Category Archives: appetizer

Ricotta & Onion-Port Jam Flatbread

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When is pizza not pizza? When it is flatbread of course. Flat bread is one of my favorite go to foods. It can be served as part of a light dinner, as an appetizer or even a mid afternoon snack. All it takes is some flatbread—pre made or my preference of fresh homemade pizza dough– and the toppings of your choice. You can make them sweet, savory or a combination of the two. Top them with meat, cheese, fruits or vegetables. Really, anything can be a topping for flatbread so you can make individual ones to please your entire family or bake up a variety for a smorgasbord.

This flatbread is one of my favorites and is inspired by the Savory Simple food blog. I’ve used my own pizza dough and topped it with fresh ricotta cheese, crumbled bacon and homemade port infused onion jam. The jam is sweet, savory and decadent and the key to its success is cooking the onions slowly so they caramelize. You can make the jam earlier in the day if you prefer then top the flatbread with it when you are ready to cook. So go ahead and try this recipe then let your imagination decide which direction you go next. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

RICOTTA & ONION-PORT JAM FLATBREAD 

For the flatbread:

1 recipe of your favorite pizza dough

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup onion-port jam

1 cup crumbled bacon

1/4 cup green onions, minced

For the Onion-Port Jam:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, peeled, quartered and sliced thin

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup water (more if needed)

1/2  cup port wine

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  • Melt the butter on low heat in a large skillet.
  • Add the onions, sugar and salt.
  • Sweat the onions, stirring, until they begin to caramelize.
  • Turn up the heat to medium-low. Once the onions have begun to brown, pour approximately 2-3 tablespoons of water into the pan to deglaze, using a spatula to scrape up the brown bits and stir them into the onions.
  • Repeat this glazing and deglazing process until the onions have been thoroughly caramelized and taste both sweet and bitter, approximately 25-35 minutes.
  • Add the port wine and balsamic vinegar to the onions and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring periodically, until all of the liquid has reduced and is coating the onions.
  • Taste and add a bit more salt if desired.

When you are ready to build your flatbreads:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. If your oven has a pizza setting, use that.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper then set aside.
  • Divide the pizza dough into four even portions and working one at a time on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a long oval.
  • Place each piece of dough on the prepared baking sheet taking care to make sure the edges are not touching.
  • Place 1/4 cup of the ricotta cheese on the top of each piece of dough and use a rubber spatula to evenly distribute it across the entire surface.
  • Divide the onion-port jam amongst the flatbreads, spreading it to cover as much of the surface area as possible.
  • Add the bacon and the green onions to each flatbread, evenly distributing them across the top of each one.
  • Bake flat breads for 15-17 minutes or until the crusts are browned and crisp and the toppings are beginning to bubble.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Yields: 4 flatbreads

Gorgonzola & Mascarpone Torte

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Is it cheese?  Is it a cake? Is it cheesecake? Yes, sort of and sort of again.  If you love gorgonzola or any other type of blue cheese, this is the appetizer for you.  I do love gorgonzola but often find that a little goes a long way.  This recipe, courtesy of Janet Fletcher’s The Cheese Course combines pungent gorgonzola with a mild and creamy mascarpone. The result the best of both cheese worlds.  In addition to tasting amazing, this appetizer makes for an impressive presentation. Yes, it looks like a layer cake and on more than one occasion I’ve witnessed guests peering at the plate before inquiring as to what it was.  Cheese?  Cake?  A Cheesecake?  Yes, yes, and yes.

