Monday, July 24, 2006

Quick & Easy Appetizers

My friend, Jen, needs to make appetizers for a party of 80. These recipes make about 15 to 30 servings each. As a general rule of thumb, I look to have 4 or 5 servings per person. It isn’t necessary to scale the recipes, so long as you have a reasonable total amount of food. However, some recipes go faster than others; for these I recommend at least a serving for every 2 or 3 total expected guests—for Jen this means that she might consider at least doubling things like the Fruit Cups or Pizza Margherita, but should be fine with meatballs, chicken, and rollups.

I’ve listed the items in order of relative effort required.


16oz jar of sauce
38oz bag of frozen meatballs
5-quart (full-size) crock pot

Use any sauce you like. Dump the sauce & meatballs into the crockpot several hours before serving. Plug it in, and turn to ‘auto’ (this will allow the crock pot to heat everything up nicely, then drop to a simmer).

Some variations:
  • Sweet & Sour: use two 12oz jars of sweet & sour sauce, add pineapple chunks, chopped onion, diced bell pepper

  • Thai peanut: use two 12oz jars of Thai Peanut sauce, add chopped onion, bell pepper

  • BBQ: use one 16oz jar of BBQ sauce

  • Italian: use one 16oz jar of your favorite red pasta sauce

  • Swedish: use one 12oz jar of Alfredo sauce, one 10oz jar of cream of mushroom soup, 1/4c ketchup (really), 1/3c Worcestershire sauce, 1Tbsp dry mustard, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, salt & pepper to taste. If it seems too thick after a few hours, add milk to reach desired consistency. Can also add one box of pre-sliced mushrooms.

Makes about 15-18 servings

Caesar Tortellini

1 ‘Family Size’ pkg (20 oz) refrigerated filled tortellini
1c bottled Caesar dressing
1/4c fresh grated Parmesan
1 pkg fresh cherry tomatoes
1 can (6 oz) pitted, large ripe olives, drained
salad greens

Cook and drain tortellini as directed.Toss with dressing and cheese. Cover and refrigerate about 4 hours but no longer than 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

When ready to serve, toss tortellini with tomatoes and olives. Line a large bowl with salad greens and place tortellini mix in bowl.

Serve with toothpicks.

Makes approximately 20 servings


Seriously. Just make some small bowls of spicy nuts. People love ‘em!

2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash cinnamon
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic granuals
1 tsp salt
2c cashews
2c pecans

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Add butter to an 11- x 7- x 1-1/2-inch baking pan and melt in the oven. When melted, stir in seasonings and mix. Add cashews and pecans and toss to coat. Spread nuts evenly in the baking pan.Bake at 300ºF for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Sprinkle the nuts with additional salt, if desired.

Remove nuts to brown paper bag to cool. Shake occasionally while cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Makes approximately …well… 4c of nuts. Some people can eat this in a single sitting. WAY better than chex mix any day.

Sesame Chicken with Honey Dip

32oz bag frozen chicken nuggets, breaded & cooked
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp onion powder
1/4c sesame seeds
1/4c honey
1/4c Dijon mustard
1/4c mayonnaise
1 gallon-size ziplock bag

Defrost chicken in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. Combine dry mustard, onion powder, and sesame seeds in ziplock bag. Place defrosted nuggets in ziplock, and shake to coat (defrosted nuggets will be moist enough to coat nicely).

Lightly grease baking sheet, and place nuggets in single layer. Sprinkle on any leftover seasoning. Spray lightly with oil. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden & crispy.

While nuggets are baking, combine honey, mayonnaise, and mustard. Serve as a dipping sauce with the chicken.

Makes approximately 25 servings

Piggy Wraps

Oh c’mon. You know everyone LOVES these…

1 pkg. Hillshire Farm sausage (48ct)
3 pkgs. refrigerated crescent dough

Cut each crescent roll triangle in half. Starting at wide end, roll sausages in dough. Arrange on cooking sheet.

