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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My Best Holiday Appetizers…

Yahoo – the holidays are here. And with them come the parties and the food, and the singing and the making merry and bright. And you can’t deny food is definitely a key part of making holiday gatherings memorable.

I’ve been doing this blog for several years now and have posted a wide variety of recipes. Undoubtedly some of the more popular ones I’ve posted are the appetizers. And what’s a holiday party without appetizers. So this blog is dedicated to putting in one place all of my most popular appetizer recipes. Make one or make them all but I guarantee you anyone one of them will be a hit at your holiday parties.


CREAM CHEESE, BACON, SPINACH AND SCALLION PINWHEELS

This recipe is perhaps on of the most popular recipes I’ve ever posted. I almost didn’t post it because it’s so rudimentary I thought people would think I was selling out. Much to my surprise it was and continues to be a big hit. The most difficult part of making this recipe is choosing your favorite kind of tortilla. The rest is so easy you won’t believe. A former colleague of mine called the recipe “red neck sushi”. Call it what you like, it’s fabulous and will always be a hit!

Cream Cheese, Bacon, Spinach and Scallion Pinwheels.

SALTED CARAMEL CHEESE BALL

Lately I’ve experimented with making cheese balls. Once again I was certain cheese ball recipes would not be popular with my readers. I was wrong. Seems like people still like them. A friend told me one of her husband’s favorite sayings is “the party does not end until the cheese ball is gone”. This particular recipe is special as it can double as an appetizer or a dessert. And the drizzle of caramel sauce on the top gives it a special festive touch for any holiday party.

Salted Caramel Cheese Ball

THE BEST EVER MEATBALLS

When I say BEST EVER, I mean BEST EVER! The recipe was actually an accident. I found a recipe for meatballs that called for vegetable flakes. In my naiveté I used red pepper flakes, because after all a red pepper is a vegetable, right? (those were the days when I was mostly lost in the kitchen). Well, the rest was history. I’ve been making this recipe for years and it has been passed down to family and friends many times over. I know you’ll just love these meatballs and they will be a big hit at your holiday party!

The Best Ever Meatballs

HOLIDAY CRAB DIP

This particular recipe is my holiday staple. It’s so special and so flavorful it dresses up any holiday gathering. I’ve actually had people ask me to pack leftovers of this one. I’ve also used leftovers to make a quick sandwich.  Just toast up some bread and away you go. I guarantee you will enjoy this one.

Holiday Crab Dip

SPINACH ARTICHOKE RED PEPPER DIP

I love this particular recipe not only because it tastes so good but it looks so festive when put in a bread bowl. Remember you eat first with your eyes, and my serving suggestion for this one plays right into that. This is a great vegetable dipper recipe that will keep them coming back for little bites over and over again. I served this one for New Year’s Eve last year and it was a huge hit!

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip

CANDIED PECANS

I had never made candied pecans until last year. I guess I thought they’d be hard to make. Boy was I wrong. And they are so yummy, you’ll wonder why you never made them before. These are good not only as an appetizer but also as a gift. Just put some in a mason jar and add a festive bow and you have a great gift. You simply have to try this one.

Candied Pecans

CHEESE BALL

My last recipe is another cheese ball. This is a savory cheese ball and has killer flavor. I brought it to a pot luck at work and it got devoured in no time. The key to this one is letting the ingredients meld overnight. What I like about this cheese ball is that it looks so professional but is so easy to make. It will be a hit at a holiday party or any gathering  you have during the year. Enjoy!

Cheese Ball

I hope you’ve found this appetizer compilation helpful. Make any of them, make all of them. They are all fabulous!

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Salted Caramel Cheese Ball…

I know it was just recently I posted a cheeseball recipe. And frankly I didn’t think that post would get much of a response as I thought cheese balls were a thing of the past when it comes to party appetizers. Boy was I wrong. That post was quite popular.

So when we had the first meeting of our book group in my condo community I thought what a great time to experiment with another type of cheese ball. This time with a little salted caramel flare. And once again it was a huge hit!

My renewed love of cheese balls stems from the fact that it’s one heck of an easy way to bring a great appetizer to an event. Mostly it’s just mixing everything together, chilling and serving. Plus cheese balls are so portable you can easily bring them anywhere.

