Archive for the 'Appetizers' Category



Watermelon Mango Salsa

It may be 58° outside, but I’m going to blog summer recipes until the season is officially over, dangit.  Plus, there are plenty of watermelons and mangoes available in my supermarket right now, and this salsa is sooooo good.  I made it for our farmers’ market-themed gourmet club last month, but it would be fantastic as part of a picnic, as an appetizer for a non-traditional Mexican menu, or as a garnish for grilled fish or chicken.  Give it a try!

Watermelon Mango Salsa
Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 1/2 to 3 cups diced seedless watermelon
1 Granny Smith apple, finely diced
1 mango, pitted and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and leaves chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt

Method:
Combine the salsa ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate.  Serve with chips.

Source: Peace Meals (such a gorgeous cookbook!)

Watermelon Mango Salsa

I’ll admit that I was initially a bit hesitant about adding garlic to watermelon, but this combination of ingredients really works.  You get sweetness from the watermelon and the mango, tartness from the apple and the lime juice, and savory goodness from the onion, jalapeno, and garlic.  I enjoyed the play between textures just as much as the flavor; the crunch from the apples and onions was especially terrific.  I’ll definitely make this one again, especially if I have leftover watermelon to use.

Like most recipes I love, the salsa can be made ahead.  I threw mine together a couple of hours before serving it and I thought it was just perfect; if you make yours ahead and it gets too juicy, just drain off some of the liquid before serving.

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Dinner Party Menus: Niman Ranch Burgers

Labor Day is fast approaching (I cannot even believe it’s September already), and I have the perfect burger-based menu for anyone who is planning a cookout to celebrate.  As is, the menu will serve six people somewhat generously; the recipes are easily doubled (or tripled!) for extra guests.

Appetizer:
Hummus with Peppers and Pita Chips

Meal:
Niman Ranch Burgers with Cheddar, Tomato, Caramelized Onion, and Spicy Mayo
Orzo and Zucchini Salad
Grilled Corn

Dessert:
Ice Cream Cones

The hummus, pita chips, ice cream, and ice cream cones are all store-bought, which saves some time and prep work.  Here’s the prep schedule I followed for a 6 p.m. dinner party on a Friday:

Anytime Thursday:
Chill beverages
Wash and iron napkins (unless you’re using disposables)
Make caramelized onions (part of Niman Ranch Burgers recipe) and refrigerate
Make spicy mayo (combine light mayo and Chalula or other hot sauce to taste) and refrigerate

Friday morning or afternoon (work takes 60 – 90 minutes):
Slice peppers for hummus (I usually do a very large dice instead of strips because bigger pieces are better for dipping) and refrigerate
Slice zucchini for orzo salad and refrigerate
Wash, dry, and tear basil for orzo salad and refrigerate
Make corn packets (recipe follows) and refrigerate
Make burger patties (place squares of wax paper between each patty for easy use later; store on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container) and refrigerate
Set table (unless you’re serving buffet-style)
Set serving dishes aside (this prevents me from having to root around for dishes and ask my guests to move while they’re enjoying appetizers at my kitchen island)

5:00 p.m.: Make Orzo and Zucchini Salad (zucchini is already sliced and basil is ready to go).  Cover and set aside until dinnertime.  (For best flavor, do not refrigerate.)

5:45 p.m.: Set out hummus, peppers, and pita chips.

6:00 p.m.: Guests arrive!  Make sure everyone has a beverage.

6:15 p.m.: Pre-heat grill on high.

6:30 p.m.: Scrub grill with wire brush.  Lower heat to medium-high.  Cook corn packets according to recipe.  While corn is cooking, slice tomato for burgers and set out caramelized onions, spicy mayo, and any other desired burger condiments. Slice hamburger buns (if they aren’t pre-sliced).  These are good tasks for guests if you want help! 🙂

6:50 p.m.: Remove corn packets from grill and set aside.  Lightly oil grill and cook burgers according to recipe (about 4:30 per side).  Place cheddar cheese slices on burgers during last minute of cooking.

