Party Time Pico de Gallo…

It’s getting to be that time of year where our gardens are producing faster than we can use everything they produce. It’s a great problem to have. One solution to this problem is to share with some of your neighbors who don’t have gardens (I can’t tell you how many times I found zucchinis on my door step). But another solution may be to combine what you have into something very versatile, like pico de gallo.

Pico de gallo is something that can be served as an appetizer with tortilla chips, crackers, or even toasted bread. It can also be used as an enhancement to a main dish like chicken or fish. Just put it on top and it will send your protein over the moon. It can also be eaten as a salad substitute. And it is a great way to use your garden bounty.

There are many recipes for pico, and they are all very easy to make. I made mine based on various recipes and what was available in my garden. And you can do the same. So I’ll share my recipe but know that you can adjust it to what you have on hand and the level of heat that you want.

So let’s talk pico de gallo…

Lesson Learned 1 – I recommend prepping the tomatoes first: There’s a good reason for this. Tomatoes are filled with moisture and you want to give them an opportunity to release some of that moisture before you mix them with the other ingredients. You don’t want soggy pico de gallo. I chopped my tomatoes into small bite size squares and placed them in a strainer over a bowl. That way I could drain off their excess water. With the amount of tomatoes I used, I had about a quarter of a cup of liquid drain out of them. That’s quite a bit. And every once in a while I would stir them to release more water.  Don’t worry if you don’t get all of the liquid out. You’ll get most of it out and that will be good enough.

I also recommend using either roma or campari tomatoes if you’re not using tomatoes from your garden. I find them to be a little less watery and more conducive to holding up in this recipe. But in a few weeks my patio tomatoes will be ripe (they are already starting to turn red) and I will use them in this recipe. Use what you have – you can always drain the water from them no matter what kind you use.

Lesson Learned 2 – Determine how much heat you want in your pico: Most recipes I saw suggested using one jalapeno pepper. I am growing banana peppers in my patio garden and I wanted to use those. Banana peppers have heat, but not as much as a jalapeno, so I used two of them and the pico had a nice but mild bite to it. Remember to scrape away the seeds on the inside of these peppers. That’s where you’ll find the highest concentration of heat. Here again you can choose what type of pepper you want to use depending on how much kick you want or can handle.

My banana pepper plant…

Lesson Learned 3 – For extra flavor add an avocado: Most recipes I looked at didn’t use avocados but I thought they added a nice smooth texture to the pico. If you plan on making your pico ahead of time (and I would not recommend making it more than two hours ahead in order to retain all of its freshness) do not add the avocado until you’re ready to serve it. Dice the avocado into small squares and fold it in with the other ingredients at the very end. Then add the juice of half a lime on top to prevent any oxidation. Give it a final mix and you’re ready to go.

Lesson Learned 4 – Choosing the right kind of onion: I used a white onion for my pico. It was an onion that I got at our local farmers market and it was mild and not overly pungent. Sometimes white onions can be too overpowering, especially if they make you cry when you peel them. This onion did not. So you might want to be careful in choosing the type of onion you’ll use. If a white onion is too pungent, use a sweet vadalia onion instead. Again the choice is yours.

And the rest is just a matter of chopping and dicing, two of my favorite things to do. Mix everything together, add some fresh lime juice, garnish and you’re ready to go. Try this one and see what you think!

Party Time Pico de Gallo...

  • Servings: Enough For A Crowd
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

2 cups tomatoes, chopped small

2 cups white onion, chopped small

1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped

2 banana peppers, seeded and diced

1 large avocado, chopped small

2 limes

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Drain the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl while preparing the other ingredients. Stir together the tomatoes, onion, cilantro and banana peppers. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the ingredients and stir until well combined.

Right before serving, add the avocado. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over the top. Gently fold the avocado into the other ingredients. Put the ingredients into a serving bowl and garnish with a couple of slices of lime and some cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

 

 

Cream Cheese And Pineapple Stuffed Celery

I bet you’ve been wondering where I’ve been? All I can say is this Summer has been crazy and I never anticipated having so little time to think about my blog. I’ve had very little time for recipe experimentation but I promise by the Fall I will be posting more regularly.

