Appetizers

 Dip Dip, Hooray!

On Saturday night, the girls and I decided to devour a spread that consisted of an array of dips including, guacamole, chili cheese dip and chicken wing dip.

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I will begin first by blaming Erica and Liv for the destruction of our queso blanco. This was supposed to be included in the spread but they decided chasers for vodka were more important than milk for our queso. I advise you all to never substitute water for milk.

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Anyway, lets begin with the basics. You must always have sour cream, guacamole, salsa and ______ (insert queso here).

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To save time, I grabbed the sour cream and salsa at the market however, I highly recommend that you always make your guac fresh to order. Here’s how I did it.

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Guac

2 ripe avocados

1 tbsp finely minced onion

1/2 half freshly squeezed lime

Halve your avocados, dispose of the pit, and scoop the greens into a bowl. Next add your finely minced onion, fresh squeezed lime, salt and pepper to taste.  Mash it all together, and there you have it, perfect guac.

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Now of course there are plenty of other ways to jazz up guac, but with this spread I decided to keep it fresh and simple.  You may also want to try adding tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, or pomegranate seeds. Also, one surprisingly delicious addition to guacamole is feta cheese (thank you, Mrs. Zerio).

Note: don’t forget the cilantro! Unfortunately, I despise the stuff.

Onto the baked goods.  Lets begin with the chili cheese dip,  it’s a simple three ingredient fix that will always keep your guests swooping in for more.

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Chili Cheese Dip

1 brick of softened cream cheese

1 can of Hormel no bean chili

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Begin by spreading the softened creamed cheese onto the bottom of a baking dish. Next pour in the chili and top it with cheese, couldn’t be easier! Now, I never use a timer but I would say this takes about 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or, until bubbly and beginning to brown.  I put dollops of sour cream on top of ours.

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The tangy and cool sour cream pairs perfectly with the molten hot chili cheese.

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Now for the buffalo chicken wing dip.  The long debated question here is, “ranch or blue cheese?” I am a huge lover of blue cheese, the stinkier the better.  However, for this dip I am a ranch girl all the way, and I think I have convinced my friends as well.  I believe blue cheese should be respected and maybe smeared on a baguette, not mixed with cream cheese, cheddar, and hot sauce!

Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip 

1 brick of softened cream cheese

1 cup of ranch dressing

1 cup of shredded chicken

1/2 cup of Franks Red Hot

2 cups of sharp  shredded cheddar cheese

This is my sister Megan’s recipe and no one can make it better than her. When I asked her for the recipe she gave me a list of the ingredients and said “whatever tastes good”.

Here are my results.  Combine softened cream cheese, ranch dressing, hot sauce (Frank’s, always), and 1 cup of cheddar cheese.  Pour into baking dish then top with the remainder of cheese.  Pop the dip into a 350 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes. Again, I don’t ever use a kitchen timer, so until it looks like you will completely scorch your mouth when you dive into it.

Crunchy carrots and celery sticks are an excellent vessel for the chicken wing dip. You might even consider yourself healthy while eating it.

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Fresh Pizza Rolls 

Some people have a sweet tooth, I have a pizza tooth. Though I may not be able to finish an entire cupcake, I could easily put down a pie. A pizza pie, that is. I can’t get enough of the stuff… dough, cheese, sauce aka: the holy trinity. You could probably drop a slice in the street and I would still eat it.. but we won’t get into that (refer to Weave for the details).

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Some people have a sweet tooth, I have a pizza tooth. Though I may not be able to finish an entire cupcake, I could easily put down a pie. A pizza pie, that is. I can’t get enough of the stuff… dough, cheese, sauce aka: the holy trinity. You could probably drop a slice in the street and I would still eat it.. but we won’t get into that (refer to Weave for the details).

One of my personal favorite forms of pizza are those little pizza rolls. You know, the little crisped up pockets filled with boiling hot lava that you stuff into your mouth and try to eat anyway while you salivate uncontrollably as your say, “haaawt, haawtttt”, then proceed to grab whatever liquid is in front of you. Even when you try to bite into them the lava just spews out all over your hands and creates third degree burn. They are sickly delicious.

So here they are, not out of a box, but made by human hands; homemade pizza rolls! (minus the creepy “what is that?” meat you find in the ones in the frozen isle).

