Category Archives: Appetizers

simple spanakopita

I love small plates, family style dinners because they offer variety to suit all tastes, can easily be scaled up or down to accommodate unplanned dinner guests, and allow you to experiment with different recipes and cuisines. One of my favorite house dinners this past year was our Greek inspired night: spanakopita (spinach phyllo pie), avgolemono soup (greek chicken lemon soup), roasted eggplant dip, and toasted pita. The spanakopita looks super impressive but is simple to prepare with the help of olive oil spray, and I promise the phyllo dough isn’t as difficult to work with as everyone makes it out to be! It just takes a little bit of practice, like anything else. The spinach filling is jazzed up with the addition of feta and golden raisins, which give it a nice sweetness in contrast to the savory garlic and spinach. Other great additions to round out this meal include roasted eggplant dipmarinated peppers, celery and orange salad, spicy carrot salad and melon with honeyed yogurt, which all come from the June 2009 Everyday Food magazine!

simple spanakopita

Adapted from Martha Stewart

ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 packages (20 ounces each) baby spinach
  • 1 cup crumbled feta (4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins, chopped
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 20 sheets frozen phyllo dough (from an 8-ounce package), thawed and cut to 8 by 12 inches

directions:

In a medium pan, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl. Return pan to heat. Working in batches, cook spinach, tossing, until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain spinach and let cool. Press out excess moisture, then roughly chop. Add spinach, feta, and raisins to bowl with onion and season filling with salt and pepper. (To store, refrigerate, up to 2 days.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unroll phyllo. Place 1 sheet on a work surface (keep remaining sheets covered with a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying); spray with oil. Lay another sheet on top and spray with oil. Repeat until you have 10 layers of phyllo.

Spread half of filling lengthwise down middle of phyllo stack.

Roll into a log, brushing the seam with oil before sealing.

Spray log with oil. Using a small sharp knife, make 8 diagonal cuts on top. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.

Place logs, seam side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until deep golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cut into slices along slashes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I served it with Avgolemono soup too: 

Bon Appetit!

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light seven layer dip

I made this dip for the first time during the Superbowl this year and it was such a hit that I’ve been asked to make it again for almost every party I’ve had since. It looks really great in a clear glass bowl because you can see all of the layers, which I’ve tried to photograph for you to see. It’s really filling, and is a great way to put together the cheese, beans, guacamole, salsa, and cilantro that you would have already bought for any Mexican fiesta. This can be scooped up with chips or used as a topping or filling for tacos, quesadillas, burritos and more. I usually make the guacamole and salsa myself, but this can also be made in a pinch by buying premade guacamole, salsa and pre-shredded cheese. Enjoy!

seven layer dip

Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake

Layer 1: Beans

  • 2, 16-oz cans black beans (or 1 can black beans and 1 can pinto beans), drained
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • pinch of salt

Combine the beans, chili powder and salt in a small bowl. Mash lightly with a fork, if you like. Transfer the beans to an 8-inch square dish or glass bowl of a similar size.

Layer 2: Sour Cream and Cheese

  • 1 cup light sour cream (or greek yogurt)
  • 2 cups freshly grated cheese (cheddar or pepper jack)

In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and cheese. Spread the mixture evenly over the bean layer.

Layer 3: Guacamole

  • 2 avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 tomato, cored, seeded and diced

Mash avocados, lime juice, garlic and salt. Stir in the red onion and tomatoes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Spread the guacamole over the sour cream mixture.

Layer 4: Simple Salsa

  • 3 large tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, jalapeños and fresh cilantro. Layer the salsa over the guacamole.

Layers 5, 6 & 7:

  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Up to 1/4 cup grated cheese (cheddar or pepper jack)

Sprinkle scallions over the salsa. Add as much cilantro confetti as you like. Top the scallions with the cheese of your choice.

Suggestion: Serve this with a big spoon so that people can scoop all the way down to the beans.

Now kick back and have a corona, it’s mexican fiesta time!

easy crab cakes

At school this past fall I took a class called Food for Contemporary Living in the nutrition department. It was my dream class. I got to spend 3 hours cooking in a food lab every Tuesday afternoon. Each class focused on a different food group: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, milk and egg foams, and many others. Each student was responsible for preparing a recipe, and then at the end of class we got to sample a bit of each dish and complete sensory evaluations. Our “textbook” was the red Betty Crocker cookbook, which had some surprisingly good recipes, including the one I am going to share with you today.

