Caprese Bites

Caprese Bites

Inspiration: When we stay in on a Friday or a Saturday night, we always like to make our dinner a fun meal, and crab legs are one of our favorite meals for those occasions. Recently we spread the coffee table with a big pile of crab legs, dishes of butter, piles of napkins, and a big bowl for shells. We popped in Dexter and spent a couple of hours watching one of our favorite shows and eating one of our favorite foods. Blissful. And though a big plate of crab legs can make a meal of their own, I usually like to serve a little something extra, and I always make it something that you can eat with your hands. It’s far too much of a pain and a messy hassle to bother with a fork while you’re eating crab legs!

What We Loved: I’ve actually made these little bites several times, and they’re one of our favorite little appetizers. All of the flavors of caprese (the absolute definition of spring and summer and everything sunshine to me) in a handy little snack. Fresh tomatoes, bright basil, and creamy mozzarella, all topped with rich olive oil, balsamic, and salt and pepper. What a perfect and fresh little snack.

Helpful Hints: I used relatively big cherry tomatoes this time around, and they were a little too big to eat quite as easily. I would recommend using smaller grape tomatoes.

Caprese Bites
Source: Not taken from one real place…..spotted in many, many places around the web

All amounts are as desired:

Cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh basil
Mozzarella cheese balls (bocconcini)
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Thread a tomato onto a toothpick or small skewer, followed by a small, folded piece of basil and a mozzarella ball. Repeat as desired.

2. Drizzle the skewers with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle to taste with Kosher salt and pepper.

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Classic Deviled Eggs

*Photo Updated July 2011

Inspiration: Earlier this summer, B and I went out to eat with my parents at a completely random roadhouse restaurant for some (sublime) BBQ, and we ending up ordering pulled pork and brisket platters with green beans/ham, cornbread, and deviled eggs. Living in Michigan, I always thought of deviled eggs as nothing but a pretty standard cookout/party snack, but isn’t the idea of a using them as a side dish with some complimenting Southern flavors so much better? When B decided to grill up a pork shoulder for pulled pork, the deviled eggs went right onto our plates (along with some green beans that were also inspired from our roadhouse meal).

What we Loved: I feel like deviled eggs are one of those dishes that can be really good or very, very terrible. What’s great about this recipe is that it’s a very classic, mild preparation that tastes exactly how you would think a deviled egg should taste. Creamy, mild, and refreshing. I’m always turned off by deviled eggs that have a texture that is too watery (the worst!) or a flavor that is too mustardy/intense, so I really love that this recipe doesn’t wander anywhere near that territory. Perfect consistency and flavor!

Helpful Hints: I used smoked paprika, honey mustard, and apple cider vinegar in these eggs, but you could of course vary the types of ingredients that you use to your liking. That’s what so great about deviled eggs!

Classic Deviled Eggs
Source: Mom

6 eggs
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Paprika, to taste

1. Place the eggs in a small pot.  Completely cover with cold water, and then cover the pan. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Cook for 12 minutes, and then immediately place the eggs into the fridge to cool.

2. When the eggs are chilled, slice each one in half. Carefully remove the yolks into a bowl and combine with the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

3. Carefully stuff each egg with some of the filling. Top with paprika.

Italian Sausage Dip

Inspiration: If there’s a perfect day for a decadent, cheesy dip, it’s definitely Superbowl Sunday! This one was on our snack menu for the big game.

What we Loved: Creamy cheese, spicy sausage, and sweet tomatoes? Count me in! I always feel like cream cheese makes the best dips, and this dip was no exception.  It had the rich, velvety texture of cream cheese, and I really enjoyed the spicy layers of flavor and the little kick of heat that the Italian sausage added.  The third ingredient, tomatoes, added a nice sweetness and such a lovely color! And on top of how much I loved the taste of this dip, it was easy to prepare, and it tasted great served warm or at room temperature.

Helpful Hints: This makes a lot of dip, so be prepared for leftovers if you aren’t serving a crowd. I’ve still got a sizable amount in the fridge waiting to be eaten. I left the hot sauce out of this dip, but if you’d like a lot of spice, definitely add it in! I found that the Italian sausage had a little bit of spice on its own, which was nice and made for a very mildly spicy dip.

