Sun Dried Tomato and Mozzarella Cheesecake

Posted on March 23, 2010. Filed under: Appetizers, Cake |

I know this is labeled ‘cake’ yet it has no sugar. Why? Because it is a savory cheeseCAKE. I didn’t think this was that revolutionary of an idea. Yes, a fantastic idea, but not THAT revolutionary. But the wine party I catered thought it was revolutionary. The guests were marveling over the idea of a cheesecake WITHOUT sugar and NOT for dessert. Skeptical at first, but they were sold within 1 bite. I am not saying that to ‘toot my own horn.’ I’m saying that because I kept getting compliment after compliment about them. I walked away from that party with a big smile on my face. Well done Julia!

Oh, and you know it is always a sign oh how good the food is when people don’t eat the fruit garnish (grapes and strawberries) and keep digging into the salty, fatty, deliciousness. Again, I was happy and had a smile on my face.

I made 3 savory cheesecakes and this is just the first post of the 3, so get excited for more to come…These would be a GREAT appetizer for Easter.

You can eat these in 2 ways:
1. cut a little slice and dig in with a fork
2. spread your slice on crackers or bread slices

The cheesecake is great as an appetizer or side dish. It is sort of like an alternative form of a dip. I love all the different varieties of dips out there: spinach and artichoke, french onion, dill, hummus, etc…But they don’t look super pretty on the table at a fancy party. Savory cheesecakes do look fancy and are very impressive.

One quick note, so you don’t get worried if this happens to you: the cheesecake with be crumbly. Because of all the toppings in it the small pieces that are sliced for appetizers crumble. However, this does not stop anyone from eating it and loving it. So don’t get worried when yours is crumbly. But if you cut the cheesecake into 12 large slices it won’t really crumble. Try using a small pie slicer/server. So it is thick enough to move the slice from the serving plate to the personal plate. And make sure the knife you are using has a sharp edge. Both of those things will help minimize the crumbles. Okay, that is the only disclaimer.

Serves 15-25 appetizers sized portions
1 1/4 cups seasoned bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
4 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 eggs
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sliced drained sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
1/2 cup Chopped fresh basil
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
1 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat oven to 375°F. In medium bowl, mix bread crumbs and butter until well blended. Press evenly in bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Increase heat to 400 degrees. In large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add whipping cream and eggs; beat until creamy. Stir in mozzarella cheese, parmesan, tomatoes, garlic and basil until well blended. Spoon evenly over crust in pan.

Bake 15 minutes at 400 minutes then lower the temp to 300 and bake for 1 hour or until center is set. Turn off the temp and crack the oven door and leave cheesecake in the oven for 30 minutes. Cool completely at room temperature.

Run a knife around the edges to loosen. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours before servings. Remove side of pan.

To serve, top the cheesecake with the garnish and cut into thin wedges to spread on crackers or eat just the way it is!

If you love the idea of savory cheesecakes, but would rather buy one then make one, you can! There is a company that focuses strictly on savory cheesecakes. Wicked Kickin’ Cheesecakes has tons of flavor combinations. They are super nice too!

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Maple Glazed Walnuts

Posted on March 20, 2010. Filed under: Appetizers, Snack |

2 things that are on my daily menu are maple syrup and either pecans or walnuts. How do I incorporate them into my diet, everyday? Easy. Maple syrup sweetens my coffee and walnuts and/or pecans are a snack throughout the day. Combining the 2, ingenious!

I have made candied pecans before, but never maple walnuts. It didn’t seem that hard though:

3 cups walnuts
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
pinch black pepper

Throw all the ingredients in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stirring every minute or so. You know when they are done because the stickiness becomes thicker and stickier. Real technical description, I know.

Pour the glazed nuts onto a sheet of parchment paper and let them cool. Once they cool you can break apart any chunks.

*If you want chopped walnuts, you can chop the nuts before or after you glaze them with the maple.

I was EXTREMELY pleased with how these came out. They have a distinct maple flavor and ooze of a rich nutty butter taste. Even though there isn’t any butter or oil added. As the walnuts warm in the saucepan the natural oily favors are extracted. And oh man, the taste tingles your taste buds!

There are a few ways I plan on eating this batch of maple walnuts:

served over a wedge of brie with some crackers as an appetizer

topped on a baked sweet potato

Or just by the handful into my mouth. I may spend the entire day snacking on these. Like I said, maple and walnuts are 2 of my favorite things!

These would be a great addition to your Easter appetizers. You know how grandma always has a little bowl of mixed nuts n the table? Make these instead, everyone will be impressed!

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Soft Pretzels

Posted on February 28, 2010. Filed under: Appetizers, Snack |

We have all been to the mall, walked by the pretzel store and smelled the wonderful aroma of fresh, salty, warm, doughy pretzels being made (at least I think we all have??). The smell of fresh baked bread products is just incredible. It is comforting.