7:00 p.m.: Dinner is served!  Let guests assemble their own burgers, and serve with orzo salad and corn.

Once everyone’s food has settled, set store-bought ice cream on the counter for 10 minutes to soften.  Scoop ice cream into store-bought cones to serve. (Or, if you want to put in a little more effort, set up an ice cream bar with bowls, sprinkles, and other toppings.)

Here’s my corn recipe for anyone who wants to give it a try:

Jenny’s Grilled Corn
Serves 6

Ingredients:
6 ears sweet corn
Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Method:
Remove the husks and silk from the corn.  Place each ear of corn on a large piece of foil.  Brush each ear with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Fold in the sides of the foil and roll around each ear to completely enclose the corn in foil. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat grill to medium-high.  Place corn on grill and cook for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.  Remove foil and serve.

Grilled Corn

This meal was seriously fantastic.  My friend Christopher equated it to restaurant food, which is a wonderful compliment.  The burgers were juicy and deliciously sloppy (have lots of napkins!), the corn was tender and smoky, and the orzo salad was bright and fresh.  I love that the appetizer and dessert courses were so easy thanks to store-bought elements, and the rest of the meal really did require minimal work while my guests were present.  Perfection!  I’ll definitely use this menu again.

TIPS:  Have a vegetarian guest?  Add Balsamic Portobello Burgers with Red Pepper and Goat Cheese or store-bought veggie burgers to the menu.  Also, I feel like a key element of a good burger (meat or veggie) is that the bread doesn’t overwhelm the patty.  I love, love, love SuperTarget’s mini Kaiser rolls (available in the deli section) for this reason; they’re the perfect size.

Recipe links: Niman Ranch Burgers and Orzo and Zucchini Salad

Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard (aka My Best Grilled Pizza Yet!)

I finally managed a restaurant-quality grilled pizza, y’all.  I’ve been using the same dough recipe since last summer and I’ve tried a variety of different toppings, but this last one – Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard – is a real winner.  If you want crisp yet chewy homemade crust and totally delicious (and pretty nutritious!) toppings, this one’s for you.

Basic Grilled Pizza Dough
Makes four 10-inch pizzas (1 pound dough total)

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl and brushing
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 1/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

Method:
Pour 1 cup warm water into a medium bowl; add sugar and sprinkle with yeast.  Let stand until foamy, 5 minutes.

Whisk oil and 1 teaspoon salt into yeast mixture.  Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until liquid is incorporated (dough will appear dry).  Turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead until dough comes together in an elastic ball, 2 minutes. Transfer to an oiled medium bowl; brush lightly with oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap; set in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk, 45 minutes. Punch down dough and cover; let rise another 30 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide into 4 equal pieces.  (To store, refrigerate dough pieces, covered, up to 2 days, or freeze, up to 1 month.)  Let rest 15 minutes before using.

Source: Everyday Food, July 2010

Onion, Ricotta, and Chard Pizza Toppings

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pounds onions, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 pound chard, stemmed, leaves washed (can substitute spinach, if desired)
3/4 cup ricotta (6 ounces)
2 ounces Parmesan, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)

Method:
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet.  Add the onions.  Cook, stirring often, until tender and just beginning to color, about 10 minutes.  Add the thyme, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt.  Turn the heat to low, cover and cook another 10 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and very sweet and soft.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

While the onions are cooking, stem and wash the chard leaves, and bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Fill a medium bowl with ice water.  When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the chard.  Blanch for one to two minutes, just until the leaves are tender, and transfer to the ice water.  Drain and squeeze out excess water. Alternatively, steam the chard for two to three minutes until wilted, and rinse with cold water.  Chop the chard medium-fine.  Combine the ricotta, chard, and Parmesan in a medium bowl and set aside.

Make ahead note: The cooked onions and the blanched or steamed chard will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator.