Italian Sausage Dip
Source: My Baking Addiction

Here’s the recipe as I made it, without the hot sauce.

16 oz Italian sausage
15 oz can diced tomatoes with mild green chiles, undrained
2 8 oz packages cream cheese

1. Saute the sausage in a skillet over medium heat until cooked through and browned.

2. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the tomatoes and cream cheese until blended. Cook until just heated through.

3. Serve warm.

Parmesan Crisps

*Photo Updated August 2011*

Inspiration: I love dips, and I probably consider them my favorite snack or appetizer to eat. What’s a Mexican meal without guacamole or an appetizer party without a cheese dip? That being said, since B and I no longer eat carbs, we’ve been struggling to find a good vehicle for eating dips. Vegetables work okay, or sausage slices, but sometimes you just want something crispy like a cracker or a chip! B and I have been eyeing these Parmesan crisps for a while, but I’ve been putting off trying them because they seemed like they might just be a recipe for disaster in my hands. With a great sausage dip that I wanted to try for the Superbowl, though, I finally decided that it was time to give these a try.

What we Loved: Like often happens in cases like this, I’m kicking myself for not trying these earlier! They’re fabulous! Not only do they taste wonderful (what’s not to love about a crispy, salty, rich cheesy flavor in the form of a cracker?), but they’re really the perfect substitute for a cracker or chip. They’re incredibly crisp and crunchy, so much so that if you didn’t know that they were cheese, you might mistake them for a cracker. Perfect! And on top of all of that, they’re really so easy to prepare. I was worried that I’d end up with a mess of burnt cheese stuck to my baking pan or gooey cheese piles that didn’t form themselves into much of anything, but the cheese crisped up in a flash and slid right off of my greased pan. These couldn’t have been easier, and I’m so glad to now have a cracker substitute!

Helpful Hints: My biggest advice with these is not to worry that they won’t turn out. Cooking piles of cheese just seems like something that wouldn’t work too well, but it really does work perfectly. Just be sure to use a well-greased pan or parchment paper, and they’ll slide off of the pan perfectly when you take them out of the oven. I cooked these for just about 5-6 minutes in my oven, but keep an eye on them and check them frequently, because they cook really quickly, and every oven will be different.

Parmesan Crisps
Source: The Urban Spork

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with butter, or line it with parchment paper.

2. Spoon small mounds of cheese onto the baking sheets, and flatten them into rounds. Leave a few inches between each one, as the cheese will spread as it cooks.

3. Bake the Parmesan for approximately 5 minutes, or until just golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, and leave the crisps on the pan for about a minute.

4. Remove the crisps with a spatula, and serve or store in an air-tight container.

Salsa Baked Goat Cheese

Inspiration: I first saw this recipe on Chaos in the Kitchen a while back, and the idea of goat cheese baked with salsa really surpised me and appealed to me. After all, if I had to pick one single food as my favorite, goat cheese might be it.  I usually think of using goat cheese in Italian dishes, though, and I had never thought to pair it with salsa. While I was planning a spread of Mexican appetizers for B and I, I ran across the recipe again on Rick Bayless’ website. I guess it was fate ;)

What we Loved: This recipe was really simple and only took five minutes to throw together, so I wasn’t really expecting it to be over-the-top amazing. But let me tell you, I was tempted to kick back on the couch with this bowl in my lap and eat the whole thing with a spoon. This was probably the best dip that I’ve ever had. I used Frontera Grill’s guajillo salsa, which is a bit on the thinner side rather than being a very chunky salsa, and it bubbled up beautifully and mixed itself right into the cheese, which got very creamy and melty. In the end, this turned out to be a creamy, tomatoey, cheesy blend that oozed together into the perfect dip. The particular salsa that I used also had a nice sweetness to it, which was the perfect compliment to the rich cheese.

Helpful Hints: You can use any type of salsa that you’d like , but I’d recommend a thinner salsa to get the same effect of a gooey, melty dip. If you use a chunky salsa, it may not melt into the cheese as much. I do recommend the Frontera Grill Guajillo salsa, not only for its consistency, but for that incredible sweetness that I really enjoyed.

