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I have a strong affection for all things simple when I entertain. After all, the focus of most gatherings is the company--good food is incidental.

However, as we all know, the tastiness of the food served can alter the course of an evening and the conviviality of the assembly. Too fussy and needless formality may ensue. Too hastily thrown together and your guests may feel unappreciated. No worries, though. Beautiful, delicious food is easy. No lie.

One of the little not-so-secrets of entertaining is to serve appetizers with cocktails. It feels decadent and very grown-up. There aren't many things I would like to bring back from the 1950s, but the cocktail hour is an exception.

But let's gloss over the rumaki (unless that's your thing) and frilly little stuffed vegetables (ditto) in favor of something spreadable and rustic. Dig your food processor out from underneath the plastic storage containers (does anyone have these properly organized, I ask you?), or just get out your sharpest knife and embrace tapenade.

I first tasted tapenade in France, where I bought some at a market stand that sold olives. The tapenade was in a wooden barrel, and a scoop of it, combined with a loaf of bread and some cheese, provided for royal snacking. But homemade tapenade is even better.

Theoretically, tapenade is made with capers and anchovies in addition to olives. I enjoy both of these things and so include them in my tapenade, but you can leave either or both of them out. Olives have plenty of flavor on their own--be sure to purchase nicer olives for this rather than the jet black canned variety.

Serve this spread with hearty bread and something equally fortifying to drink. 

Other articles you might enjoy: Smoked Salmon Canapés, Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Canapés, The Perfect Cheese Plate

Makes about 2 3/4 cups

Combine in a food processor or chop very finely, into a paste, with a knife:
     2 cups pitted black olives
     (3 anchovies, rinsed and dried)
     3 tablespoons drained capers
     3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
     2 tablespoons lemon juice
     Zest of one lemon
     2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
     1 tablespoon chopped parsley
     2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
     Black pepper to taste

Pulse mixture to a coarse purée.

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After our Building A Better Pantry series on dairy products, I thought it fitting to expound upon the cheese plate. Even if you don't care to make cheese of your own, I'm sure most of you still...