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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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!

IMG_3590

IMG_3610

Serving Suggestion: sprinkle with parsley and parmesan cheese…

Cream Cheese, Spinach, Bacon and Scallion Pinwheels…

I know, I know, this is a pretty rudimentary recipe but I’m sharing it because the flavor is divine. I’ve eaten many varieties of these pinwheels at parties and such and I have to say I like this version the best. It is simple, easy to make and oh so delicious!

Pinwheel Ingredients...

Pinwheel Ingredients…

For those of you who’ve never made these before, (and I’m sure there has to be a few out there), there are a couple of tricks to making these that you really don’t think about the first time you make them – or at least I never did. So for the burgeoning cooks who want to avoid some of my pitfalls, here are a couple of tricks to keep in mind for making delicious and good looking pinwheels.

Lesson Learned 1 – The cream cheese must be room temperatureI think this is where many err the first time they make these. Keep in mind that you are spreading this mixture on a flour tortilla. If the cream cheese is not room temperature you will rip the tortilla to shreds. I took my cream cheese out of the refrigerator before I went to bed and then made the pinwheels first thing in the morning. When the cream cheese is room temperature it not only spreads better but mixes better with the other ingredients. Make sure you give the cream cheese enough time to get to room temperature.

Pinwheel ingredients...

Pinwheel ingredients…

Lesson Learned 2 – Heat the tortillas for 20-30 seconds in the microwave before spreading on the filling: Even though they are flour tortillas they can crack and split when you spread the filling on them and roll them up. Cover your tortillas with a damp paper towel and heat them slightly in the microwave. Only work with one tortilla at a time. Keep the others covered with the damp towel until you are ready to use them. Make sure the tortilla is not warm. Once you take it out from under the paper towel it will only take a few seconds for the warmth to dissipate but the tortilla will still be nice and pliable.

IMG_2906

Pinwheel ingredients combined…

I found that if you press your finger down on the top part of the tortilla while spreading the mixture, the process is easier and you don’t have the tortilla jumping around. Spread the mixture to within  a quarter of an inch around the edge of the tortilla and even closer to edge that will be the end of your roll. That way you will have some mixture at the very end to act as a glue holding the tortilla closed.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t put the mixture on too thick: If you put the mixture on too thick you’ll have a bunch coming out the ends. A nice even layer will do. I’ve found this particular recipe makes three large flour tortilla rolls. That may sound like a small amount but you get between 24-30 one inch rounds with this recipe. Keep in mind that the mixture is rolled onto itself so that creates the thickness you are looking for. You don’t need to create the thickness by overloading the tortilla.

Lesson Learned 4 – Roll the tortillas tight: Start with a very tight roll and keep it that way throughout the rolling process. Once the tortilla is rolled, I recommend squeezing it lightly from top to bottom just to solidify the tight roll. You don’t want gaps in the filling when you cut them.

IMG_2911

IMG_2916

Lesson Learned 5 – This is the most important tip of all – put the filled tortillas back in the refrigerator and let them chill for a few hours before you cut them: The first time I made these I cut the tortillas right after rolling them. Big mistake! Remember I said you have to work with room temperature cream cheese? Well room temperature pinwheels do not cut easily. In fact they become a gloppy mess when you try to cut them. You need to let the cream cheese chill again to get cleaner cuts in the pinwheels. Plus it’s also good to let these flavors meld for awhile. Believe me, the mixture tastes great when you first make it, but it tastes even better when all the ingredients have time to get better acquainted.

IMG_2926

Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 3-4 hours…

Lesson Learned 6 – When the tortillas have sufficiently chilled, use a very sharp knife to cut them: This is also important because the tortillas can still squish a little on you if you don’t use a sharp knife. You will find that you’ll have to cut a small portion off the ends of each tortilla and discard them. You just can’t get every bit of the tortilla filled. No worries, they make tasty morsels if you just want to pop them in your mouth. Also it is important to wipe off the blade of the knife with a paper towel when more than a small amount of cream cheese builds up on it. That way you will get nice clean cuts throughout.

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Cut with a very sharp knife…

 

 

These are so easy to make and so worth it. My husband never had them before and he told me if any were left over after our party to be sure not to throw them out because he would eat them. “These are really good” was all I needed to hear from him to know I’d produced a hit.

You can go online and find many different ways to make these. Hopefully these few lessons learned will help you avoid my mistakes when I first tried to make them.

