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Vail Daily column: Light starters for the holiday meal

Sue Barham
Simply Seasonal
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyA pumpkin spice-tini is a great kick-off to the holiday meal.
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VAIL, Colorado – The wafting aroma of roasting turkey is the signature highlight of Thanksgiving. The essence greets you even before your smiling hostess opens the front door. Anticipation is high, but you know there is at least an hour before the feast is underway. What did you bring as the appetizer? A little nibble, to whet, not ruin the appetite.

“If you’ve been delegated the pre-feast snacks, the trick is to keep it simple. An assortment of olives alongside spicy mixed nuts will be salty and satisfying,” said Jeremy Kittelson, Restaurant Avondale’s executive chef.

Larkspur’s executive chef, Armando Navarro, recommends a demi-tasse of hot soup. “A tiny cup of soup is a warm greeting. It’s just enough to tide you over till the main event.”



If you’re in charge of the appetizers, indulge the group with a seasonal cocktail to complement them. Bring the fixin’s for a Pumpkin Spice Tini or Cranberry Blizzard. Sounds too complicated? A bottle of bubbly always works for a holiday dinner.

Smoky spicy mixed nuts



1 large egg white

1 teaspoon water

4 cups assorted shelled nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts)



1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons Smoky Spice Mix, recipe follows

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 250°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together egg white and water until frothy. Add the nuts and toss to coat. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, smoky spice mix, cayenne, and salt. Add to the nuts and stir to coat evenly. Spread the nuts on the prepared pan and bake until dry, about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir to separate. Let cool on the baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature. Yield 4 cups.

Smoky spice mix:

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container. Yield: about 2/3 cup. Keep in an airtight container and use for next batch of nuts, or as a rub for beef, chicken or pork.

Curried butternut squash soup

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch cayenne pepper (or to taste)

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

3 cups water

1 pound tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onion and saute until golden brown. Add garlic, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add squash, vegetable or chicken broth, water, and apples. Bring liquid just to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 25 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove from heat and let cool 15 to 20 minutes. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor, in batches, and transfer back into soup pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, soup may be refrigerated until ready to serve.) To serve, warm over low heat, stirring until hot. Remove from heat and using a measuring cup with spout, pour carefully into espresso cups.

Pumpkin spice tini

2 1/2 ounces Vanilla Vodka

2 ounces Creme de Cacao

1/2 ounces Cream

Pinch of Pumpkin Pie Spice

For garnish:

Raw Sugar

Toasted, crushed Pumpkin Seeds

Pinch of Pumpkin Pie Spice

Orange Twist

Mix raw sugar, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie spice and spread on flat plate. Invert chilled cocktail glass and rim with this mixture. Combine vodka, creme de cacao, cream and pumpkin pie spice with ice in a shaker. Shake and strain into rimmed glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Cranberry blizzard

3 ounces bourbon

1 ounce cranberry juice

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon sugar

Shake ingredients with crushed ice in a shaker. Pour over fresh ice into a highball glass. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, (larkspurvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.


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