Category Archives: Appetizers

Kat’s Fantasy Elegant New Year’s Eve Dinner

individual beef wellington

Individual Beef Wellington

Alas, there will be no New Year’s Eve dinner for me this year. Things have been quiet in Kat’s kitchen, mainly because I’m still battling a cold and then have had a headache for four days on top of it. When I’m not feeling good I lose the desire to eat anything good for me (except, maybe soup) and gravitate to Christmas cookies and microwave popcorn. This may be a portent of things to come; I’ve heard that the sweet and salty taste buds are the last to go and that’s why elderly folk prefer sweet and salty food. It’s not a pretty thought, sigh!

Back to blogging and the dinner I wish I was cooking…actually I did cook this dinner a few years ago and it was then the culinary highlight of my cooking experience. As background, I joined a local group called Table for Six. The moderator cooked a five course meal for herself and five carefully chosen guests…but she only did this four times a year. I was blown away by the experience and offered to cook a dinner the following month. I’m flattered to say that this was the only time that her group dined outside her home. I still feel all warm and gushy when I think about it. However, after hosting a six course meal I can see why she only did this four times a year. I cooked all six courses from scratch and spent two full days in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, I was still whisking the gravy as the guests were pulling up. I also had to purchase and borrow extra dishes so that I could individually plate each course. Oh, but what a night!

In actuality if I were going to do it again, I would change a few things. Even though I spent weeks researching the perfect pairings, I’ve expanded my culinary repertoire so a few changes might be in order.

Champagne cocktail – I chose a dry champage which, ironically, tends to be slightly sweeter that Brut or Extra Brut. I dropped a raspberry in the bottom of each class for color instead of the lemon wedge.

Appetizer – Shrimp ceviche (served in martini glasses)

Soup – Cream of broccoli soup (served in Grandma’s crystal fruit cocktail bowls)

Salad – Tossed salad with artichoke-Parmesan crostini (served on salad plates)

Main course – Individual Beef Wellingtons, garlic mashed potatoes with green beans amandine to which I added a small amount of diced pimento for Christmas color (served on dinner plates) garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs

Dessert – Chocolate Cavity Maker cake with mint-infused whipped cream (served on dessert plates) garnished with fresh raspberry and mint leaves

Coffee with homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream and port. I had never been a huge fan of port until I had it alongside the coffee and chocolate cake.

It was a great night. Even though I won’t be cooking this year I enjoy reminiscing. Don’t feel too sorry for me though. I am going out tonight with friends where someone else will be serving me.

I hope your New Year’s Eve is filled with good food and good friends.







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Kat’s Easiest Appetizer (Ever) – Baked Brie

Brown sugar, Dijon, and Almond baked brie

We’ve never been a family that traditionally has appetizers on Thanksgiving. We usually put out a pupu platter of olives, pickles and baby corn to let people graze before the main feast.

If I was going to make an appetizer, it would definitely be this baked brie. I’ve brought it with me to countless gatherings, large and small, and it has never failed to be a hit. People are always coming up to me (usually with a mouth full) raving over the brie! The beautiful thing is you can adjust the recipe for anything from a 8 ounce to a 16 ounce wheel of brie with ease.

The Pampered Chef offers a few variations which I posted about earlier this year. For purposes of Thanksgiving you could easily swap out the apricot preserves for cranberry sauce. Top with walnuts instead of pecans and you have a yummy appetizer that takes minutes to prepare and only 10 minutes in the oven. What is not to love about that??

Apricot preserves, jalapeno and pecan Brie

Version 1 – Apricot preserves or cranberry sauce:

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves or cranberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 4-inch round (8 ounces) Brie cheese with rind, room temperature

Version 2 – Brown Sugar Dijon Brie:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds. Reserve 1/4 cup of the almonds for the top and chop the remainder for the mix.


  1. Preheat oven to 425°
  2. Cut brie in half horizontally. Place bottom half, cut side up, on large stone or cookie sheet.
  3. Mix jalapeno and preserves – or – brown sugar and Dijon. Add half of the nuts and mix thoroughly.
  4. Spread half the mixture on the bottom half of the brie round. Replace the top, cut side down. Spread the other half the mixture on top.
  5. Sprinkle with remaining nuts.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes or until center is soft and gooey. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

(Optional) Toasted baguettes:

Slice one small loaf French bread into 1/4 inch slices. Lightly brush with oil. Place bread rounds around the brie before placing in the oven.