Here in southern California we are on STORM WATCH 2010. Ridiculous. I think it rained less then an inch yesterday. But, no matter when you live, when it is rainy and cold outside, staying in, eating comfort food and curling up under a blanket and watching a movie always sounds GOOD. So yesterday we did just that. A friend came over and we had a cooking/baking extravaganza (before the movie part began). First on the list, Soft Pretzels.

We were both pretzel making virgins. So we payed close attention to the recipe because the process was foreign to us. After the finished product came out of the oven we we fell in love with them. I have decided I love making these because they only have to rise once. So many yeast dough recipes have to rise, punch down, form and rise again. So by the time the bread it out of the oven it can be 4 hours later. Not with these. Rise, cut into sections, form the dough ropes, shape, boil, bake, eat. Start to finish these take about 2 hours. The hardest part of forming the dough ropes (the shaping of a pretzel is easy, if you choose to do that rather then nuggets).

Learn from our mistakes:

First: We put flour on the surface we were making the dough ropes on. Don’t do that. It made the dough too dry and we were unable to easily roll it or shape it. You can grab either end of the small dough rope and sort of fling it in your arms like a mini jump rope. This will help stretch it out. But what we found while doing this, is the ends can get too thin and the middle stays thick. Soooo, you can to sort of squish the dough through your hands to evenly distribute the dough through the rope, and also do some jump rope action to it.

Second: When you form the pretzels, make them about a medium size (maybe 3-4 inches long/wide). If you make them too big they are more difficult to remove from the boiling water. I had a slotted spoon in 1 hand and a spatula in the other trying to fish the bigger pretzels out of the pot. It would have been easier to just use one of the utensils.

Third: Don’t put too much egg wash on the top of the pretzels. Just a little will give it a nice brown color. If you put too much egg wash you will have a small pool of egg stuck to the bottom of your beautiful, golden brown pretzel.

Okay, now you go and try to make them. You will be SO pleasantly surprised as how easy they are to make, and how WONDERFUL they taste.

Makes 8 LARGE pretzels or about 120 nuggets
Recipe Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
Vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse sea salt

Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and flours and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.

Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Bring the water to a boil in a small roasting pan over high heat and add the baking soda.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches and shape. Cut the dough into one inch pieces to make the pretzel bites.
*We made 4 pretzels and used the remaining 4 sections to make pretzel bites.

Boil the pretzel bites (or pretzels) in the water solution in batches. We did about 15 bites (or 2-3 pretzels) at a time. Boil for about 30 seconds (the pretzels will be floating on the top when it’s done). Remove with a large slotted spoon.

Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Make sure they are not touching. Brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the rock salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. Dip in mustard, marinara sauce or a cheese sauce. Or just eat them plain and enjoy the taste of the yummy rock salt on the top.

This picture makes me feel like we are up to our eyeballs in pretzels. We sort of were.

This obviously makes a lot. After you bake them and they cool, you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or 2. When you want to eat them, just reheat them in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes. You can also freeze the baked pretzel. Bake the frozen pretzel at 350 for about 20 minutes.

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Cheddar Beer Fondue – Low Fat

Posted on February 21, 2010. Filed under: Appetizers, Vegetarian |

Girl’s Night, Holla! I love being with my girlfriends. They make me laugh. Our conversations always go full circle…They usually start with either bowel movements or food, and then end up right back there 4 hours later. I know I know, TMI, right. As one of my friends reminded me though, I offend people. Not always, but, I don’t tippy toe through life trying not to offend people. She reminded me of this when I was asking her if I should switch the title of my blog name. I said, “well, I think it might offend some people, and that isn’t my intention at all.” She said, “Julia, YOU offend people (she said this with a smile on her face).” And so it was decided, I will keep my blog name, why? Because it is me.

Girls really like fondue. I know this because as we were devouring this tub of melty cheese we were discussing when we would have our next fondue night. Is it because we really like cheese and chocolate, or because fondue is a meal that takes a while to eat which gives you lots of time to talk? And you know how much girls can talk… In case you don’t know how much they can talk, let me know, I’ll give you a call and chat your ear off and then you will understand. However, I am going to guess both reasons contribute to the liking of fondue.

You know what else my girlfriends like? A good recipe that is somewhat healthy, or at least not TERRIBLE for them. Cheese fondue that is good for you? Is there such a thing? Sort of. This recipe still has lots of cheese, which is lots of fat and sodium. But, it uses a lower fat cheese which eliminates probably about 1/3 of what the fat COULD be. And by adding the pureed white beans, you are adding texture, protein and fiber without adding almost any fat. And the beer, well, that just adds flavor. Sure, it adds calories, but you can burn those calories by using your arm muscles to dip lots of things into the fondue. Right. Whatever way I can justify it.