Salsa Baked Cheese

Source: Chaos in the Kitchen, originally from Rick Bayless

I made this recipe even simpler by forgetting to the toast the pine nuts and forgetting the cilantro garnish, and it was still amazing. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

1/4 cup pine nuts
4 oz goat cheese
3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup salsa

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mix the goat cheese, cream cheese, and pine nuts together. Scoop the mixture into the center of an ovenproof baking dish, forming it into a ball.

3. Spoon the salsa around the cheese.

4. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until heated through. Serve with crackers, chips, or vegetables for dipping.

Mexican Stuffed Mushrooms

*Photo Updated August 2012*

Inspiration: On my list of favorite appetizers, stuffed mushrooms are way up there. There are countless recipes for them, and I’ve loved nearly every one that I’ve tried. That being said, when I ran across these Mexican stuffed mushrooms, I knew that they would be perfect for our football-watching Mexican appetizer spread. And as an aside, I’ll be blogging my absolute favorite recipe – creamy shrimp and bacon stuffed mushrooms – just as soon as I get the chance to make them again.

What we Loved: These stuffed mushrooms tasted just like tacos. It was amazing, especially considering that they were vegetarian. We couldn’t quite believe how much they reminded me of the traditional beef, cheddar, and lettuce taco that everyone loves. All of the vegetables were mixed with a nice helping of chili powder, cumin, and colby jack cheese, which is what really gave these that wonderful taco flavor. We especially loved how the gooey cheese held everything together.

Helpful Hints: Make sure to cook your mushrooms long enough so that a lot of the moisture from the mushrooms can escape. The baking dish will be quite watery when you take them out, but that’s a good thing. I think that this recipe would also work fabulously using large portabella mushroom caps for a main dish.

Mexican Stuffed Mushrooms
Source: Pots and Plots

I made a few changes to the recipe. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

12-15 baby portabella mushrooms
Approximately 2-3 inches of a zucchini, very finely chopped
1/2 small vidalia onion, very finely chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (using more or less to taste)
2-3 oz colby cheese, finely grated

1. Clean the mushrooms, and remove and finely chop the stems. Place the mushrooms cap-side down in a baking dish.

2. Add a pat of butter to a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the chopped mushroom stems, zucchini, onion, and bell pepper. Saute for 4-5 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and the liquid is gone. Add the garlic, and saute for 30 seconds more.

3. Season the vegetable mix with the cumin, chili powder, and salt.

4. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the cheese.

5. Spoon the mixture into the mushroom caps.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the mushrooms are softened and browned.

Cherry Tomato Bites

Inspiration: Our football team is the Cowboys, and with the NFL playoffs in full swing, B and I thought it would be fun to have a big appetizer spread to watch our team play this past Sunday. And these were just too cute for me to pass up! Unfortunately for us, our team decided not to show up for the game, but the food sure was good :)

What we Loved: What I loved most about these appetizers was how pretty and tasty they looked! I just loved the bright and healthy vegetable colors. And the taste was great, too! The flavors of  fresh tomato, citrusy pepper pesto, and hearty mozzarella worked so well together and provided for a light and refreshing snack.  

Helpful Hints: Our appetizer spread had a Mexican theme, so I used a cilantro yellow pepper pesto that I had leftover in the freezer from this recipe to give these tomatoes a nice Mexican twist. I think that they would be really great, though, with traditional pesto or with any other type of pesto or spread that you prefer!

Cherry Tomato Bites
Source: Adapted from Zoe

1 container cherry tomatoes
1-2 oz mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons pesto

1. Cut a small slit off of the bottom of each tomato, which will allow the tomato to sit upright. Then cut a bigger slit from the top of each tomato. Using a knife, cut out the inside of the tomato, and then use your fingers to remove all of the extra seeds.

2. Cut the mozzarella into small cubes, cutting one cube for each tomato.

3. Add the pesto to a bowl. Toss the mozzarella cubes in the pesto to coat.

4. Fill each tomato with one mozzarella cube and a bit of the pesto.

5. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.