But with that in mind, I have a quick, down and dirty and outrageously simple appetizer that you can bring to your next Summer get together. This particular recipe was my mother’s and when you see how simple it actually is you’ll know that everything I’ve been telling you about how she was not the creative or adventurous cook is completely true. But, that being said, it is also really delicious.

My memory of this recipe does not come from Summer parties but rather holiday parties. Every Christmas and Easter (but especially Christmas) she would make these and have them on the table. I hadn’t thought about them in a long, long time until last week when I was charged with bringing an appetizer to an event but literally had no time to make anything. This recipe came to the rescue and it was a big hit!

I also think this was my mother’s way of getting her kids to eat celery – and it worked! For such an easy recipe, it is perfect to serve when time is limited and you want something fun and delicious to put on the table as an appetizer or snack.

So let’s talk cream cheese and pineapple stuffed celery…

Lesson Learned 1 – Pre-cut celery is a great time saver: My grocery store cells pre-cut celery. The stalks are approximately three inches in size and packed in water. That’s the perfect size for this recipe. The only thing I needed to do to prepare the celery was take a small slice off each end to freshen the ends up. I was able to pat them dry and stuff them right away. But you can also buy celery and wash and slice it on your own. But I loved the convenience of having all that work done for me ahead of time.

Lesson Learned 2 – It is important to use BOTH a can of crushed and chunked pineapple: Initially I tried it with just one can of crushed and found that the pineapple flavor was being overpowered by the cream cheese. When I added the chunked pineapple it gave a nice balance of flavor and you could visually see some pineapple, which was not very visible when I just used the crushed. I also recommend dicing the pineapple chunks out of the jar and before adding them to the cream cheese. That way the chunks are the perfect size. Fold the diced chunks in at the end so as not to overly crush them in the mixing process.

Make sure you drain both the crushed and chunked pineapple so that the cream cheese mixture doesn’t become too runny.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you can, chill the stalks before serving: If you have time refrigerate the stuffed celery stalks before serving. I found that at a Summer party serving them that way makes them even more refreshing. But if you can’t you can always serve them right away.

Lesson Learned 4 – This is a very versatile dish: There are different ways of using this cream cheese mixture. It would be delightful on a toasted bagel. You can serve it as part of a crudite platter. You can also serve it as a dip on a veggie plate with radishes, celery, sweet baby peppers, snap peas, and carrots or you can serve it with some crackers and grapes. I like serving it with celery as it’s easy to pick up and go.

Lesson Learned 5 – Why not just buy this pre-made at the store? That’s a good question but the answer is very simple – this takes no time to make and you control exactly what ingredients go into it, which is always a good thing.

It couldn’t be easier! Sometimes I shy away from posting these very rudimentary recipes as I think my readers will consider them too simple. But I’ve found that any new recipe idea, easy or otherwise, tends to be very much appreciated. So make this one and tell me what you think!

Cream Cheese and Pineapple Stuffed Celery

  • Servings: 20-30 Three Inch Stalks
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened

Celery stalks, washed, dried and cut into 3 inch pieces

1- 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained

1 – 8 ounce can of pineapple chunks, drained and diced in smaller pieces

DIRECTIONS:

Cut off a small slice on each end of the celery stalks and discard. Wash and dry the celery if not pre-washed. Combine the cream cheese with the drained crushed pineapple. Mix thoroughly. Fold in the drained diced pineapple.

Over-stuff each stalk with the cream cheese mixture. If possible, refrigerate for at least one hour, although this also can be served immediately.

 

Smoked Salmon And Herb Cheese Cucumber Bites…

Ok, I know I’ve said a lot of my recipes were over the top, but this one is really over the top! Not only does this appetizer have flavor that’s off the charts, but it looks equally impressive and it couldn’t be easier to make. And that’s what I like – something that’s pleasing to the eye and loaded with flavor.

