Party Appetizers

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


Garlic and Rosemary Balsamic Roasted Pork Loin and Potatoes…

The one thing I really love about Fall is cranking up the oven again. I do a lot of grilling over the Summer and I love that too. But those smells in the house when something is roasting in the oven just can’t be beat. It makes a house a home.

So I decided to crank up the oven the other day. I haven’t had pork in a while and I thought I’d try that. More often than not when I make a pork roast I use a pork loin. The meat is so tender and I perfected roasting it so that it’s cooked but not dried out. And if you want my secret for roasting a perfect pork loin every time just click on my blog’s tips and tricks post and you’ll never have a dry pork loin roast again.

But although pork loin is moist I find it always needs a little help in the flavor department. And whether you marinate it or use some sort of rub, that’s usually enough to up the flavor factor. And that’s exactly what this recipe does.

I also like this recipe because for all intents and purposes it is a one pot meal. You can also make your potatoes and carrots in the same roasting pan and I’ve always liked that convenience. You just have to follow a couple of tips in order to make sure they cook properly.

So let’s talk garlic and rosemary balsamic roasted pork loin and potatoes…

Lesson Learned 1: Slightly par boil your potatoes before roasting them: I don’t know about you but I’ve found that roasting potatoes can be tricky. I usually wind up with hard or semi hard potatoes that are not cooked through. In this recipe it is important to cut the potatoes as evenly as possible (mine were approximately one inch squares). Once I do that I put them in a pot with water, bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes or just until they start to turn tender around the edges. Then I drain the potatoes and let me cool slightly in the strainer. I’ve found when I do this my potatoes come out perfectly when making this recipe. After I strain off the water I transfer them into a bowl so that I can coat them with the balsamic mixture before putting them in the roasting pan. It’s a little extra work, but definitely worth it.

The same rule applies for when I use sliced potatoes in a casserole. I used my mandolin slicer to get even slices. Then I par boil them just for a couple of minutes before adding them to a casserole dish that is ready to go into the oven. Try this little trick and you’ll have beautifully roasted potatoes all the time.

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe roasts the carrots to crisp tender: Carrots are also tricky to cook and although I prefer mine to be crisp tender, some people prefer their carrots to be soft. If soft is your preference roasting them this way will not give you that consistency unless you either cut them into thin rounds or use small baby carrots. I cut my carrots into about 2 inch chunks, cut each chunk into half and then half again. This produced a somewhat softened crisp tender carrot, which I love.

You can also do the par boiling trick described above for larger carrots if you want them to be soft. That might be a little too much muss and fuss for one recipe. But it’s totally up to you. Just something to think about…

Lesson Learned 3 – Browning the pork loin is totally your preference: Some recipes call for browning your pork loin before roasting it. It helps to seal in the juices. The reason I say this is totally your preference is that if you cook your pork loin according to my directions you will always get a juicy pork loin without browning it ahead of time. Plus when you add the balsamic mixture you cannot tell if the roast has been browned or not. So why bother. The choice is yours.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the balsamic mixture in your mini food processor: This is really the easiest way to ensure all the ingredients are well combined. Combine them in the processor until the mixture becomes paste-like as seen below. Then you’re ready to go…

And that’s it. This recipe is a Fall classic. Try it and tell me what you think…

Garlic & Rosemary Balsamic Roasted Pork Loin & Potatoes...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print


1 1/2 pound boneless pork loin

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch square pieces (can also use 2 pounds of baby reds)

3-4 large carrots cut into chunks, then halved and halved again (or 1 bag of small baby carrots not cut)

1/4 cup good olive oil, plus 1 Tb. for the carrots

3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

5 large garlic cloves (or 10 small), smashed

1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1 tsp. Herbs De Provence

Cooking spray


Preheat the oven to 375. Peel, chop and par boil the potatoes for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a food processor until it forms a paste.

Coat the pork loin on all sides with the balsamic mixture. (You will have some left over for the potatoes). Lightly grease a large roasting pan with cooking spray. Place the pork loin in the center of the roasting pan. Coat the potatoes with the remaining balsamic mixture. Place them on one side of the pork loin.

Coat the carrots with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper and Herbs De Provence. Place the carrots on the other side of the pork loin.

Roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cover with foil for 5 minutes. Transfer the roast to a cutting board, slice and serve with the potatoes and carrots.




Fresh Pear Compote…

Last year my neighbor’s apple trees produced in abundance. This year it was the pear trees and so I eventually got a bushel of pears. Off I went in search of pear recipes I might adapt to my needs and tastes.

I’ve always been a big fan of warm fruit. There’s nothing better than a piece of hot apple or cherry pie with a big dollop of vanilla ice cream. This time, I was not in the mood to make a pie. I found a great recipe for making an upside down pear cake that I adapted and will post later. But what I really wanted to make was a pear compote.

