Pumpkin Cheese Ball

September 24th, 2012

This was a fun idea that I picked up from Food Network Magazine.  Simply flavor cream cheese with shredded cheddar, salsa,  and nacho flavorings and then roll into a ball and refrigerate.

When it is firm, roll it in crushed nacho flavored chips to give it a pumpkin color.  The hardest part was finding a bell pepper stem to use on the top.  If you have peppers in your garden, this should not an issue, but my supermarket did not have a lot of pretty stems to choose from.  I was happy with the festive look anyway.

Happy Fall!


16 ounces room-temperature cream cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar
3 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons salsa
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno

Nacho-flavored tortilla chips, crushed
Bell pepper stem

With a mixer, blend the first 6 ingredients together.  Scoop into plastic wrap and use the wrap to form the mixture into a 5-inch pumpkin-shaped ball; chill at least 2 hours.  To serve, unwrap, roll in crushed nacho-flavored tortilla chips and press a bell pepper stem into the top.

Printable recipe

Red Pepper and Boursin Tarts

December 21st, 2010

If you are hosting get togethers during the holidays, this is a very easy and festive appetizer.  We have travelled to North Carolina to be with our family for Christmas so I have not had an opportunity to post much during the last week.  This afternoon I visited the Trader Joe’s in Cary and picked up a package of their store brand puff pastry.  It is made with all natural ingredients which is great, but if all you can find is the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, it works just as well.  For appetizers for a crowd use both sheets in the package which will make 16 hors d’ oeuvres.

Simply cut each sheet into an 8″ or 9″ circle,  prick them, spread them with boursin cheese and sauteed red peppers, sprinkle with thyme and seasoning and bake until browned and puffed.  It could not be easier.


2 red bell peppers, quartered lenghtwise, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (17 1/2 oz) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1/4 cup herbed Boursin cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Cook bell peppers in oil in a large nonstick skiller over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes, then cool.

Unfold passtry sheets on a ligthly floured surface and cut out an 8″ or 9″ round from each.  Transfer rounds to a buttered large baking sheet and prick all over with a fork, leaving a 1/2 inch border around edges.

Spread 2 tablespoons cheese evenly over each round, then scatter with peppers and sprinkle with thyme, kosher salt, and pepper to taste.

Bake tarts in middle of oven until puffed and golden brown, about 15 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.  Cut each tart into 8 wedges and serve warm.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Printable recipe

Braised Beef in Polenta Cups with Plum Chipotle Sauce

August 4th, 2010

Once a month one of our local restaurants, Larkins on the Lake, hosts a wine tasting dinner.  We always attend.  The prices are reasonable ( $25.00 a person ), the sommelier is knowledgable, and the food is excellent.  If there is a wine that we are particularily fond of they are generous with the pours and we have never left feeling deprived of a good meal.  One of the food selections this month was Braised Beef in Polenta Cups with Plum Chipotle Sauce.  The chef has offered to share recipes with me, but I have been so busy that I have not asked him.  But I could not get this dish out of my mind.  I can just imagine it as an interesting appetizer at any get together.  It would also be adaptable to so many fillings.  If you were pressed for time you could get some barbecue from your local smokehouse or you could make it vegetarian with a black bean salsa.  The combinations are endless.  So I decided to experiment.

First I made polenta by following the directions on the package.  Once it was thick, I poured it on to a wax paper lined sheet pan with high sides.  I refrigerated it overnight.  Once it was cold, it was easy to cut out into 2 inch rounds.  Then using a 1/2 teaspoon measure or other spoon, you scoop out some of the center.  These will hold in the refrigerator until you are ready to warm and fill them.

Once heated you can fill them with anything that appeals to you.  Since I had a busy day yesterday shopping with my blogging buddy Penny of The Comforts of Home ( go to her website to see where we went),  I put a chuck roast in the crockpot with a little Barbecue sauce and beef broth and left it all day.  It was fork tender by the time I heated the polenta cups.

I shredded the beef and placed spoonfuls into the polenta cups and then topped them with a sauce that I made from plum jam, a little barbecue sauce and a bit of chipotle powder.

They were every bit as good as the polenta cups we had at the restaurant.  The recommended wine with this appetizer was a Southern Belle Shiraz, Australia, 2008.


For the Polenta: (Adapted from the Food Channel)
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups polenta
3 tablespoons butter

Note:  I halved the recipe for just the two of us and used a smaller sheet pan.  I got about 24 2-inch polenta rounds.

