Balsamic Cranberry And Brie Crostinis…

Well, it’s just about 2019 – can you believe it? I can’t believe that I’ve been writing this blog for over 5 years with over 450 posts and am still going strong. It’s been quite a journey for me as I truly was (and to some degree still am) the cook who never could. But over the past five years I’ve learned so much and have become so much more confident in the kitchen – something I never would’ve believed early on.

Don’t get me wrong, I still make mistakes and sometimes my instincts aren’t as good as others. But when I get feedback from readers telling me that what I’m showing in pictures looks hard, I know that there are so many others out there like me who were never mentored in the kitchen and are looking to learn. Because, believe me, most of what I post is very easy.

So I will continue on with this theme, which in my mind is endless – there will always be someone who needs to learn something regarding cooking or baking. And I will continue to learn and share my lessons learned so when you make one of my recipes you can escape some potential pitfalls and be successful right out of the box.

It’s time to post the last recipe of 2018. Some of you may be aware that’s I’ve posted a lot of appetizer recipes this year. That’s because my condo association hosts a happy hour every week during the summer and bi-weekly over the winter and although no one is expected to bring anything, I always feel compelled to do so. And one of our members is a caterer and so my competitive nature kicks into gear to see if I can, at least every once in a while, outshine the professional. And in my mind, this particular recipe does. It looks so festive and is pretty easy to make – the vast majority of the work is the assembly and that certainly isn’t difficult.

So let’s talk Balsamic Cranberry and Brie Crostinis…

Lesson Learned 1 – This appetizer can be served warm or cold: I opted for cold and here’s why – I’ve found that unless you are personally hosting a party hot appetizers can be tricky, especially if they are at their best when they are hot. How to time it to get to another location with the appetizer still warm, the paraphernalia you may need to bring with you to keep it warm, timing how you bake it to ensure the quickest oven to table possible – all of this just seems like too much for me.  Even though you can serve this warm, I decided to make the cranberries ahead of time and baked the baguette closer to the time of the party and the crostinis turned out great.

I also found that when I took the bread out of the oven and placed the cheese on top the cheese slightly adhered to the bread because it was warm. So that worked out well. Nothing wound up falling off the bread because the cheese was secure.

Lesson Learned 2 – Preparing the cranberries: I’ve always cooked cranberries on the stove top but this recipe calls for them to be cooked in the oven. So here’s a couple of tips that will save you a lot of aggravation:

  • Use a lipped baking sheet because the cranberries will let out their juices and you want to keep them in the pan and not all over your oven
  • Line your sheet with parchments paper – the cranberry mixture will be quite sticky and will be a nightmare to clean if you don’t protect the baking sheet
  • Spray the sides of the baking sheet with cooking spray – although you’re using parchment paper juices will run to the sides and stick to the sides and that can be difficult to clean
  • Clean your baking sheet asap – even with using these precautions some of the cranberry mixture will stick and the longer you let it sit the more difficult the clean-up will be

Lesson Learned 3 – Working with brie:  I love brie but it can be a pain in the butt to deal with, especially if you’re not fond of the outer skin and want to remove it. Brie is not easy to slice because it is so soft. Make sure you have a really sharp knife and watch out for your fingers.

You’ll want to cut the brie in small pieces – and for this you’ll have to use your judgment in terms of what that means. I cut the brie in squares and after putting some on the bread I could tell just how much I needed. I wound up making some of my pieces smaller or adding on to some of them. Don’t fret about this. After you top a couple of the pieces of bread you’ll get the feel for it.

I also used my fingers to spread the brie on the bread slices. That way I could push the brie down into the warm slices and spread it out with my fingers. You can also use a knife, but I had a better feel for it with my fingers. If you chose to use the finger method – make sure you have clean hands! I washed them before and once during the process. Your hands can be your best tools in the kitchen but if you use them they must be really clean.

Lesson Learned 4 – The original recipe called for 1 Tablespoon of rosemary: I thought that was way too much (I used dried rosemary since the grocery store did not have any good looking fresh rosemary). I wound up picking bits of rosemary out of the cranberries as I felt it was too overpowering. So I recommend a teaspoon of fresh rosemary chopped very fine, or 1/2 tsp. of dried rosemary, crushed. The rosemary does enhance the flavor of the cranberries – you just don’t want it to overpower the mixture. I would err on the side of caution – you an always add more if you need to but take my word for it, it’s a big pain trying to pick out the pieces of rosemary after the fact.

And the rest is just basic assembly – toast the bread in the oven, put the cheese on the bread, the cranberries on top of the cheese and for some extra flair add a small sprig of fresh thyme on top. This appetizer is delicious. I had people taking it home in doggie bags. So make this for your New Years celebration. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2019!

Balsamic Cranberry And Brie Crostinis...

  • Servings: Approx. 30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter, melted

2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil

1 french baguette, sliced thin

12 ounces fresh cranberries

2 Tbs. good balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. fresh rosemary, diced fine (or 1/2 tsp. dried and crushed fine)

6 ounces triple cream brie cheese

Fresh thyme, cut into small sprigs for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425. Cover a large lipped baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the sides with cooking spray. Set aside. Take another baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cranberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and rosemary. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Transfer the cranberries into a bowl. Clean the baking sheet as soon as possible.

In a small pan, heat the butter and olive oil until the butter is melted. Stir to combine. Slice the bread into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick. Brush the butter/oil on both sides of each slice and place them on the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 6 minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and turn over all of the slices of bread. Put them back in the oven and bake for an additional 4 minutes.

