Whether you are having just a couple of friends over for drinks or throwing a big bash, deciding on the appetizer menu has it challenges. There are so many considerations, like how much food, your guests eating preferences, and the ease of preparation being at the top of the list. One appetizer that is a great crowd pleaser is shrimp cocktail. I have yet to come across someone who does not like shrimp, unless they have a shellfish allergy.
I love shrimp cocktail and believe it is the cocktail party equivalent of the office water cooler. Everyone likes to mingle around the shrimp. It is a good place to catch up with your friends or introduce yourself to the other guests. Chatting and munching around the shrimp appetizer is an interactive icebreaker with a festive atmosphere. Politics and the opposing opinions are not discussed around the shrimp cocktail. Those heated discussions happen near the charcuterie platter where there are more questions than answers.
I discovered a shrimp cocktail recipe from Melissa Clark at the New York Times Cooking website. Her recipe reinforced a couple of ideas I already had. The first is roasting the shrimp instead of boiling them. I love roasted shrimp because the natural sweetness in shrimp becomes more concentrated. Also, I can season the shrimp any way I want, or not and it will still taste delicious. Often, boiling shrimp creates bland tasting waterlogged shrimp.
Second, she changed up the cocktail sauce to an aioli. It is a brighter and spicier dipping sauce and not too sweet. Have you ever tasted cocktail sauce that is nothing but ketchup and horseradish? Yuck. This recipe makes a cocktail sauce with traditional ingredients, but with a different technique.
There is one problem I have with her aioli recipe: it is impossible to make as directed. I have tried and tried on multiple occasions, but I cannot get the sauce to the consistency of an aioli. Whenever I make it, the cocktail sauce is runny, like a salad dressing, and nothing like aioli. Maybe, based on the photograph with her recipe, that is how it’s supposed to be. I wonder.
Try these other great appetizers with Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
After going through a bottle of Aleve to relieve the cramp in my right arm from whisking oil and egg yolk for hours, I gave up and adapted her recipe. Remember, ease of preparation is a key consideration making appetizers. So, whenever I make roasted shrimp cocktail I do one of two options. One, I make homemade mayonnaise using my immersion blender and then add the remaining ingredients. Or, I use store-bought mayonnaise and mix everything together. Making the cocktail sauce with the mayonnaise makes it creamier, but it still has the great bite from the horseradish and Sriracha sauce. This might be considered cheating, but I am a much happier person.
Roasted shrimp cocktail is an easy appetizer to make and a great crowd pleaser. It takes less time to roast the shrimp than it does to boil water for a traditional shrimp cocktail recipe. The shrimp is sweet with and added kick from garlic and paprika that taste delicious as is, or spiced up the creamy cocktail sauce. Serve this appetizer at your next get together and the shrimp platter will be empty before you know it.
Roasted shrimp cocktail is an easy appetizer to make and a real crowd pleaser. I like to season the shrimp before I roast it to add more flavor. This is a creamy cocktail sauce made with homemade mayonnaise, horseradish and sriracha. It you want a tangier sauce you can mix in some yogurt or sour cream. Keep the creamy ingredients on the light side so the horseradish and sriracha are prominent.
This recipe is adapted from, Roasted Shrimp cocktail with Aioli by Melissa Clark from the New York Times Cooking website.
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup / 125 ml homemade mayonnaise or store bought
Peel the garlic and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the green germ from the middle and rough chop the garlic. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and make a garlic paste with the side of your knife. Angle the knife so the blade is almost parallel to the work surface and press down on the garlic with the side of the knife and smush the garlic. Move the knife back and forth pressing down on the garlic. Periodically wipe the collected garlic off the blade of the knife. Continue to press back and forth on the garlic until a smooth paste. Set aside.
Add the mayonnaise, garlic paste, sriracha, horseradish, ketchup and lemon juice to a small bowl and mix. Correct the seasoning to desired taste. Spoon into a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Can be made one day ahead.
Preheat the oven to 425˚F
Place the cleaned shrimp on a sheet pan then add the remaining ingredients to the shrimp. Toss the shrimp with your hands to get the seasoning and oil mixed evenly over the shrimp. Place in the oven and bake until the shrimp is just done. The shrimp will no longer be translucent. It is very eay to overcook the shrimp, so watch them closely. The shrimp should take 7 to 10 minutes. I start checking at the 5-minute mark to gauge the progress.