Source: The New York Times

To assemble pizzas:

Heat grill: Set up a grill with heat source, coals or gas, on one side over medium-high.  Clean and lightly oil hot grill.

Stretch dough: On a lightly floured work surface, separately stretch or roll 2 pieces basic grilled pizza dough or 8 ounces (two 4-ounce pieces) store-bought dough into 10-inch-long ovals or other desired shape.  Brush one side lightly with herb oil or olive oil and season with coarse salt and ground pepper.

Grill dough: Using your hands, place dough, oiled side down, directly over heat source.  Brush dough with herb oil or olive oil and cook until underside is lightly charred and bubbles form all over top, 1 to 2 minutes.  With tongs, flip dough and cook until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes.  Slide dough to cooler side of grill.

Add toppings: Top dough with ricotta/chard/Parmesan mixture and caramelized onions.  Cover grill.  Cook until toppings are heated through, 2 to 5 minutes.

Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard

Holy cow, this pizza was deeeeeelicious.  The dough was crisp on the edges and chewier in the center, the caramelized onions were smoky and sweet, and the ricotta with the chard and Parmesan was creamy and super flavorful.  I served this with a beet and arugula salad with goat cheese and walnuts and thought I was in heaven.  I will definitely make this pizza again, and the menu (with the salad) would make a fantastic casual dinner party.

I’ll admit that it took a bit of practice to develop a good system for getting the dough from the kitchen to the grill, so I’ll share what I know.  I roll and stretch the dough on my kitchen island and then put each piece on its own lightly-floured baking sheet before I brush it with oil.  Since I don’t have much work space on the sides of my grill, I make Dr. O carry the two baking sheets onto the deck and then I hand-transfer the dough to the grill.  The dough tends to shift and stretch a bit when it’s picked up, but that’s OK; rustic is good.

TIPS:  If I make the pizza dough ahead, I wrap it in plastic wrap before I store it.  If I freeze it, I wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in a freezer bag as well.  To use frozen dough, I typically just thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.

Recipe links: Basic Grilled Pizza Dough and Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard

Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Dip

The holidays are about get-togethers, and get-togethers often include dip. Today’s recipe – Pampered Chef’s Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Dip – is one of my favorites. I first made it waaaay back when (2002?  Eek!), and I decided to pull the recipe out for last month’s game day-themed gourmet club meeting.  As always, it was a hit!

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it:

Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Dip
Yields approximately 2 1/2 cups of dip
Prep time: 15 min. | Chill time: 3 hours

Ingredients:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup ranch salad dressing
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced (about 3/4 cup)
6 bacon slices, crisply cooked, drained and chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon sugar
Lettuce leaves
Bread or crackers for serving

Method:
Place cream cheese in a medium bowl.  Gradually stir in dressing; mix well

Remove seeds from tomato and dice it.  Reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish.  Finely chop bacon, celery, and onion.  Add tomato, bacon, celery, onion, and sugar to cream cheese mixture; mix well.  Cover; refrigerate at least 3 hours to allow flavors to blend.

To serve, line a bowl with lettuce leaves.  Fill with dip.  Garnish with reserved tomato.  Serve with bread, crackers, or crudités.

Source: Pampered Chef’s Celebrate!

Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Dip

I didn't have any lettuce on hand, so I supposed this is technically Bacon and Tomato Dip. It's delicious nonetheless!

Bacon flavor and general creamy goodness is enough to bring this to the top of my list, but I especially love it because it’s easy, it can be made ahead, and it can be made with light ingredients.  (I used real bacon – although turkey bacon would work – with light ranch and light cream cheese.)  So.  So.  Good.  Try it for your next holiday gathering or game day party!

