Sides and Appetizers

Quick cocktail party appetizers #2 — Cheese and Endive

Posted on Updated on


This is round #2 of my cocktail party appetizers.  Now I don’t necessarily recommend making all of these at once, especially if it’s just you hosting because there is a lot of assembly involved with everything I made (check out my last post for the full listing).  Even if all the prep work is done, getting things to look right takes time.  But taking these in small steps and you should be alright.  Or you could be better at planning than me even though timing really was a non-issue since everyone was at least an hour late!

Anyhoo, the  quick recipes in this post revolve around goat cheese.  One is a double cheese Napoleon and the other is Endive with Herbed Goat Cheese.  What makes this easy is that the goat cheese filling is the same for both!  So I don’t know if this then actually qualifies for 2 recipes, but I’m going with it.

Endive with goat cheese.

This serving tray seemed like it was designed especially with this dish in mind.

The big step here is making the herbed goat cheese.  Which, again, is also a step for the napoleons, so essentially one step = 2 appetizers.  And it’s not even a big step — you just mix everything in a bowl.  This one I adapted from Martha (again!  but that’s a good thing!).  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 11-oz. pkg. goat cheese
  • 1/2 c. cream
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. chopped herbs (I used oregano and tarragon)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 4 heads endive, washed and separated into leaves

1.  In a medium bowl, mix together the cheese, cream, and oil until smooth.  You can use a food processor if you like or even a hand mixer, but I didn’t want to have to wash extra things afterwards.

2.  Gently mix in the herbs, salt, & pepper.  Place a teaspoon on the individual endive spears and serve.

Double Cheese Napoleons.

These definitely look pretty. Tasted pretty good, too!

The two cheeses here are parmesan and goat cheese.  You make tuiles of parmesan and have some herbed goat cheese in between the layers.  I am not really sure how I came up with this one, but i really wanted something with some height.  These look a little rough, but again, I felt pressed for time since I had several things to assemble.  No real specifics here; I just grated some parmesan and kept on making crisps until I ran out.  You can use any extra ones as croutons on salads or in soups.  Or just eat them as is.  Here’s what you need:

  • herbed goat cheese (see above)
  • grated parmesan

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  Drop 1 t. grated parmesan onto Silpat lined baking sheets.  Slightly flatten the cheese and bake for about 5 minutes or until nice and golden.

3.  Allow to cool for about a minute and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4.  Assemble napoleons starting with a parmesan crisp.  Place a small amount of the goat cheese, about 1/2 teaspoon.  Gently press another crisp on top and repeat until you have three layers of each.  You can put a garnish of herbs on top, but I just served them as they are.  If you want to be extra fancy, you can use a pastry bag with a star tip to place the goat cheese.

Quick cocktail party appetizers #1 — Tartlets and Bourbon

Posted on


So I’ve been a little preoccupied lately (and that’s why, but that’s because I’ve been busy planning a cocktail party).  But I’m back now and these are some of the things that I came up with.  I wasn’t sure what to serve even got some suggestions from other bloggers like The Breakfast Bachelor (I ran out of time to make his suggestion of Rosemary Sweet Potato Fries).  Since it was a cocktail party I wanted to do things that were easy to eat — finger foods, really.  Here’s what I had decided on serving (in addition to 2 big main course type things [pulled pork sandwiches and tater tot casserole] which I hope to discuss soon) — smoked salmon tartlets, leek and artichoke tartlets, double cheese napoleons, salami crisps, endive with herbed goat cheese, chocolate dream cake — black forest variation, Deviled Eggs, gougère, and Kale – radish – fennel salad.  Unfortunately I don’t have pictures for everything, but I do for most things.

Alright so it wasn't a cocktail party -- it was a bourbon tasting. This is what we had. And I am aware that Rye is not Bourbon.

Here, I’ll focus on the tartlets.  These are easy and quick to make.  If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll already know how to make the shells (so visit me on Facebook).  But since that includes only 13 of you, I will go over it here.  This idea I adapted from Martha, but she used mini cupcake pans and cut the wrappers into small circles.  I don’t bother with cutting and I use a standard cupcake / muffin pan.