I was so amazed by these crab cakes in class because I had never tried canned crab before and didn’t know it could be so delicious. These are light and fluffy, and filled with flavor. They don’t taste fishy at all, have great spice from the ground mustard and a nice crunch from the scallion whites. I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet these would be great with tuna or salmon as well. As you can see, I served them with my favorite roasted asparagus and a nice glass of white wine.

crab cakes 

Adapted from Betty Crocker, serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ¼ cups soft bread crumbs (about 2 slices bread, I used whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 medium green onions, chopped- 2 Tbsp
  • 3 cans (6 oz) crabmeat, well drained, cartilage cartilage removed and flaked
  • ¼ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Directions:
In medium bowl, mix mayo and egg with wire whisk. Stir in remaining ingredients except oil and dry bread crumbs.
Shape mixture into 6 patties, about 3 inches in diameter (mixture will be moist). Coat each patty with dry bread crumbs.
In 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook patties in oil about 10 minutes, gently turning once, until golden brown and hot in center. Reduce heat if crab cakes become brown too quickly, as you can see one of mine did. 
Bon appetit!

walnut pesto and white bean roasted red pepper dip

I love a good cocktail party. Hor d’Oeurves, wine, good company- it’s the perfect social gathering. I have people over all the time and I like to have easy appetizer recipes on hand if I need to put something together at the last minute. I’ve already featured the Artichoke-Olive Crostini, which is one of my all time favorite dips, but today I’m going to share with you two others which were a big hit when I made them for a dinner party at my house a few months ago.

Walnut Pesto

This is surprisingly delicious. Walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan all blend together to create a savory spread with a nice crunch from the toasted nuts.  This is definitely NOT your average pesto.

From Smitten Kitchen (where else?)

Makes a dozen or so toasts

1 cup shelled walnuts, even better if you toast and cool them first
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
3 sprigs of thyme, cleaned
Salt
Very small splash of sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomatoes (oil or dry-packed will both work)
1 loaf country bread, or a baguette, sliced

In food processor, coarsely grind walnuts, cheese, garlic, thyme, salt and vinegar. Stir in oil and tomatoes.

Grill or toast bread. While hot, top each slice with a heaping teaspoon of pesto.

White-Bean Roasted Red Pepper Dip

This is a easy and delicious dip that you can throw together with things you probably already have in the pantry!

Also from Smitten Kitchen

1 15-ounce can of white cannelini or navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 small jar roasted red peppers, or about 1 cup, drained
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Puree everything in a food processor (or blender) until smooth.

My friend Peter digging in

Bon appetit!

artichoke olive crostini

Artichoke olive crostini are another one of my favorite hor d’oeuvres that i’ve made multiple times and were a huge hit on new years eve.

They are so simple, only requiring a handful of ingredients and a food processor, yet they pack quite an intense bite.

I decided to make a bunch of baguette toasts (cut up regular and whole wheat baguettes, brushed with olive oil and baked in the oven for a few minutes), and then put out a variety of spreads: artichoke olive, bruschetta, spicy black bean, olive tapenade, and a garlic eggplant spread.

It worked perfectly for my cocktail party where everyone wanted easy food that they could eat with their hands, and it satisfied a variety of taste preferences.

Artichoke Olive Crostini courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup large green pitted olives (i couldn’t find canned green olives, so I got them at an olive bar from the supermarket)
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • slices of toasted baguette

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a food processor, process the garlic, olives, capers, artichoke hearts and olive oil to a coarse paste.

only 3 ingredients!

2. Toast the bread on the oven rack for 6 minutes, or until crisp and browned. Spread the olive paste thickly over the toasts and serve.

Note: If made ahead of time, just let it come to room temperature before serving.

Let me know what you think!

Also, here’s a picture of my coffee table spread from my party, hopefully it will inspire you to host a party of your own!

a range of cheeses, crackers, olives, cornichons, pepper crusted salami, and rice crackers.

 

upside down mushroom tartlets

Happy new year!!!

I hosted a new years eve party for some friends, and this was one of the appetizers I made. I tested these out a few weeks ago when I hosted a Cornell Gourmet Club event at my apartment and they were a huge hit! Savory and delicious, warm with a nice flaky puff pastry underneath.

These look really fancy and impressive, but are actually extremely simple. I got the recipe from one of my favorite magazines, Everyday Food, when they did a feature on creative ways to use a muffin tin.

Upside Down Mushroom Tartlets courtesy of Martha Stewart

Makes 6

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed and cut into six 3-inch rounds (you can use a circle cookie cutter, or I used the bottom of a wine bottle and carefully cut a circle around it)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for muffin pan
  • 1 large shallot, diced small
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
  • 3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese (i used a blend of fontina, and a few other cheeses, but really anything will work.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place puff pastry rounds in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while mushrooms cook.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until soft, 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until soft and browned, 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in thyme and remove skillet from heat.

3. Lightly oil 6 jumbo muffin cups. Divide mushroom mixture and cheese among cups, then top each with a chilled pastry round. Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.

full pan

chilled puff pastry rounds on top

4. Run a small knife around cups to loosen tartlets. Place a rimmed baking sheet or large plate over pan and invert to release tartlets (If you have a silicon muffin pan, releasing them will be easier). Sprinkle with more thyme. Serve warm.

finished product

These make a great appetizer/finger food for your next cocktail party. They could also make a great light dinner with a nice salad on the side.

Enjoy!