What you will need:

  • Pizza dough
  • Marinara
  • 1 egg
  • 1tbsp water
  • topping of choice ( cheese, pepperoni, veggies)

First and foremost, preheat your oven to a high 475 degrees. Now, onto your pizza toppings, well in this case, stuffing. The possibilities for your combinations are truly endless. Mozzarella and tomato sauce, sausage and ricotta, peppers and onions, buffalo chicken, veggie, ham and pineapple, Gorgonzola and pear, bbq chicken, bacon chicken ranch! Just think of the pizza display window you see on a Saturday at 3am.

I’m going with the classics on this one, red and green bell pepper, pepperoni, mozzarella, and marinara. Now, all you have to do is mince up the toppings very fine to fit into your pocket and create the perfect bite.

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Now throw your toppings into a mixing bowl. Add dried oregano and 1/2 of the marinara ( I threw some Parmesan in mine too). Mix it up. There is your filling that will turn into hot lava.

 

IMG_8381Onto the dough. First, take it out, put some olive oil on it. Then, let is rise and come up to room temperate so it is easy to work with. Once your dough has proofed up and just about doubled in size, get it as flat as you can. I’m not going to specifically tell you how to do this because I just kind of slap it around in on the counter, with care, and stretch until I reach the desired thinness. You could of course use a rolling pin like a normal human. The key here is to get it as thin as you possibly can without having tattered holes scattered about. Then, cut the flattened dough right in half. One half for the top, and the other for bottom.

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Next, dollop a nice teaspoons full of mixture on the bottom half of your dough.  Place them about an inch or so apart.  In between the filling, take a pastry brush and swipe on your egg wash ( you could also just use your finger tips). All egg wash is, is one egg beaten up with a splash of water. This will allow your dough to seal together better.

 

Then, carefully take your top layer of dough and lay it over the bottom half with the filling.  Press down the dough in between your filling and then slice it with a pizza cutter.   Proceed to grab a fork and score the edges. This allows the dough to seal and makes for a extra crispy edge. YUM.

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Place them on a non-stick sheet pan about an inch or two apart, then lather them up with olive oil. Place them into your 475 degree oven for 4 minutes. Take them out, flip them over. Put them back in for another 3 minutes.

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Before
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After

Ah, yes. Fresh, crispy, slightly chewy pillows of cheesy pizza goodness. Ready for the close up..?

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These are in no way, perfect in their appearance ( let’s just say they’re “rustic”).  However, they are perfectly tasty, and pass the test. And by test, I mean “cheese test”.  To pass the test, your cheese must create a glorious mozzarella ribbon as you take a bite into your pizza roll then pull it away from your mouth.  It might very well burn your face, but its totally worth it.

 


 

 

 Brussel Sprouts with Candied Pancetta

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Move over Kale chips, these Brussels sprouts chips are gonna give you a run for your money. OK… they may be scattered with salty pancetta and drizzled with a brown sugar glaze so they are not nearly as healthy. But, they are pretty damn delicious.  The bitter greens crisp up so they crackle as you pop them into your mouth and the bits of pancetta become candied, gloriously sticky, and sweet.

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What you will need:

  • Bag of Brussels sprouts
  • 1 inch slice of pancetta
  • Canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp backed brown sugar
  • 1 heaping tbsp maple syrup
  • salt and pepper

Ok, the key here is to roast your brussles sprouts on very high heat, preheat your oven to 475 degrees.  Then, half your brussels sprouts. Now, my absolute favorite part about roasting these little green gems is when the exterior leaves fall off and turn into golden brown crisps. So I decided, why not peel of the layers of the sprout so they are all crispy little chips! However, you can leave them halved or whole so they exteriors become delicately crunchy and the insides remain tender and succulent.  So, go on and do what you will with your Brussels sprouts.. follow your culinary heart.

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Either way you prep your sprouts, make sure you have a very large sheet pan. You want to have enough room to spread them out evenly and have enough of their own personal space to roast up. Now, dice up your pancetta into little bits and toss them in. Coat the brussles sprouts and pancetta with a light oil, such as vegetable or canola… just so they have a nice sheen to their appearance, don’t drown them in the stuff.  When I do savory sprouts I use olive oil, Parmesan, and pancetta, but that’s another recipe.

