Category Archives: Appetizers

Rosemary Almonds- savory gift from the kitchen

A savory gift from the kitchen is a welcome change this time of year.

I adore homemade gifts particularly edible ones, but I get tired of sweets. After a half a dozen cookies, I long for something salty which is why I predominantly dish out savory gifts.

Savory gifts are unique, practical and often healthier.

These almonds are addictive and so easy to make. I gobbled up the leftovers from this photo shoot in 24 hours. A nibble here. A snack there. And they were all gone.

I first tasted Rosemary Almonds at a tapas restaurant and fell in love! They are incredible warm but excellent later, too. I serve them at parties all the time.

This is way better for you than a cookie or plate of divinity.

I found these cute containers at Michael’s. They are adorable but don’t hold much. I will likely use them for spice mixes that I give as gifts. Enjoy!

 

almonds

Rosemary Almonds

Makes 1 gift

1 cup raw almonds (or at least unsalted)

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons dried rosemary

Garlic salt to taste (can substitute sea salt)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toss almonds in olive oil and use your hands to make sure the almonds are coated and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Sprinkle with rosemary and garlic salt and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before packaging and store in an airtight container for best results. These nuts will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container.

 

Easy Entertaining Ideas this holiday season

I love entertaining. I don’t like stress.

So when I throw a soiree, I try supplement with what I call “cheater” products.

I am talking about store bought items or super easy recipes. I always have a couple of dishes that are the star of the meal (homemade and decadent), but I also serve five or six items that take no time at all.

For example, I always serve good quality olive oil and vinegar as a dipping sauce with French bread. That takes one minute to assemble, but is another offering on the table.

What impresses people at a party is delicious food, but also variety. Variety is key.  As a host when you offer an array of dips, you ensure everyone will find something they love.

One thing about store bought food is I don’t present it as store bought (of course, I am honest when people ask). But if you open a veggie tray and leave in the container, it’s not as enticing as if you put the vegetables on a platter, place the Ranch dip in a little bowl, and then buy a horseradish dip, maybe some hummus, or even split the Ranch dip in half and add 1 teaspoon of dried dill to the second batch to make it different.

Again, it’s all about variety (and taste and presentation).

Another perk to not serving something in its original container is you can keep the leftovers. If you serve mustard in its jar, then every time someone dips into it they are introducing new bacteria to the mustard which will make leftovers spoil faster if you try to keep them. Also, leaving a dip on the counter for the duration of the party and then refrigerating it for later is not the most sanitary idea.

I only put out half of what I have and then keep the rest in the refrigerator as needed.

I also like to use smaller dishes for serving which enables me to fit more on the table. A Dollar Tree or thrift store is a great place to find inexpensive dishes for a holiday party.

I have some “staples” in terms of entertaining, but I am always trying new products, too. So if you are looking from some excellent products that will impress your guests and keep the stress off you, then here are a few of my recommendations:

Wind & Willow is a company based in Mt. Vernon that sells in 6,000 retail locations nationwide. The products are awesome. The company makes easy dips, cheeseballs, dessert balls, soup mixes etc. The Roasted Red Pepper Dip is one of my absolute favorites.  I serve it with vegetables and crackers. If you are watching your carbs, the dip has less than 1 carb (even after it is assembled). All you have to do is mix it with mayonnaise and sour cream and chill it for a few hours before serving. I make it a day in advance because I think it brings out the flavors and is one less thing I have to do on party day. Another wonderful product from this company is the Tiramisu dessert ball. You can visit www.windandwillow.com/ to see where the products are sold near you.

 

Harry & David Charred Pineapple Relish is incredible mixed with a log of chevre. I mix one-third of the jar with a 4 ounce log of chevre and serve with tortilla chips. People always ask for this recipe. The goat cheese just gives it this zing. The relish is slightly spicy.  Another excellent product from Harry & David is the Onion and Pepper Relish, which is served over a block of cream cheese. Find the closest outlet to you or order online: www.harryanddavid.com

 

I discovered Robert Rothschild Raspberry Honey Mustard about 10 years ago and it remains my favorite honey mustard.