Serve the shrimp warm or at room temperature with the creamy cocktail sauce.
How many servings you will get will depend on how many shrimp you get per pound. For an appetizer, I figure 4 shrimp per person when I have a small get together. For a larger crowd, I will not count out the shrimp, but buy a general amount and hope everyone gets at least one.
For a serving size for an entree, I figure 6 shrimp served along with other side dishes like pasta or rice, and vegetables.
What do you get when you have a cake with a creamy and delicate interior protected by a crispy caramelized exterior? You have a rösti. A potato pancake like no other. Its’ soft creamy interior holds together with just the right amount of the potato’s natural starches, creating a pancake that is tender, creamy and crunchy. Rösti originated in Switzerland and was a breakfast staple for farmers. Now, people from all over the world enjoy these potato cakes.
I have enjoyed rosti in restaurants and wanted to see if I could recreate them for myself. After researching many recipes, I decided to use a recipe from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. His science based technique is typically spot on, inventive, and not too difficult to follow. After making his recipe a few times I picked up a few skills and some new information.
Like life in general, the key to making a successful rösti is all about balance. They are like fritters or latkes, but are thicker and creamier. The type of potato and the technique used to prepare them, work together and create the perfect amount of starch necessary to hold the whole pancake together. Too little starch and the rösti falls apart when you cook it. Too much starch and you have a sticky pancake. Have you ever played with potato starch mixed with water? Its gooey stuff and not something you want in your pancakes.
Kenji believes Russet potatoes are the best ones to use. They are high in starch and will create pancakes with fluffy interiors and crunchy outsides, like the perfect French fries. I agree with him if you follow his technique. For experimentation, I tried a different parcooking method using Russet potatoes and the results were not so great.
Rösti has essentially one ingredient and the key to keeping them intact is the initial preparation. Good sharp tools, like a mandoline or a very sharp knife will cause less potato starch from releasing. A box grater is not as sharp but does a good job cutting the potatoes into the right size.
Parcooking helps prevent the potatoes from oxidizing and give the rösti the right texture. He likes to parcook the potatoes in a microwave which is easy enough, and eliminates a step common in other recipes. I often read potatoes are grated raw, then squeezed to rid them of excess water before assembling. Parcooking potatoes gives the potato cake great texture and fully cooked potatoes throughout the pancake.
Unfortunately, my potatoes oxidized even though I sliced them with a mandoline and parcooked them in a microwave. I am not sure why, but one theory I have is my potatoes where doing what potatoes do, oxidize when exposed to air. Maybe I did not work fast enough, or my knock off Japanese mandoline needs sharpening. After several trials, I am still working this out.
To experiment, I parcooked the potatoes whole in a microwave, let them cool, then grated them using a box grater. This produced rosti with a light and creamy color, but looked and tasted like mashed potato cakes, not a rosti. Maybe a medium starch potato like, Yukon gold is better suited with this technique. Oh, so many variables to figure out, and so little time.
If you have a non-stick pan, it will be a lot easier to make. I do not own one and used a cast iron skillet. They are good pans to use just harder to maneuver the rösti out of the skillet. The sides of my pan are more vertical than they are slopped. My rösti had to slither up and over a cast iron mountainside before it could ease on to a plate. It required some extra encouragement with my spatula to get the rosti to “slide” out of the pan.
As I cooked rösti, I was reminded of making a traditional Spanish tortilla. The amount of oil and the heat of the pan had to be just right so the tortilla would cook properly and slide in and out of two different skillets multiple times. Rösti has less ingredients than a Spanish tortilla, which makes the delicate balance all that more important. It is not hard to make rösti, just more particular.
Traditionally, rösti is considered a side dish, but I love to serve rösti as a meal topped with an egg and salsa. They are also delicious served with any vegetables like spinach. I used Kenji’s suggestion and mixed in a layer of mushrooms and onions because they are one of my favorite foods. I really like this idea and will make it a staple feature whenever I make them.
Serve rösti as an appetizer with garlic or saffron aioli. It is a delicious small plate option for any cocktail party. Add smoked or cured fish, pickles, eggs, vegetables, aioli, and your guests have a satisfying and unexpected meal.