Makes 12 servings

Kat’s tip: They aren’t kidding when they warn you to wear gloves when deseeding a jalapeno. Last time I made this was at a friend’s house and I didn’t have any gloves. I must have sneezed about 30 times because of the jalapeno fumes. Jalapeno oils get in your skin and under your finger nails, too. I felt their effect for a few days afterwards ever time.


Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Appetizers, Holiday, Pampered Chef


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Kat’s Fantasy Turkey Dinner on Pinterest

Photo courtesy of

Have you gotten sucked into Pinterest yet? Do you spend a lot of time on the internet? Do you bookmark sites to revisit? Did you ever wish you had bookmarked an awesome site you loved because now you can’t remember where you found it? Well, Pinterest may be the answer. Pinterest’s About page describes the app as “a virtual pinboard — a place to catalog and share the things you love. Pin anything that catches your eye: memorable meals, places to visit, or great shopping finds!”

I have friends who swear that pinning is addictive. Great! Now I have a new way to enable my ever-so-slight OCD problem. Pinterest works sort of the same way that Amazon leads me to overspend. Wow! If you like this, then you’ll like this and this and this and this! And then before you know it I have 5 or 6 books, DVDs or CDs on the same topic in my shopping cart. Pinterest, does the same kind of suggestive “selling” by showcasing what other Pinners find appealing on the web.

Don’t cha know I just had to get on the Pinterest bandwagon. My recipe bookmark folder was getting a little overwhelmed anyway. In lieu of indexing my recipe bookmarks into subcategories, I started fresh by pinning those sites on different “boards” in Pinterest. At this point, you may be thinking that I’m a sheer genius or a tish insane. Sigh! Welcome to the way my brain works.

Of course I created a board to pin all the Thanksgiving dinner recipes that caught my eye. When I look over the recipes I collected, I realize that one theme stands out. Simplicity. I am obviously under the spell of October: Unprocessed. I’m craving simple food. Healthy without a lot of added anything. Roasted to fit in with the fall season. And homemade.

If it were up to me, my Thanksgiving menu would look a lot like this:


I’m usually responsible for the olive platter appetizer. A great “grown up” starter would be Roasted butternut squash bruschetta. Mental note: plant sage next year. This is the first time I realize that sage shows up a lot in fall recipes.

Turkey and dressing:

Even though not having stuffing is a cardinal sin in my family, I would have an unstuffed fresh, not frozen, brined-at-home turkey with wild rice and mushroom dressing on the side.

It would be another sin in our family not to have gravy. Pan drippings and flour make traditional gravy super yummy but also super fattening. I would love to have an apple cider gravy on my table this year. Bonus points that it comes in at about 1/3 fewer calories.

Side dishes:

We didn’t grow up with the standard green bean casserole. It got added in years later by virtue of one of the in-laws who married into the family. We’ve never been a brussels sprouts family either but the flavor profile on this recipe cries out to me. Maybe its the balsamic vinegar. Likewise I don’t recall a lot of cooked carrots (unless they were in chicken soup) but I think roasted carrots would go well with the rest of the meal.

My one indulgence would probably be rolls and butter. I’ve never made rolls from scratch but this year I may try it.


My other indulgence would be dessert, of course. I love pumpkin cheesecake but it has to have real whipped cream like Grandma used to make.

So, there is my Pinterest Thanksgiving Day board in a nutshell. Not all of these recipes will make it to the table this year because I have to defer to family traditions (did you hear the mashed potato squadron screaming their dissent??), but a girl can dream, and pin, and plan.

If you’re on Pinterest already, follow me. If you’re not on Pinterest and would like a Pinvitation, leave a comment with your email address and I’ll invite you.

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Appetizers, Desserts, Holiday, Side dishes, Turkey


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French Quarter Olive Salad

A great gift idea for olive lovers

The universe certainly does work in mysterious ways. Not more than two or three days prior to, I was trolling the internet for a recipe to try my hand at (what should be) the world famous olive salad from Central Grocery in the French Quarter. The olive salad is legendary in New Orleans as it graces the most famous sandwich to come out of the Big Easy, the muffaletta.

Olive lover and Crescent City expat that I am, the heavens opened for me when I spied jars of olive salad straight from Gambinos at my local grocery store. All of which would be fine and dandy except that the damn stuff is $5 for a 16 oz jar at Fry’s.