Peanut Dip with Fruit

I love getting comments on my posts, and I always check out the visitor’s Web site if they enter the information.  Last week, Sara from Saucy Dipper (also saucy, also based in Denver) left a note on my Breakfast Casserole post, so I thought I would see what was going on with her site.  It turns out that she’s hosting a fun blog event this week called Dipstock.  She’s encouraging all dip lovers to submit photos and recipes, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to participate.  Initially, I planned to make something savory.  When I saw today’s recipe – Peanut Dip with Fruit – in my Colorado Classique cookbook, though, I knew it was The One.

It doesn’t get much easier than this, folks.  Here’s the recipe:

Peanut Dip with Fruit
Serves: 6 portions

Ingredients:
8 ounces light cream cheese
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 1/4 ounces salted peanuts (3 small packages), finely chopped in food processor
4 Granny Smith or Braeburn apples, cut into wedges

Method:
Mix cream cheese, brown sugar, vanilla, and peanuts and refrigerate until chilled. Serve chilled dip in a bowl surrounded by apple wedges.

Peanut Dip with Fruit

Oh. Mah. Gawd.

If you ever wished for chunky peanut butter cream cheese, this is it.  I love, love, love snacking on apples and peanut butter; this recipe turns that simple concept into an absolutely divine dessert.  Now I just need to figure out how to avoid eating the entire recipe straight from the bowl before my husband gets home from work to “help” me with it…

TIPS:  At first, I thought I would need a hand mixer to blend the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla.  My beaters were in the (running) dishwasher, though, so I just mashed everything together with a fork and then used a spatula to stir in the peanuts.  Perfection!

Update (7/1/10): Now that I’ve eaten (entirely too much of) this dip when chilled, I disagree with the serving suggestion.  I would serve it either right after you make it, or let it come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving if you’ve chilled it.  It’s still beyond delicious, but it gets pretty firm in the refrigerator.

BLT Bites

Hey there, strangers!  Between a trip to the Kentucky Derby, a milestone birthday, two sets of house guests, and a trip back home, May has been a crazy busy month. As much as I love the adventure and the company, I’m hoping to bring in June with some semblance of a routine (and lots of cooking, of course!).

I made today’s recipe – BLT Bites – for last month’s gourmet club meeting.  We each made recipes from our respective Junior League cookbooks: Louisville, Denver, and Omaha (mine!).  Of the three appetizers I made, this one was definitely my favorite…  Each piece was a little taste of heaven.

BLT Bites

Creamy mayo, smoky bacon, juicy tomatoes - heaven!

There are some awfully similar recipes floating around online, but I couldn’t find the exact recipe I used anywhere else.  Here it is:

BLT Bites
Makes about 14 appetizers

Ingredients:
14 large cherry tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/4 cup romaine lettuce, shredded
2 tablespoons green onions, sliced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Method:
Cut an 1/8-inch slice from the bottom of each tomato with a serrated knife.  Gently scoop out pulp and seeds from the cut end with a melon baller cutter or a grapefruit spoon; discard.  Sprinkle tomato shells with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and invert on paper towels to drain.  In a small bowl, combine bacon, lettuce, green onions, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  Spoon mixture evenly into tomato shells and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Source: Toast to Omaha

Notes:

  • I could not for the life of me figure out why the recipe wanted me to scoop out the pulp and seeds from the bottom of the tomatoes.  I ended up cutting a thin sliver from the bottom of the tomatoes to help keep them upright, then I sliced off the tops and scooped out the pulp and seeds from there.
  • I had five slices of bacon and couldn’t see throwing one lonely slice back into the refrigerator, so I used it all.  How can more bacon be a bad thing?
  • I used light mayonnaise, coarse salt, and plain dried breadcrumbs.  (I bet homemade breadcrumbs would be especially fabulous.)
  • Despite having two other appetizers on the table, I don’t think the 14 pieces this recipe made were enough for six people.  We were calling dibs and wanting more.

Make these!  You’ll love ’em.  They’ve definitely earned a permanent spot in my summer buffet rotation.