I would love to hear from you about your experience making rösti. Let me know in the comments section below the recipe how you like to prepare rösti. Enjoy!
Rösti can be served for any meal at any time of the day. It is a great brunch food when served with eggs or sausage, or a delicious appetizer with saffron aioli. My favorite way to eat it is with a poached egg and tomatillo salsa or saffron aioli.
You can serve this plain without the mushrooms and onions if you wish.
The rösti recipe is from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Best eaten hot off the skillet.
3 medium russet potatoes, l lb- 1.5 lbs /680 g rinsed peeled and cut with a box grater or mandolin
5 Tb/ 62 g olive oil, divided
1 medium onion
4 oz / 125 g mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Place the prepared potatoes in a microwave dish and cook on high for around 5 minutes. You do not want the potatoes overcooked and mushy, they should still have a slight bite in the center.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat 1 Tb olive oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet and add the onion and mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms and onions until soft and translucent and just beginning to brown, around 6 - 8 minutes. Add the minced garlic, thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper, stir to mix and cook until you begin to smell the garlic's perfume. Remove the mushrooms and onion from the pan and set aside.
Wipe the skillet clean and return it to the burner. Turn the heat to medium and add 2 Tbs to the skillet. Heat the oil until shimmering. Make sure there is an even coating of oil across the whole pan, then spoon half of the potatoes into the skillet. Press down on the potatoes with a rubber spatula and form the potatoes into a pancake. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then spread the mushrooms and onions over the potatoes. Add the remaining potatoes to cover the mushrooms and onions, then press down on the potatoes to cover the top of the pancake.
Cook the rösti on one side for around 7 minutes. Do not disturb the pancake for at least 4 minutes into the cooking time. After 7- 8 minutes, run a thin spatula around the edges and underneath the potatoes to loosen it from the bottom.
Slide the potatoes onto a plate large enough to hold the rösti. Place another plate, upside down, on top of the plate holding the rosti, so the rims are kissing each other. Flip the plates over, so the bottom plate is now the top and lift off the plate. You should see a beautiful golden brown crusty rösti.
Wipe off any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan and add 2 Tbs olive oil.
When the oil is shimmering, slide the rösti back into the skillet and sprinkle with salt and ground pepper. Cook for 7 more minutes.
When finished, loosen the rosti from the pan and slide it onto a serving plate.
One cannot research Irish Cuisine without devoting some time reading about the potato. This nutritious plant plays an important role in Ireland’s history, and because of the potato famine, US history as well.
Although there is some debate about when and who introduced the potato in Ireland, there is no mistaking its impact. The health and welfare of the Irish people significantly improved after its introduction. I read, before the potato famine, 30 percent of Ireland’s population depended on the potato for a significant portion of their diet. There is evidence from that time that people ate 40 to 60 potatoes a day. *
Sadly, the plant that helped build a country is also responsible for one of Ireland’s most significant challenges. In 1845, the potato blight hit Ireland. By 1851, 1 million people died from starvation, and by 1855, 2 million people emigrated from Ireland. * How does a country recover from such a significant loss?
There is often a connection between historical events and food, or the lack thereof. With some time and effort, I am sure it is possible to create a timeline of historical events and discoveries that relate back to the potato. Any food could have an impact to all aspects of our daily lives. Yet, some of the more interesting developments is seeing how food changes from a means for survival, to a developed regional cuisine. Fortunately after the potato famine, Ireland was able to do just that.
I own a wonderful Irish Cookbook, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen. She is considered “the Julia Child of Ireland”, and runs the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork. I love reading this book. Darina has a friendly ease in her writing that makes you feel you will always be welcome at her table. She is passionate about teaching and the slow food movement. I would love to spend a day with her, foraging through the Irish countryside then bake biscuits with the wild onions we collected.
Darina Allen’s book is my primary source about Irish cuisine. It has a vast collection and I believe I will be reading, cooking and learning from it for some time. After browsing through her section on potatoes, I am not sure what I enjoy more, the food or their names. With names like Champ, Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak, it is easy to believe there is always lively conversation during dinner time. It was hard to pick just one recipe to feature. Several traditional potato recipes were very enticing, but I decided on a recipe that is very familiar to Americans, Crispy Potato Skins.