Transfer the slices of bread to a cooling rack. Take a small amount of brie and press it into each slice of bread, spreading the cheese with your fingers until it just about covers the bread. Take a teaspoon full of the cranberry mixture and place it on top of the cheese.

Decorate the tops of each with a small sprig of fresh thyme. Serve.

 

Best Ever Shrimp Dip (No Lie)…

I know, there are so many shrimp dip recipes out there and to me they all seem to taste the same. Well I’ve officially broken that mold. True, in order to achieve star status for this dip you have to do a little more work but it’s not that hard and it’s so worth it!

What’s the key? Well the combination of flavors for sure creates this great shrimp dip. But one of main differences I think is I prepared the shrimp from scratch. It all started with having most of a 16 ounce bag of uncooked jumbo shrimp in the freezer that I wanted to use. So instead of buying cooked shrimp or using mini cocktail shrimp (I found a lot of dip recipes call for them) I prepared the shrimp by hand.

In my mind that was the key. It gave the shrimp so much more flavor and the texture was much more robust. You could tell and taste that there was shrimp in the dip. Don’t get me wrong, the ingredients in total played a significant role in the dip’s flavor, but preparing and cooking the shrimp by hand was, for me, the key.

So let’s talk the best ever shrimp dip…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is MAJOR – prepare the shrimp from scratch: Don’t use precooked shrimp. Now of course if you have precooked shrimp on hand you can use it. But the flavor is so much more intense when you cook the shrimp and rough chop it yourself. I used frozen uncooked jumbo shrimp. The shrimp was already de-veined but there were still a few remnants of shell on the flesh. Once the shrimp was defrosted I removed the shells, cut off the small tails and cooked them before chopping them up. I seasoned the shrimp with Old Bay seasoning and garlic infused olive oil.

Shrimp Dip Ingredients

The result was flavorful, meaty chunks of shrimp in the dip. That combined with the other seasonings set the dip over the top. And once you let the dip sit (I made mine the day before) the flavors become more fully developed and the dip is out of this world. I remember tasting it the next day and then going back for a couple more spoonfuls because it was so delicious.

Lesson Learned 2 – Shrimp cooks really fast: Once I put the shrimp in the pan I cooked them on medium high heat for 2 minutes on one side and about 2 minutes on the second side. Now remember I was using jumbo shrimp. If you use smaller shrimp the cook time may be a little less.

When the shrimp is cooked it will be loosely curled. If the shrimp is tightly curled you’ve overcooked it and it will be tough. Shrimp is like calamari – it gets tough when you overcook it. So don’t let it worry you if you think the cooking time is short. If the shrimp has a nice light coral color and is loosely curled you’ve cooked it perfectly.

Lesson Learned 3 – This recipe tastes the best when it’s made the day before: When I made this dip I tasted it right after I made it and it was good. But when I tasted it the next day I thought the flavor was over the top. I actually saved some of this dip and made a sandwich out of it, it was that good. And it disappeared quickly at the gathering where I served it. So do yourself a favor – let this one sit for a day. You won’t regret it!

Lesson Learned 4 – Another key factor in the flavor is pimento cheese: If you’ve never had pimento cheese you’ll see it has a slight kick to it. That combined with the horseradish gives the dip some zip. The zip is ever so slight so don’t worry about people not being able to eat it because it’s too spicy. You could also use a sharp cheddar, but I don’t think it will provide the depth of flavor that the pimento cheese does. I found it in the specialty cheese section in my local supermarket. If you don’t see it, ask for it. I’ll bet it’s there you just never noticed it.

Preparing, seasoning and cooking the shrimp from scratch makes all the difference in this recipe. I am anxious to hear your thoughts on this one. Make it and let me know what you think. You won’t be disappointed.

The Best Ever Shrimp Dip (No Lie)...

  • Servings: Party Size
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 – 16 ounce bag frozen raw peeled and de-veined large/jumbo shrimp, thawed

1 -2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil

1/4 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1 heaping Tbs. horseradish

1 Tbs. shallots, minced

1 cup pimento cheese

1 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Thaw the shrimp. Remove any remaining shells on the flesh of the shrimp. Cut the tails off (or you can keep it on, basically it’s your choice). In a medium sized bowl combine the shrimp, olive oil and Old Bay seasoning. Stir to make sure all of the shrimp is coated with the oil and seasoning.

On medium heat cook the shrimp for 2 minutes on one side and 1 1/2 -2 minutes on the other. The shrimp is done when it gets a soft coral color and is loosely curled. Cool the shrimp and cut it into small chunks.

In a separate bowl combine the cream cheese, horse radish, shallots, and pimento cheese. Add the shrimp. Stir until well combined. Refrigerate overnight. (you can serve immediately or chill for a short period of time but overnight is the ideal). Garnish and serve with crackers, chips or veggies.

 

 

 

 

Party Appetizers

Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner and that means family gatherings and parties with friends. And if you’re like me whether serving a meal or simply a wine and appetizer affair there’s always a need to have in your arsenal some simple, impressive appetizers. So I’ve created for you a one stop shop blog with seven of my favorite appetizers.  These appetizers will brighten up any of your holiday get-togethers. All you need do is click on the individual picture(s) of the one(s) you like and it will direct you back to the blog I wrote about it that includes a printable recipe. It couldn’t be easier.

I specifically picked these appetizers out of the many in my recipe index for a few reasons. First they are incredibly easy to make. That is key as the holidays are busy enough as it is. Second I picked them for how they look. As I’ve stated over and over in my blogs you eat first with your eyes. I wanted these appetizers to have that holiday wow factor. And last I wanted them to be easy for your guests to put on a plate and eat.