Such a quick step. These can last on the counter in an airtight container for about 2 weeks or in the freezer for 2 months or so.

Here’s what you need:

  • one package wonton wrappers (square or round), mine had 4 dozen in it
  • vegetable oil

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Brush both sides of the wrapper with oil and stuff it into the cups of a muffin tin.

2.  Bake for between 8 – 10 minutes until golden.  If you use a darker pan, it will darken faster.  Allow to cool on a rack before filling.

Artichoke and Leek Tartlets.

For the artichoke and leek tartlets:

This is a quick and easy version of an artichoke and leek lasagna that I make.  Here’s what you need:

  • 4 leeks
  • 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts; chopped, drained, and rinsed
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 – 3 T. olive oil

1.  Cut leeks in half lengthwise and then cut into 1/4 in slices.  Soak those in water to make sure that you clean out any sediment and then spin it dry.

2.  Heat the olive oil in the pan and add the dried leeks.  Stir to coat; add salt and pepper.

3.  Cover and cook for five minutes on medium heat.  Uncover and raise the heat to medium high and sauté for about 10 minutes or until tender.  Add the artichokes off the heat and allow mixture to cool.

4.  Spoon into prepared wonton cups.

Smoked Salmon Tartlets. I probably could've sliced to pickle thinner but they still tasted good.

For the smoked salmon tartlets:

No real recipe here.  I just made a batch of my smoked fish spread #1, but omitted the capers.  Instead I put slivers of pickle on top.  It would have been better if I used cornichons, but I don’t normally have those in my fridge.  Besides, those are just small pickles anyway.

The tartlets went quick. Good thing I had lots of extra shells.

Roasted Fennel and Carrots

Posted on Updated on


So I guess I took a little bit more time off than I thought.  But I needed some time to figure out some business decisions.  Anyhoo, I digress. . . I love fennel.  I really don’t use it as much as I should.  Some folks might not be even all that familiar with the vegetable.  It kinda looks like a cross between an onion and celery with a frilly wig.  Honestly, I think it sorta looks like a muppet (I do have muppets on the brain, after seeing the new Muppet movie and watching A Muppet Christmas Carol all during the holidays.  BTW, I recommend both movies!).

What’s nice about fennel is that you can really can use all parts of it — the bulb, the greens, the flowers, the seeds, even the pollen.  In this recipe, I just use the greens and the bulb.  This recipe is great as a side or a main dish, if you’re feeling vegetarian.  I love how roasting these vegetables really brings out the sweetness and intensifies the flavors.  But that is the case when you roast any vegetable really.  So why not roast some vegetables for dinner?  It’s easy to make, there’s not a lot of clean-up, and you get a wonderful flavorful dish!  Now I don’t really know where I got this recipe; I know I jotted down some notes on some paper but the principles are pretty much the same with any roasted vegetable recipe.

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 – 4 fennel bulbs, with some of the greens reserved.
  • 5 – 6 carrots, sliced on the diagonal
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Line two half-sheet pans with parchment or some silpat.  Place the two racks in the oven on the top and the bottom racks.  Now preheat the sheet pans in the oven while you prep the veg.

2.  Trim the tops off the fennel so you just have the bulbs.  Cut the bulbs in quarters.  Then, cut the quarters into thirds on the diagonal so that each wedge has some of the base of the vegetable.  Toss the fennel with some olive oil to coat.  Do the same with the carrots.

3.  Spread the fennel on one of the baking sheets; spread the carrots on the other.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place one sheet on the top rack, the other on the bottom.  Roast for 30 minutes, turn the vegetables and then reverse the sheets.   Roast for another 30 minutes.  Chop the fennel fronds and set aside.

4.  Transfer the vegetables to a serving dish.  Toss with fennel fronds and serve.

Notes — Again, this is one of those recipes where these are estimates.  Essentially, you just want enough of the vegetables to cover the sheet pans without overcrowding them.  If you put too much, they will just steam and not roast, which is fine, if you want steamed vegetables. . . I like to toss the vegetables in a zip top bag.  It helps with the clean up and it also helps limit the amount of olive oil you use because really can coat everything with a much smaller amount by closing the top and tossing the vegetables around.  Plus if you don’t want to be wasteful, you can wash out the bag and keep it for a later use. . . Be careful — fennel can be gritty so be sure to wash them.  They’re not as bad as leeks though. . .