GORGONZOLA & MASCARPONE TORTE

1 large wedge of gorgonzola or other blue cheese, chilled

1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature

1/2 cup slivered almonds

  • Place the gorgonzola wedge on a cutting board and using a sharp knife or piece of unflavored dental floss, slice the wedge in half as though you are splitting a layer cake.
  • Place the bottom piece of the cheese on a serving tray and spread a thin layer of mascarpone over the top as though you are filling a cake.
  • Layer the remaining piece of gorgonzola on top of the mascarpone.
  • Spread the mascarpone over the top and sides of the gorgonzola to resemble a piece of layer cake.
  • Pat the sliced almonds along the outer edge of the cake.
  • Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill for several hours or up to overnight.  Remove from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before serving.
  • Serve with crackers, bread slices, or ripe pear slices.  This appetizer is perfect when accompanied by a nice glass of port or other sweet red wine.

Green Eggs & Ham Deviled Eggs

 

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A few weeks ago I was asked to organize snacks at my school’s literacy night. Wanting to carry the theme of books and reading into the food portion of the event, I decided that each food we served would be derived from a favorite childhood book featuring food. It all started out as a vague idea and ended up being a lot of fun for children and adults alike.

Some books had easy pairings but when I came to the Doctor Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham, I found myself pausing. First, I was looking for bite-sized food that could be made ahead of time which ruled out the majority of the Seuss themed dishes I found on the Internet. Then I also wanted to be able to incorporate both title components into a single dish. And finally, there was the issue of making the dish green.

Deviled eggs have always been one of my favorite appetizers and whenever I make them they disappear in minutes. Plus unlike scrambled eggs and the like they are portable and can be made ahead of time. So I took to my old stand by recipe and tweaked it a bit to include bits of minced ham and green food coloring. The food coloring is definitely optional but this version of my classic dish is a keeper.

 

GREEN EGGS & HAM DEVILED EGGS

12 eggs, hardboiled, cooled, peeled & sliced in half

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2  tablespoon dried Coleman’s mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sweet curry powder

1/4 cup minced cooked ham

Green food coloring (optional)

Parsley sprigs and paprika to garnish

  • Using a small spoon, carefully remove the egg yolks from the egg whites. Place the yolks in a small bowl and move the whites to a serving platter.
  • Using a fork, mash the yolks to form a thick paste.
  • Stir in the mayonnaise, dried mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and curry powder, mixing until the mixture is smooth and lump free.
  • Stir in the ham, mixing until the meat is evenly distributed.
  • If you are using the food coloring, add one drop at a time, stirring well between each addition, until you have achieved your desired color.
  • Scoop the filling into the egg whites.
  • Sprinkle with paprika and top with a sprig of parsley.

Yields: 24 servings.

Duck & Pear Wontons 

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I recently found myself craving wontons and decided that the best way to find ones I liked was to make them myself. I had always been intimidated by the prospect of making these bite sized morsels but much to my surprise, and delight, while time consuming, they are incredibly easy to make.

As wontons are small items and you want to experience each of the flavors and ingredients in every bite, you want to make sure each of the ingredients is finely chopped. Never one to waste a delicious ingredient, I used my rendered duck fat as the oil for sautéing the remaining ingredients. If you don’t have duck fat you can substitute vegetable oil. (But I think that duck fat adds more flavor to the dish). Because the wontons taste best when they are freshly steamed, you can make them ahead of time then cook them when you are ready to eat.

And now that I’ve made them, they are sure to make a regular appearance in my kitchen. Simply put, they are delicious.

 

DUCK & PEAR WONTONS

2 skin-on duck breasts

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or duck fat)
2 pears, peeled cored, and diced small
1 cup Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2  cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40  wonton skins

1/2 cup of your favorite soy or dipping sauce

  • Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in a cold cast iron skillet set over low heat.
  • Slowly render the fat off of the duck breasts until the meat is medium rare. Remove the duck from the pan and allow to cool.
  • Heat the duck fat in the skillet set over medium-high heat. If you don’t have enough fat add additional oil to total 2 tablespoons.
  • Add the diced pears, Chinese cabbage, garlic and green onion to the pan and saute for one minute.
  • Sprinkle the mixture with Chinese five spice mixture and cook for an additional minute.
  • Remove from the heat and add in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
  • When then the duck is cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the meat and dice the breast.
  • Add it to the cabbage mixture and stir well to combine.
  • Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place a small amount of the duck mixture in the center of each wrapper.
  • Moisten the edges of the wrapper with a small amount of water then bring the edges together to form a pocket, pinching the edges to seal.
  • Set aside and repeat until all of the wonton wrappers have been used.
  • Working in batches, (be careful not to crowd the wontons) steam the wontons in a steaming basket until the wontons are translucent. This should take about 4-5 minutes per batch.
  • Serve immediately dipped into your favorite sauce.