Let me take you through my choices in the picture above by starting with the upper left corner of the collage. First is my tangy bacon cheddar yogurt dip. Next to it are my hard salami roll ups with olive garnish. In the center row left is my salted caramel cheese ball. Next is my Christmas creamy spinach and red pepper dip followed by my no bake pizza bites. Last on the bottom left is my vegetable pizza and finally my basic bruschetta. Make any or all of these and your party will be a hit. So let’s take each one individually…

TANGY BACON CHEDDAR YOGURT DIP:

I like this appetizer for a few reasons. First you have the option of making it as spicy as you like. Hot or mild it is absolutely delicious. Second if you use precooked bacon making this dip is even easier. Third I found that people really go for the veggies straws instead of the traditional crackers. It’s fun, tasty and easy to eat making it a great party appetizer.

HARD SALAMI ROLL UPS WITH OLIVE GARNISH:

I found this appetizer to be very popular not only because it’s tasty but also because of its pop in your mouth and go factor. All you have to do it grab it by its decorative pick and put it in your mouth. You don’t even need a plate for this one. You can just walk by and grab it. For the holidays you can add a little pzazz by using holiday themed picks. Any way you serve it, this appetizer will quickly disappear.

SALTED CARAMEL CHEESE BALL:

This one is a show stopper and a crowd pleaser! This appetizer touts the killer combo of granny smith apples, caramel sauce, cheese, lemon juice and nuts. And if that isn’t enough, drizzling caramel sauce over it takes this cheese ball over the top. Also, this can be made ahead of time so you don’t have to fiddle around with it the day of your party. And last but certainly not least, this can be served as an appetizer or dessert. You can’t go wrong with this one.

CREAMY SPINACH AND RED PEPPER DIP:

I will admit up front I got this recipe from another site. I acknowledge that in my blog and include a link to the recipe. I normally don’t do this but it was such a hit when I served it I just had to share. I also like it because it features the colors of Christmas. So if you’re looking to inject the color of the holidays not only in your decorations but also in your food, this is the recipe for you. Oh, and one last thing, it tastes divine!

NO BAKE PIZZA BITES:

This is one of my personal favorites. You can’t beat a simple to assemble appetizer that tastes like you’re eating a piece of pizza. You can be somewhat flexible in the ingredients you use (I used a basil and pepper feta cheese instead of just adding mozzarella cheese and fresh basil) and the results were fabulous. I’ve found that this particular appetizer is very popular with the younger set. It can be assembled in no time and you’ll be amazed at how flavorful it is!

VEGETABLE PIZZA:

Earlier this year when I first posted this recipe I got a lot of comments. People mostly said that they use to make this appetizer “back in the day” but have not made it in a long time and were not sure why. But how can you resist making something that looks as good as this and tastes even better. I also found this is a great way to use up some of stuff lying around in your refrigerator. This is another appetizer that allows your guests to just pick up a piece and go. But I guarantee you one thing. They will be back for more!

BASIC BRUSCHETTA:

And last but certainly not least my basic bruschetta. We tend to eat a lot over the holidays and that can lead to feeling full and bloated. This appetizer is different. It is refreshing, light and filled with simple clean ingredients your guests will love while not feeling stuffed. This is definitely an appetizer you should consider.

And there you have it – some of my favorite appetizer recipes just in time for your holiday get-togethers. I also have other appetizer recipes that you can find under my recipe index tab on the top of this page. I hope you make one or all of these during the holidays and as always, I would love to know what you think of them.

 

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball…

Want something quick and easy to bring to your next get together? This recipe is the one for you. I like this recipe for a wide variety of reasons. First, it is very easy to assemble. Second, and this is perhaps my favorite reason, it’s small enough to minimize waste but large enough so that everyone can have some of it.

I think that has been my bug-a-boo about most cheese balls. A lot of recipes make a cheese ball that is big enough to feed an army. And what always seems to happen is a lot left overs. So, with good intentions you wrap it up and put it back in the fridge. The problem is I don’t know a lot of people who eat cheese balls outside of a party venue. So the remainder sits in your refrigerator until you wind up throwing it away. But not with this one. It’s just the right size. And if you need a bigger cheese ball, just double the recipe. But my experience has been that when there are lot of appetizers to choose from, making an appetizer that is smaller in size eliminates a great deal of waste.

So let’s talk cheddar bacon ranch cheese ball…

Lesson Learned 1: I found a great shortcut for adding bacon to recipes. The last time I was at the grocery store I noticed a package of Boar’s Head fully cooked bacon. It comes in a box and is not refrigerated. Inside there are two vacuumed sealed packages of cooked bacon with approximately 6 pieces per pack. One pack was perfect for this recipe. I avoided all of the grease and clean up associated with cooking bacon. Since then I’ve used it on salads and in other recipes. I love the taste and convenience of it. You may want to try some. It really makes putting together this cheese ball a snap.

Lesson Learned 2 – Grate your own cheese versus using the packaged kind. Although I just touted the convenience of using precooked bacon, I don’t recommend using the grated cheese you get in a bag in any recipe. It may take a few seconds more to grate your own cheese but for flavor and  health reasons I strongly recommend it.

First, grating your own cheese is less wasteful less expensive and it tastes so much better. But the main reason I grate my own cheese is an additive put in bags of grated cheese know as cellulose. Cellulose is actually derived from wood pulp, yes wood pulp, and is added to packages of grated cheese to prevent the cheese from clumping together. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of adding wood pulp to my diet if I can avoid it. So next time, take the couple of extra seconds and grate your own cheese. Your body will thank you for it.