So let’s talk salted caramel cheese balls…

Lesson Learned 1 – This cheese ball can be an appetizer or dessert: You have a great combination of sweet and savory going on with this cheese ball. The combination of the tartness of the apples and cinnamon, along with the savory of the sharp cheddar cheese and the sweetness of the caramel sauce all meld into a killer combo making this cheeseball more versatile than most.

Lesson Learned 2 – Leave the skin on the apple and dice it into small pieces: I always love when recipes state “dice the apple into 1/4 inch pieces. Do people really expect cooks to stand with a ruler measuring the size of the pieces they cut up? (ok, I’ll admit it I’ve done it in the past but no more)… The key here is to keep the pieces slightly smaller than bite size. Trust your instincts. You want the apple pieces to blend in and not overpower the look and taste of the cheese ball.

Also only use a granny smith apple for this recipe. The granny smith apple has that wonderful tartness that compliments the savory cheddar cheese and sweet caramel sauce. Now if you have another apple on hand do you need to run out to the grocery store to get a granny smith? No. But believe me when I say the best flavor combination is achieved when you use a granny smith apple in this recipe.

Lesson Learned 3 – As with any cheese ball, the longer you chill it and let the flavors combine the better: I like this cheese ball because you can chill it for only a short time and it’s still wonderfully flavorful. But if you have the time, letting the cheese ball flavors marry overnight is always preferable but not altogether necessary.

The holidays are fast approaching and if you’re thinking of entertaining this recipe is flavorful, impressive looking and a guaranteed hit!  It will make a wonderful addition to your holiday table. Try it and tell me what you think!

Salted Caramel Cheese Ball...

  • Servings: Lots
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 – 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, plus approx. 1/8 cup caramel for drizzle

1 Tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice

pinch of kosher salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 medium granny smith apple, chopped (leave the peal on)

2 cups pecan pieces

Crackers for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Shred the cheddar cheese and set aside. Remove the core from the apple and dice into small pieces, leaving the peal on. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, using a hand mixer, mix together the softened cream cheese, caramel sauce, lemon juice, salt and cinnamon. By hand, fold in the cheddar cheese and apple. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a ball. Place in the freezer and chill for 1/2 hour.

Place the pecan pieces on a large plate. Remove the cheeseball from the plastic wrap and roll it in the pecans until the ball is completely covered. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

Drizzle the caramel sauce on the cheese ball right before serving.

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Cheese Ball…

Ok, admit it, when was the last time you actually made a cheese ball? I hadn’t made one for ages but was faced with an upcoming potluck at work with little time to make anything. And after thumbing through a very old cookbook I noticed a recipe for a cheese ball and thought, I should make that. And, as with any recipe, I added my own personal touches.

The ingredients for this recipe are not all that complicated, cream cheese, scallions, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, worcestershire sauce, mayo, spices and some almonds. Easy enough.

My major concern was I thought people would think this was too much of an “old school” kind of appetizer and turn up their noses at it. To my surprise, quite the opposite. It wound up being the perfect compliment to the other things people brought to the potluck and it disappeared in record time. Being that this was a potluck at work, people not only enjoyed the taste of the cheeseball but the fact they could go into the break room, put a dollop of the cheeseball on a cracker and be off on their merry way. Once again this shows how one’s perceptions regarding food can be so off the mark. I was so glad everyone enjoyed it and would definitely consider making this again. It was that much of a hit.

So let’s talk cheese ball…

Lesson Learned 1 – Taste the mixture before forming it into a ball and adding the almonds: When I did that I knew the cheese ball needed some salt. So instead of just using garlic powder, I used both garlic powder and some garlic salt. That little addition made a big difference.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use shredded parmesan versus grated parmesan: Shredded parmesan cheese gives a richer much more noticeable flavor to the cheese ball. Grated parmesan seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make the cheese ball the day before your event: When I initially tasted the cheese ball I thought it was ok, but the next day after the ingredients really got acquainted in the refrigerator, the cheese ball tasted fabulous! I was not prepared for the difference in the flavor. Everyone raved at how delicious it was. This is definitely a recipe that tastes markedly different the second day.

Not too many lessons learned on this one. It really is just a recipe where you mix everything together all at once, roll it into a ball, cover it with sliced almonds and refrigerate it overnight. And with the holidays and holiday parties not too far in the distant future, this is a great little recipe to have in your hip pocket.

If you want something that looks impressive and tastes divine, make this one and bring it to your next party. I guarantee you it will be gone before you know it!

Easy Party Cheese Ball...