Cream Cheese, Spinach, Bacon and Scallion Pinwheels

  • Servings: 24-30 One Inch Rounds
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. of softened cream cheese

4 scallions finely chopped, including the green parts

1 handful of baby spinach

6-8 slices of bacon cooked, drained and cooled

1/2 package ranch dressing mix

3 large flour tortillas

DIRECTIONS:

Make sure the cream cheese is a room temperature. Put the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well with an electric hand mixer. Place the tortillas on a microwave safe plate and cover them with a damp paper towel. Microwave the tortillas for approximately 20 seconds or until they fell very pliable.

Work with one tortilla at a time. Keep the others covered with the damp paper towel until you are ready to use them. Make sure the tortilla is not hot. Spread one third of the mixture on the tortilla making sure to come within a quarter inch on all edges and very near the edge that will be the end of the roll. Roll the tortilla as tight as you can. When finished rolling, gently squeeze the tortilla up and down the shaft of the roll to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed inside the roll. Place the finished rolled tortillas in a plastic bag and refrigerate them for at least 3-4 hours.

When tortillas are sufficiently chilled, remove them from the bag and using a very sharp knife slice them into one inch rounds. Serve and enjoy!

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Dip-etty Do Dah…

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – check. Football games – check. Thanksgiving dinner reservation – check. Santa Claus is coming to town – check. And so it begins (although one would argue that it began some time ago), the Christmas season is upon us. Time for the insanity of gift buying, decorating, baking, holiday parties and the annual fear of whether you will survive yet another holiday season. The pressure is on to have your house look like a picture posted on Pinterest, your home filled with home-baked goodies and your gifts wrapped with a professional flair. No wonder so many people say bah humbug at this time of year.

But it doesn’t have to be all that bad, especially if you get a little help from your friends. So let me introduce myself, I am your holiday friend. Now I can’t decorate your home or purchase and wrap your gifts, but I can give you some great great recipes that I have either tested or used over the years to help you with some food decisions for your parties and family gatherings.

Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip Ingredients

Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip Ingredients

I already started with a great holiday recipe for a crab dip in a previous post, but just in case you missed it just click here and it will take you to that blog with a link to the recipe. Today I was challenged to make something for a pot luck we are having at work (I work at Crate and Barrel and we will be at the store in full force this holiday weekend) and I wanted to make something that could be enjoyed by all, especially since we have quite a few vegetarians on staff. I have a great recipe for holiday meatballs, which I will share some time within the upcoming days, but I knew that would not fit the bill. So once again I journeyed to Pinterest and did a search for cold dips. There I found a great recipe for Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip from the tastykitchen.com website. The ingredients fit the bill and the rest was history.

As always, with recipes I try from other sites, I do my self-claimed rating and lessons learned in the hopes that if I made any mistakes or learned any valuable lessons while making the recipe it will help you make it perfectly on your first try. This one was relatively simple so definitely something to keep in your hip pocket if you need to bring something to a party or want an appetizer for a holiday meal.

Recipe Rating: A – the ingredients are simple, fresh and the recipe is easy to make. The most work you have to do is chopping the green onions and the roasted red peppers.

Lesson Learned 1: This is something I already knew but if you don’t it could definitely save you time and aggravation. The recipe calls for a 10 oz. package of frozen spinach. I was surprised how long it took for the spinach to thaw. I put it in the refrigerator the day before and then put it out on the counter this morning and left it there until 1:00 p.m. After thoroughly draining it (which really requires you to put the spinach in a towel and squeeze until no water comes out at all) I noticed there was still some ice particles in the spinach. So I separated the leaves, put them between two paper towels and pressed down on them. A lot of water still came out. The lesson here is to make sure it is thoroughly defrosted and as totally dry as possible (it will take longer than you think). Otherwise you will have a runny dip.

Lesson Learned 2: The recipe does not call for it but I added a pinch of salt at the end. After tasting it, it seemed like it was lacking a little something and the salt brightened up the flavor. Once it sits for a while, the flavors will be even more dynamic.

Lesson Learned 3: I am a big fan of roasting my own red peppers, but the roasted red peppers in a jar are just as good and a great time saver. So no need to do the process on the stove, just buy a jar and chop them up.