If you’re anything like me you like to play with food. I loved all aspects of putting these bites together from making the cheese mixture, to rolling the salmon, to adding the little frawns of dill to smelling the aroma of cucumbers. Putting these appetizer bites together was a pleasure from start to finish!

So let’s talk smoked salmon cucumber bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – Peel stripes on the cucumber for some extra flair: If you take a peeler and peel 3-4 stripes lengthwise on an English cucumber you get a nice contrast in color along the peel. Make sure you use an English cucumber (or you can use baby cucumbers but they are more time consuming to handle) as the skin is edible in comparison to plain old regular cucumbers that have a thicker and less palatable skin. Adding the strips adds to the visual wow factor of the appetizer.

Lesson Learned 2 – Peel the smoked salmon into bite-sized chunks: The smoked salmon is sliced razor thin so all you need do is tear off a small piece, roll it and you’re ready to put it on top of the cheese. You only need a little bit for each appetizer.

Lesson Learned 3 – Pierce the salmon with the decorative pick first: You may need to push a little to get the salmon on the pick. You don’t want to do that at the same time you are putting the salmon on top of the cheese – the cheese will squirt out everywhere. Pierce the salmon first and then put the pick through the cheese and cucumber. That way it will all layer correctly.

Keep in mind you only need a small amount of the cheese mixture as well – I’d say about a well rounded teaspoon. I used the smaller side of a melon baller to scoop the cheese onto the cucumber. It worked perfectly.

This is an appetizer you’ll want to make and serve shortly afterwards. It tastes the best and freshest that way.  I know you’ll find these little bites not only delicious but also fun to make and of course, eat! Try them and let me know what you think.

Smoke Salmon And Herb Cheese Cucumber Bites...

  • Servings: 20-25
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 5.2 oz. Boursin garlic and fine herb gournay cheese (or any similar spreadable cheese)

1 English cucumber sliced in 1/2 inch rounds

8 oz. smoked salmon

3 Tbs. fresh dill, chopped

2 Tbs. creamy horseradish

1 tsp. onion powder

Small fresh dill frawns for garnish

Decorative picks

DIRECTIONS:

Mix together the cheese, onion powder, chopped dill and horseradish until well combined. Set aside.

Peel 3-4 stripes lengthwise down the sides of the cucumber. Slice the cucumber into 1/2 rounds. Place the cucumbers on a serving dish.

Put a teaspoon of the cheese mixture on top of each cucumber. Peel off bite sized pieces of the smoked salmon. Roll each piece and pierce it with the decorative pick. Place the pick through the cheese and cucumber.

Garnish with a small frawn of dill on top of each appetizer bite. Serve immediately.

The Ingredients

Bacon Turkey Ranch Pinwheels…

There is a method to my madness. By that I mean I have a process for trying to maintain my goal of posting one new recipe every week. I start by finding a day I know I’ll want to stay at home, usually a bad weather day (you know the kind – where you’d just like to just stay in bed with a good book) and that’s when I do a test kitchen. That way I can play with 2-3 recipes and build up a queue from which to publish.  And if I challenge myself to play with one new recipe a week after that I am assured of always staying ahead of the game.  So you see, I do have a plan.

And normally I don’t take the most recent recipe I’ve played with and shoot it to the top of the publishing list. But I couldn’t help it with this one. This is one heck of a great appetizer and with graduation season coming up and all those parties I wanted to share this right away so you could make it if you so desire. I made this one yesterday and it was so good and so easy. I just know your party guests will be impressed.

So let’s talk bacon turkey ranch pinwheels…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make the wraps the day before: Substantively there is nothing difficult about this recipe. You basically mix all the ingredients together, layer the turkey on a large tortilla, slather the cream cheese mixture over the meat, roll it up, cut it into rounds and add the decorative tomato. Probably the most time consuming thing is getting the cream cheese to room temperature. So reduce your stress and make the pinwheels the day before. Whenever you make pinwheels you need to chill the rolled up tortilla before slicing anyway. So why not wrap the rolls tightly in plastic wrap and let them sit over night. I think the flavors will get even better acquainted that way. Then the next day all you do is slice them and add the tomato. It couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – Get store bought bacon pieces for extra added convenience: I’ve made pinwheels both by frying and chopping up bacon strips and by using bacon bits out of a bag. I can’t tell the difference. I know how hectic preparing for parties can be so do yourself a favor and use the bacon bits in the bag. It’s a great time saver.

