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The Talk of the Party

Easy, appetizing dips to jump-start your holiday soiree.

By Tony Rosenfeld
November 4, 2007

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Few things set the mood for a wonderful evening like a medley of jazzy hors d'oeuvres and the latest "in" cocktail or a glass of your favorite wine. For easy entertaining, swing the focus toward that most American of appetizers, the dip. The act of dipping itself pulls people together (you have to lean in toward the center of a crowd to do the dip), leading to a light, social mood. And the dips themselves can hit so many points on the culinary spectrum, from an upscale take on a creamy onion dip to a jazzy shrimp cocktail to a fiery Tex-Mex black bean dip. As for the etiquette of when and how many times you're allowed to dip, that's up to you and your partymates.

CARAMELIZED ONION AND MASCARPONE DIP
SERVES 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
3 tablespoons dry sherry
8 ounces mascarpone (or cream cheese)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch ground chipotle or cayenne pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh chives

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until the onion wilts and becomes translucent, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the sherry, and continue to cook, stirring often, until the onion turns a medium brown and becomes sweet and completely softened, about 20 minutes. (Add a couple of tablespoons of water if the onion starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.) Let cool to room temperature, then coarsely chop the onion and transfer it to a food processor with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, mascarpone or cream cheese, sour cream, Parmesan, thyme, black pepper, and chipotle or cayenne pepper. Pulse to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, fold in the chives, and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Refrigerate for up to 3 days before serving.

PITA CHIPS
SERVES 8

2 8-inch-wide pita rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground chipotle or cayenne pepper

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice each of the pitas into 8 wedges and then pull each apart at the seam, so you have a total of 32 pieces. In a large bowl, toss the pita with the oil, thyme, salt, and chipotle or cayenne pepper. Set the pieces on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake, turning the chips every few minutes with tongs, until browned and completely crisp, about 12 minutes. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature. The chips will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

WARM BLACK BEAN, CHEDDAR, AND CHIPOTLE DIP
SERVES 8

You can assemble this dip ahead of time; just let it come to room temperature before baking.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon salt, and more to taste
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 15 1/2-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained well
1 cup canned diced tomatoes and their juice
2 canned chipotles in adobo, minced, plus 3 tablespoons adobo sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed (optional)
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced (about 4 whole)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (6 ounces)
Pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Oil a 1 1/2-quart baking dish and line a large baking sheet with foil. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, garlic, and thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in half of the beans, the tomatoes and their juice, chipotles and adobo sauce, the vinegar, and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and process until smooth.

Transfer to a large bowl, stir in the remaining black beans, corn (if using), and half each of the scallions, cilantro, cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheese. Mix well, season with salt and pepper to taste, and transfer to the baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake on the baking sheet until the cheese melts and browns and the filling is heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and scallions and serve with homemade pita chips.

LEMONY SHRIMP COCKTAIL WITH HORSERADISH SAUCE
SERVES 8

You can use precooked shrimp for this dish, but roasting raw shrimp infuses them with a wonderful lemon-garlic flavor.

HORSERADISH SAUCE
3/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup chili sauce
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or more to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco), or to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large container. Add more horseradish and hot sauce, if needed. Cover and refrigerate up to two days before serving.

SHRIMP
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 1-inch-wide strips of lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp (16 to 20 count), peeled and deveined but with tails left on
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil, lemon zest, and garlic and cook until the zest and garlic sizzle steadily, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Set the shrimp on the baking sheet, brush with half of the oil mixture and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for 3 more minutes, until the other side turns pink and the shrimp are firm. Let cool for 10 minutes, transfer to a large bowl, and toss with the remaining oil. Cover and refrigerator until completely cool or for up to 2 days.