Lesson Learned 4: The recipe says that the prep time is only 3 minutes. I’m not sure what speedy chef decided that but by the time you assemble all the ingredients, do the chopping and mix the dip, I would say it takes about 10-15 minutes of your time. The nice thing about this recipe is that it serves 30 so for a large crowd like I have at work this is a great and inexpensive recipe to make.

Lesson Learned 5: This is a easy, flavorful recipe and the green of the spinach and the red of the roasted red pepper also provides the traditional holiday colors for which we have become accustomed – a nice decorative touch to your table.

So, get ready to deck the halls with this recipe. It is easy, colorful, impressive and will actually give you time to focus your energies on other things during the upcoming holiday season. Enjoy!

Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip

Creamy Spinach and Red Pepper Dip

Get Your Holiday Crab On…

SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTING THIS RECIPE I’VE BEEN ASKED TO INCLUDE THE RECIPE IN THE BLOG AND I’VE TWEAKED IT SLIGHTLY FROM THE ORIGINAL. SO I WILL REPOST THE BLOG, WITH THE LINK TO THE ORIGINAL RECIPE AS WELL AS A PRINTABLE RECIPE ON THIS BLOG:

I stumbled on this one quite by accident. I was looking for a make-ahead appetizer recipe to bring to a friend’s house. All I could seem to find on Pinterest were appetizers best served hot and I wanted something I could make on Friday to bring to an event on Sunday. Somehow I stumbled on this recipe from justapinch.com called crab dip to make ahead. It sounded like it would fit the bill, so I decided to try it.

The challenge for me was finding some good crab meat. The last time I bought lump crab meat was from Costco and it was full of shells and very salty, even after I rinsed it thoroughly. This time I went to a local grocery store called Sprouts and found an 16 oz.can of crabmeat. When I opened it up, much to my surprise, it was a can of crab claw meat. The meat was tender, there were no shells and a slight rinse was all the meat needed. The dip took about 20 minutes to prepare and the recipe says it serves ten but I think it will serve more than that.

My rating of the recipe: A++++. This recipe is fabulous, easy to make and definitely one that tastes better once the flavors have had a chance to meld, so definitely make it ahead of time. This recipe would be a great addition to any holiday gathering.

Lessons Learned:

1. The recipe calls for 1/2 pound or 6 ounces of crab meat. I put in approximately 16 ounces. The more crab the better. There’s nothing worse than a crab dip where you can barely see or taste the crab.

Make Ahead Crab Dip

Make Ahead Crab Dip

2. The recipe includes adding unflavored gelatin to the mixture, the purpose being to keep the dip from getting too runny once it sits out for a while. I added it and would recommend it. The dip stayed nice and firm and you never taste the gelatin.

3. The original recipe also calls for either cream of shrimp or cream of mushroom soup. If anyone can tell me where to find cream of shrimp soup I would certainly like to know. I went to four different grocery stores and no on carried it. The cream of mushroom soup worked very well, but I would like to try it with cream of shrimp soup.

4. Everyone who tasted it loved it. You will be asked to share this recipe, I guarantee it.

Quite a few times I talked about the joy of trying a recipe and having it turn out perfectly the first time. This is one of those recipes. I was so excited to bring it with me to my friend’s house. Unfortunately the evening got canceled. My co-workers wound up being the recipients of my culinary success. Already four of them have asked for the recipe.

Holiday Crab Dip

  • Servings: 25-30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 – 1pound crab meat (I used a 16 ounce can)

1 8 oz package cream cheese

1 can cream of mushroom soup (I used the brand with roasted garlic)

1 packet unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup (4 stalks) green onion, chopped fine

1/2 cup (1 1/2 large stalks) celery, chopped fine

1/8 tsp. salt

1 package cocktail pumpernickel bread and/or party crackers

Old Bay for garnish.

DIRECTIONS:

Open the can of crab meat and drain. By hand, clean the crab meat and remove any remaining shells or cartilage. Set aside.

Cut the cream cheese into smaller chunks. In a medium saucepan combine soup and cream cheese. Stir occasionally until cream cheese has melted. Add gelatin and stir to combine. Stir in the mayonnaise until combined. At no time let the mixture come to a boil.

Once combined, take the mixture off the heat and stir in the onions and celery. Add the crab meat and fold in gently until combined.

But crab mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (overnight is best). Put in a serving bowl and garnish with a sprinkle of Old Bay and a lemon slice. Serve with cocktail pumpernickel slices or cracker.

Holiday Crab Dip