwave the jar for 20 to 30 seconds, until the oil is hot, then pour over the goat cheese.
Serve immediately with crusty bread or crackers. Serves eight.
Warm dates with rosemary and sea salt
You can’t get much easier than this. To make warmed dates, heat a generous drizzle of good olive oil in a medium skillet, add as many Medjool dates (the big, juicy ones with the pits you find in the produce section) as you like along with a sprig or two of fresh rosemary.
Heat them through, shaking the pan until they darken in spots and get soft. Transfer to a plate, pour over the warm olive oil overtop and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
These sweet, slightly savoury dates are delicious on their own and even better with wine and a few chunks of cheese.
Grilled mussels with garlic and lemon
You can’t get much faster or easier than this — whole, fresh mussels can be scattered over the hot grill to cook in their shells, then tossed with butter, garlic, lemon and olive oil. The whole thing takes about five minutes.
A shallow bowl full of mussels makes a perfect appetizer, or even a meal, with crusty bread and a quick salad. If you like, grill the lemon halves alongside, the heat will help them release their juices.
- 1 lb. fresh mussels
- 1 lemon, halved
- A small knob of butter
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- A good pour of olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh parsley, for garnish
While you preheat your grill to medium-high, rinse your mussels, discarding any that are already open.
Scatter the mussels directly on the grill along with the lemons, placed cut-side down. Close the lid of the grill and cook for five minutes.
Meanwhile, put the butter, garlic and a good pour of olive oil in a wide bowl.
Remove the mussels from the grill — they should all be open, discard any that aren’t. Transfer to the bowl and gently toss to coat with garlicky butter and oil, squeezing the lemon halves over top.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, scatter with parsley and serve with crusty bread. Serves four.
Warm spiced olives
At Without Papers Pizza in Inglewood, you can order warm olives as an appetizer, and they’re simple to make at home.
Heat makes (almost) everything taste better. Pick up some good olives and warm them in the oven, a skillet or even in a pan on the grill (indirect heat or the top rack, so they don’t scorch) with a drizzle of good olive oil, some lemon or orange zest, a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or thyme, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with queso fresco
Local asparagus is officially in season and they’re picking out at Edgar Farms in Innisfail. Make the most of the best crop of the year by cutting a small piece of queso fresco or other melty cheese, lying it against a stalk of asparagus and wrapping a thin slice of prosciutto around both, like a splint.
Quickly grill, roast in the oven or cook in a drizzle of oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat, just until the prosciutto shrink-wraps the asparagus and the cheese begins to ooze out.
If you like, drizzle with a bit of reduced balsamic vinegar to fancy them up a bit.