Appetizers bring in the New Year

By Olivia Fowler
for the courier

We can all get tired of the same old food at every party.
There is a lot to be said for tradition, but to start out 2011, why not be flexible and try something different?
I love ginger and found these gingered melon balls light and fresh additions to a buffet table. If you don’t want to serve them in dessert dishes, fall back on trusty toothpicks for easy individual snacks.
You may not want to try these at the same get-together. But if you do, they work well together or with a variety of other snacks. Almost everyone will find a favorite from among these offerings.
So have a happy and carefree celebration to usher in 2011.

Gingered Melon
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 to 3 teaspoons finely-chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon zest (peel)
4 cups watermelon, cantaloupe, and/or honeydew balls
1/3 cup flaked coconut

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, sugar, lemon juice, and ginger. Bring just to boiling; reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lemon zest (peel). Let cool to room temperature.
Before using the ginger syrup, strain off and discard the ginger and lemon zest.
Pour approximately 3/4 of the ginger syrup over the melon balls, stirring gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
To serve, spoon melon balls and a little of the remaining ginger syrup into individual dessert dishes. Sprinkle with coconut.

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms
1 pound large mushrooms
6 tablespoons butter
3 green onions, minced
3 to 4 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
4 ounces crab meat
1 cup fresh fine bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning blend
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons Parmesan

Wash and trim the end of stems from mushrooms. Pop remaining stem out. Chop stems and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter; brush over mushrooms. Spray a shallow baking dish (about 8-inch square, or one which will fit mushrooms in one layer) with butter-flavored spray or grease with butter.
Melt remaining butter in skillet; add reserved chopped stems, minced green onions and red bell pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender. Combine cooked ingredients with bread crumbs, crab meat, and seasonings. Fill each mushrooms, piling up. Sprinkle each mushroom with a little Parmesan cheese, if desired. Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, until hot and mushroom caps are tender.
Makes 16 to 20 stuffed mushroom appetizers.

Sweet and Sour Sausage
2 pounds kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 (12 ounce) bottle tomato-based chili sauce
1 (12 ounce) jar red currant jelly
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water

Stir the sausage slices, chili sauce, red currant jelly, red pepper flakes, and water together in a slow cooker, cover, and set the cooker to Low.
Cook at least four hours, stirring once every hour.

Toasted Almond Spread
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted, divided
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Assorted crackers

In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Stir in the Swiss cheese, 1/3 cup almonds, mayonnaise, onions, pepper and nutmeg.
Spoon onto a lightly greased pie plate.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 14-15 minutes or until heated through.
Sprinkle with remaining almonds. Serve warm with crackers.