This recipe couldn’t be any easier, is perfect in size and is tasty as all get out. So try it and let me know what you think…

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball

  • Servings: 25
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1- 8 ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

5-6 pieces of cooked bacon, chopped

1/2 package of ranch dressing mix (you can add more to taste if you like)

1/8 cup fresh chives, chopped

1 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl combine all of the ingredients except the chopped pecans. Mix well and form into a ball.

Roll the cheese ball in the chopped pecans until the ball is completely covered. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Mixed Ingredients

Roll Into A Ball And Place On Top Of Chopped Pecans

Completely Cover With Pecans

 

 

 

Tangy Bacon Cheddar Yogurt Dip…

Fall is just about here. I can already see the difference in the angle of the sun that brings about darkness much earlier. You can feel the change in the air. But there’s still some time to fire up the old grill and have a late Summer party with great appetizers and good ole BBQ.

I’ve had a lot of practice making appetizers this Summer as my condo association hosts a happy hour every Thursday and although you’re not obligated to bring anything I like to use it as my recipe tester event. So last Thursday I made this dip and it was a hit.

Nothing very difficult about this one. It’s super easy, has tons of flavor and goes well with cocktails. So let’s talk tangy bacon cheddar yogurt dip…

Lesson Learned 1: Make this as tangy as you like. In my experience light heat is the most effective when making a recipe for a crowd. You can never judge the heat quotient of your guests so it’s best to give it just a little zip to a recipe so the greater majority of people will eat it. But if you know you’ve got a group that loves spicy, feel free to add as much heat as you like. It’s all up to you.

Lesson Learned 2: Used precooked bacon as a shortcut. I found a package of Boar’s Head precooked bacon and I used it when I made this recipe. It is a great time saver, you eliminate the grease and mess you get cooking bacon and the flavor is just the same. So if you’re really looking to cut your prep time, try that. If not, cooking bacon the old fashioned way is perfectly fine.

Lesson Learned 3: Serve this with veggie straws. I’m not sure how I got the idea to use veggie straws but they were the perfect compliment to the dip. I think people just get tired of the usual potato or nacho chips and this was a welcome change. They also lend themselves well to scooping some dip on the straw which makes this appetizer great finger food.

Lesson Learned 4: As with any dip, make it ahead of time. I know I’ve said this time and time again, but dips, cheese balls and the like always taste better when you give the ingredients time to get acquainted. So make this dip a few hours ahead of time and let it chill in the refrigerator before serving. The dip always tastes better a few hours after its had time to chill.

What I like about this appetizer is it’s quick and easy. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on this one and your guests will love it. Try it at your next get together. Enjoy!

Tangy Bacon Cheddar Yogurt Dip

  • Servings: Party Size
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

6 bacon slices, cooked, crumbled and divided

1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp. garlic salt

1-2 tsp. hot sauce

2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

2 Tbs. chives, divided

1 package veggie straws

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl combine yogurt, sour cream and garlic salt. Add hot sauce to taste. Stir in cheese and 1 1/2 Tbs. of chives. Add all but about 1 Tbs. of crumbled bacon. Stir to combine.

Transfer the dip to a serving bowl. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. To serve garnish with reserved bacon crumbles and chives. Serve with veggie straws.

No Bake Pizza Bites…

It’s been really hot here recently, averaging temperatures in the upper eighties and lower nineties. The one good thing about living in this part of the country is there is relatively little humidity so even though the days are hot the mornings and evenings tend to be gorgeous. But even with that I find that often I look for ways to make things that won’t heat up the kitchen or the house.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we have a group of residents that get together every Thursday for happy hour. We meet in our outdoor pavilion, bring what we want to drink and many people bring appetizers or finger food. We drink, eat, talk and have a grand old time.

I try to bring some kind of new nibble for people to enjoy each week. I have to admit there are times when I just don’t have the energy to make something and so I’ll buy some chips and salsa or something like that. But there are also times I like to try something new and see if it works so that I can blog about it. This particular recipe came into my mind out of the blue and it went over very very well.

With weather this hot you really don’t want to be eating anything too hot, especially when you’re eating outdoors. It just doesn’t seem to work. But even in the hot sticky weather you still get a taste for something like pizza. You just don’t want to heat up your house making it. So how to you get around that?

Most people like cold pizza, right? It’s the combination of flavors and not necessarily the melting cheese that makes a pizza special. So I put together an appetizer that brings together all the flavors of pizza without being hot and all on a bite size cracker. I knew I succeeded when a little girl ate one of them and said, “Wow, pizza!”

And making these couldn’t be any easier. So let’s talk no bake pizza bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – Go ahead and be creative with this recipe: I had some leftover pepperoni in the refrigerator that I wanted to use. The rest I put together as I walked through the specialty cheese section of my grocery store. You can vary the meat (or not use it at all), the cheese, the crackers – whatever you want. You’ll still come up with a great little appetizer.

Lesson Learned 2 – I used pre-made roasted tomatoes: In the specialty cheese section I found some roasted tomatoes marinated in garlic olive oil. Bingo! The package had about 7 ounces of roasted tomatoes that I diced up and put on top of the pepperoni. It was fabulous. If you can’t find them pre-made you can roast tomatoes yourself and then let them marinate in some olive oil. You’ll still get the same result. But this was a whole lot less work and gave the bites a great flavor!