Garden Pears

A compote is basically fruit cooked in water and spices. This particular compote is cooked in butter and lemon juice along with sugar and vanilla. Now doesn’t that sound good. So let’s talk fresh pear compote…

Lesson Learned 1 – All the tedious work is in the prep: To make this compote you need to peel and slice the pears. The pears I got from my neighbor were, on average, smaller than the ones you buy in the grocery store. So I had to spend more time peeling and slicing. Keep in mind that pears, like apples, will turn brown (oxidize) when peeled and exposed to air. To slow down that process until you’ve got everything prepped, just sprinkle a little lemon juice on the pears. That will prevent oxidation until you’re ready to cook them. Every time you slice another pear and drop it in the bowl use your hands to toss it in with the others so that some lemon juice gets on it. There’s no need to add additional lemon juice every time you add another sliced pear to the bowl, unless you’re doubling or tripling the recipe. You really need only a small amount of lemon juice, a tablespoon or so.

Also make sure you slice the pears thinly. They will cook more evenly and will mash thoroughly if you slice them thinly before you cook them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t be afraid to add the ingredients to taste: My recipe requires very little sugar due to the sweetness of the fresh fruit  Most compote recipes I read called for less than one teaspoon of cinnamon. The beauty of this recipe is it’s very adaptable. Once you mix the ingredients, taste the pears before you cook them. If you feel you need to add more sugar or cinnamon, add it. I also love the taste of vanilla extract in the recipe but I found that a little vanilla goes a long way. But those are my tastes. Make this recipe work for you. Just remember to err on the safe side as you can always add more but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it.

Lesson Learned 3 – This compote can be served hot or cold: Although traditionally compote is designed to be served hot, this compote tastes divine hot or cold. I would make a bowl of hot oatmeal and put some chilled compote on top and it was an insanely delicious combination. You can serve this warm with a cheese platter, or put it on crusty bread. Anyway you choose to serve it, this recipe is a winner.

It’s amazing to me how simple this recipe is. After I made pear compote I used the same recipe to make apple compote and it was fabulous. I certainly hope that you try this one.

[recipe: title=”Fresh Pear Compote…” time=”45-50 Minutes” servings=”6-8″ difficulty=”Easy”]


6 large pears

1 medium sized lemon, juiced and zested (plus an additional tablespoon of juice to put on pears while slicing them)

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon (start with 1/2 and add more to taste)

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 tsp. cornstarch


Peel the pears and slice them thinly. (coat them with a little lemon juice to prevent oxidation before you’ve completed pealing all the pears). Once pealed, combine pears with all of the ingredients except the butter and cornstarch.

Melt the butter in a deep sauce pan. Add the pear mixture and cook for at least five minutes on medium high heat, or until the pears are tender and can be mashed.

Remove the pears from the heat. Mash them inside the same pot. After mashing them stir in the cornstarch. NOTE: Add the cornstarch a little at a time to avoid clumping.

Put the pears back on the stove and simmer covered for an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.



Fresh Pear Compote

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread…

So after making my pumpkin cream cheese sweet bread I had some leftover pumpkin puree. Since  I didn’t want to waste it and the sweet bread was such a big hit I thought I’d try making another type of sweet bread using the leftovers.

What I like about this bread is it combines some of my favorite Fall flavors – pumpkin, cranberry and orange. Then you throw in a little chopped pecans and you’re in sweet bread heaven.

So let’s talk some pumpkin cranberry nut bread…

Cover the cranberries with orange juiceLesson Learned 1 –   Plump the dried cranberries for even more flavor: I had a bag of cooking and baking julienne sliced cranberries and I was able to give them an extra body and boost by soaking them in warm fresh orange juice. Yum!

In a microwavable bowl I just poured the juice of one large orange over a half cup of the cranberries, put plastic wrap over the bowl, slit the wrap to vent and heated the mixture for 45 seconds.  Then I let the mixture sit covered in the plastic wrap for at least 5 minutes and voila, plumped cranberries. You may have done this process before with raisins, and it works the same for dried cranberries. Plus it gives the cranberries an extra boost of orange flavor.

Lesson Learned 2 – I adapted this recipe from a muffin recipe: Almost any muffin recipe can be adapted into a sweet bread recipe. You just have to remember to bake it longer. I took the guess work out for you. I started checking the bread at 30 minutes and wound up baking it for an additional 15 minutes, checking the loaf every 5 minutes. My determination is, based on your oven and where you live, the bread should be baked for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dryLesson Learned 3 – You don’t need any mixer for this recipe:  Just combine the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix until just combined – don’t over mix. It couldn’t be easier.