Bake at 400º for 5 minutes or until golden brown. May be froze until ready to cook.

Makes approximately 24 servings

Pastry Cups

You can use the basic method to fill these with just about anything. Recipe uses mushrooms & cheese, and some variations follow.

1 pkg mushrooms (anything from basic button to wild, roughly 8oz fresh), chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic
1/4c chopped green onion
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3oz brie cheese
1 pkg refrigerated crescent dough
24-cup minature muffin tray

Heat oven to 350° F. Spray muffin cups with oil. Unroll dough and separate into rectangles. Press diagonal perforation to seal, then cut crosswise to create 4 squares from each rectangle. Press one square into each muffin cup, leaving corners to overhang.

Cut brie into 24 pieces. Saute mushrooms with butter, and garlic until soft. Remove from heat, and add onions and mustard. Spoon mixture into cups, and top with a piece of brie.

Bake until pastry is golden and cheese is bubbly, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Serve warm or cold

Makes approximately a dozen servings

Filling Variations:
  • Crab & cream cheese: Bake pastry cups, then fill with a mixture of 3oz cream cheese, 1/2c (total) finely chopped onion, chives, carrots and roasted peppers, a good dash of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of Tabasco, and a 6oz package of crab meat. Chill and serve cold.

  • Shrimp & cheese: mix 1/2c salad shrimp (peeled, cleaned, no tails—you know what I mean) with shredded cheese, then bake as above.

Crab Dip

1 cup Ranch dressing
6 oz. crabmeat or imitation crabmeat
1/4 cup scallions, sliced
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. hot pepper sauce

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Serve with fresh vegetables or crackers for dipping.

Makes approximately a dozen servings, this stuff goes fast.

Creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip

The world’s easiest—just mix it up and bake in an interesting ramekin or clay pot and serve with crackers or sliced bread.

2 cups cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1-1/4 cups frozen chopped spinach, (about 10 oz.) thawed
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsps. lemon juice


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Drain the spinach and squeeze it dry.

In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth. Mix in the artichoke hearts, spinach and Parmesan cheese. Season with garlic and lemon juice.

Spread evenly into a baking dish that will hold 6 to 8 cups (roughly 9x9). Bake covered for 20 minutes. Remove the cover, and let the dish bake uncovered for 5 more minutes, or until the surface is lightly browned.

Makes approximately 24 servings.

Cheddar Spinach Appetizer Squares

1 (8 ounce) can refrigerated crescent rolls
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups half-and-half or milk
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well drained
3 eggs, well beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon onion powder

Heat oven to 350° F.

Unroll crescent rolls; place in 13x9-inch baking pan. Press over bottom and 1/2-inch up sides of pan; seal perforations.

In medium bowl combine all remaining ingredients; mix until well blended. Pour into crust. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until filling is set.

Let cool, then cut into 24 squares.

Makes approximately a dozen servings.

Pizza Margherita

2 teaspoons cornmeal
1 (13.8-oz.) can Pillsbury® Refrigerated Pizza Crust
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
20 (1/4-inch-thick) slices Italian plum tomato (about 6 medium)
1/3 cup thin fresh basil strips

Place oven rack in lowest rack position; heat oven to 425°F. Spray 15x10x1-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal.

Unroll dough; place in cornmeal-coated pan. Starting at center, press out dough with hands to edge of pan. Brush dough with oil; sprinkle evenly with garlic.

Place crust in oven on lowest oven rack; bake at 425°F. for 6 to 8 minutes or until set and dry.

Remove crust from oven. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over partially baked crust. Arrange tomato slices over cheese. Sprinkle with half of the basil. You can prepare up to this point a day in advance, then refridgerate.

Return pizza to lowest oven rack; bake an additional 12 to 17 minutes or until crust is deep golden brown. Sprinkle remaining half of basil over pizza.

Cut into 20 squares.

Serve warm.