Lesson Learned 3 – I used a specialty feta cheese: You can certainly use plain feta cheese but I found a roasted pepper and basil feta cheese and I decided to use that. What I liked about this choice was that it added the flavor of basil to the appetizer without having to use basil leaves. You could certainly use basil leaves as well. If you do I would put the basil leaf on top of the pepperoni and then put the tomatoes on top of that. That way the leaf is secured. The great thing about this appetizer is that you can be creative and it will still be fabulous!

Lesson Learned 4 – Right before serving drizzle the bites with some garlic infused olive oil: This is the finishing touch that adds so much. You don’t need a lot, just a slight drizzle over them and the olive oil just adds that special touch that rounds out all the flavors. You can also use the oil that the roasted tomatoes were packed in, but that may not be enough for all the rounds. I had to use both the oil from the tomatoes and some garlic olive oil to drizzle over all the rounds.

And that’s it. Layer the ingredients, drizzle them with some olive oil before serving and watch them disappear. Enjoy!

No Bake Pizza Bites...

  • Servings: Approximately 30 Rounds
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

1 box crackers, preferably round and not overly thin

Pepperoni, pre-packaged or a log you can cut into rounds

1 container of fire roasted tomatoes approx. 7 ounces

Feta cheese (I used a roasted red pepper and basil feta)

Garlic infused olive oil, for drizzling.

DIRECTIONS:

Dice the fire roasted tomatoes into small pieces. Lay out the crackers on a large plate or 9 x 13 baking sheet. Place a slice of pepperoni on each cracker. Top the pepperoni with some of the fire roasted tomatoes. Crumble the feta cheese and sprinkle pieces over each round.

Right before serving drizzle with oil. You could used the oil that was used to pack the tomatoes. If that is not enough, drizzle the remaining with the garlic infused olive oil.

Cover Each Cracker With A Piece Of Pepperoni

Put Some Diced Roasted Tomatoes Over The Pepperoni

Sprinkle Each Round With Feta

No Bake Pizza Bites

 

Skewered Italian Appetizer Bites…

Sorry I’m a little off my game this week. I was waylaid by a bug bite that gave me an allergic reaction and I’ve been fighting this itching rash. Needless to say I’ve not been a happy camper. The meds I take for itching make me groggy and so it’s been hard to sit down at my computer and crank out my blog. But I’m thinking I’m on the mend, although still not itch free after almost 5 days. But I have noticed improvement and so that’s what I’m focusing on.

This weeks recipe is so darn simple and great for your backyard parties. In the warmer weather, the last thing you want to do is heat up the kitchen. Dishes that are cooler like potato salad and cole slaw seem to be more in demand. Also finger foods are more popular, especially when eating outdoors. You don’t have to mess around with a lot of utensils, just take the food and pop it in your mouth. Which is exactly what this recipe is all about.

So let’s talk skewered Italian bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a great way to use some of the homemade pesto you’ve made from growing basil: pesto is what adds zip to this recipe and homemade pesto is the best. If you don’t have your favorite go-to pesto recipe feel free to use mine. But pesto gives these morsels just the kick they need.

Some things to keep in mind when dredging the mozzarella balls in pesto – my mozzarella balls were in a small plastic container stored in liquid. I bought a small container that had about 20 balls. I put the balls in a strainer and drained the liquid into another dish (just in case I had some balls leftover, I wanted to store them back in the same liquid). I then drained the balls on a paper towel.

This time I did not have fresh pesto on hand so I bought a small 6 oz. jar of traditional pesto. I spooned half to it into a small wide rimmed bowl and dropped some of the balls in the pesto. I rolled them around with a spoon and then skewered them on my decorative pics. Couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – If you want to serve these standing up versus lying down you will need to cut a flat surface on the bottom of each mozzarella ball: I learned this lesson the hard way. I started assembling the skewers and found that they would not stand straight. The round bottom of the ball prevented them from doing so. I tried pushing the bottom flat but that didn’t seem to work so I started cutting the bottoms off the balls and then figured out that I liked the presentation of the skewers better with the skewers lying on their sides. So I opted to serve them lying on one side versus standing up. There is no right way to serve these, but I found that serving them on their side created quite an impressive looking appetizer as you can see from the picture below…

And that’s it really. As I’ve said many times before sometimes the simplest of recipes are the most impressive. This will be a great recipe to use when you harvest your basil and cherry tomatoes. It’s an easy, pop in your mouth bite that will disappear off your party table in no time.

Skewered Italian Appetizer Bites...

  • Servings: Approx. 20
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 small container of cherry tomatoes

1 – 6 oz. jar of basil pesto (or make your own)

1 – 4 oz. package of sliced pepperoni (you will have some leftovers)

1 – 12 oz. container of mozzarella balls

Garlic infused olive oil

decorative picks for skewers

DIRECTIONS:

Put the basil pesto in a wide rimmed bowl. If using jarred pesto, start with half the jar and add more as needed to the bowl.

Strain the mozzarella balls making sure to save the liquid in case you need to store any leftover balls.  Place a few mozzarella balls in the pesto and roll them around with a spoon until they are covered with pesto (you will need to repeat this process a few times).

Assemble the skewers in the following manner – first skewer the tomatoes. Then add a pepperoni slice to each skewer. Lastly add the basil covered mozzarella ball and plate the skewers.

Store tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or serve immediately. Drizzle with garlic infused olive oil right before serving.