Cranberry Compote

Posted on Updated on


Here’s my third post from my “holiday menu“.  To be honest, I think “cranberry compote” is just a fancy term for a cranberry sauce.  But again, alliteration is always a nice thing!  In case you’re wondering, a compote is basically fruit stewed in some kind of syrup.  It can serve as a topping for ice cream or just served on its own.  I did use some of this to make a cheesecake for my Winter Feast.  Of course, that’s going to be the next post.  Exciting stuff!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 – 3 cinnamon sticks, depending on strength
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 4 c. cranberries, divided
  • 1/2 c. cognac

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar.  Bring to a gentle boil until the sugar has dissolved.  Reduce by about 1/4.

2.  Add the orange juice and cook for 1 minute.  Add the cinnamon, anise, cardamom, and 3 c. of the cranberries.  Bring to a boil.  Once you start to hear some of the cranberries pop, reduce the heat and allow to stew for about 10 – 15 minutes.

3.  After the mixture has thickened, add the remaining cranberries.  Once the cranberries have started to pop, reduce heat to low and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes.

4.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cognac.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Notes — theoretically, this should last for at least a week, but it usually gets used up quickly in my house. . . you could try brown sugar which might be a nice change. . . I have seen some recipes that use maple syrup. . . another thing to try would be to add some ginger. . . I did make a double batch and just reused the whole spices.  It worked out fine.  You could cut down the amount of spices if it might be too much for you. . .   Adding cognac is optional, but I think it helps round everything out.  But of course, I don’t need an excuse to booze something up!

Holiday Menu Planning

Posted on Updated on


Entertaining and menu planning may seem tricky, but the execution doesn’t have to be all that intimidating.  It just takes a lot of thought and timing.  You have to take into account what the dishes are, how many people are attending, and when dinner is supposed to be served (along with a whole host of other things to consider).  But all this planning can be spread out over a whole month.  Now I just had my “Holiday Feast” the other day and here was my schedule.  The day was busy, but I still got to spend time with my guests before dinner and take part in the festivities (i.e. – drink booze).

3 weeks prior:  send out invitations.  Hopefully you will hear back relatively quickly about who can and cannot attend.

2 weeks prior:  finalize menu.  Here’s what was decided:  Roasted pork shoulder, marinated turkey breast, bread pudding with mushrooms and roasted peppers, roasted fennel and carrots, rapini with fried apples,  egg nog, cranberry cheesecake, holiday biscotti, and sugar plums.  Now that I actually see it written out, that’s a lot of food.  Even more so because it was also a potluck.  I will do posts on all this stuff soon with a focus on the more holiday-ish items first.

1 week prior:  finalize attendees, buy supplies and groceries.  Alright so it wasn’t completely finalized and it hovered anywhere between 12 -18.  It finally ended up at 13.

4 days prior:  clean house, iron table linens.  Now cleaning the house is a daily thing, but I did a major cleaning on this day.  I ironed the napkins and prepped them so that I could fold the “birds of paradise” relatively quickly.  I like this fold because it looks nice and is relatively easy to do.

3 days prior:  buy fresh ingredients (fruit and vegetables), make cranberry compote.  The cranberry compote could even be made the week before.

2 days prior:  make cranberry cheesecake, bake biscotti.  Making this now lets the cheesecake set up in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Just cover it with plastic wrap after it cools.  The biscotti should stay fresh for several days.

1 day prior:  blanche rapini, peel carrots, make sugar plums, assemble bread pudding.  The sugar plums need some time to dry out a little before rolling in sugar.  The bread pudding can sit and all the flavors can marry while sitting in the refrigerator.  Plus the bread can really soak up the custard.

6 hours prior:  roll the sugar plums in sugar, fold napkins, set the table.  At this point, I still didn’t know how many.  My best guess was 12, which was nice because everyone could sit at the table.

3 hours prior:  start holiday music playlist, attend to early attendees, make beer bread, drink beer.  Now we asked folks to arrive at 3:00pm with dinner to be served at 6:00.  Not everyone will show at the start which is fine.