Twice-Baked Garlic Soufflés

It’s my turn to host gourmet club this month, and I’ve chosen French food as the theme.  (It’s not very original with all the Julia Child buzz from last fall, I know, but I thought it would work well since French food and February are generally known for romance.)  My first test recipe (which I failed to photograph!) was Ina Garten’s Boeuf Bourguignon.  It was absolutely delicious and can be made a day ahead, so I put it on the official menu.  The recipe serves six, though, and while there are only six people in my gourmet club, I wasn’t completely comfortable without a bit of wiggle room in terms of portions.  Rather than make more Boeuf Bourguignon, I thought it would be more interesting to curb appetites a bit with a first course.  I originally thought to serve salad and even tried a recipe, but it just wasn’t fitting with my vision.

Luckily, an Epicurious search turned up fancy, make-ahead food gold: Twice-Baked Garlic Soufflés.  In my mind, soufflés were always temperamental intermediate- or expert-level dishes that had to be served immediately.  These do take a bit of work for the initial assembly, but you end up with perfect individual portions waiting in the refrigerator.  A bit of seasoned cream and 15 minutes in the oven are all that stand between you and heaven on a plate.

I followed the recipe as written, so I won’t go through the step-by-step here.  I do have a few notes, though, that may be helpful if you want to attempt the recipe:

  • When the recipe says “5 cloves dried garlic,” it’s talking about the garlic we are accustomed to buying in the produce section of American supermarkets.  (Take a bulb, separate and peel five cloves, and chop them.)  I’m not even sure where to buy fresh garlic.
  • I used regular white vinegar, whole milk, and Cantal cheese (which I actually managed to find in the “fancy” cheese section of my regular old grocery store).
  • I brought my eggs to room temperature before using them.  Either let them sit on the counter for 30 minutes or submerge them in a container of warm (not hot!) water for 2 minutes or so.
  • I used my immersion blender to puree the garlic milk; it worked beautifully.
  • My ramekins only had a 1/2-cup capacity (not 3/4 cup as the recipe recommends), but I didn’t have any problems.
  • My first round of baking was 25 minutes at 350F.
  • I wasn’t as thorough as I could have been when I buttered my ramekins, so I struggled just a bit to get my soufflés out of the dishes.  Next time, I’ll butter generously.  It doesn’t really matter if they don’t come out perfectly anyway since no one will see the bottoms when the finished product is served.
  • To hold the soufflés until the next day, I put them in larger ramekins (as the recipe says), let them cool completely, covered them with plastic wrap, and then placed them in the refrigerator.
  • I put salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese in the heavy cream to make my sauce.
  • To serve the soufflés, I pulled them out of the refrigerator, removed the plastic wrap, and placed them on a rimmed baking sheet.  I spooned the cream sauce over them, baked them for 15 minutes at 400F, and served them immediately.

Here are the soufflés straight out of the oven after the first round of baking (nice and puffy!):

Garlic Souffles Fresh From the Oven

Here are the cooled soufflés in the larger ramekins before I covered them with plastic wrap:

Cooled Garlic Souffles

And here’s the final product:

Twice-Baked Garlic Souffles

They didn’t puff up quite as much as I had hoped after the second baking, but they were so incredibly delicious!  The savory combination of the garlic, thyme, and Cantal cheese was seriously to die for.  The texture was really light and fluffy, and baking them with the cream sauce creates a flaky, crusty top.  I loved how Dr. O said that he really enjoyed the sauce…  What’s not to like about something that’s 95% heavy cream? 😉

I served the soufflés with vegetables as a light dinner the first night; Dr. O liked them so much that he had two more for breakfast the next day (a good sign!).  The recipe only mentions making the soufflés one day ahead, but the fact that they were just as delicious that morning tells me that you can easily get away with two days.  I’m just so excited to have found a make-ahead recipe that is flavorful, gorgeous, and perfect for entertaining; this one will definitely be filed as a “keeper.”

Recipe link: Twice-Baked Garlic Soufflés




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