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Shrimp Dip…

Graduation parties and summer cookouts boast of fun and food. And if you’re in the position to be hosting one, you’re probably thinking about what you can do that is delicious but easy to make. That way you can spend more time with your guests and less time in the kitchen.

This recipe fits the bill. It’s a really easy dip that takes no time to make and is loaded with flavor. Serve it with a combination of chips, pretzels and crackers for an appetizer that looks casual but tastes decadent.

So let’s talk shrimp dip…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use LOTS of shrimp: I used a 12 oz. bag of frozen cooked and deveined shrimp. I thawed the shrimp in the refrigerator overnight and then chopped it up into small bite sized pieces. I kept a couple of shrimp to garnish the top of the dip (of course you don’t have to do that) and all the rest went into the dip. My point being this is a shrimp dip – the more shrimp the better.

If you’re lucky like I was you can catch the shrimp on sale. The twelve ounce bag only cost me $7.99 so I got a deal. Keep a look out for sales on the frozen shrimp if you’re looking to keep the cost down on this dip. I already had all the other ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry except the celery so I was able to splurge a little with the shrimp.

Lesson Learned 2 – If your celery stalks still have the green leaves on them use them as well: For this particular recipe all you really need is one medium sized celery stalk chopped. Normally you can buy individual stalks at the grocery store instead of buying a whole head of celery. When I only need a little celery I always try to buy a stalk that has some leaves on it. Those leaves chopped up and put into the dip add additional depth of flavor. So don’t be afraid to use them as well.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you can, make this recipe the day before: Like almost any dish, the more the ingredients are acquainted directly relates to upping the wow factor of the flavor. So it is with this dish. It is such an easy dish to make that it shouldn’t be too difficult to make it the day before and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. But if you’re in a rush and need something quick, you can serve this the same day and it will still be very good.

The recipe itself is very straightforward so there’s not a lot of lessons learned to share with it. Just follow the directions, use some creativity in your presentation (you can dress it up with a combination of chips, pretzels and crackers) and watch it disappear. This one is a no brainer. Try it and tell me what you think.

Shrimp Dip...

  • Servings: Multiple
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 – 8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature

1 – 12 oz. package of frozen cooked and deveined medium sized shrimp, thawed and chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. garlic fleur de sel (you can substitute garlic salt)

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 lemon slice for garnish, optional

1/4 cup celery, chopped (one medium sized stalk)

1/4 cup scallions, chopped

1/8 tsp. paprika, for garnish, optional (you can also use some sprigs of fresh herbs like thyme)

Crackers, potato chips and/or pretzels for serving

DIRECTIONS:

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the mayo, lemon juice and fleur de sel. Mix to thoroughly combine. With a wooden spoon stir in the shrimp, celery and scallions.

Place mixture in a serving dish. Garnish with paprika and a lemon slice or some sprigs of lemon thyme. Serve with pretzels, chips and/or crackers. (If making the day before wait to garnish the dip until you’re ready to serve.)

cut shrimp into small bite sized chunks

serving suggestion with fresh thyme sprigs as garnish

 

 

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Vegetable Pizza…

Lately I think I’ve become the queen of the appetizers. But as I mentioned in a previous blog my condo community hosts “happy hour” every Thursday and a bunch of us get together to eat some appetizers and drink some wine. It’s been a hoot. I promise I won’t solely be blogging about appetizers but I have to include this one. I’ve been wanting to make this for some time now and was so glad I did. It was so yummy and a nice departure from the usual varieties of chips and dips.

This appetizer is not only tasty but so colorful it brightens up any table. And a lot of it can be prepared ahead of time, which I did. That way the assembly doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming. So let’s talk vegetable pizza.

Lesson Learned 1 – Chop the veggies ahead of time: I found that to be a lifesaver. I chopped the veggies and put them in refrigerator bags. Then when it came time to assemble the pizza I just opened the bags and sprinkled them on the crust. It was a snap.

Lesson Learned 2 – This is a great refrigerator cleaning appetizer: I had a bunch of left over veggies in my refrigerator and so I decided to use them. I had a bag of carrot coins that I put into my mini food processor and pulsed to shred them. I had a couple of pieces of different kinds of peppers and I just diced those up. And I had a jar with some roasted red pepper marinated in olive oil and garlic and I chopped some of that up. It was great.

Lesson Learned 3 – To the best of your ability, pinch together the perforations in the crescent roll dough: This recipe uses refrigerated crescent roll dough as the crust. Do not separate the dough into pieces. Roll the dough out and pinch together the perforations to form as flat of a continuous base as possible. You can still see the faint outline of the individual pieces, as seen in the picture below, but that won’t matter once you apply the toppings.

The rest is easy. Just mix the cream cheese “sauce” and apply it to the dough, sprinkle on the toppings, cut and serve. I know you’ll enjoy this one!

Vegetable Pizza...

  • Servings: Approximately 25
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough

1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened

1 package dry ranch dressing mix

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped scallions (approximately 3)

1/4 cup shredded carrots

1/2 yellow pepper, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

6-8 baby tomatoes, chopped and drained

1/4 cup marinated roasted red pepper, chopped

1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped small

1/2 – 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp. garlic fleur de sel, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Roll out the crescent roll dough onto a 9/13 pan covered with parchment paper. Pinch together the perforations to form one continuous crust. Bake for 12 minutes and cool for 15 minutes.

Mix together the cream cheese, dressing mix and mayonnaise. Spread the mixture over the cooled crust leaving a small amount of room around the edges. Sprinkle with scallions, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, roasted red pepper and cheddar cheese. Sprinkle the flour de sel lightly on top.