Darina’s recipe recommends serving plain baked potato skins with dips, like you would for chips. Her dips range in flavor from sweet and spicy, to herby and creamy combinations. This sparked my imagination. However, I decided to follow my own path and create crispy potato skins as a composed appetizer recipe.
Please forgive me for my American adaptation. Darina’s Crispy Potato Skins are perfect appetizer fare on any continent. Yet, I could not stop myself from dreaming up endless potato skin recipes. Potato skins with melted cheddar cheese and crispy bacon is a familiar menu item, but what about smoked Irish salmon? Pickles and potatoes are delicious together, what about pickled jalapeños? How would hot pepper jelly taste with the crispy potato skins? Maybe crab or blue cheese would be a nice change. I am not too far off the game here as Darina’s cookbook inspired all my ideas.
One idea I had, is to serve potato skins buffet style, like you would for a taco dinner. This could be successful for a small gathering of friends. People would get the potatoes skins hot out of the oven and choose toppings as they please. I thought this would be perfect for the times when there are guests with different diet preferences. No one would feel left out.
One word of caution, do not eat green potatoes. They are slightly poisonous and will give you an upset stomach.
The important thing to remember is potato skins are informal, and help create a fun and relaxed time with friends and family. Don’t let the informality fool you. They are also quite delicious. Even though crispy potato skins are easy to make, they require planning ahead. It can take up to an hour to cook the potatoes before you cut them open and make them into crispy potato skins. These tubers are twice baked. So sadly, they are not suited for an impromptu get together.
Now that all the crispy potato skins are all eaten up, I must decide what to make with the leftover fluffy potato flesh. Let’s see… Champ, Colcannon or Bubble and Squeak? Oh joy, what’s next?
Serving Size: 2-3 slices per person for an appetizer
Two ways to serve crispy potato skins, one with smoked salmon and another with melted cheese and pickled jalapenos. The amounts of toppings for each recipe of potato skins is sized up for 8 potatoes. You can easily adjust the ingredients up or down depending on how much you want to make. The amount of topping ingredients is all relative to personal preference and the size of potato.
Serve the Crispy Potato Skins hot.
Plain crispy potato skins and the Dubliner Cheese and Pickled Jalapenos Potato skins can be made ahead and reheated in a 350˚F oven covered with foil.
8 medium size Yukon Gold Potatoes, or other medium starch potato
2 Tb melted butter or extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
For the Crispy Potato Skins with Smoked Irish Salmon
1/4 lb smoked Irish Salmon*
1/4 cup sour cream
3 Tb minced chives and more for garnish
32 extra thin slices of cucumber, cut in half
For the Dubliner and Pickled Jalapeno Potato Skins
1/2 cup (or more) of grated Dubliner cheese
32 slices of pickled jalapenos, rough chopped
For the Crispy Potato Skins
Preheat the oven to 400˚F
Scrub and clean each potato thoroughly, then dry with a paper towel.
Prick each potato with a fork or sharp paring knife in 2-3 places
Place the pricked potatoes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until cooked about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. The potatoes are done when pierced with a sharp knife or fork and there is no resistance. The knife will glide easily in and out of the potato.
When done, remove the potatoes from the oven and cool. Turn the oven up to 450˚F.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Some potato flesh should remain on the skin. Reserve the potato flesh for another use.
Slice each potato half, lengthwise in 2 pieces.
Arrange the potato slices on a sheet pan and brush the fleshy part of each slice with melted butter or extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with Kosher salt and ground pepper.
Bake in the oven until crisp, about 10-15 minutes.
Crispy Potato Skins with Smoked Irish Salmon
While the potato skins are crisping in the oven, slice the smoked salmon into pieces that will fit onto the potato skins.
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with 3 Tbs of the minced chives.
Assemble the crispy potato skins. You will want to work quickly because the potato skins taste best when they are hot.
When the potato skins are crisp and hot out of the oven, spread a small spoonful of the sour cream and chives along the fleshy part. Add two cucumber half slices on top of the sour cream, then drape a generous piece of smoked salmon on top of the cucumber. Garnish with minced chive.
Repeat until you have assembled all the skins you want to complete.
Melted Dubliner Cheese and Pickled Jalapenos Potato Skins
Remove the potato skins from the oven when crisp. Keep the potato skins on the sheet pan and sprinkle grated Dubliner cheese over each piece and place the pickled jalapenos on top of the cheese. (or vice versa). Put the potatoes back in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.
