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.

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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
Butter
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.

Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Inspiration: I thought that these meatballs would go great with an appetizer-only dinner that we recently had. And as a bonus, I knew that there would be plenty of extra to freeze for future meals. I see them served with marinara sauce in the future!

What we Loved: I’ve always loved spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches, and meatball appetizers. But what made these meatballs even better than others that I’ve had was the cheesy mozzarella center. It was the perfect added touch! I also loved the crispy brown coating, which added a nice crunch and which may have been my favorite aspect of the dish. As for the flavor, the fact that this recipe used both ground beef and Italian sausage resulted in a wonderful, spicy depth. I’m going to keep the recipe as my standard meatball recipe from now on.

Helpful Hints: This recipe made about thirty meatballs, for reference. If you don’t want to use mozzarella, I think that nearly any cheese would work in its place. Mozzarella is very mild, so if you’d like something with more flavor, a pepperjack or even a cheddar would work great.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
Source: Adapted from Mark’s Daily Apple

1 lb ground beef
1 lb Italian sausage (I used spicy)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 cup almond meal
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
A few grinds of black pepper
Approximately 3 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients together until well combined. Using your hands works well.

2. Roll the mixture into meatballs, placing the mozzarella cubes into the center of the meatballs as you roll them. Try to enclose the mozzarella completely.

3. Heat a good drizzle of olive oil in a saute pan, enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the meatballs, and cook until the first side is nicely browned. Turn the meatballs, browning on all sides.

4. Place the meatballs on a foil-lined sheet into a 350 degree oven and cook for about 15 minutes longer, until they’re cooked through.

Cream Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Jalapenos

Inspiration: B and I love having appetizers for dinner every once in a while. I like to choose either beer or wine as a planned beverage, then pick a bunch of appetizers that go well with what we’ve chosen. It’s so fun to pile the table with dishes of appetizers, crack open a beer or a bottle of wine, and relax for the evening. This time, it was a beer sort of night :)

What we Loved: I don’t think that you can go wrong with jalapenos, cream cheese, and bacon. This appetizer was just as amazing as it sounds. The jalapenos were wonderfully creamy, a little bit spicy, and had just a touch of smokiness and saltiness from the bacon. And aside from how great they tasted, they were so easy to prepare and were a really great snack with a cold beer.

Helpful Hints: These would definitely go really well at a Superbowl party! They seem like they would be universally liked, they’re easy to prepare in advance, and they taste great when they’re hot out of oven or after they’ve cooled down.

Cream Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Jalapenos
Source: Life’s Ambrosia

I changed the recipe just a bit. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

5 large jalapeno peppers, sliced in half lengthwise with the seeds and ribs removed
4 oz cream cheese, softened
4 slices bacon, chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 oz goat cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Brown the bacon in a saute pan, then drain on a paper towel.

3. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, bacon crumbles, and goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Fill each jalapeno shell with a heaping amount of the mixture.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn on the broiler and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese turns slightly brown and bubbly.