Using a pizza cutter, cut into squares. Plate and serve.

Spread On The Cream Cheese Mixture

Add The Scallions

Add The Carrots

Add The Tomatoes

Add The Green And Yellow Peppers

Add The Broccoli Florets

Add The Cheese

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Hard Salami Roll Ups With Olive Garnish…

A bunch of residents in my condo association have taken to meeting every Thursday for “happy hour”. It started last summer when the outdoor pavilion was finally constructed on our grounds and spilled over to the winter months with various residents opening up their condos to host. It’s a great way to get together and chit chat over a glass of wine and appetizers. Everything is BYO and it has evolved over time to quite the weekly thing to do.

So the challenge is what to make for an appetizer every week. No one is expected to bring anything but you know how that works. Someone in the group always brings cooked shrimp, someone always brings jalapeño poppers (frozen and made in the oven), various dips make appearances, the usual various kinds of chips, and one guy even brings 3 different bottles of good red wine (he is a wine aficionado and has a large free standing wine cellar in his garage loaded with various wines – he loves to share them).  Now I’m not one to go to something like this empty handed, as you may well imagine, so each week I try to think of something I can do that will be different from the usual stuff that shows up at these events. (I will admit there have been a couple of times when I was not in the mood and I just opted for some store bought guacamole or a good quality unusual kind of dip). I’ve brought my Cream Cheese, Spinach, Scallion and Bacon Pinwheels and my Basic Bruschetta, and this time I wanted something easy to make, easy to pick up and eat and interesting to look at. Hence my hard salami roll ups…

I based this recipe on something I saw online but wanted to add a little more zip to the cream cheese filling. I opted to add a few scallions and season the mixture with garlic Fleur de Sel and that took the filling over the top. Fleur de Sel is French sea salt. It’s grains are courser in texture than kosher salt and is typically used to brighten up a dish once it has been prepared. It was the perfect addition to the filling.

Needless to say these tasty little morsels were gobbled up pretty quickly so I knew I had a hit on my hands. They are a little time consuming to make but the end result is a tasty little morsel that your guests can just pop in their mouths. Everyone loved them.

So lets talk hard salami roll ups…

Lesson Learned 1 – Buy good salami: I used Boars Head salami sliced fresh from the deli. You want to make sure you use good salami as it is a key flavor ingredient in this recipe. Although it may be a little more expensive remember the old saying – garbage in, garbage out. You want the salami sliced thin but not paper thin. If you cut it almost like a shaving it will be very difficult to work with.

Lesson Learned 2 – the process for making these is just the same as making any type of tortilla roll up: In order to do roll ups you have to master the technique of how to apply the filling and learn how to perfect the roll. It’s really very simple and there only a few things to remember.

First is how to apply the filling on the roll up. You don’t want to put the filling on too thick. The picture below gives you an idea of how to do the filling. It is important to leave open edges all the way around so you don’t have filling oozing out of the sides or end seam when you roll up the salami. The thickness of the filling comes from how it spreads inside the salami during the rolling process so you don’t have to worry about that.

Second is how to do the rolling. Whether it’s salami, a tortilla or whatever you are using as the base of the roll up the process is the same. Think of the roll up in terms of top, bottom and two sides. First you want to take a small amount of the two sides and and fold them in toward the center. Then you take the bottom and begin rolling the salami onto itself. The picture below clearly shows how the sides have been folded in and the rolling process started at the bottom.

Continue rolling until you have created a log as pictured below.

I use this technique when making my pinwheels or when making enchiladas, it’s always the same. If you are careful in terms of how you put in your filling and master the folding and rolling, it becomes a breeze!

Lesson Learned 3 – What if you don’t have garlic Fleur de Sel: The answer is simple – just use garlic salt. But be careful. Garlic salt has a much finer consistency so you may want to cut the recipe portion in half at first, mix it in and then taste the filling to make sure it isn’t too salty. Remember the olive garnish will be salty as well so you don’t want the filling to negatively add to that.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make sure you chill the rolls after you make them: You create the filling by getting the cream cheese softened to room temperature and mixing it with the other ingredients. Once you create your rolls the cream cheese is too soft to cut the rolls into pieces without creating a big squishy mess. You need to chill the rolls for at least an hour so the cream cheese can harden again. (I put them altogether in a refrigerator bag as seen in the picture below).  That will make the pieces much easier to cut. Also be sure to use a very sharp knife when cutting the pieces to avoid squashing the rolls.

Lesson Learned 5 – For a smaller appetizer just cut the recipe in half: Cutting the recipe in half also makes plenty of roll ups as well. You will have some cream cheese mixture left over but you can use it on a bagel for breakfast or on a baked potato at dinner. I’m sure the remainder won’t go to waste. Think about how many people will be at your gathering and plan from there.

I had a lot of fun making these and it was the perfect appetizer finger food. I found some colorful cocktail forks and all the guests had to do was pick one up, pop it in their mouth and dispose of the fork. It was fun to make and easy to eat. Try it and let me know what you think.

Salami Roll Ups With Olive Garnish...

  • Servings: 50-60
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 pound of good hard salami, sliced thin but not paper thin

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature

3-4 scallions, chopped

1/4 tsp. garlic Fleur de Sel

1 24oz jar of green olives stuffed with pimento

Decorative cocktail forks

INSTRUCTIONS:

Beat together the softened cream cheese and scallions until well combined. Add the Fleur de Sel and stir to combine.