  • Servings: Many
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup shredded medium sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup green onions, minced

1/2 tsp. worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1 cup sliced almonds

crackers and fruit (grapes, sliced apples, etc., optional) for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Combine softened cream cheese and mayo until smooth. Add remaining ingredients except the almonds. Stir until well combined.

Spread almonds out on wax paper. Form the mixture into a ball (it will be soft and sticky) and roll the ball in the almonds until the ball is completely covered with the almonds. Transfer the ball onto some plastic wrap, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Unwrap and plate the cheese ball. Serve with crackers and fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip…

Let’s face it. Once the football season is over there is definitely a sports vacuum. Major league baseball is just starting to tune up at spring training, college basketball still has over a month before the NCAA tournament, the next major in tennis is not until May, and everything else just seems to be a bunch of noise. And during this time I think back to some of the major highlights of recent sporting events. In my mind, nothing can surpass what the Chicago Cubs did last year but this past Super Bowl was no slouch of a game either. Then I started thinking about my Super Bowl party this past year and what I served and I thought, wow, I never posted this recipe!

This recipe was so much fun. I wanted what I served to be easy and fun and allow me to spend time with my guests and not in the kitchen. I decided to serve this dip along with a hot crab dip for appetizers. Dinner consisted of slow cooker bbq pulled chicken sandwiches with cole slaw  and sliced tomatoes. The meal was a hit and this appetizer was the star of the show!

So let’s talk spinach artichoke red pepper dip…

Lesson Learned 1 – If you want to impress your guests, make this appetizer: This recipe couldn’t be any easier and boy does it impress. You basically combine the ingredients in stages in the food processor, put it in the carved-out bread bowl, bake it and the oven does all the rest. I was amazed at how great it looks and above and beyond that, it is absolutely delicious. It is a fabulous appetizer to serve at any party!

Lesson Learned 2 – Take your time when carving out the bread bowl: I used an artisan sour dough bread that I bought at the grocery store. You start out by cutting the opening on top of the bread. Make it large enough so you can stuff the bread but not too large that you cut off a lot of the bread. Then take a paring knife and begin cutting out the inside and under the sides. Take your time so that you don’t cut to close to the crust on any side. You want at least about 1 inch of bread at the bottom. You can do a little less than that on the sides. And make sure you save what you cut out. You can cut that into cubes and serve it as one of the sides with the warm dip. Yum!

Carved Out Bread Bowl

Carved Out Bread Bowl

Lesson Learned 3 – Combine your ingredients in stages in the food processor: Your food processor will be your best friend for this recipe. But don’t mix everything all at the same time. Some ingredients you will want mixed until smooth, other ingredients you will want chunky. Follow the process in the recipe and you will get the correct consistency for this dip.

The correct consistency for the dip

The correct consistency for the dip

Lesson Learned 3 – Garnish is your best kept secret: Are you always looking for ways to make your dish look more professional? Well look no further. Let garnish be your best friend. This appetizer baked in a bread bowl is pretty impressive on its own but what set the presentation over the top was cutting up some flat leaf parsley and garnishing the bread bowl and the accompaniments with the parsley once they were on the platter. You could also dice up some jalapeños and sprinkle them on top of the dip. Since I actually included them in the dip I chose not to use them as a garnish this time. But diced jalapeños are also an option. Garnish tends to make the colors in your food pop and in general makes every dish look more professional. So don’t forget the garnish.

Lesson Learned 4 – Did you ever hear of a Daikon? When looking at things I could serve with this dip, one recipe that I saw suggested daikon. I had never heard of daikon before. I googled it and found out that is part of the radish family. I’d never seen it at the store and so I thought if any store would have it, Whole Foods would. Well I was right. Whole Foods had it. Daikon sort of looks somewhat like a white carrot but they are not parsnips. Anyhow, they are a great side for this dip. Just cut them in rounds like you would a radish. And after I found them at Whole Foods I also found them at my local supermarket, so just look for them and try them.

Make this appetizer for your next party. I guarantee you it will be a hit! Enjoy.

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip...

  • Servings: 20-30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip1 large round sourdough bread

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 10 ounce box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry in a towel

1 cup marinated artichokes, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup + 2 Tb. chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped and divided

1 1/2 cups pepper jack cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Garlic infused olive oil for brushing the bread

Crackers, baby carrots, red radishes, daikon, celery and bread cubes, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a thin slice from the top of the bread. With a paring knife cut out the exposed inside to about 1 inch from the bottom and at least 1/2 inch from the sides. Cut the extracted bread into cubes and use for serving later.