Rothschild mustard credit Robert Rothschild company

 

The mustard is on the pricey side ($6-$8), but I serve it with a $1 bag of pretzels, so it’s not too expensive overall. If you have leftovers of the mustard, spread it on a chicken sandwich with arugula and sharp cheddar cheese (you can also made mini sliders for your party using that same recipe). Another idea for leftovers is to use it as a salad dressing on a salad of spinach, chicken, goat cheese, candied pecans, and strawberries and raspberries. It’s fantastic.

This Christmas tree has four ingredients and takes minutes to assemble.

 

Green salsa and goat cheese Credit Juliana Goodwin (2)

First, I cut a block of cold cream cheese on a diagonal so it makes two right angle triangles. Then flip one of the triangles over to put the two together to make a tree shape. Generously cover the block of cream cheese with pesto sauce. Add a piece of a pretzel rod to make the base of the tree (just break off a piece). And thinly slice a desired amount of sundried tomatoes to make garland and string those across the tree. This step is optional; you can simply serve the pesto tree.  I use this recipe for different holidays –  a spider web at Halloween or a football field for the super bowl. No matter when I serve it, people love both the flavor and presentation. My favorite store bought pesto sauce Giovanni Rana because of its flavor and vibrant green color. It’s refrigerated so it’s fresher than a jarred variety. Serve this dip with French bread and crackers.

World Table Roasted Salsa Verde is one of the best commercially made green salsas I’ve ever tried.

Green salsa and goat cheese Credit Juliana Goodwin (1)

 

So many green salsas are too salty, too limey or too thin. This one is perfect. It’s slightly spicy so I mix it with a block of chevre and serve it as a dip (about ½ cup to 2/3 cup of green salsa). An alternative if you don’t like goat cheese is to pour the salsa over a block of cream cheese. I’ve served it both ways and it has been popular. It’s available at Walmart stores.

You may not think of pomegranate and guacamole as going together, but they pair beautifully. A friend of mine made a pomegranate guacamole a few years ago and I fell in love with.

Guacamole Pomegranate tree credit Juliana Goodwin

 

This is simply store-bought guacamole decorated with pomegranate seeds (also known as arils). It’s pretty and delicious.  I used an open Christmas cookie cutter to make the shape of the tree and filled it with pomegranate seeds. You could use any shapes. You can buy a pomegranate or simply purchase the POM arils which is the easiest way to go. If you decide to buy a pomegranate, leftover pomegranate arils are excellent in sparkling wine or moscato. You can also hallow out the shell of the pomegranate and serve a dip in it. In terms of guacamole, I recommend Holy Guacamole or the Aldi’s variety.

Pomegranate Guacamole Credit Juliana Goodwin

With these dips, you can throw together a party in no time. Happy holidays.

Still have turkey leftovers? Try Buffalo Turkey Dip

My Buffalo Turkey Dip is awesome and great for a party or watching the football game.

I make a Buffalo Chicken dip all the time and basically swapped out the chicken for turkey as a way to use those turkey leftovers.

The wing sauce is strong so it’s a good way to use a mix of white and dark meat if you don’t like dark meat because it helps cover up the taste.

It’s simple, easy and delicious.

Buffalo Turkey Dip

Serves 5 as an appetizer

2 cups chopped leftover turkey

1 to 1 ½ cups Buffalo wing sauce (depends on how spicy you like it and how dry the turkey is)

12 ounces of cream cheese (1 ½ blocks)

½ cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

1 1/4 cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese mix

Celery sticks for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, toss together the turkey and wing sauce. Stir until all the turkey is coated.

In a pie plate or 8 by 8 inch dish, spread the cream cheese over the bottom. Then top with the turkey. Sprinkle both types of cheese over the turkey and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese bubbles on top.

Serve with thick slices of celery sticks for a low carb option. If you don’t care about carbs, serve with tortilla chips or toasted French bread.

Vertical wing dip

Spooky Squash Stuffed with Roasted Garlic Hummus

My Halloween fun continues! I’ve mentioned before that I love hummus. I eat it all the time. And I didn’t even know that it has a low glycemic index. I just found that out this week.

One thing I don’t love in hummus though is an overwhelming amount of garlic. This hummus is mild but has a rich flavor because I roast the garlic first.

Roasted garlic adds so much depth of flavor and you can use the remaining garlic cloves to create a second easy dip for your party (see the instructions under my recipe).

