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Pen Point – What is an Appetizer?

pen point 03KENTUCKY (7/4/13) – SurfKY News is pleased to introduce a new weekly column to our readers. This column, Pen Point, is authored by Rita Dukes Smith, and covers a variety of subjects with various angles. Some will be amusing, some inspiring, and others intriguing and informative. Without further ado, we present this week’s Pen Point.
 
Why do cooks, chefs and restaurants continue to have an appetizer category when most items on the menu are not "appetizing?" Now, I don't mean they don't taste good. They do.
 
Anything covered with cheesy goodness is delicious to me. I'd probably eat grasshoppers if they were covered in asiago cheese. Really, would you ever consider eating macaroni by itself? Not me. Cook it with some cream cheese, a little cheddar and throw in some Swiss for good measure, and I'll go back for seconds.
 
Today's appetizers, however, are quite filling.
 
Fried calamari, spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dipping sauce, crab cakes or mini hamburgers is more filling than appetizing to me. In fact, if you batter dip and deep fry anything, it becomes very filling.
 
I believe when the concept of the meal courses were conceived back in the early ages, the appetizer round was likely something like a cup of broth or celery with lemon juice and a sprinkle of garlic salt. Now, that will make you hungry.
 
Celery with lemon wakes up the taste buds and makes you want more. It gets the stomach engine started. It's one of those zero-calorie foods that takes more energy to digest than ingest. Now, that's an appetizer.
 
I was thinking about this last night as I was watching "Chopped", on the Food Network. It was an episode featuring a contest between home cooks instead of professionals. In the show's competition, each contestant must create a dish starting with the appetizer and ending with the dessert using the surprise basket ingredients they've been provided. Therein lies the rub. Try to make something appetizing out of a guppy and some marshmallows.
 
While some would malign their school lunches to being that bad, I only have knowledge of my alma mater's dining experience.
 
At Bremen High School, in Muhlenberg County, KY, we had some of the best cooks in the world. We ate high on the hog, so to speak. BHS's turkey and dressing dinners were regionally famous and during a fall festival, and people would line up down past the gym waiting to get their take out plates.
 
I can only remember having the now standard "pizza slice" a couple of times when I went to high school. We feasted daily on meatloaf with stewed potatoes, cornbread, peas and peach cobbler, all freshly made each day. Those are comforting childhood memories of a bygone era.
 
Yet the school lunch menu terminology lives on and is even seen on shows like "Chopped" and on some restaurant menus.
 
Take "banana halves". That's a fancy way of saying, "Half of a banana."
 
Gelatinized Fruit Nectar with Peach Slices — translation: Jell-O with some peaches cut up in it. Hey, I like it, but it is what it is.
 
I once created a dessert for an Italian themed office pot luck. I used my own strawberry dessert creation that I had never given a name. So for the dinner, I asked my Italian friend to translate my concoction into Italian. Of course, she needed me to give it a name to translate, so I said, "Oh, it's a strawberry situation."
 
Thus was created the fancy-sounding name for one of my family's favorite dishes — Fragola di Situazione, or, in English, "A Strawberry Situation."
 
Sounds good, no? It's really just angel food cake with white chocolate pudding, strawberries in glaze with whipped topping and nuts.
 
Admittedly, a rack of lamb sounds fancier than sheep ribs, and professionals and amateur chefs like to put their slants on the names.
 
"I have made for you today, a pan-seared capon with potatoes and asparagus tips with a citrus sauce." Translation = "We're having chicken and fried potatoes; asparagus with lemon juice."
 
If you weren't particularly hungry when you started reading this column, maybe you are now.
 
A quick trip to most American refrigerators can result in a nice little cold, summer meal to satisfy that urge.
 
Most of us keep some "hip of pig" in the refrigerator, some cheese slices and wheat bread. Add to your plate some celery sticks, julienned carrots and banana half or halves and you've got lunch.
 
Enjoy.
 
Rita Dukes Smith
Pen Point
 
 
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