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Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

All it takes to assemble this tapenade is a quick spin in the food processor, and the Camembert is even easier to prepare

To make holiday entertaining a little easier on yourself, why not stick to a more casual affair and do it cocktail-style with a little appetizer buffet for grazing, and a selection of wines 

In our home, December has been the time of year when we've finally get around to having friends over for dinner, and starting dinner with a few appetizers is a nice way give the chef plenty of time to sit down and catch up before needing run off and prepare dinner (at least I need to divert most of my attention to preparing dinner).

I've made olive tapenade before but this recipe from The Lesley Stowe Fine Foods Cookbook caught my eye with its addition of figs. I love sweet and salty so I thought the figs and olives would be a great pairing, and indeed they were! I've made this recipe a few times already and it's definitely going on my list of easy entertaining go-tos.

Even easier is the warm apricot and chili Camembert I've been serving with the tapenade and bread – I'm often running late and slightly frazzled when company is on the way so I don't even bother making crostini any more, I just have my lovely sous chef (my husband) slice the bread and arrange it on our big, wooden cutting board.

All you do for the cheese is put a dollop of apricot jam on a wheel of Camembert, sprinkle with a pinch of chili flakes, and pop in the oven or microwave until warm and just starting to get oozy.

I heated it for too long the first time I made it and not long enough the second time, but have finally figured out it needs about 5 minutes in a 350F oven or about 20 seconds in the microwave (the oven is always better – who knows what's really happening to our food when we zap it – but in a pinch the microwave works, too).

While I usually try to buy local wines, I got the Chilean bug after attending the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival Chile 2012 media preview and selected a few of my favourites from the tasting to serve with the appetizers: Carmen's Gran Reserva Carmenere ($21.99), Vina Montes' Limited Selection Cabernet Carmenere ($19.99), and Santa Rita's Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.99).

Warm Apricot-Chili Camembert

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Ingredients

  • 1 small wheel Camembert
  • 1 heaping tbsp apricot jam
  • generous pinch of chili flakes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Place cheese on foil-lined baking sheet and top with jam and chili flakes.
  3. Bake for about 5 minutes or until cheese is warm but nothing is oozing out.
  4. Carefully transfer to a small plate and serve with tapenade and thinly sliced Italian bread.

Olive and Fig Tapenade

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup, Mission figs, quartered
  • 1 cup pitted nicoise olives or other brined black olives
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In food processor, roughly chop figs.
  2. Add olives, capers, garlic, and thyme, pulsing until combined and slightly coarse.
  3. Add oil and lemon juice, pulsing to combine.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve on thinly sliced Italian bread.