You can make this a day in advance, just be sure to cover the hummus with plastic wrap. Happy Halloween

I served it to company last night and they loved it.

You can make a little sign on a toothpick so guests know what they are eating. I love doing that at parties.

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Spooky Squash Stuffed with Roasted Garlic Hummus

1 small Kabocha Squash

1 head of garlic (you will roast it all, but only use three cloves)

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas

1 1/2 tablespoons of the chickpea liquid reserved from the can

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 cloves of roasted garlic (see recipe below)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon salt or to taste

To roast the garlic, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take an entire head of garlic and cut off the white tops of the garlic and drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. You are not peeling the garlic, you just want to cut off the tops to expose all the cloves.

Wrap garlic in aluminum foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the head of garlic has caramelized (your house will smell incredible). Allow to cool and then squeeze out the garlic cloves.

Before making hummus, reserve some of the liquid from the chickpeas and drain the rest of the can.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, chickpea liquid, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, roasted garlic, cumin and salt and pulse until smooth. Adjust salt, if desired.

Cut off the top of the Kabocha squash and remove the seeds and any stringy flesh. Use a knife to cut thin slits around the outside of the squash top and even the base, if desired. Stuff plastic spider rings in these crevices or any other creepy ring. Fill the center of the squash with hummus. Serve with pita chips and vegetables.

Tip: Serve the rest of the roasted garlic as a dip. Chop the cloves and add it to ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Warm it slightly (just slightly) on the stove top and add ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning, ¼ teaspoon rosemary and 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, a dash of salt, and serve it with French bread.

I couldn’t decide which way I wanted to style my photos this week. Black background or orange? Spider web or no spider web? Which do you prefer?

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Halloween Party Ideas: Sundried Tomato Spider Web Pesto Dip

As far as I’m concerned, pre-Halloween planning kicks off the holiday season in our house. Truth be told, this is my Christmas season, too.

I simply relish every day between now and Dec. 26, when I slip into immediate post-holiday depression. But until then, it’s fun, fun, fun

Halloween falls on Saturday this year so celebrations are bound to be big! Spending is expected to top $6.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Adult spending on costumes now outpaces spending on children’s costumes proving I’m not alone in loving this spooky day.

And I am never short of ideas when it comes to Halloween. I plan to post a new recipe or party idea every day this week for Halloween. I am stoked.

This dip isn’t just fun, it is absolutely delicious! Try it. You won’t be sorry.

Sundried Tomato Spider Web Pesto Dip

1 (8-ounce) block of cream cheese, softened

2 ounces feta cheese crumbles

½ cup jarred pesto sauce

Half an (8.5 ounce) jar julienned sundried tomatoes

1 fake spider for the center

French bread to serve

Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature on the counter for an hour or so. Then stir it with feta cheese until well combined.

Spread the mixture on a medium-sized round plate. Smooth pesto over the top.

Use a toothpick to draw a spider web into the cream cheese. Slice sundried tomato pieces as uniform as possible to make a web. Then use those slices to craft the web on the pesto.

When done, place a fake spider in the middle of the dip. Serve with French bread to spread this dip.

Rotisserie Chicken and Bacon Pizza with Sundried Tomatoes and Feta

Friday nights call for pizza.

After a long week, a quick, satisfying pizza with a glass of wine is the perfect end to the week. And this pizza is fantastic. I use Naan, which is my favorite pizza dough, and then top it with tomato sauce, chicken, sundried tomatoes, cheese, bacon, and feta.

After it bakes, I sprinkle basil on top.

It’s quick, convenient and delicious. What more could you ask for as you end the work week? I hope you enjoy it.

Chicken, Bacon 2

Chicken, Bacon Pizza with Sundried Tomatoes

Serves 4 as appetizer; 2 as main course

The sundried tomatoes and fresh basil really lift the flavor of this pizza; and of course, the bacon adds a lot, too. This pizza is easy, great for a quick dinner or a party.