Makes 12 servings (or enough for 4 girls)
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed, drained
1 cup good dark beer
1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
2 garlic gloves, minced
1 yellow onion, minced

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced onion to the pan, cook for about 5 minutes, add the minced garlic. Cook on low for another 5 minutes. until the onions are translucent.

Add beans and 1/4 cup beer to a food processor or blender and puree.

Pour bean mixture and remaining beer in the saucepan with the onions and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add cheese in sections, stirring to melt before adding more.
*Make sure you have the heat on very low when you mix in the cheese. If the heat is too high the fondue will be too thin.

Pour into a fondue pot or slow cooker. Serve with dippers of your choice.

Slice Granny Smith Apples, Celery, Carrots, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Cauliflower,artichokes, boiled potatoes, crunchy french bread

Did you know the crusty cheese that sticks to the side of the fondue pot is a delicacy? I understand why, it is delicious. It’s like the crusty cheese on top of cheese bread or lasagna.

As we are eating, my friend says, “quick, take a picture of the drip on this side.” It sort of captures that we are not ‘tiddy’ when we eat fondue, and also how drippy and gooey fondue is. MMM, yummy.

This is what happens after a couple glasses of wine: You start comparing arm hair, AND you photograph it.

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Spinach and Artichoke Pinwheels

Posted on February 17, 2010. Filed under: Appetizers |

Poker– Poker is a family of card games that share betting rules and usually (but not always) hand rankings (wikipedia).

I think the best part of getting together with friends and playing poker is the food. You sit around for a few hours snacking, drinking, snacking some more and smack talking. It’s fantastic.
*I have some pretty rad friends though, so getting together with them even without the food, drinks or poker is always great. I had to throw this in there just in case they read this 🙂

Whenever I am invited to a friend’s house I always offer to bring something; appetizer, side dish, dessert, anything! The hospitality in me can’t show up empty handed. And the frugalness (since spell check doesn’t give me a suggestion for this misspelling, I am going to assume I just invented a new word)in me doesn’t like to go out and spend a butt load of money just to show my hospitality. With that in mind, I rummaged through my freezer and fridge to see what I could find to bring over as an appetizer to a poker game. Since it was poker, there as one main criteria it had to meet: finger food.

These were the perfect snack food for poker. But they are also a pretty appetizer to impress a more ‘sophisticated’ crowd.

Pepperidge Farm has some great recipe ideas for using puff pastry. In case you have never used puff pastry, try it. It is super tasty and very versatile. You can make appetizers, side dishes, main courses and desserts, all from the same dough.

makes 16 pieces
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo
1/2 bag frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 1/2 cups artichoke hearts, chopped (you can use a 14 ounce can)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the all the ingredients, except the puffed pastry, in a medium bowl. You might want to use a hand mixer to mix it quickly and evenly.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Top with the cheese mixture and spinach mixture. Starting with a short side, roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into 16 (1/2-inch) slices. Place the slices, cut-side down, onto greased baking sheets (I was able to fit them all on 1 large baking sheet).

Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the baking sheets and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.

Helpful Tip: Make sure to remove as much liquid as you can from the spinach and artichokes before adding it to the pastry. If it’s too wet, it may make the pastry soggy.

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Pigs in a Blanket

Posted on November 16, 2009. Filed under: Appetizers |

Who doesn’t love these? Well, I guess vegetarians don’t. But other then vegans and vegetarians, people love these! And they are so easy, so really, what’s not to love? Okay, maybe all the processed pig product and the partially hydrogenated oil in the dough. But, occasionally, what the heck. Oh, and for my white trash party, I HAD to make these.

You can make them look fancier by making some interesting dipping sauces. Or you can stick with the standard BBQ sauce, Ketchup and Mustard.

makes 16 pigs in a blanket (16 pieces)
1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls (I use the store brand reduced fat kind)
4 hot dogs, cut into 4 pieces each

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Unwrap the crescent rolls. There will be 8 triangle pieces in each tube. 2 triangle pieces connect together to form an odd looking rectangle. Pinch together the seem that connects the 2 triangles together.

Cut each rectangle into 4 strips.
*You will get 16 strips out of one tube of dough.

Wrap a strip of dough around a little piece of hot dog. Put it onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until they are golden brown.
They should come off of the baking sheet easily, and if not, just use a spatula to scoop them off.

Serve them while their hot!!

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Chili Cheese Dip

Posted on November 16, 2009. Filed under: Appetizers |

This is a great party dip. I had it at my white trash party and people flipped over it. At first people looked at it and said, with a nasty grin, “what is that?” And when I answered, “chili cheese dip, ” they dug in and literally spooned plate fulls for their dipping enjoyment. Now, by no means is this healthy. But, it is easy, cheap, and tastes good. So shoot, you can’t complain.