Bring chicken stock to a simmer and whisk in polenta.  Cook according to package directions until polenta is thick.  Add butter.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper.  Pour polenta onto tray and spread evely to 1-inch thickness.  Cool to room temperature and place in refrigerator, covered until ready to use.  (At least two hours).

When polenta is chilled and firm, remove it from the refrigerator and cut it into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit or cookie cutter.  Scoop out the centers with a 1/2 inch measuring spoon or any small spoon, being careful not to make a hole in the bottom.  These can be prepared a day or two in advance.  When you are ready to fill them you can warm them in a 250 degree oven until they are hot.

For the Beef:
3 to 4 pound Chuck roast
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1 cup beef broth

Brown the beef on both sides in a little olive oil.  Place in crockpot and add the barbecue sauce and the beef broth.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.  Remove from crockpot and shred with two forks.

For the Plum Sauce:
1/2 to 3/4 cups plum jam or preserves
1 to 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1/8 tsp. chipotle powder of chili powder

Heat the three ingredients together in a small saucepan until the jam is like a glaze.

Top the warmed polenta cups with the shredded beef.  Spoon the jam sauce on top and sprinkle with parsley.

I hope this has inspired you to get creative with this recipe.  I would love to hear some of your ideas.

Printable recipe

Hummus with Orange Marmalade

July 16th, 2010

I have seen so many flavored hummus containers in the supermarket lately. You can find spicy red pepper hummus, garlic flavored hummus, lemon flavored hummus, or olive infused hummus. But it is easy to make your own flavored hummus at home. One that particularily appealed to me was a recipe using orange marmalade. Using this as a starting point, I can see substituting red pepper jelly or other interesting flavors.
I used whole wheat pita bread that I roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and sea salt. This made a very satisfying appetizer.
HUMMUS WITH ORANGE MARMALADE (adapted from all recipes)
2 cups canned garbanzo beans, drained
1/3 cup tahini (sesame-seed paste)
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Place ingredients in food process and process until pureed. Cover and refrigerate for several hours to allow flavors to blend. Bring to room temperature before serving.

An Elegant Appetizer

March 16th, 2010

Just the name of this recipe evokes elegance. It is Champagne Poached Scallops with Red Pepper Pesto. I found the recipe from Robert Irvine on The Food Network last year. The first time I prepared it my husband and I had an OMG moment. The richness of the scallops covered with a champagne reduction sauce in combination with the flavorful pesto and the crunch of the toasted baguette was as close to perfection as one can get. I fixed it again last night. We decided to have it with a simple salad for supper. But if you decide to make it as an appetizer for guests, it would be wonderful for a celebratory champagne occasion.

The components can be done in stages. I roasted the red peppers on the grill, but if you want to save time you could buy a jar or two of already roasted red peppers. It is easy to throw the pesto ingredients together in the food processor. The baquette slices can also be toasted ahead of time. David poached the scallops right before dinner and reduced the champagne sauce. We then assembled the baguette slices, spooned the champagne reduction over the scallops and ate our simple supper with the rest of the champagne and the salad.

Although this was really good this time, we didn’t have the same sublime reaction. The only thing I did differently was to garnish the scallops with lime zest. That was a mistake. It seemed to overpower the dish and take away from the total effect. If you want to garnish, I would suggest parsley since it is very mild. Why is it that sometimes it is hard to repeat the taste sensation of a first time impression? Perhaps it is because you know what to expect and the surprise element is missing. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by this appetizer.


Red Pepper Pesto:
2 large red bell peppers, washed
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons pine nuts
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt, if needed

1 Baguette loaf, cut into 24 pieces

2 cups champagne
1 fresh lime
24 large sea scallops

Roast or grill the red bell peppers until the skins are charred then, using tongs transfer them to a covered container such as a small pan with a lid or even a platic zip-lock bag to let them rest. Peel them when cool.

Prepare the pesto. In a food processor pulse the garlic and pine nuts until fine. Add the red peppers, olive oil, parmesan cheese, pepper and salt if using. Process until combined and fairly smooth.

Toast the baguette slices lightly on a baking sheet and set aside.

Bring Champagne to a boil in a large skillet. Squeeze in juice of lime, then add the scallops and poach until they are no longer translucent. Remove scallops to a plate and let Champagne reduce by about two-thirds.

Spoon some red pepper pesto onto each slice of bread and top with a scallop. Top with a small amount of the champagne reduction and serve.

© Penny Klett, Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen. All rights reserved.