* You will most likely not need a full 1/4 pound of smoked salmon. Cut the smoked salmon into pieces as you need them. Enjoy the remaining smoked salmon for another use.
Day 3 of Super Bowl dip recipe frenzy. What do you get when you combine two all-time favorite classic American dips? You get the ultimate onion dip and the ultimate blue cheese dip. I guess whatever camp you belong to, will determine your name for this wonderful double classic dip recipe. I call it, Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots.
Both onion dip and blue cheese dip have been around for decades, at least my lifetime and probably longer. So, bringing the two dips together seems inevitable. I love blue cheese dip and onion dip equally. To be honest, French Onion Dip made from the spice packets is a guilty pleasure of mine. I pounce on it whenever it is served.
Also, Onion dip opens my childhood memory treasure chest. One potato chip scoop of onion dip and the summer days of my childhood materializes. With each bite I am rewarded with welcomed memories of my family picnicking on our sailboat in the San Francisco Bay, dipping into onion dip, eating burgers, and drinking 7-Up. I can hear my parents voices clearly, Mom exclaiming, “Oh Dunny….,” and my dad standing at the stern on top of the deck, responding, “Whaaat?!” with a huge grin. I can feel the warmth or the welcome sun while the wind blows beyond our sheltered cove. Wind. There is always wind. Oh, what sweet memories get stirred up as I dig in.
Despite my confessed love of French Onion dip spice packet, I am going to ask you to put it down and walk away. I did. You do not need to add extra salt, onion powder, and artificial flavor to make appetizers with delicious onion flavor. Nothing more than adding caramelized onions are needed to develop that rich and sweet onion flavor. Because shallots are so small, it will take about 20 minutes to caramelize. Once the shallots of caramelized and cooled, it takes an additional 5 minutes to mix all the ingredients together. So there you have it, delicious blue cheese dip with caramelized shallots ready to dig into. It is that easy and tastes better the longer you let it rest before serving. A perfect party dip recipe.
Classic appetizer recipes are ageless and this recipe proves to be no exception. This recipe dates back to March of 2001 from Bon Appetit Magazine. The recipe is a feature by Rick Rodgers. He presented a collection of easy and delicious dip recipes, but his recipe for blue cheese dip with and caramelized shallots stood out to me. In his article, Rick Rogers says you can make this recipe three days in advance. Well you can, but the color of the caramelized shallots will bleed into the sour cream and get darker with every day. It tastes fine, but the look is not as fresh as one might want to present to a party. I would make the dip at most 24 hours in advanced and it will still look bright and creamy.
Additional ideas for Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots
All that talk about burgers made me hungry for one, and I thought how delicious the Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots would taste as a topping for a juicy hamburger. This is an easy adaptation for a hamburger with blue cheese and caramelized onions. I am craving one now.
Food memories and food dreams, who knew how powerful a simple dip could be.
Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots combines two favorite dip recipes into one easy appetizer. You have the best of both blue cheese dip and onion dip in this recipe. Serve with potato chips or as part of a crudité platter.
Finish making the dip at least 2 hours before you want to serve it. Can be served cold or room temperature.
Recipe is from Bon Appetit March 2001 by Rick Rodgers
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 ¼ cup / 4oz thinly sliced shallots (2-3 large shallots)
¾ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup full fat sour cream
4 oz blue cheese, room temperature (I used French Bleu D’Auvergne)
Place a large skillet on the stove and turn on the heat to medium high. Add the vegetable oil and shallots. Once the skillet is hot and the shallots begin to cook, turn the heat down to medium low. Continue to cook the shallots until they are golden to dark brown. You will need to stir the shallots on occasion so that they do not burn. The process of caramelizing shallots takes some time, at least 20 minutes, and you should pay attention to them. I often need to adjust my heat either up or down to prevent them cooking too fast and burning. Once done, set aside to cool slightly.
In a medium bowl add the sour cream and mayonnaise. Stir until evenly combined. Add the room temperature blue cheese and use the side of your spoon or rubber spatula to stir and smash the blue cheese into the sour cream mixture. You want to have different size chunks of blue cheese blended into the sour cream.
