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Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Canapés

When I bought my copy of JOY after graduating high school, let's just say my cooking priorities were a lot simpler. I was living in a singlewide trailer on top of a hill and working on a goat farm. After a quick breakfast, I would work long days and come home after dark, looking for nothing so much as a simple dinner, a shower, and my twin-sized mattress on the floor.

In many ways, it was a hard lifestyle, but I reveled in it, and I was perfectly content to reference the Grains Cooking Chart in JOY, cook up a batch of brown rice, and top it with whatever vegetables I had been able to trade for at the Saturday farmer's market. Oh, and goat cheese provided the vast majority of my protein, of course.

As a result of my somewhat austere lifestyle (I didn't think of it that way at the time, and still don't, but I suppose by definition it was), I viewed many of JOY's recipes with curiosity and suspicion. Aspic? King Ranch Chicken Casserole? Canapés? Who eats these things, anyway?

Let's just say that cooking has changed for me since I started working for JOY. We tested the King Ranch Chicken Casserole, and it was pretty good, by golly. Aspic...well, I'm still on the fence about that one. But canapés? I've pretty much decided that any self-respecting thrower of parties cannot live without them.

The concept is very straightforward and endlessly variable: start with a base--usually little rounds or squares of toast. Top with some sort of meat (pork tenderloin, smoked salmon, or marinated herring) or spread. Add garnish (chopped herbs or onion, crème fraîche, cheese, etc.). Serve. It's as easy as making a sandwich, but in miniature and open-faced.

I'm pretty sure canapés are meant to mute the effects of liquor, but you don't have to drink to enjoy them (although they are mysteriously tastier after a couple cocktails...). They're convenient little snacky foods that you can munch on while mingling at a party, no utensils and little coordination required.

We tested the following recipe some time back, and while we loved the flavor, we felt it was too salty and strong. Our quick fix was to add some boiled, mashed potato to the spread to tone down the flavors without masking them and to bulk it up a little, making it more appropriate for a crowd. This turned out to be just the thing! The potato is innocuous enough, but it provides the perfect balance of salt and substance to make a memorable canapé.

Other articles you might enjoy: The Perfect Cheese Plate, Little Eggplant Appetizers With Spiced Yogurt Sauce, Pimiento Cheese

Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Canapés
Makes about 1 1/4 cups spread, for about 20 canapés

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Rub off the loose outer layers of skin from:
     4 large heads garlic
Place each head of garlic on a piece of tin foil and drizzle them with:
     2 teaspoons olive oil (8 teaspoons total)
Wrap the garlic in the foil, place on a baking sheet or in a baking dish, and roast until soft, about 30 to 45 minutes. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, peel and boil or steam until very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes:
     2 small potatoes (about 8 ounces total--any variety of potato will do)
Place the cooked potatoes in the bowl of a food processor or a medium mixing bowl. Squeeze the garlic pulp from the skins into the bowl. Add:
     1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (2 ounces)
     3 tablespoons olive oil
     2 tablespoons chopped thyme and/or basil
     Salt and black pepper to taste

Process to blend. Stir in:
     1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped
Spoon 1 tablespoon of the spread onto:
     20 rounds or fingers of toasted hearty bread
Top with:
     Sliced grape tomatoes
     Minced herbs, such as basil or thyme

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If you really want to make things easy on yourself, you can buy prepared pesto and pizza dough at most supermarkets.

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