I also recommend using about 1/2 half of a 3 oz. bag – but see what you think. If you think your cream cheese mixture doesn’t look like it has enough bacon, don’t be afraid to add more. And lastly, I recommend adding the bacon bits at the end and folding them in by hand versus using your hand mixer. That way the pieces won’t get broken up and they’ll stay nice and chunky, and that’s what you want.

Lesson Learned 3 – You don’t need a lot of spinach for this recipe: I’m recommending using what I call a small handful of spinach. You don’t want to overdo – and only use fresh spinach not frozen. I’ve been buying my spinach at our local farmers market and it’s fabulous. But keep in mind, fresh spinach can also have long stems. You want to remove those stems before mixing the spinach in with all of the other ingredients.

You can just add the spinach leaves to the bowl with your cream cheese and seasonings. The hand mixer will break it up during the mixing process. But start your hand mixer on low until some of the leaves start to break down. Otherwise you might have an unanticipated mess on your hands.

Lesson Learned 4 – I used shallots in this recipe but you can also use green onions: I find shallots give the filling a little more zing but if you don’t have them on hand finely mince the white parts of two scallions and that will work as well.

Lesson Learned 5 – This recipe makes 3 large tortilla wraps: You can use any kind of tortilla. I used a traditional one but you can use spinach tortillas or any specialty tortilla you like. Keep in mind you’ll need to gauge how much turkey you’ll need. When I got my turkey, I got large thin slices so I only needed two slices per tortilla. That amounted to a little over a half pound. If you’re using smaller slices you obviously will need more. Just make sure the turkey is sliced thin.

Lesson Learned 6 – Make sure you don’t spread your filling all the way to the edges of the tortilla: As you roll up the tortilla the filling will spread. If you don’t leave some room around the edges you’ll have a bunch of filling oozing out of the sides. Leave some room around the edges and you won’t waste any filling. And no matter what you do the ends of your tortilla will never be completely filled. So just cut them off when you begin slicing the rounds. They will have some filling in them, so if you want to taste test your creation, eating the scraps is the perfect way to do it.

Lesson Learned 7 – Working with the cherry tomatoes: I found the easiest way to attach the cherry tomatoes to the rounds is to first pierce them with your decorative pick and slide the tomato up the pick leaving about an inch of the pick exposed. Then insert that end of the pick into the tortilla. If you try to do this process by placing the tomato on top of the round and then piercing it you’ll probably flatten your rounds. It’s best to insert the tomato onto the pick first and then insert the pick into the round. Just a little tip to make assembly easier.

And that’s it. When I brought these to a get together someone said, “You always make such nice looking appetizers” and that’s great because remember, you eat with your eyes first. I guarantee your party guests will be impressed with how they look but more importantly their taste buds will be equally as delighted. Enjoy!

Bacon Turkey Ranch Pinwheels...

  • Servings: 30-36
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 –  8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened

1 package ranch dressing mix

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 shallot, minced

1 small handful of fresh spinach, stems removed

3/4 pound of thinly sliced turkey

1/2 package (3 oz) of bacon bits

3 large tortillas

cherry tomatoes, one for each pinwheel

decorative picks

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium size bowl with a hand mixer combine cream cheese, ranch dressing mix, garlic powder, shallots, and spinach. Fold in the bacon bits by hand. Divide the mixture into three equal portions.

Layer each tortilla with turkey. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the turkey making sure to leave a 1/2 inch edge on all sides. Roll the tortillas tightly. Wrap all the rolled tortillas in plastic food wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours at a minimum.

Trim the ends off of each tortilla. Slice the tortillas into 1/2 inch rounds. Pierce a cherry tomato down the center with a decorative pick leaving at least an inch of the pick exposed at the bottom. Insert the pick with a tomato into each tortilla.

 

Stuffed Baby Peppers…

I don’t often think about a certain type of food as being cute, but I have to admit the thought crossed my mind when I first laid eyes on baby peppers. The next thought was how can I use these in a recipe and appetizer jumped out at me.

These little darlings make the perfect grab and go appetizer and I’ve found people tend to like the simplicity of that the most. The peppers are also very tender and sweet and a perfect compliment to a wide variety of cheese concoctions.

For this particular recipe I used a combination of a spreadable garlic and herb cheese, Boursin brand, and added some green onion and dill to boost the flavor of the cheese. It couldn’t have been easier. And when I served it at a gathering, the entire plate of peppers disappeared!

So let’s talk stuffed baby peppers…

Lesson Learned 1 – Sometimes the simplest things are the best: I used to think that recipes had to be complicated and flashy to merit writing about. And I’ve been proven wrong over and over again. The best example I can give is my cream cheese, spinach, bacon and scallion pinwheels. After I made them I hesitated to post the recipe because I thought it was so rudimentary and people would laugh at it. Boy was I wrong. To this day that recipe is one of the most popular recipes on my blog – and I would never have dreamed it to be when I wrote it.

This recipe, in my mind, falls in the same genre. It basically takes a pre-made spreadable cheese embellished with a couple of simple ingredients and some baby peppers and voila, a simple but great appetizer! This kind of appetizer is perfect for when you have to throw something together quickly. It’s super tasty, looks divine, and disappears in a snap. What could be better? So, bottom line, don’t shy away from what’s incredibly easy. In the end, it may be one of the most popular things you’ll make.

Lesson Learned 2 – Working with baby peppers: First let me suggest that you get a bag of multi-colored baby peppers. The array of colors on a plate makes for an easy but effective presentation. Second, baby peppers are incredibly easy to work with. They don’t have a lot of seeds or the strips of white pith inside so they are easy to cut and prepare. Just take your knife and cut the pepper in half from top to bottom, remove the few seeds you may find and if you have a little pith just take your knife and scrape it away. In no time flat you have a tasty bite size little boat to hold your cheese concoction.

Probably the biggest challenge with this recipe is stuffing the peppers – but you really don’t have to worry about being overly neat with the cheese stuffing. I used a melon baller, the smaller side, and just scooped some of the cheese into a pepper and spread it over the top. You wind up garnishing the peppers with some paprika and the remaining minced green onions and that gives them a decorative flair.

And that’s it. Now I chose to “beef up” the spreadable cheese I used, but you don’t even need to do that if you don’t have the time or ingredients. If you get a flavorful spreadable cheese, that can be sufficient. Just make sure you use a spreadable cheese, otherwise stuffing the peppers will definitely become a chore. Enjoy these tasty little morsels. You’ll have fun making them and you’ll have fun eating them!

Stuffed Baby Peppers...

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 5 oz. package of Boursin garlic and fine herb spreadable cheese

12 multi colored baby peppers, halved

1 Tbs. sour cream

2 green onions, chopped fine and divided

2 tsp. fresh dill, chopped fine

paprika, for garnish, optional

Fresh dill spears for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the peppers in half from top to bottom. Remove any seeds and white pith.

In a small bowl combine the spreadable cheese, sour cream, about 2/3 of the chopped green onions, and all the chopped dill.

Using a small spoon or the smaller side of a melon baller, scoop some cheese inside a pepper and smooth it out to cover the entire upper surface of the pepper. Repeat until all peppers have been stuffed.

Sprinkle the tops of the peppers lightly with the remaining green onions and paprika. Plate (you can garnish the plate with fresh dill spears, optional) and serve.

 

 

 

Smoked Salmon Bites…

Oh man… (yep that’s all I can say) oh man, this is a phenomenal appetizer! I served it at a recent get-together we had in our condo and it was gone in less than 20 minutes. To say it is out of this world is an understatement. I can’t tell you how many of my guests asked for the recipe.