2 hours prior:  attend to early attendees, roast fennel and carrots, drink wine, eat cheese.  Serve appetizer dishes that guests brought.

1 hour prior:  attend to attendees, bake bread pudding, make egg nog, drink egg nog.  Egg nog is usually a big draw because of all the booze 🙂  I use Martha Stewart’s recipe, which has 3 c. bourbon, 2 c. cognac, and 1 c. rum.

30 minutes prior:  light candles on the table, make rapini and fried apples, place fennel in oven to reheat, finalize drink orders, drink more egg nog.  Everything is coming together and all your hard work and planning is paying off.  Hopefully you won’t be too tipsy at this point.

I know this looks like a lot and that you’ll be in the kitchen and not enjoying anyone, but everyone always ends up in the kitchen anyway so you won’t be missing out.  You won’t really be missing out if you prep everything ahead of time.  Just pop into the kitchen to take out the bread and pop some veggies into the oven.  Then you have an hour to play with your guests before the next thing goes into the oven.

Smoked Fish Dip #1

Posted on Updated on


I know I did this a little bit backward, but here is my Smoked Fish Dip #1.  Sure, I posted to #2 recipe first, but like I said before, that one isn’t as strong with the “tang”.  This one is my favorite of the two just because the flavors are bigger — the ratio of smoked fish:cream cheese is higher, there’s some tang from the sour cream, lemon juice, and capers; and there’s some heat from the horseradish.  The instructions are pretty much the same as the other recipe.

What's that? Can I have some?

Here’s what you need:

  • 6 oz. smoked fish
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 t. horseradish
  • 1 T. capers
  • fresh dill, to taste

Coarsely chop the fish; if you like a smoother dip, chop the fish into smaller bits.  In a bowl, beat the cheese until nice and creamy.  Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Add the horseradish, capers, dill and mix well.  Fold in the fish.  You can let this sit for an hour or so if you like, but it is ready to serve.

I can help you finish that!

Butternut and Acorn Squash Soup

Posted on Updated on


If you’re looking for something to serve as a side for the upcoming holidays, give this recipe a try.  It’s rich and creamy without using any cream at all, so it’s a little bit more waistline friendly.  This was taken from the cookbook An American Bounty from The Culinary Institute of America.  What’s nice about this cookbook is that it gives you some nutritional information with each recipe.  And this recipe is healthier than you think — 180 calories, 4 g protein, 10 g fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 285 mg sodium, and 40 mg cholesterol per 6 oz. serving.  It will serve 4 – 6 people.

I did try my best at making some fancy design like those baristas at those fancy coffee houses.  It almost worked, but since the densities of the soup and the cream were so different, designs really didn’t want to stay put.  I eventually settled on swirling everything together, which I liked.  It kinda looks like Jupiter. . . kinda. . . well, not really.  But I digress, here’s what you need:

  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, trimmed and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 3-4 c. chicken broth
  • 2 c. butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 c. acorn squash, cubed
  • 1/2 potato, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 t. salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1 t. julienned orange zest

1.  Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat.

2.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.

3.  Add the ginger and sauté for another minute.

4.  Add the broth, squashes, and potato.  Bring the broth to a full boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the squashes are tender enough to pierce easily with a fork, about 20 minutes.

5.  Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool briefly.  Purée the soup with an immersion blender, food processor, or run it through a food mill.

6.  Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.  Adjust the consistency, if necessary, by adding additional broth or water.  Taste the soup and add salt, pepper, and orange zest.

7.  Serve the soup in a heated tureen or individual bowls.

Notes — If you wanted to make this vegan, just substitute the butter with some olive oil and switch the chicken broth with some vegetable broth. . . add a few drops of lemon or lime juice to brighten the flavor. . . you can add a T. of orange juice concentration with the final flavor adjustment. . . if you wanted to make this in advance, complete up to step 5, cool the soup to room temperature, and refrigerate or freeze.  Before serving, return the soup to a full boil, and make final adjustments. . . can be served chilled. . . whip a little heavy cream to soft peaks, fold in an equal amount of sour cream, and add freshly grated ginger, to taste.  add a dollop to each portion. . .