Stir in the caramelized shallots and taste for seasoning. It is a good idea to taste with the chip or vegetable you are serving the dip with, before you add more salt.
Cover the dip with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours for the flavors to meld together.
Serve cold or at room temperature in a decorative small dish with potato chips or crudité. This dip will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator.
Day 2 of Super Bowl Dip frenzy featuring Muhammara. This is a delicious dip recipe made with roasted red peppers, chili pepper, chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Muhammara, pronounced [mu-HUMM-a-da](Maureen Abood), is an amazing discovery and could be the best party dip ever.
Roasted red pepper dip has its origin from Aleppo, Syria. It is typically served as part of mezze. To generalize, mezze is the Middle Eastern equivalent to Spanish Tapas. A selection appetizers featuring spreads, cheeses, several meats, and served with drinks. We served Muhammara with grilled chicken for dinner last night and I thought it was out of this world. I could not stop myself from spreading it over everything on my plate. I showed great restraint not to dollop this dip all over my salad.
If you are ever looking for an alternative to hummus, Muhammara is a good substitute. Nonetheless, you will have nothing to lose if you want to serve both. I believe there is always room for more. The walnuts make this dip of roasted red peppers thick and creamy, and the olive oil smooths the texture. Additionally, pomegranate molasses adds a touch of sweetness to counter the spice of the hot peppers.
My research revealed that there are as many versions of this dip as there are recipes, and almost as many different pronunciations. (Food Network pronunciation is [moo-hahm-MRAH].) So please feel free to play around with the amounts of each ingredient. After all, the more you make this dip you will develop Muhammara into your own special creation. I adapted this recipe of Muhammara from two recipes, Red Pepper Dip with Walnuts and Pomegranate by Amanda Hesser from Cooking at New York Times, and Muhammara from 101 Cookbooks.
Tips for success making Red Pepper Dip: Muhammara
Roast the peppers on a hot grill, under the broiler, or over the flame on a gas burner. You want to get the whole surface of each bell pepper really charred. It is a lot easier to peel off the skins when the peppers have a good char, followed by a good steam in a covered bowl.
I used Aleppo pepper flakes, but feel free to use any dried red pepper flakes you have. You can also use a fresh hot chili pepper. Roast the chili with the red bell peppers, peel off the skin, and add according to how spicy you want it to be. You can buy Aleppo pepper flakes at specialty spice markets or on Amazon.
Toast the walnuts. Toasting nuts brings out the flavor by releasing the oils and makes a big difference in their flavor and texture. You can toast walnuts by spreading them out on a sheet pan and place in a preheated 350˚F oven for 8 – 10 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully so they do not get scorched. The walnuts are finished toasting when they are slightly darker and have a toasty-nutty aroma.
Pomegranate molasses is concentrated pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice which is cooked down and reduced to a thick syrup. You can make it or buy it at specialty markets (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Korean Markets, Middle Eastern Markets, specialty grocery stores, or Amazon).
Muhammara is a dip made from roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and dried hot pepper flakes. It has concentrated flavor of roasted red bell peppers and an amazing creamy texture. Make the dip as sweet or spicy as you like. It is the perfect party dip and very addictive.
Muhammara should rest for at least one hour after it is made to allow for the flavors to meld. Can be made a day ahead. Best served at room temperature.
2 lbs red bell peppers (2-3 red bell peppers)
1 Tb Aleppo pepper, or dried red pepper flakes, or 1 small fresh hot chili pepper
Up to 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 Tb pomegranate molasses
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp granulated sugar
2 Tb olive oil, more for garnish
Pita bread for serving
Roast the red peppers (and fresh chili pepper if using): Turn the oven on to the broiler setting. Cut the red bell peppers in half and place them on a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil, and put the peppers under the broiler*. Broil the peppers until the sides are charred all over. This will take some time, about 10 - 20 minutes. You will need to watch the peppers closely during the broiling process. The more it is charred the easier it is to peel the skin off the bell peppers.
Once the peppers are charred, immediately put them in a bowl large enough to accommodate all the peppers and quickly cover with plastic wrap. Let the peppers steam in the bowl for 15 minutes.
Once steamed and cool to touch, rub the skins off the peppers and remove the seeds and pith. Rough chop the peppers and place in the blender, or food processor.
Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, combine half of the chopped walnuts and the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil, into the bowl to process. You might need to add the ingredients incrementally depending on what small appliance you are using. I used an immersion blender and the dip got very thick until I added the roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth and add more of the walnuts to reach your desired consistency. If the dip is too thick you can add a small amount of water, two teaspoons at a time.
Add the olive oil and process until very smooth. The dip can have some texture to it, but you want a smooth consistency.
Let the dip rest on the counter, or covered in the refrigerator if longer than one hour. Serve the muhammara at least one hour after you make it. Muhammara is best served at room temperature. Drizzle the dip with extra olive oil, ground cumin and chopped walnuts. Serve with plain or toasted pitas.
Muhammara will last in the refrigerator for one week.
Toast the pita bread.
Turn on the oven to 350˚F and cut each pita into 8 triangles and place on a rimmed sheet pan. Place the pitas in the oven and bake until lightly browned and crispy, about 10 to 20 minutes.
*If you are using a fresh hot chili pepper, broil and remove the skin at the same time with the red bell peppers. Add the amount of chili pepper to the dip to satisfy your desired level of spice and heat.
My family knows, they can always give me a cookbook as a gift. It does not matter if the cookbook is an older publication or a new one, I will always welcome any addition to my collection. This year my husband gave me The Baking Bible Cookbook by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I am familiar with Rose Beranbaum’s work because I own another book of hers, The Cake Bible. She is a one of a kind baking guru and a significant authority about the science involved with baking. If you are curious about culinary science, she is the number one resource. Learning from her cookbooks will make you a better baker.
As I turned each page of my new book I made mental notes to myself of baking projects to try later. Ultimately, my goal was to find inspiration for something I could make immediately. Upon first sight of her recipe Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes, I decided this was the one. These baby cheesecakes enriched with blue cheese instantly grabbed my attention. They were beautifully photographed with slivers of Bosc pears draped over their tops. Additionally, the crust of the baby cheesecakes is made with one ingredient, crushed walnuts. They are a new twist on the classic pairing of walnuts and blue cheese. Add some champagne to serve with these baby blues and you have an elegant party spread for all to enjoy.
Another great feature of these baby cheesecakes is the blue cheese itself. The combination of blue and cream cheese creates flexibility for the cheesecakes to be served as either an appetizer or a dessert. I can add additional blue cheese to make them more savory, or less to make them sweeter for dessert. As well, they can be made in advance, which is always a plus. I am not usually a cheesecake fan, however this recipe for baby cheesecakes came across as a pleasant surprise. They are savory, sophisticated and unexpected all in one bite.
One change I made to the original recipe was to switch the type of blue cheese. The original recipe called for Stilton cheese, which I like, however I love Point Reyes Blue Cheese. It is creamier and not as sharp as Stilton, yet still maintains that distinctive blue bite. This is my favorite blue cheese, and is made in the sacred land of my childhood, the Point Reyes National Seashore in California. I can’t help myself when it comes to Point Reyes Blue Cheese or any of the other cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. Their cheeses remind me of home and help me feel connected to this treasured seashore.
Dinner Ideas when serving Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes
Serve Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes as a cheese course along with fresh and/or dried fruits at the end of the meal.
My new book, The Baking Bible, has been christened and I have a new recipe using one of my favorite cheeses. Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes are an elegant, versatile and creamy bite of bliss.
Cheers to a beautiful, happy and healthy 2017. Enjoy!
Helpful Hints Making Point Reyes Baby Cheesecakes:
If using a metal muffin pan, do not skip the step of placing parchment paper into each muffin cup. Even if you have a non-stick pan the parchment will make it a lot easier to lift the baby cheesecakes out of the cups. Additionally, the parchment paper will stick to the pan so you will not have to pull the paper off the bottoms.
Boil water in a tea kettle and then pour into a medium bowl. Use the hot water to heat up a metal spatula or knife and then wipe clean with a kitchen towel. The heated and cleaned knife will make lifting the cheesecakes out of the tins easier and smooth out the edges.
Garnish the baby cheesecakes with fruit, nuts or minced arugula combined with chopped walnuts and pears. Lightly dress the greens with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.
If serving as an hors d’oeuvres, serve them on a multigrain cracker. It will taste great and will be easier to manage.
For a first course serve the Blue Cheese Baby Cheesecakes with a salad of arugula and pears, lightly dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar.