This bread is incredibly easy to make. So if you’re looking for a great Fall treat that’s full of flavor and requires hardly any effort on your part, this is the recipe for you! Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread…

  • Servings: 14-16 slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


1/2 cup dried cranberries (I used cooking and baking cranberries, julienned)

The juice of one large orange

2 cups flour, plus 1 Tbs. for high altitude

2/3 cup granulated sugar, measure slightly less for high altitude

1 Tbs. pumpkin spice blend

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 tsp. salt

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup milk, you can used reduced fat milk

2 extra large eggs

The zest of one large orange


Preheat your oven to 350. Zest the orange. Cut the orange and juice it. Place the cranberries in a microwavable bowl and pour the orange juice over them. Take plastic wrap and cover the top of the bowl, cutting a small slit in the center to vent the steam. Microwave for 45 seconds. Set aside and let the cranberries steep for at least 5 minutes.

In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, pumpkin spice blend, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in the chopped pecans. Drain the cranberries and put them in another large bowl. Add the somewhat cooled melted butter (you don’t want the eggs to scramble) the canned pumpkin, milk, eggs and orange zest. Stir until just combined.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the bowl. Mix with a spoon or spatula until just combined.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 4 loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the pan. Smooth the top of the batter with a spatula making sure the batter has reached into all corners and the top is even.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf rest in the loaf pan for 15 minutes then remove it to a wire rack. Cool completely.

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread

 Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Nut Bread

My Favorite Color Is October…

Ever since I can remember Fall has been my favorite time of year. It starts in late Summer with the crisp inviting smell of loose leaf paper and the promise of another school year punctuated with shiny new school supplies. Then NFL football makes its presence known and we ask ourselves how did we ever manage so long on Sundays without it? Slowly but surely darkness creeps closer to dinner time instead of bedtime. That extra blanket sure feels good wrapped around you at night, doesn’t it?  And those smells of dinner slow roasting in the oven versus being cooked on the grill. They all create an aura of Fall and home sweet home. These traditions, memories and experiences help to make Fall that very special time of year. But perhaps the best aspect of Fall is experiencing nature’s way of ushering in Winter with palates of color that warm the heart and soothe the soul.

There have already been so many lessons learned during my recuperation from spinal surgery, some by necessity and some merely by chance. Part of my ongoing physical therapy is to take daily walks and increase the distance I walk as my body allows. I am forced to be outside and walk my neighborhood every single day. At first it was a matter of can I do this, how am I feeling, can I go any further, and watch my step. But I can tell you that gets really old after a while. Next you start thinking about how to relieve the boredom of walking in an area that’s all too familiar, the same streets, houses, cul de sacs, and park. I know I have to do this, but I sure wish the scenery was more spectacular. Then yesterday I realized I could not see the forest for the trees. Stop and smell the roses, Jan. Take a good long hard look at what is right there in front of you.

Red leaves

And so I did. It almost had to slap me in the face before I noticed it. But once it did, my eyes opened as if for the first time. It came upon me so fast it almost took my breath away. What was I thinking? Here I was longing for spectacular scenery when I was already in the midst of an unfolding story of colors, lights, sounds and smells. I was just too busy to notice. But I’m seeing it now. Time to explore.

yellow leaves


I’ve always loved the ways leaves turn into an array of colors at this time of year, but never really thought about how they compliment the color of the sky or create a palate of complimentary hues that offset each other in perfect symmetry. The greens, yellow, browns, reds, pinks, purples all bathed in a backdrop of a clear blue sky is sheer and utter magnificence! The artistry of nature is at its best in the Fall and right there for all to enjoy if you take the time to notice it.

Looking around you can also see the last vestiges of Summer, annuals that look slightly worse for wear but still proudly standing like old soldiers not wanting to let go of the glory of bygone days.

Summer Flowers

Summer Flowers

And lets not forget the first big holiday of the season is around the corner and that, in itself, brings an array of creativity to lawns and porches. Traditional decorations, spooky creatures and deflated balloons awaiting darkness and air compressors to come alive all dot the streets in a festive display of Halloween magic.




There is a wealth of spiders, cobwebs, ghosts and goblins scattered in trees, lawns and on porches all in the spirit of the season. They bask in the sunshine during the day suspended in time and space but come alive at night to roam the neighborhood in search of the faint of heart. I could feel there eyes follow me as I walked among them but they would not break their code of silence. Only in darkness do they flourish. They seemed to be challenging me to come back, at their time and on their terms. But for now they lie in wait for the sun to go down hoping I will have the courage to return and meet them once again under the veil of darkness.

A neighborhood ghost

A neighborhood ghost

And as I took all of it in I realized once again how little time I spend stopping to smell the roses. Today I saw my neighborhood in a whole new light, bathed in autumn beauty and the anticipation of Halloween. I smiled at every decoration, every tree, every pile of leaves waiting to be enveloped with children sitting in their midst and throwing them wildly into the air. I reveled in the fallen leaves crunching under my feet and took in the smells, sights, sounds and colors of October. I almost missed it. It’s so amazing. And yes, there is no doubt in my mind now, my favorite color is October.

Autumn leaves with the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

Autumn leaves with the backdrop of a clear blue sky.