Yields: 40 wontons

 

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels

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My recent trips to Germany and Austria have had me craving those hot, soft and chewy pretzels that you can buy from street vendors to sit down restaurants alike.  I’ve lost track of the number of pretzels I’ve actually eaten but I wanted more.  Being back here in Albania, the only real option is making my own so making my own I did.  This recipe from King Arthur Flour is surprisingly easy and the results are pretty close to the the Bavarian styled ones I had been craving.  They tasted much better than they looked and disappeared in a matter of minutes.

HOT BUTTERED SOFT PRETZELS

DOUGH

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast

7/8 to 1 cup warm water (adjust accordingly to yield a soft dough)

TOPPING

1 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons baking soda

coarse, kosher, or pretzel salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • Place the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the work bowl of a food processor equipped with a steel blade.  Process for 5 seconds.
  • Add the water, and process for 7 to 10 seconds, until the dough starts to clear the sides of the bowl.  Process for a further 45 seconds.
  • Place a handful of flour in a bowl, scoop the slack dough into the bowl, and shape the dough into a ball, coating it with the flour.  Loosely cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • While the dough is resting, prepare the topping:  Combine the boiling water and baking soda, stirring until the soda is totally dissolved.  Set the mixture aside to cool to lukewarm or cooler.
  • Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with vegetable oil spray or lining it with parchment paper.
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces.
  • Allow the pieces to rest uncovered for 5 minutes.  Pour the baking soda/water mixture into a 9 inch square pan.
  • Roll each piece of dough into a long, thing rope (about 28 to 30 inches long) and twist each rope into a pretzel. Working with four pretzels at a time, place them in the pan with the baking soda/water, spooning the water over their tops.  Leave for 2 minutes before placing them on the baking sheet.  The baking soda “bath” will give the pretzels a nice, golden-brown color.
  • Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle them lightly with the salt.  Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  • Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
  • Remove the pretzels from the oven and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter.  Eat the pretzels warm or reheat them in the oven or microwave.

Yield:  8 large pretzels

Bacon Jam

The old adage that everything is better with bacon holds true.  In my quest for new bacon related recipes I stumbled upon this one from King Arthur Flour.  Because it is made in a crock pot, the hands on time for this dish is minimal and your entire house will be filled with the sweet and salty aroma of this jam before you are done.  I was initially taken aback by the ingredients, which individually I love but I just couldn’t fathom being put together as a single dish (maple syrup mixed with coffee???), but the results surprised me……..after all everything is better with bacon.  Whether served on bread slices and paired with a salad for a light dinner or paired with bread and goat cheese as part of a buffet table, this jam is a hit.

Not having boiled cider on hand, and being unable to have it shipped to me, I improvised by making a reduction of apple juice cooked with a whole cinnamon stick and five whole cloves.  The result isn’t quite the same but the resulting syrup seemed to do the trick.

