Today’s Recipes: Italian Pastry Pinwheels, Mini Baked Herbed Cheese Toasts, Salmon Mousse, Spiced Apple and Calvados Cocktails, and Mulled Cider.
Holidays and cocktail parties seem to go hand in hand. Even if you are hosting a dinner, inevitably you will want to have something for your guests to nibble on when they arrive. I love the idea of appetizers. Little bites that let you taste a lot of different things at one time. I often make a meal of them. Selecting the right hors d’oeuvres to complement your menu can be challenging, but here are a few that I serve often and always win raves.
If you aren’t using frozen puff pastry as a regular part of your party planning, you should be. What a lifesaver! It makes anything look fancy. It is light and crunchy and because of the way it is made, puffs up and becomes gorgeous golden brown. You can control the expansion and create containers to hold a variety of fillings. Anywhere that you prick the pastry with a fork, it will not puff up. So if you puncture the center of a square but not the edges, you will have a square “box.” You know those stunning fruit tarts you see in bakeries? Many of them are made this way, baking up a shell with puff pastry and filling it with pastry cream and fruit.
If you search on the Internet for puff pastry appetizers you will see a whole slew of pinwheel or spiral recipes. Everyone has a different spin (LOL) on them. Mine is filled with Italian cheeses and seasonings to create a rich, cheesy, gooey bite. You can change things around depending on your mood and menu. I love the creaminess of ricotta, but be sure to drain it well so your puff pastry doesn’t get soggy!
When you first look at the recipe for the Herbed Cheese Toasts, don’t be put off by the use of mayonnaise – it is the binding agent to hold all the delicious cheese together! This is another of those recipes I love so much – where you can change nearly all the ingredients to suit your tastes, budget, and what I like to call “clean out the refrigerator” days! This isn’t very pretty to look at when you are making it, but boy oh boy does it taste good when you melt it all together! I would be prepared to make extra to keep on hand – and everyone is going to scarf them up!
Every chef I know has Salmon Mousse in their repertoire. It is one of the easiest and most luxurious appetizers to make. It is made with just 5 ingredients, that you put all together into your food processor and voila it is mousse! If you want to get really fancy, you can pipe it onto sliced cucumbers, crostini, crackers, or even pieces of celery. There are pre-made tiny pastry shells sold frozen that you can bake and fill with this mousse for a beautiful presentation. Garnish it with tiny pieces of fresh herbs (usually dill) and maybe a little piece of smoked salmon – just to make sure everyone knows what it is made from, LOL.
When the weather turns cold, I turn to hot drinks to help warm me up. And of course, being that it is Apple season, hot apple cider comes immediately to my mind. I’ve included two recipes that you might enjoy. Both are a variation of spiced cider and include alcohol – but feel free to leave it out if you prefer. I can just see you, warm and relaxed, sitting by the fire, sipping your cider, your dog by your side resting his head on your knee … oh I digress!
Have fun entertaining your guests with these menu items!
- 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
- 2sheets frozen puff pastry (from a 17.25 oz box), thawed
- 1large egg, beaten
- 4scallions, tough tops discarded, remaining onions sliced thinly
- 1 tsp finely minced shallot
- 1-1/2 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus 1/4 cup for topping
- 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, optional
- 1/4 cup minced chives, optional garnish
- Line a colander with cheesecloth or a clean cloth and pour ricotta into the center. Let cheese drain for 10 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth around cheese and tie the top with a rubber band. Use the rubber band to secure it to a ruler, ladle handle, or wooden spoon. Suspend the bundle over a large pot so that it doesn’t touch the bottom. Let drain for 30 minutes.
- Set oven racks in the upper and lower third slots and preheat to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine drained ricotta, egg, scallions, shallots, oregano, 3/4 cup Parmesan, salt, pepper, and cayenne if using. Whisk until smooth.
- Unfold one of the pastry sheets and place on a very lightly floured surface. Roll out to thin a little. Spread pastry with half of the cheese mixture. Carefully roll into a tight log and wrap in plastic. Repeat with remaining pastry and filling. Chill in the freezer until firm but still sliceable, about 20 minutes.
- Using a very sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and place cut side up on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle tops with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and bake until golden brown, about 13 to 15 minutes, spinning and reversing positions halfway through. While still hot sprinkle with chives. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- These can be assembled and frozen, tightly wrapped, up to 1 week in advance. Let thaw slightly before slicing and baking.
- 1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 tsp lemon pepper
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 4 scallions, including some of the tops, minced finely
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise, or as needed
- 1 sourdough baguette, thinly sliced, or crackers
- Preheat broiler. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix the 3 cheeses with the seasonings, herbs, and scallions until evenly blended. Add the mayonnaise, using just enough to achieve a spreadable consistency. This mixture can be made a day or two ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.
- Spread the cheese mixture on the bread slices or crackers and place on prepared sheets. Place in a preheated broiler and broil until bubbly, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Serve immediately on a heated serving platter. Because these are so quick to assemble and cook, make them to order so everyone can eat them while still hot.
- Yield: about 60 pieces
- 6 oz high quality sliced, smoked salmon
- 6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Chopped chives
- Place the salmon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cream cheese and butter and process until well blended. Add the lemon juice and cayenne while the motor is running and blend until creamy, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a decorative bowl and sprinkle the chives over the top.
- Serve with toasted bread rounds, sliced baguette rounds, crackers or red endive spears as a delicious hors d' oeuvres. Alternately, if you are serving this at a cocktail party, you can pipe the mousse onto bread slices, garnish with a little fresh herb, etc. to make it easier for your guests to manage.
- Serves: 8 as an hors d'oeuvre.
- If you don’t care for smoked salmon, you can replace it with cold poached salmon. You can also use canned salmon, but be sure to go through it carefully, removing any bones or skin fragments.
- 1 quart apple cider
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 (4 to 6 inch) cinnamon stick
- 1/3 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
- 4 cups Calvados or other apple brandy
- Apple slices, for garnish
- In a large saucepan, combine the cider, sugar, cloves, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and seeds and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand until cool.
- Strain into a large pitcher; stir in the Calvados. Serve over ice, garnished with apple slices.
- MAKE AHEAD The spiced cider can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- 2 quarts apple cider
- 1 tsp whole allspice
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 6 whole cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1 cup brandy or rum, optional
- Heat cider and add the spices, keeping warm over low heat for 30 minutes. Strain out the solids.
- Serve the cider warm; adding 2 tbsp bandy to each serving if desired. If you are serving a crowd, rent a coffee urn, double the recipe, placing the spices in the filter basket of the urn. Perk the cider until warmed.
- Do-Ahead: Steep the cider, cool, and pour into the original container. Refrigerate for up to 1 week, or you can freeze it in zipper top plastic bags, then defrost, and serve warm.