1 ready-made Naan crust or pizza dough (Stonefire is my favorite brand)

Pizza sauce, desired amount

1 cup chopped, skinless rotisserie chicken

1/3 cup real bacon pieces (store bought is what I used)

1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes

1 1/3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (or desired amount)

1/4 cup feta cheese

Fresh basil to garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spread pizza sauce over dough. Top with chicken, bacon, sundried tomatoes and cheeses.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove and garnish with slices of fresh basil. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Preserving and using your herbs – and a great pesto recipe

The end of summer means the end of an herb garden is near.

Depending on the weather, you may have several weeks to harvest fresh herbs, but I like to start cutting my plants back now and preserving as many as possible for winter.

If you have a sunny spot in the house, you can bring in oregano, rosemary, and lavender which will usually survive for several months inside. I’ve had mixed luck with basil but it’s worth a try.

Some herbs like rosemary and thyme are easy to dry, while others like cilantro and basil, do not dry well. This week, I have a lot of suggestions on which herbs to dry, freeze or use now (and a great pesto recipe to use up that basil).

First, let’s talk about basil, which is the most commonly grown herb. There’s nothing like fresh basil, but that flavor is hard to capture.  The best way to preserve basil is to make pesto and freeze it.

I recommend buying mini plastic storage containers to freeze basil in smaller portions (about ½ to 1 cup at a time). My husband is a teacher and one of his co-workers, Janice Queen, makes amazing pesto. I asked her to share her recipe. Something I really like about this recipe is it calls for almonds, as well as pine nuts (pine nuts are very expensive, so this is a more economical recipe).  The recipe also calls for a good dose of parsley, which is nice if you’re growing that, too.

Pesto is versatile: use it as a salad dressing, toss it with pasta and fresh tomatoes, or pour it over a block of cream cheese for a quick dip (serve with crackers and French bread).

Herb butters are another wonderful way to use up herbs, particularly rosemary and basil.  All you have to do is soften 1 stick of unsalted butter, stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped basil or 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary. Then spread it on a slice of French bread.  It’s marvelous and an easy and inexpensive addition to a party. You can also add 1 tablespoon finely minced sundried tomatoes to the butter.

If I am serving it at a party, I serve it at room temperature, but if you want herb butter for your family, mold the butter back into a log, place it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for several days (rosemary butter will last longer than basil).

If you have leftover herb butter, use it in pasta, on vegetables, or spread a pat on a steak.

Another idea to use either fresh or dried herbs is to sprinkle herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary or a combination are my favorites) on a mix of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for a quick bread dip. You can use that recipe to marinate vegetables that you’re going to grill, too. Be sure to add salt to both dishes though.

Ok, now we’ve used fresh herbs, let’s talk about drying herbs.

Before you dry any herb, you want to rinse it gently and pat it dry with a paper towel. Only dry herbs that are in perfect condition, and discard any that are wilted or changing colors.

Certain herbs, like thyme and rosemary, dry beautifully. To dry these herbs all you have to do is cut off the stems, lay them on a piece of parchment paper on a pan and let it rest for about 7 days. After that, pull the leaves off and place in a spice jar away from sunlight or heat.

dried rosemary

I dry my rosemary and buy pretty glass jars and give it away at Christmas. Also, you can use dried rosemary to make an herb butter which is excellent on rolls or whipped into mashed potatoes and makes a good hostess gift.

Mint and oregano have a slightly higher moisture content and are better dried after you pick the leaves off the plant. Don’t let the leaves touch each other as this may increase the chance of the herbs molding before they have a chance to dry. Place the leaves on a paper towel on a baking sheet and cover with another paper towel.  Place them in an oven for 24-48 hours (turn on the light in the oven, not the heat). Leaves are ready when they crumble in your hand.

My favorite thing to do with cilantro is let it go to seed and then collect those seeds which are coriander seeds (and those are expensive in the store). Coriander seeds have great flavor. Another option though is to chop cilantro, place nearly 1 tablespoon in an ice cube tray and fill it with water. Freeze. This retains some of the original cilantro flavor, but will still not be the same.

Hopefully this will help you enjoy the last weeks of your herb garden and stretch that flavor into winter.

Easy Pesto

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or a combination (I usually use almonds)

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 cups fresh basil, no stems

3/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Salt to taste

In a food processor, combine the oil, garlic, almonds and Parmesan cheese. Then, feed in the herbs and blend until combined.   It is so easy and freezes very well.

Recipe was originally adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook.