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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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

Zucchini Artichoke Olive Dip…

This past weekend a farewell party was being hosted for a co-worker who is moving to New York City. We were all asked, if we wanted, to bring something for the table. I knew I would be working all day the day before and the day of the party so I wanted to bring something that was not necessarily the usual faire and that I could make ahead. I decided on this recipe.

dip ingredientsThis is what Rachel Ray would call a chop and drop recipe. All the work is in the chopping and once that’s done you just stir the ingredients all together and refrigerate it. It’s a perfect make-a-head appetizer for any party.

So let’s talk zucchini artichoke olive dip:

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure your cream cheese is room temperature: This is a pretty hearty dip, almost a spread, so it’s important the cream cheese be room temperature, otherwise you’ll never get the ingredients completely blended. If the cream cheese is room temperature it mixes easily and you want to make sure everything is thoroughly combined as you have raw garlic and onion in this dip. You certainly don’t want concentrated clumps of raw onion or garlic anywhere.  The only way you’ll achieve that is with room temperature cream cheese.

zucchini artichoke olive dip

Lesson Learned 2 – any kind of olives will do: I had kalamata olives in the refrigerator, but you can use pimento stuffed olives or black olives, a combination of olives or whatever you prefer or have on hand. Be sure to add only 1/4 cup of finely chopped olives to begin with and then taste the dip when it’s all mixed. Olives tend to have a lot of salt in them and you don’t want to overpower the dip by adding too many. You can always add more if you think the dip needs more.

zucchini artichoke olive dip

Lesson Learned 3 – refrigerate this dip for at least 4 hours: This is the kind of dip that tastes even better if all the ingredients get well acquainted, so keep it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, although overnight is preferable.

garlic-press-and-sliceLesson Learned 4 – Use a garlic press to mince the garlic: Since you are adding raw garlic, it’s important that it be finely minced. The best way I’ve found to do that is with a garlic press. If you chop by hand you run the risk of having a larger chunk(s) of raw garlic somewhere in the dip. Using a press minces the garlic evenly and allows for it to be thoroughly incorporated into the other ingredients.

Lesson Learned 5 – Start out by using only a small amount of fresh cilantro: Cilantro has a very strong flavor but it also adds depth of flavor to this dip. I recommend starting out by adding only 2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh cilantro. After you taste the dip, if you feel it needs more cilantro you can always add it. I found 2 tablespoons to be more than enough.

Lesson Learned 6 – Squeeze the excess water out of the shredded zucchini: Zucchini, like cucumbers, has a lot of water in it. You don’t want a runny dip so it’s important to squeeze the excess water out. I just took handfuls and squeezed them over the sink until no water dripped out. You can wrap the zucchini in a towel and squeeze the water out that way as well. But, if you have clean hands it’s so much easier just using your hands and you’re not left with a dirty dishtowel.

This is so easy to make and it has a slightly different combination of ingredients than most artichoke dips. Try it at your next party. It’s sure to be a hit!

Zucchini Artichoke Olive Dip…

  • Servings: 30
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

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

3 cups shredded zucchini (2 medium sized zucchini)

1 jar marinated artichokes drained and chopped (you can add more if you like)

1/4 cup finely chopped olives (I used kalamata olives)

4 large garlic cloves, minced

3 Tbs. finely chopped red onion

2 Tbs. minced fresh cilantro

2 Tbs. lime juice (1 medium sized lime)

2 Tbs. good olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

Appetizer crackers or a french bread baguette, sliced.

DIRECTIONS: 

Combine all of the ingredients except the crackers and/or sliced baguette into a large bowl. Combine thoroughly. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours, overnight is preferable.

Serve with appetizer crackers or a french bread baguette, sliced.

Zucchini Artichoke Olive Dip

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.