Makes approximately 20 servings

Beef Roll-ups

5 10-inch burrito tortillas
1c sour cream
2 Tbsp horseradish
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
6oz package of fresh baby spinach
10 thin slices deli roast beef
1c shredded cheddar cheese

Combine sour cream, horseradish, and mustard. Spread on tortillas. Cover spread with single layer of spinach leaves. Place 2 slices of roast beef in center of tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese.

Roll each tortilla up tightly, and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hrs.

Remove rolls from wrap and slice into 1-inch pieces.

Makes approximately 40 servings

Pizza Roll-ups

1 can Pillsbury Refrigerated Pizza Crust
1 pouch pre-measured Boboli pizza sauce
1 pack sliced pepperoni
8oz shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp cornmeal

Unroll pizza crust and spread into rectangle approximately 15” x 10”. Spread sauce over surface, top with a complete layer of pepperoni, then cover with layer of shredded cheese.

Roll dough along the long edge, then press to seal—you should end up with a 15” long roll. Cover with plastic wrap and refridgerate at least 4 hrs.

Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. Lightly dust a cooking sheet with cornmeal. Remove rolls from wrap and slice into ½” pieces. Place rolls on cooking sheet and bake until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Makes approximately 15 servings.

Vegetable Bars
2 pkgs crescent rolls
1 (8-oz) cream cheese
1 cup mayo
1 pkg. Hidden Valley Ranch original salad dressing mix
1 cup cauliflower flowerets
3/4 cup fresh broccoli flowerets
3/4 cup grated carrots
bacon bits

Press crescent rolls to cover bottom of a 15 x 11 x 1 inch pan.

Blend cream cheese, mayo, and dressing mix until smooth. Spread on crust. Sprinkle vegetables on filling. Press vegetables into filling slightly. Top with bacon bits (omit if you have vegetarians).

Bake in a 375° F. oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely, then cut into bars.

Makes approximately a dozen servings

Spinach Bars

1/2 stick butter
2 pkgs. frozen spinach, chopped, thawed and squeezed dry
3 large eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
6 medium mushrooms, chopped
1 small onion, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. Cheddar cheese, finely grated

Heat oven to 350° F.

Melt butter in 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a bowl combine spinach, eggs, baking powder, mushrooms, onion, salt and Cheddar. Pour over butter in dish and bake for 35 minutes (eggs should cook through, but dish will not really solidify until it cools and the cheese firms).

Cool a bit before cutting into 1 inch cubes.

Makes approximately 30 servings

Fruit Cups

I don’t do enough sweet to balance the savory. Here’s one that even I might attempt…

1 box frozen Belgian mini cream puffs (30ct)
1 can Bing Cherries in Heavy Syrup (not Maraschino, this would be the real fruit)

Cut each cream puff in half. Spoon a single cherry into the cup.

Makes approximately 30 servings

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Palta Reina de Chile (Chilean Royal Pastina-Stuffed Avocado)

The meal was otherwise somewhat uninteresting—I wanted something to go with a Margarita-marinated grilled tri-tip (see earlier posting about getting my food drunk) and grilled corn on the cob, and I wanted to stay away from traditional carbs. I had some really nice fresh avocados from the farmer’s market, and some crab, so…

Avocado rules in this dish when pastina, otherwise known as saffron rice, is combined with crab and delectably fills half of an avocado. Served on a bed of mixed greens, this dish is fit for royalty.

  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • pinch saffron
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 small Roma tomato, seeded and chopped finely
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 tsp each sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 pound cooked crab or lobster meat, finely chopped
  • 4 ripe Hass avocados
  • 4 cups mixed baby greens with radicchio
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

In small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring chicken broth and saffron to a boil. Stir in rice. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes.

