Tag 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

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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.

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

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

Bacon Skewers w/ Caramel & Ganache

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If you love bacon and the combination of sweet and savory the way I do, you are sure to become a fan of this dish.  Courtesy of Cuisine at Home magazine, I can’t decide if these skewers make better appetizers or desserts.  Since the sweetness of the caramel and chocolate are foiled by the saltiness of the bacon, you can place the skewers upright in a glass and place them on a buffet table as a part of a brunch feast or serve them individually as a part of an appetizer plate.  These skewers can also make a surprise appearance on a dessert plate alongside a fruit salad.  Or, if you are feeling truly decadent, you can eat them as is for a lazy weekend mid-afternoon treat.  However you serve them they are sure to disappear so be sure the cook gets his or her share.

Do be sure to use a thick cut bacon since thinner slices are more apt to burn and won’t give you enough surface area for your caramel and chocolate to adhere to and as always, use the best quality of chocolate you can find.  You will notice the difference.

BACON SKEWERS w/ CARAMEL & GANACHE

For the bacon:

1 pound thick sliced bacon (about 14 slices)

14 wooden skewers

  • Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Coat a broiler pan with cooking spray.
  • Weave each piece of bacon onto a wooden skewer and place on the prepared broiler pan.
  • Place the bacon in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip each skewer over and return to the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes until the bacon is browned and crispy.
  • Remove from the oven and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Transfer the bacon skewers to a parchment lined baking sheet and set aside while you make the caramel.

For the caramel:

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

2 tablespoons heavy cream

  • Place the brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Allow to boil for 1 minute.
  • Whisk in the cream and boil for an additional 1 minute.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  • Drizzle each bacon skewer with the caramel.
  • Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to allow the caramel to set while you make the ganache.

For the ganache:

3 tablespoons heavy cream

3 ounces good quality milk chocolate, chopped

  • Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped chocolate.
  • Let the mixture sit for 3-4 minutes then whisk the chocolate into the cream until it is smooth.
  • Drizzle the chocolate over the second side of each bacon skewer.
  • Allow the chocolate to set then serve.

Yields: 14 skewers

Broiled Avocados

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I love avocados. A perfectly ripe avocado melts in your mouth when eaten in its natural state, adds cool texture to a sandwich or salad, and creates the perfect guacamole.  As an added bonus a serving of avocado fulfills one of your daily fruit and vegetable requirements and provides a healthy dose of good fats (which is a nice change after all of the bacon that has been creeping its way into my cooking lately.  Inspired by a recipe I found on Morsels and Musings, I set about creating my own version of a broiled avocado.

We ate the avocados as a side dish with dinner but they could easily be served as a part of a buffet table or as an appetizer, or even a late night snack.  I’m thinking they would make a nice first course when paired with a cup of chilled gazpacho soup and a handful of homemade tortilla chips.

BROILED AVOCADOS

1 avocado, sliced in half lengthwise with pit removed

1 lime, juiced, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon minced red onion

1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno peppers

1 tablespoon tabasco sauce

1/4 cup finely grated pepper jack cheese

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Pre-heat the broiler.  Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  • Score the insides of the avocado halves and place on the prepared baking tray.
  • Squeeze the lime juice over each half, add the tabasco sauce, and sprinkle with the cheese. Top with the minced onions and jalapeno and a healthy dose of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Place under the broiler and cook for 5 minutes or until the cheese is brown and melted.
  • Remove from oven, let cool for one minute then serve with additional lime juice if desired.

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

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