BACON JAM
 
1 1/2 pounds bacon
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup boiled cider
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
2 dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
  •  Slice the bacon into 1″ slices and cook in a large skillet until well browned.  Drain the fat and reserve the bacon.
  • Place the cooked bacon and all other ingredients into a 2 quart or larger crock pot.  Cover and cook  on high for 3 to 4 hours.
  • Remove the cooked jam from the crock pot, remove the bay leaves, and carefully transfer to a food processor or blender.  (I used a bowl and my trusty stick blender).  Pulse until the consistency is to your liking, a soft, spreadable jam.  You can leave the bacon in larger bits or pulse until very small, your choice.
  • If you find the jam too liquid for your taste, transfer to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the liquid has evaporated and the jam is thick and syrupy.  Adjust the seasonings and serve warm.
  • Store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Warm in the microwave before serving.
Yield:  2 cups

Gorgonzola Straws

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I found this recipe in the food section of the Washington Post and was immediately intrigued.  As a fan of blue cheese, and gorgonzola in particular, I was sure that I would love these crispy little crackers.  And as an added bonus, the recipe seemed so simple. I tested the recipe for a party and found myself enjoying them so much that I needed to make a second batch to actually feed our guests.  Yes, they are that good.  Think of them as a Cheez-it for adults.  Yum!

GORGONZOLA STRAWS

4 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for sprinkling

8 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup flour, plus more for dusting

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine the butter, salt, gorgonzola cheese, cayenne pepper, and flour in a food processor and pulse until a ball of dough forms.
  • Lightly dust a work surface and a rolling pin with flour.
  • Divide the dough in half.  Working with one portion at a time, roll out a rectangle to a thickness of 1/4 inch.  Re-dust the rolling pin and work surface as needed.  Fold and roll as many times as needed to form a tidy 6 by 9 inch rectangle.
  • Using a long sharp knife, slice the rectangle of dough to create 18 pieces that are 1/2 inch wide and 6 inches long.
  • Use a thin spatula to transfer them to a heavy baking sheet, arranging them close together but not touching.  Repeat with the remaining dough on another sheet.
  • Sprinkle generously with salt.
  • Bake one sheet at a time for 20 to 25 minute or until the straws just begin to brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Yields:  36 straws

White Bean & Pumpkin Hummus

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If you love pumpkin and you love hummus, this dip from Cooking Light is for you. Not only is it easy and can be whipped up in minutes but it also tastes great and is super versatile. I prefer to roast and puree my own pumpkin and use dried beans that I have cooked myself rather than canned ones but if you are going to quick and last minute, canned pumpkin puree and beans will work as well.

I can eat this dip by the spoonful but it is also great with crudite, pita chips or pretzels and you can also smear it on a sandwich or crackers. Your options are truly endless so go ahead and give it a try today. You won’t be disappointed.

WHITE BEAN & PUMPKIN HUMMUS

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 15-ounce can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon salt

  • Place the pumpkin and the beans in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree until smooth. Alternatively, place the pumpkin and beans in a medium sized bowl and puree using a stick blender.
  • Add the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, paprika and salt. Pulse for 30 seconds or until all of the ingredients have been combined and the hummus is smooth.
  • Serve with crudite, pretzels, crackers or just a spoon.

Yields: 2 cups

Spanish Potato Tortilla

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One of my favorite memories of my trip to Spain was eating tapas. Regardless of the hour there was always a tapas restaurant open on just about every street corner in Madrid. Tapas are a social meal; you can order a variety of the small plates and share them amongst your table mates. They are also a great way to try new dishes and flavors since by ordering one you aren’t committing to a full entrée. And I would always try new dishes each time we sat down at the table. However, in addition to the plentiful little bowls of olives that graced every menu, tortillas made regular appearances. If a restaurant made a good tortilla I knew everything else they made would be good as well. I had forgotten much I liked tortillas nut after Spanish friends brought one to our house I knew I had to make my own.

Tortillas are actually quite simple; tender potatoes and onions are combined with eggs and fried. It sounds so basic but the flavors are anything but. This recipe is courtesy of Fine CookingIf you want to save time you can find pre-cut potatoes in your grocery store’s fresh food case. (I’ve recently discovered these and now swear by their convenience). You can serve the tortilla as part of a tapas dinner, as an appetizer or a snack. I love to eat the leftovers at room temperature the next day washed down with a glass of crisp rose wine. Now that is summer living.