In small bowl combine lemon peel and juice, oil, onion, tomato, bell pepper, cilantro, salt, black pepper and crab or lobster meat. Toss with rice. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Just before serving cut avocados in half and remove pit from each. Fill each avocado with rice mixture. Whisk olive oil and lemon juice and lightly toss salad greens. Arrange 1/2 cup dressed greens on each plate and top with stuffed avocado.

Serves 8.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Glorious Authentic San Francisco Cioppino

My one and only childhood friend of memory visited me this weekend. Jennifer and I were best friends when we were 12 and 13…and then I moved away. But she stands out in my memory as the best friend I ever had, and it was absolutely delightful to see her again.

Stuck for something to cook for dinner on Friday night, we wandered into the grocery store for inspiration. The seafood counter had loads of lovely fresh live mussels and clams, and some fresh local halibut as well. Rather than have to choose, I decided to whip together some amazing San Francisco Cioppino with all of the above.

Cioppino is one of the few genuinely unique San Francisco dishes. It’s neither Italian nor Portuguese, but concocted by fishermen who came from the Mediterranean to the Bay Area in the 1800s. Inspired by ethnic origins but leveraging local abundance, Cioppino truly reflects the diversity and bounty of San Francisco.

For a proper Cioppino, you need to create a tomato broth with plenty of local herbs, garlic, and wine, and then add to it whatever local seafood is currently fresh and on hand. The dish should include a few types of shellfish, in addition to some sort of reasonably strong-fleshed white fish. Mussels, clams, prawns, and crab work incredibly well for the shellfish, and rockfish (including Pacific Red Snapper) or halibut are often used for the fish. You can also add abalone, squid, and octopus. It should be served like a stew, with plenty of San Francisco sourdough bread on hand to mop up the glorious broth.

This recipe was perfect for 4 hungry people.

For the sauce:
  • Butter & Olive Oil (my brother’s favorite combo)
  • Garlic, at least one whole bulb, crushed
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper (can also use mild green chilis), finely chopped
  • A few stalks of celery, finely chopped
  • Fresh herbs on hand: basil, parsley, oregano or marjoram, thyme, bay leaf + fennel seed, black pepper, a dash of crushed red pepper
  • 2 x 16oz cans of chopped or crushed tomatoes
  • 3 x 8oz cans of tomato sauce
  • 2 x 8oz bottles of clam juice (Sure, you could use fancy gourmet fish stock. But it wouldn't taste much differently)
  • 2-3 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc (1 for the Cioppino, the rest to drink)

Heat the butter & olive oil, and sauté the onion until translucent. Add bell pepper, carrot, and celery, and sauté until soft. Add garlic and herbs and sauté until the aroma is heavenly. Deglaze the pan with a good splash of white wine, and then add tomatoes and tomato sauce, and the clam juice. Leave to simmer for at least an hour, adding water if/when necessary to maintain a fairly thin, souplike consistency.

The seafood:
Choose three or four of the items below. I used 8oz each of clams, mussels, halibut, and prawns.
  • ½ lb mussels, clams, or limpets
  • 4 oz prawns, langostine, or crayfish, cleaned, shelled, deveined. Tails can be left on or removed but they should at least be shelled.
  • a small Dungeness crab (I suppose if you’re not in SF, you can substitute something else). Be sure to pre-crack legs and claws
  • 4 oz well pounded octopus, squid, or abalone, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 oz nice, firm, white fish like rock fish or halibut, chopped into 1” cubes
  • 4 oz scallops
Once the sauce is fantastically glorious, bring it to a boil and add half a bottle of white wine (seriously). Bring it back to a boil, and add the seafood in the order in which it is listed above, taking care not to over-cook any of the seafood. Clams take longer to open than mussels, prawns and crab should turn red, octopus, squid, and abalone should lose their translucence, and fish and scallops should turn white and firm. Once all of your seafood is cooked, the cioppino should be removed from the heat and served with plenty of warm, crusty sourdough bread. Be sure to put out bowls for discarded shells, big spoons for slurping up the stew, and necessary crab forks and stuff with which to crack open shells as needed.