For the glaze. You can do this on the stove top or just pop it in the microwave.  Put butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup in a microwave safe bowl and put it in for 30 seconds. When the time is up, take it out give it a whisk, them pop it back in for another 30 seconds.

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Your mixture will be scorching hot and ready for drizzling.  Get ready to take your magic wand and put a spell on these babies.  Drizzle the sticky, rich candy all over the sprouts and give them a light toss. Be VERY delicate with your sprouts, they need tender love and care.  You can be more relentless with your pancetta, but it will still get the same amount of love from the brown sugar glaze.

Spread them all out evenly, with plenty of surface area and put them in the 475 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you will know when they are cooked to your liking.

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You might want to make everyone their own personal sheet pan… because that’s basically what I did.


 

So you have your trendy cheese board or platter prepared.  Of course, the cheese stands beautifully on its own, but here are some quick tips with simple ingredients.

Here, I have a rich and nutty Fontinella.  Not to be confused with Fontina cheese which is a softer cheese that melts incredibly,  Fontinella is a semi-soft cows milk cheese that is made in the U.S and is perfect for munching on or shaved over a lush salad.  Simply grab your honey bear and the crushed red pepper flakes.  Then drizzle and swirl the honey over the cheese.  This combination will be salty and sweet with a kick at the end!

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Rub the flakes between your fingers (don’t touch your eyes) to release their natural oils, get them going because they been all dried up wasting away in your spice rack.

 

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Last night I was lucky enough to have a brick of “Bacon Maple Aged Cheddar” brought home to me. I was hesitant at first, however, it has the aroma of maple bacon sizzling on a Sunday morning. Then as it approaches your mouth your excited yet, scared. Will the bacon be chewy and weird? Is it gross and sweet? No!! it tasted like a buttery perfect grilled cheese layered with … bacon!! All it needed was a little something to cut through the richness. Proceed to your fridge and grab the… (“pardon me, would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?) Raise your pinky, drizzle on the dijon, and enjoy.

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It was a Saturday night as my best friend Erica and I were left with nothing but a large bottle of Pinot Noir and a movie, aka the perfect excuse for Cheese Board #1. This came purely through rummaging through her fridge and cabinets then grabbing a cutting board (thanks mama Wright).

Cheese Board #1 includes a wheel of Brie, half a brick of extra sharp New York cheddar, a short log of Goat cheese, and buffalo mozzarella stuffed with basil wrapped in prosciutto ( yes, it’s as good as it sounds )

Cascading fresh blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries around the wheel of Brie was a given for me. The mild creamy Brie pairs perfectly with the tart and tangy berries. Over the goat cheese I drizzled a balsamic reduction. These two had a happy marriage in fact, next time do double on the balsamic reduction it tasted great smeared on them all. In the corner I arranged hot peppers, roasted reds, and and olives ( including tapenade ) which all stand on their own, on a cracker, or paired with a cheese.

With no surprise, the avocado was the star of the board, how can you not love something so rich,buttery, gorgeously green? It elevated any cracker and cheese combination you stacked up.

If I could have added another element to the board it would have been a sharp, grainy mustard to jazz up all the richness! All in all, kicking off the heels and putting on our sweats turned out to be not such a sad Saturday night at all. Enjoying breakfast not hungover in the morning was also a plus.

I cannot fully express my love of cheese and I believe there is no piece of art more perfect than the cheese board. Cheese boards are pure party perfection. What’s better than indulging in something delicious while sharing a drink with friends? It’s the quintessential discussion piece and don’t even worry about cleaning up left overs, there won’t be any.

What’s the best part? It’s simple and fun! Let your creative energy flow using different types of boards or what ever you may have laying around! Flip over a wooden salad bowl, or even an old basket. Different textures and shapes are intriguing!

We haven’t even gotten to the cheese and pairings yet. They are ENDLESS. Yes there are the classics those will never die. A blue drizzled with honey or a Brie dripping with raspberry preserves; and they are just perfectly delicious. But why not place a brick parmigiano reggiano over a bed of rosemary? The smell alone will make you reach for a glass of Chianti. Or how about slice up a creamy avocado and place it near a pepper jack? The more you experiment the more fun and tasty your cheese board will become!

I’ve decided to number my cheeseboards because there will be a plethora of them with crazy combinations and tons of ideas for plating….. Go on, grab a board!

-Bird

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