SPANISH POTATO TORTILLA

1 3/4 cups olive oil (not extra virgin)

1 3/4 pounds low starch potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch slices

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

6 eggs

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Pour the olive oil into a 10 1/2 inch cast iron skillet and set over medium-high heat.
  • While the oil is heating, place the sliced potatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the salt, tossing to distribute it well.
  • When the oil is very hot (test it by slipping a single potato slice into the oil. It should sizzle vigorously without the edges browning), slip the potatoes into the oil with a slotted spoon. Fry the potatoes, turning occasionally, taking care not to break them up. Adjust the heat if necessary to the potatoes cook without crisping or browning.
  • Line a plate with paper towels. When the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 12 minutes, transfer them to the plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the oil. Fry, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat as necessary, until the onions are very soft and translucent but not browned, 7-9 minutes. Remove from the pan and add to the plate with the potatoes.
  • Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the oil from the pan. Heat over high heat until both the oil and the pan are very hot.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper with a fork until blended. Add the drained potatoes, onions and garlic and mix gently to combine, taking care not to break up the potatoes.
  • Pour the potato and egg mixture into the hot skillet, spreading it evenly. Cook for 1 minute then lower the heat to medium-low, cooking until the eggs are completely set at the edges and cooked halfway into the center and the tortilla easily slips around the pan when you give it a shake, about 8 to 10 minutes. You may need to use a thin spatula to loosen the edges.
  • Set a flat, rimless plate that is at least as wide as the skillet upside down over the pan. Lift the skillet off of the burner and with one hand on the bottom of the plate and the other holding the skillet’s handle, invert the skillet so the tortilla lands on the plate.
  • Set the pan back on the heat and slide the tortilla onto it, using the slotted spoon to push any stray potatoes back under the eggs.
  • Cook until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean and hot with no uncooked egg on it, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Transfer the tortilla to a serving platter and allow it to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve it warm, at room temperature or slightly cool.
  • Cut into wedges or small squares.

Yields:10-12 appetizer sized servings

Chicken Satay w/ Spicy Peanut Sauce

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This chicken satay is my go to dish whenever I am putting together a buffet table or am in need of an easy, yet satisfying appetizer.  They are just as good when they are served piping hot from the oven as they are at room temperature.  The peanut sauce brings these from nice to over the top.  The recipe is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.  I’ve increased the amount of spices to add my personal touch and to satisfy my need for spice.  However, the amounts can easily be decreased if spicy food just isn’t your thing.  If you have the time you can place the chicken breasts in the freezer for up to 30 minutes before slicing the meat.  While not required, this will make the chicken easier to slice and make for a neater presentation.

I categorize this recipe as an appetizer and if served as such, the recipe will yield between 10 and 15 servings depending upon the size of your chicken breasts.  In the Brown household, however, we’ve been known to turn these skewers into a full-fledged dinner.  Just add rice and a green vegetable and you have a balanced meal.

CHICKEN SATAY WITH SPICY PEANUT SAUCE

For the chicken:

6 boneless chicken breasts

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup minced cilantro

3 tablespoons ketchup

4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

4 scallions, thinly sliced

Wooden skewers

  • Slice the chicken into 1/4 inch pieces and weave the chicken onto each skewer.  Place the skewers in a large shallow dish or a large plastic Ziploc bag.
  • Combine all of the remaining ingredients in small bowl.
  • Pour the marinade over the chicken making sure each skewer is covered with the marinade.  Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinade for 30-60  minutes.
  • Place an oven rack as close to the upper heating element as possible.  Set the oven to broil and allow to pre-heat.
  • Arrange the skewers on top of an oiled broiler pan.  (You may need to cook the skewers in batches).  Broil for 7-8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

For the spicy peanut sauce:

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

1/4 cup hot water

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

3 scallions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
  • Serve with the chicken satay.
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