Place a small amount of the cream cheese mixture on a piece of salami, making sure to leave room all around the edges. Take the two sides and fold them in slightly toward the center. Begin rolling the salami from the bottom all the way to the top making sure the sides stay folded in during the rolling process. Repeat the same process with the other slices of salami. Place the rolls in a refrigerator bag and chill for at least one hour.

Remove the rolls from the bag and cut into bite-sized pieces (approximately 3 slices per piece of salami). Pierce an olive with a cocktail fork and push it in to the top of the roll up. Serve.

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Basic Bruschetta…

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the most simple or basic recipe can be the most impressive. I remember making my Cream Cheese, Spinach, Bacon and Scallion Pinwheels and almost not publishing that recipe because I thought it was too remedial and people would laugh. To this day it is one of the most popular recipes on my blog. I will never second guess a recipe again.

This recipe came out of my desire to finally tackle making bruschetta and my need to bring an appetizer to a community event. Since I’d never made it before I decided to start out with a basic recipe that included only tomatoes, onion, sautéed garlic, garlic infused olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and fresh basil. It was divine! You can tell your appetizer is a hit when it’s completely gone while others still remain. This one was eaten up quickly.

The process for making bruschetta is relatively simple. You spend most of your time chopping and dicing, which I love. It can be a little more labor intensive than other appetizers, but the result is so worth it. This particular recipe is bright, fresh and natural, a killer combination for an appetizer.

So let’s talk basic bruschetta…

Lesson Learned 1 – Finding fresh basil at the grocery store: This probably sounds silly but I had a hard time finding fresh basil at the grocery store. Now I know it’s Winter, but fresh basil is pretty much a staple that’s available almost any time of year. So there I was looking through the refrigerated packages of various herbs and bemoaning the fact that the store did not have basil. I got so frustrated I went to the service desk to ask if there was a reason why the store had no fresh basil. The associate called someone in produce and they told her where it was located. It was not with the other refrigerated herbs.

BUT, what I found out and didn’t know is that basil does not do well with refrigeration and is better kept at room temperature and that’s why it’s not kept with the other refrigerated herbs. That was news to me. I decided to test that hypothesis and sure enough, when I looked for basil at other grocery stores it was kept at room temperature and not with the refrigerated herbs. Since I planned on using most of the basil right away I didn’t refrigerate it when I got home.

I did a little research on keeping basil fresh and here’s what I found. To keep basil fresh, trim the stems and place them in a glass or jar of water, just like cut flowers. Loosely cover the basil with a plastic bag and leave it on the counter. Although certain herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, can be stored this way in the fridge basil does better at room temperature. Live and learn, right?

Lesson Learned 2 – Browning the garlic: You use a lot of garlic in this recipe and it’s a key flavor component. But garlic can be tricky and easy to burn. Saute your chopped garlic in some olive oil until it has a light golden brown color (see the picture below). Stir the garlic regularly while it is sautéing to prevent any burning. Remove it from the heat and immediately put it in a bowl so  carry over cooking is minimal. Make sure to include the oil from the pan with the garlic as you need to add that to the tomato mixture as well.

I’m often asked if using prepared cloves of garlic from a jar is ok. Yes it is, but be aware that those cloves are not as potent as fresh garlic so you may need to use more of them for a good garlic flavor. The jarred cloves are very convenient, but I prefer using fresh garlic whenever I can.

Lesson Learned 3 – The tomatoes used in this recipe are very important: Using the wrong kind of tomatoes can make your bruschetta soggy. You need a tomato that is ripe but firm. Any tomato will be watery so you want to minimize that as much as you possibly can.

I used small campari tomatoes. You can also use vine ripe tomatoes that are more firm. Stay away from over-ripe soft tomatoes. You will wind up with a mixture of mush if you use them. Once you put together the tomato mixture let it chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour. That way the ingredients get better acquainted and some of the water drains out of the tomatoes. I drained the water from the mixture when I took it out of the refrigerator and used a slotted spoon when I was putting the tomato mixture on the bread to eliminate as much moisture as I could. Doing this also prevents the baguette from getting soggy.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use a good olive oil: I used a garlic infused olive oil in this recipe. I’ve also seen basil infused olive oils and that would be good as well. Olive oil is also a key ingredient in bruschetta so you want to make sure it’s flavorful and not bitter.

The real work in this recipe is chopping up the ingredients in the tomato mixture, slicing and baking the baguette. Once that’s done, the assembly goes pretty quickly. This is such a good looking, refreshing and healthy appetizer. It will make a great impression at your next gathering. Try it and let me know what you think.

Basic Bruschetta...

  • Servings: 20 slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 6oz. French baguette loaf, sliced in 1/4 inch slices

Garlic infused olive oil (approx. 3 Tbs. plus some for drizzling)

2 large vine ripe tomatoes or about 10 small campari tomatoes, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small white onion, diced

2-3 Tbs. fresh basil, chopped plus some for garnish

1/2 small lemon, juiced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Shredded romano cheese for topping

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Saute garlic in 1 Tbs. olive oil until fragrant and golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine tomatoes, onion and basil in a mixing bowl. Add the garlic along with the olive oil from the pan. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Chill in the refrigerator.

In a small bowl season 2 Tbs. of olive oil with salt and pepper. Lay baguette slices on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Using a silicone basting brush baste the slices with the olive oil mixture. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.

Remove the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and drain any liquid from it. Using a slotted spoon put some of the tomato mixture on all the baguette slices. Top with a small sprinkle of shredded romano cheese. Add some additional chopped basil for garnish. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on all the slices. Place slices on a decorative platter and serve.

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