Combine the cream cheese, mayo, sour cream, chopped jalapeños and garlic in the food processor and process until smooth. Add the spinach and artichokes and pulse until chunky. Add the parsley, all but 1 Tbs. of the red pepper, 1 1/4 cup cheese and salt and pepper and pulse until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the bread bowl. Top with the remaining cheese and red pepper. Place the bread on a baking sheet. Brush the bread with olive oil. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Serve with crackers, veggies and crudités. Garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley.

Pulse for a chunky consistency

Pulse for a chunky consistency

Correct consistency of the dip

The correct consistency of the dip

Fill the bread bowl

Spoon into the bread bowl. Brush the bread with olive oil.

Garnish with cheese and red pepper

Add more cheese and roasted red pepper on top

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip

Serving Suggestion

Hot Crab Appetizer…

I know I’m probably a day late and a dollar short posting an appetizer/munchie recipe after the Super Bowl, but often I don’t get to try out some recipes unless there is an occasion to do so, like a Super Bowl party.

I am a native Chicagoan transplanted to Colorado and so you can imagine how much fun Super Bowl 50 was here. Don’t get me wrong, if the day ever comes (and I’m not so sure it will happen in the near future) that the Broncos and the Bears play in the Super Bowl, my allegiance will be with the Bears, but until that time it’s been fun having an adopted team.

Crab Appetizer IngredientsI planned a party that consisted of a very simple menu so that I could actually spend time watching the game. One of the guests was going to bring an appetizer, so I planned to make an additional one. The rest of the meal consisted of Lou Malnati’s pizza (I got them shipped to me as a holiday gift and just love them) and a salad filled with a whole bunch of goodies like dried cranberries, homemade candied pecans, avocado, tart apple and baby spinach.

I wanted to try a hot appetizer since I knew I could serve it straight from the oven and, in my estimation, that’s when hot appetizers taste the best. So I thought I’d dabble in making a hot crab appetizer.

Let’s talk about that…

Lesson Learned 1 – Crab is expensive: Depending on the type of crab you use, 6 ounces of crab meat can vary in price up to about $25.00. I decided I did not want to use an imitation crab meat (what is that anyway?) so I did a little research on the types of crab meat available and the best uses for each.

Jumbo lump crab meat: This is the meat that comes from the swimmer fins of the crab. Since there are only two on each crab the amount of meat you can get from this source is much less and therefore more expensive. This meat has a nice, mild taste which was what I was looking for in the appetizer plus I wanted lumps of crab to be noticeable in the dish.

Lump crab meat: This meat comes from the body and the pieces can vary in size and are generally much smaller than the jumbo lump meat. This type of meat is great for crab cakes.

Lump meat mixed with body meat: this is much thinner meat with a finer texture and can easily be overpowered in a recipe by other ingredients. But it is also less expensive and so can be a viable substitute. Again making crab cakes is a good use of this type of crab meat or any dish where you want that hint of crab flavor but not pay as much for it.

Claw meat: Claw meat is darker and less sweet and has a stronger taste. For this recipe I recommend either jumbo lump crab meat or claw meat. The presence of crab will be noticed using either one, with the crab claw meat providing a stronger crab taste if that is what you want. Claw meat is in the medium price range. I found a 16 ounce can of it for about $14.00. I paid a little less than that for 6 ounces of jumbo lump crab meat.

IMG_9818Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe couldn’t be any easier: All you do is mix together all of the ingredients and bake it until the shaved parmesan topping is melted and starting to turn golden brown.

Everyone at the party loved this recipe and it was gobbled up pretty quickly, the sign of an appetizer hit. Try this one and let me know what you think.

Hot Crab Appetizer...

  • Servings: Party Size
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

6 ounces jumbo lump crab meat or crab claw meat

4 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup of sour cream (you can use light sour cream)

1/4 cup mayonaise

4 green onions, minced (including the green parts)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice (1/2 of a small lemon)

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 cup shaved parmesan, divided

1 Tbs. fresh flat leaf parsley, minced for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 (365 for high altitude). Mix together all ingredients thoroughly using only 1/2 cup of shaved parmesan in the mix. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish. Cover with the remaining shaved parmesan.

