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Appetizing Nibbles

PAM ANDERSON | 9/17/2009, 11:20 a.m.

USA WEEKEND Food

When asked about their favorite event of the year, my daughters never hesitate: It's our Christmas Eve appetizer party, when we invite friends over for a meal of little nibbles. This year, I'm adding these perked-up deviled eggs, cute Cocktail Cubans, a spicy eggplant spread and some addictive popcorn-pistachio clusters to the menu.1 3-ounce package natural flavor,lightly salted microwave popcorn

Scant 1/4 tsp. saffron threads (2 pinches)

1/2 tsp. distilled white or apple cider vinegar

2 1/2 cups sugar

6 Tbs. butter

2/3 cup roasted pistachios

Pop popcorn following package instructions. Meanwhile, coat a 9-by-13-inch pan or a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Mix saffron and vinegar in a small bowl; set aside.

Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to simmer over medium-low heat in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot or Dutch oven, stirring often without scraping down sides, to dissolve sugar. Once mixture starts to simmer, increase heat to medium; immediately stop stirring. Continue to simmer, jiggling pot occasionally to ensure even cooking, until the liquid turns dark amber and fragrant, about 10 to 20 minutes. (The mixture may crystallize for a while, but eventually it will remelt and become an amber liquid.)

Reduce heat to low; add butter, saffron mixture and nuts, and stir until butter melts. Working quickly off heat, stir in popcorn with a wooden spoon. When thoroughly and evenly coated, scrape into the prepared pan and pat down lightly. Let stand until cool and brittle, about 30 minutes. Break into clusters and store in an airtight tin.

Yield: About 10 cups

Nutrition per 1/2-cup serving: 172 calories, 1g protein, 28g carbohydrates, 7g fat (2.8g saturated), 9mg cholesterol, 1g fiber, 73mg sodium1 pork tenderloin (1 to 1 1/4 pounds) Vegetable oil, salt, pepper

1 24-count small dinner rolls

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup yellow mustard

6 Swiss cheese slices, quartered

1/4 pound shaved ham

24 thinly sliced dill pickles

Lightly rub pork tenderloin with oil, season with salt and pepper, and set on a rimmed baking sheet. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and set sheet on rack. Turn oven to 400 degrees and roast pork, turning once halfway through, until it registers 160 degrees, about 30 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes or up to 2 hours. (Roast can be prepared and refrigerated one or two days ahead.)

When ready to assemble the sandwiches, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut pork into thin slices; set aside. Split rolls and arrange on a baking sheet. Mix mayonnaise and mustard; spread thinly on both halves of each roll. Top the bottom halves in this order: cheese, pork, ham, pickle. Cap each one with a roll top. Bake until buns are toasty and cheese melts, 8 to 10 minutes. Arrange on a platter and serve warm.

Yield: 24 sandwiches

Per sandwich: 139 calories, 9g protein, 14g carbohydrates, 5g fat (1.6g saturated), 21mg cholesterol, 1g fiber, 289mg sodium2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

5 Tbs. vegetable oil