These delicious Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecakes can double as a dessert or an appetizer. For a personal touch, feel free to use your favorite strong flavored blue cheese. The original recipe used Stilton cheese in these baby cheesecakes. This recipe is from The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes.
1 shy cup (3 oz/84 g) walnut halves
1/4 cup plus 2 Tb (2.6 oz/75 g) granulated sugar
1 Tb (9 g) cornstarch
Kosher salt, a pinch
1 1/3 cups (12 oz/60 g) cream cheese at room temperature and cut into pieces
1/4 cup (2.1 oz/35 g) sour cream
2 -3 Tb (35 g - 52 g) Point Reyes Blue Cheese*
2 large eggs lightly beaten
Prepare the muffin pans
2 - 6 cup silicone muffin pans set on a wire baking rack and placed into a sheet pan Or 1 - 12 cup muffin tin.
For the silicone muffin pans - lightly coat the muffin pans with cooking spray then place them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet.
For the muffin tin - coat each muffin cup with shortening or butter and cut small circles of parchment paper to set in the bottom of each cup. Lightly spray each cup with cooking oil spray.
Toast the walnuts
Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat the oven at 350˚ F/175˚ C/Gas Mark 4. Let the oven heat up for twenty minutes before you toast the walnuts.
Spread the walnut halves evenly over a small baking sheet, place in the oven and toast the walnuts to bring out the oils and enhance their flavor. Toast for 7 minutes turning the walnuts over a couple of times while baking.
When finished spread the toasted walnuts over a clean lint free dish towel and fold one end over the walnuts to cover. Place your hands over the covered walnuts and gently rub back and forth to loosen and remove the walnut skin. Rub off as much of the walnut skins as you can and place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Discard the skins.
Lower the oven temperature to 225˚ F/107˚ C
Pulse the food processor to finely chop the walnuts. You want an even consistency without turning the walnuts into flour.
Spoon 1 Tb of ground walnuts into each muffin cup and press down evenly to pack the walnuts together.
Using a stand mixer or hand held mixer, mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt until just mixed together. Add the cream cheese and beat on low speed until the ingredients are evenly combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until very smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the batter down the sides of a bowl.
In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream and blue cheese until evenly combined. A fork is great for this job. Add the blue cheese mixture to the cream cheese and mix together on low speed until just combined, about 15 seconds.
Add the lightly beaten eggs and mix until evenly combined. The batter consistency should resemble sour cream.
Pour the cheesecake batter into each muffin cup almost up the top, about 1.8 oz/50 g in each muffin cup. Smooth over the tops of each cheesecake with an offset spatula.
Bake in the 225˚ F/107˚ C oven for 15 minutes. Rotate the muffin pan in the oven from front to back to encourage even baking and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. The muffins are done when an instant read thermometer reads 160˚ F/71˚ C. The batter will jiggle somewhat and the centers of each muffin will spring back when touched. Put muffin tin and/or baking sheet on a cooling rack.
Allow the cheesecakes to cool in the muffin pan for 30 minutes. Cover the muffin pan(s) with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before unmolding.
For the metal muffin pan: run a small spatula or knife, heated up with hot water, around the edge of each muffin cup. Press the spatula or knife up against the side of the pan to not scrape the sides of the cheesecakes. Clean the spatula with warm water and wipe clean with a cloth for every cheesecake. Lift the cheesecakes out of the muffin cups with a spatula. Smooth the sides of each cheesecake using a small metal spatula that has been heated with hot water and wiped clean.
For silicone muffin pans: Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends placing a baking sheet on top of the plastic wrap-covered muffin pan and turn it upside down. Then place a dish towel in very hot water. Wring out the excess water and drape it over the muffin pan. Make sure to press the hot wet towel into the recesses of the pan. Let it sit for about 2 minutes. Remove the towel and carefully lift off the muffin pan. If the cheesecakes do not release, repeat the above steps, and try again after another minute. Once released, place a second sheet pan on top of upside down cheesecakes and turn them right side up.
Place the cheesecakes on a serving platter and serve.
Store, refrigerated for up to 5 days.
*To make the cheesecakes more savory add the total 3 Tb blue cheese to the batter. If you want the cheese cakes for dessert use 2 Tb blue cheese.