1 can chili ( I like beans, so I used a can with beans)
16 ounces Velveeta cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 bottle beer (I just used whatever we randomly had in the fridge)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Put the first 3 items in a crockpot on low about 30 minutes before quests arrive. Stir is occassionally.

Once the cheese melts add the shredded cheddar and stir until it melts.

And that’s it, you’re done. I served it with pigs in a blanket, tater tots and crackers. Like I said, it was for a white trash party.

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Antipasto Platter

Posted on September 21, 2009. Filed under: Appetizers, Showers |

I made this platter yesterday for a wine and cheese party I was ‘catering.’ I use catering loosely, because really all I did was buy a lot of stuff from Costco and add some homemade touches to it and put it on a table. Everyone loved it, and no one knew it was mainly store bought, straight from the container.

This platter looked so pretty and was so easy. It is very versatile as well. Pretty much just use what ever you have on hand in your fridge and cup boards. Use turkey, ham, salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, parmesan, sliced bread or crackers. Or even some grilled vegetables. And any tepenade or even hummus will do as a dip or spread. be creative, and just remember that pretty much anything goes for an antipasto platter.

This would be so great for any kind of shower: baby or bridal. And pretty much at any time of day. Just put some toothpicks with it and people can leisurely stroll by and poke whatever they want.

To serve 8
1/2 pound cheese, sliced or cubed
1/2 pound meat, sliced and rolled
bread sticks
1 baguette, sliced
1 cup tepenade or hummus
1 cup olives

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Posted on September 21, 2009. Filed under: Appetizers |

I love bruschetta. But not all bruschetta is created equal. There are a few components that have to be in bruschetta to make it good; Parmesan cheese, red onion, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar.
Some people try to get away with omitting some of those ingredients. Sure, it’s still edible, but it just isn’t really worth my calories if all of those ingredients are mixed in with some fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. The measurement of each ingredient is sort of up to the cook. Everyone has a different capacity for onions and balsamic vinegar. But this is basically what I do for enough bruschetta to be topped on 1 baguette cut into 16-20 slices:

3 Roma tomatoes, diced, seeds drained
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup basil, julienned
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all the ingredients together in a bowl and let it chill for about an hour before you serve it. You can toast the baguette slices in the oven it you prefer them crispy. I like them soft, so I don’t toast the bread. I just slice it and top it.

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Pear and Gorgonzola Cheesecake

Posted on September 21, 2009. Filed under: Appetizers |

Cheesecakes seem like they have the longest most time consuming recipes. But in reality they are not hard or time consuming. They do have a long baking and cooling time. But all of that is inactive time where you can be sleeping, grocery shopping or catching up on that weeks Tivo’d Biggest Looser (my newest favorite reality show. I plan on sobbing tomorrow night too).
I made this for a wine and cheese party I catered. Perfect to entertain with. And 1 cheesecake will feed 20-30 people as an appetizer. But if you are like my friends and me, this will feed about 10 of you.

1 1/2 cup breads crumbs
3/4 cup walnuts
4 tbsp parmesan cheese
4 tbsp butter, melted

24 ounces cream cheese
2 cups blue cheese
4 eggs
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1 ripe pear, thinly sliced

1/4 cup Blue Cheese Crumbles
1/4 cup Toasted chopped Walnuts
1/2 cup Pear Compote (Recipe Below)

Preheat oven to 300°. Mix bread crumbs, walnuts, and Parmesan cheese together
in food processor. Pulse until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and process until mixture holds together. Press firmly into bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool on rack while preparing filling.

Beat together cream cheese and blue cheese in mixer on medium speed. Add greek yogurt. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed until just blended. Pour half the mixture over the crust. Lay pear slices over the filling to cover. Pour remaining filling over.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes at 400. Without opening the oven, lower the temperature to 300. Bake 1 hour, until center of cake is almost set. Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cool completely before removing the pan. Refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours.
Before serving, top with the pear sauce, then sprinkle the blue cheese and toasted walnuts. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.
Can be served with sliced baguette or crackers. or make it as a piece of ‘pie’ and have it with a side salad for lunch.

Pear Compote
3/4 cup muscat wine
1 tbsp sugar
1 pounds pears, chopped
dash cinnamon
dash cardamom
dash nutmeg

In a medium sized saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, and spices over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add the pears and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pears to a medium bowl. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour the syrup over the pears and let cool to room temperature. Puree them in a food processor or with a hand blender to get an applesauce consistency. It should only take a few pulses. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Can be made up to 3 days ahead of time.
*The pear compote also tastes wonderful on top of vanilla ice cream!

Yield: about 1/2 cup

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