But with all good things there is always a catch and this recipe is no exception. Although it is phenomenal, it is also expensive. You need 16 ounces of the key ingredient, the smoked salmon, and that comes at a cost. I was able to buy a 16 ounce package at my local grocery store and it was on sale at $19.95 from $22.95. That’s a pretty hefty price tag for about 35-40 appetizers. For 40 squares it amounts to approximately sixty cents per square – so definitely much more in the pricey range. But as an infrequent splurge you just can’t beat it. Everyone at my party raved over this. So on that special occasion when you want to make a significant impression, this is the recipe for you!

Smoked Salmon Bites Ingredients

So with that in mind, let’s talk smoked salmon bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – The process for making these bites is important to follow: The process for putting these together in itself is not difficult. It is very similar to making appetizer pinwheels. But there are a few variations that you need to keep in mind. This recipe calls for using 3 large tortillas. Within those tortillas you need to create a square of cream cheese mixture and smoked salmon in order to cut the bites into square pieces. That is not that difficult as you can see by the pictures below (not a perfect square by any means but that is still ok). The key is to make the largest square possible inside the round tortilla leaving only minimal areas at the rounded edges that will eventually be discarded.

Once the three layers have been completed, it is also important to take something like a cutting board and place it on top of the tortillas and press down slightly to ensure that the filling is evenly distributed within the square before your refrigerate it. I also learned a tip from another very similar recipe. If you lightly butter (and I mean very lightly) the second and third tortilla before you place it on top of the smoked salmon it will help keep the tortillas in place when you cut them. The butter clings to the smoked salmon which in turn secures the tortilla.

It is also important that this appetizer be given sufficient time to chill so that it can be cut easily. I recommend at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. That’s another great aspect of this appetizer, it can easily be made the day ahead and cut right before you intend to serve it. So all the heavy lifting is done in advance. As a matter of fact you can even make it two days in advance but don’t go beyond that.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a serrated knife to cut the bites: If you use a serrated knife to cut the bites and use a back and forth cutting motion less filling, if any,  will come out the sides. The cutting process will be a whole lot faster and easier.

First Layer Of Smoked Salmon Bites

Layer The Salmon On The Spread

Lightly Butter The Underside Of The Second And Third Tortilla

We had about 20 people over at the party when I served this and I was so happy with not only  how well it was received but also how easy it was to cut and serve the day of the party. Any host will appreciate not having to labor over a dish they are serving and rather spend more time with their guests and so the ability to make this ahead of time was very appealing to me. I certainly hope that you try this recipe at some point. I know I will be thoughtful about when to serve this, especially due to the cost, but I will definitely make this again.

Smoked Salmon Bites

  • Servings: 40
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

2-3 scallions, chopped fine

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 medium to large lemon, zested

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup dill + sprigs for presentation (sprigs optional)

3 large soft tortillas

16 oz. of smoked salmon sliced thin

small amount of softened butter

Lemon slices for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, scallions, garlic powder, lemon zest, salt and dill. Lay out a tortilla and spread half of the cream cheese mixture into a large square inside the tortilla, making as large of a square as possible. Top with half of the smoked salmon.

Take the second tortilla and butter it lightly. Put the buttered side down on top of the smoked salmon. Spread the remaining cream cheese mixture in the shape of a large square on top of the tortilla. Top the cream cheese mixture with the remaining smoked salmon.

Take the third tortilla and butter it lightly. Place the buttered side on top of the smoke salmon and press down lightly. Using a cutting board or a frying pan, press down on the tortillas to ensure the filling is equally distributed. Keep the tortillas flat and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for a minimum of 4 hours, overnight is preferable.

Remove the plastic wrap when ready to cut. Cut off all four rounded edges to create a square. Cut the tortillas into 1 inch strips lengthwise and then cut each strip into 1 inch squares. Place a toothpick in the center of each square and transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with dill sprigs and lemon slices if so desired. Serve.

 

 

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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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.

 

 

 

 

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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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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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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