Bake for 30 minutes (begin checking the appetizer at 20 minutes). If the appetizer is bubbly but not browned to your liking place it under the broiler for a minute or two.

Serve immediately.

Hot Crab Appetizer

Hot Crab Appetizer

Hot Crab Appetizer

The Best Ever Meatballs…

You know how some recipes catapult from being just something you try to a family and friends favorite that spans generations? Well this I can assure you is one of them. I first started making this recipe when I was in my twenties. At that time I could barely cook myself out of a paper bag. But I needed to make an appetizer for a family gathering and I decided to make meatballs.

Almost everyone I know has their tried and true meatball recipe and quite a few say to me that theirs is alright but not particularly special. Well search no more. This one is special and it’s been passed down from family to friends and friends of friends for decades. Every time I serve it at least one or more people ask me how to make it. This recipe is now multi-generational!

The first time I made this I was not very adept in the kitchen. I wasn’t learned about certain ingredients, proportions, substitutions, doneness – you name it, I didn’t have a clue. But my naiveté was the factor in making a mistake that kicked this recipe to the next level and made it ever so popular.

IMG_3579The original recipe came from a grocery store bought book, you know the ones you always see at the checkout counter. This one was called Pillsbury’s Cookbook of Family Favorites. You can see how old it is just by looking at the price, $1.25. When was the last time you spent that small of an amount of money on a book or magazine?

When I first read the ingredients there were two things that I did not have on hand. One was cracker crumbs and my husband suggested using bread crumbs instead. The second was sweet pepper flakes. I thought to myself hmm…, that shouldn’t be too hard to find. So off to the store I trudged in search of them.

When I got to the store, lo and behold, there were no sweet pepper flakes to be found. I endlessly looked and looked at the spices and herbs and the only thing I saw with “flakes” labeled on it was red pepper flakes. So I thought to myself, “well green peppers and red peppers are considered sweet peppers so that must be it” (you see what I mean). I bought the red pepper flakes and used them in the recipe.

Now I grew up in a household where very bland food was served. My father was not one for any kind of spices, he totally shied away from garlic and onions, and any kind of “heat” was never put in what we ate. But my husband’s family loves food with a kick, the more heat the better. So little naive me went on to make this recipe substituting red pepper flakes for sweet pepper flakes and it became a huge hit. The first time I made it I used two tablespoons of red pepper flakes and that produced some spicy meatballs, let me tell you. Since then I’ve toned it down to one tablespoon which gives a very nice kick and doesn’t leave you running for something cold to drink. But if you really like to bring on the heat use two tablespoons. It won’t hurt the meatballs that’s for sure.

Meatballs

I’ve been trying to think if I could share any lessons learned in making this recipe but it’s very straightforward even for the novice chef. Just follow the directions and you’ll be able to serve meatballs that will always be a big hit.

The technique is easy. All you need to do is mix the ingredients for the meatballs, form them into one inch rounds and bake them for 30 minutes. Then you put them in a casserole dish, add the sauce, cover and bake them for another hour. Now what’s easier than that?

I know in other blogs I’ve said that you just have to try this recipe, but you really must make this. It’s been tried and true over decades and its popularity came about because I, the cook who never could, made the most advantageous mistake I’ve ever made in the kitchen. Enjoy this one and share it with all of your friends!

The Best Ever Meatballs…

  • Servings: 2-2 1/2 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

MEATBALLS:

1 lb. ground beef (I use 85% lean)

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2/3 – 3/4 cup bread crumbs (use a smaller amount and first and see if you will need more)

2 Tbs. organic minced onion flakes

1 Tbs. red pepper flakes (for really spicy meatballs add 2 Tbs)

9 drops Tabasco Sauce (you can add more if you like)

Dash of salt

SAUCE:

3/4 cup catsup

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 1/2 Tbs. organic minced onion flakes

1 tsp. prepared mustard (I use Grey Poupon but you can use yellow mustard)

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

4 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

6 drops Tabasco Sauce (you can use more if you like)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients for the meatballs. Shape them into one inch balls and layer them in an ungreased jelly roll pan. (You need a sheet pan with a lip on it so the grease does not run off). Bake at 325 for 30 minutes.

Combine all of the ingredients for the sauce. Place the meatballs in a casserole dish that you can cover. Pour the sauce over the meatballs, cover and bake for 1 hour. Enjoy!