November 18, 2016

There’s an appy for that


How to make your winter entertaining irresistibly easy

Food Front
By Joanne Sasvari

wchd-appy-earls’Tis the season for home entertaining. And we all know what that means: A desperate quest for easy but irresistible appetizers.

What’s trendy now, says Phil Gallagher, the corporate executive chef for Earls Restaurants, is “people wanting to share food.” He adds, “We’re seeing more and more people ordering lots of plates and wanting to share things.”

That’s why in the new Earls: The Cookbook, about half the recipes are for appies, nibbles and delicious things friends can share alongside an Earls-size Margarita. It’s not just restaurants that are seeing the sipping-and-snacking trend. Few hosts—or guests, for that matter—have the patience for a formal sit-down dinner these days. We’d rather sip a cocktail or two and graze our way through a few hors d’oeuvres.

And so the search is on for the perfect appy. But what, exactly, is it that makes an appetizer a success?

“It starts with how it looks. It’s shareable. People can pass it around. It’s interactive,” Gallagher says. “And the flavours need to be addictive.”

What people want now are bold flavours. They want rich, fatty, triple-cream Bries, gravy-drenched poutine and bacon on everything. Alternatively, they crave clean, healthy spoonfuls of, say,  diced roasted beets topped with tangy chevre.

“There’s no moderation any more. It’s either healthy, or it’s decadent,” Gallagher says.

For Earls, especially here on the West Coast, the Asian influence has always been huge—think dynamite rolls or Hawaiian poke. But they’re also starting to see more of the Middle Eastern trend sweeping in from the East Coast.

“It has those bold flavours that are clean and fresh from that region,” Gallagher says. “And clean, healthy, bold flavour is always a trend people are looking for.”

If you’re serving appies at home, the good news is there’s no need to fuss over fancy canapés. In fact, you could buy almost everything from gourmet markets: sushi, cheese, charcuterie, mini pot pies from Tartine, Thomas Haas chocolates, Ladurée macarons.

The only thing you really need to make is some trendy-all-over-again dip, the perfect shareable dish, and serve it alongside gourmet potato chips or sliced baguette.

You can’t go wrong with classic Middle Eastern hummus, labneh (rich, tangy strained yogurt) or muhamarra (a spicy roasted pepper spread). But if there’s one dish everyone is sure to enjoy, it’s Earls’ spinach and artichoke dip, which has been on the menu since the 1980s.

“People just love it. We’ve tried to take it off the menu, and people won’t let us,” Gallagher says. “It’s perceived as healthy. But it tastes so rich and creamy and fresh. Everything just feels good about it. It just feels good.”



wchd-appy-hbc-dipbowlDouble dip
Luigi Bormioli’s
Michelangelo Masterpiece two-piece party set is the chic way to serve dip and dippables. $49.99,





Triple threat
Can’t decide on one dip?
No worries—Hudson Bay’s
Distinctly Home five-piece marble condiment set has you covered. $99.99,




wchd-appy-in-napkinMad for plaid
Add a cheerfully festive note to any table with Indigo’s holiday plaid cloth napkins. $24.50 for a set of four,





Layers of flavours
Pottery Barn’s antique silver tiered tray is an elegant way to showcase sweet or savoury nibbles at your next party.
About $215,



Earls Spinach Artichoke Dip  

This classic dip is one of the most popular dishes served by Earls Restaurants. Find pre-washed spinach in the salad section of your local grocery store; look for roasted peppers in the deli section.
Servers 4-6

  • 8 oz (225 g) cleaned spinach leaves 
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) finely diced white onion
  • 4 oz (113 g) room temperature cream cheese
    (half a package)
  • 2 cups (500 mL) shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely diced canned artichokes
    (well drained)
  • ½ cup (125 mL) finely diced roasted peppers 
  • ½ cup (125 mL) finely diced water chestnuts
  •  1/3 cup (80 mL) sour cream
  •  1/3 cup (80 mL) mayonnaise
  •  1/3 cup (80 mL) heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
  • ¾ tsp (3.75 mL) minced garlic
  • ¾ tsp (3.75 mL) ground black pepper
  • ¾ tsp (3.75 mL) Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp (2.5 mL) fine salt
  • ½ tsp (2.5 mL) lemon juice

To serve:

  • ¼ cup (60 mL) salsa 
  • Tortilla chips

Place the spinach in a lidded container and microwave for three minutes or until wilted.  Alternatively, you can steam for three to five minutes or until spinach is cooked. 

Spread out on a plate and allow to cool completely before squeezing the liquid from the spinach. Too much liquid will result in a watery dip. Finely chop the spinach and set aside.

Sauté the onions in the vegetable oil until translucent but not browned. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, mozzarella, artichokes, roasted red peppers, water chestnuts, sour cream, mayonnaise, heavy cream, Frank’s hot sauce, garlic, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, salt and lemon juice until well combined.

Add the chopped spinach and sautéed onion to the mixture. Combine thoroughly. Can be held refrigerated for up to two days.

When ready to serve, heat the spinach artichoke dip in a microwave-safe container for one minute. Stir well and heat for an additional minute. Top with salsa and serve immediately with a pile of tortilla chips.


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