Back to the universe, that weekend I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I inherited what remained of a bushel of mixed olives from a booth at our local Oktoberfest. Turns out there was exactly one gallon of green olives and slightly more than a pound of Kalamata olives in said bushel. Precisely the amounts I needed for the olive salad recipe I had intended to make. Hallelujah!

Leftover marinated olive mixture - note the 2 liter bottle of olive oil I put in the photo for scale

I made a few modifications to the recipe based on ingredients I could purchase at the lone grocery store I went to. Had I tried a few more stores, I may have actually found the pickled cauliflower the recipe called for. Instead I decided on Mezzeta’s California Hot Mix. Its basically a giardiniera (carrots, cauliflower, celery, pickles, onions and peppers) with jalapenos mixed in. Armed with 3 jars of this, I had roughly the equivalent I needed to omit the celery, carrots and pepperoncini called for in the original recipe. Its not perfect, but a girl (who no longer lives in the South) has to make do.


  • 1 gallon large pimento stuffed green olives
  • 3 16 oz jars gardiniera (or hot mix)
  • 2 small jars capers, drained
  • 1 small jar celery seeds
  • 1 small jar oregano
  • 1 large head fresh garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Omit if using hot mix – 1 jar pepperoncini, drained (small salad peppers)
  • 1 pound large Greek black olives, pitted
  • 1 jar cocktail onions, drained


  1. In small batches, loosely chop everything in a food processor. This mixture should be chunky.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or pot and mix well.
  3. Place in a large jar and cover with 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 vegetable oil.
  4. Store tightly covered in refrigerator.
  5. Allow to marinate for at least 24 hours before using.

Living in Phoenix, I may be muffaletta-deprived but at least now I’ll have delicious olive salad at the ready. You can always get the essence of the famous sandwich by trying my Mini Muffaletta appetizers. They passed muster amongst the other New Orleans natives I met at a Mardi Gras party earlier this year so you know they gotta be good!

Kat’s tip: The recipe above yields 1.5 gallons. Portioned in small mason jars, this would make a wonderful hostess gift or present. If you really want to get fancy, you add some cold cuts and crackers to a little gift bag. I know that I would swoon with delight!

Inspiration: Many thanks to Chuck Taggart at for this and countless other recipes; and for many hours of other delightful reading. Oh, and of course, to Central Grocery. Lord knows how I miss thee!


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Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Slow roasted tomatoes served along side homemade crème fraiche

My world abounds with tomatoes these days. The best way to deal with the leftovers from the previous week’s events is to roast or dry them in the oven. Tomatoes done this way are a delight. The flavors are so concentrated and they’re as easy to eat as candy.

If you live in Phoenix, like I do, this is a great fall project. There’s a reason they’re called ‘slow roasted’ tomatoes…because they take hours in a low temp oven to do their thing. Low temp or not, those of us who live in the desert avoid adding any more heat in our lives during the summer than we have to. Besides, in the summer its hot enough outside to sun dry tomatoes in our yards.

Attempt one:

Patience is not one of my strong suits. I took some smaller grape tomatoes and halved them. I then rinsed them in a colander to de-seed them and them rolled them in two tablespoons of olive oil. I layed them out on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper with the cloves from one head of garlic. Last I sprinkled the whole tray with seasoned salt along with some dried basil and rosemary from my garden. These cooked in the oven at 350° for about an hour while I was merrily busy with other chores in the kitchen. The results, while edible, were more reminiscent of tomato “chips.” As a whole they were over-cooked and some were flat out crispy.

slow roasted tomatoes and garlic

Too crisp to serve company but I'll be eating these anyway

Lesson learned: 350° is too high unless I pay for closer attention during the cook process. Mental note to self, next time set the timer and check tomatoes after 45 minutes.

Attempt two:

I took the larger cherry tomatoes, halved them and repeated the whole olive oil/spice sprinkle process.  I think the first batch would have been OK if I hadn’t de-seeded them so this time I skipped that step. For this batch I set the oven for 225° and the timer for 3 hours. They’re pretty meaty for cherry tomatoes so I really thought they were going to need another hour but since I overcooked the last batch I proceeded with caution.

oven roasted tomatoes

These are little flavor bombs!

These turned out perfectly. I’m adding some fresh basil and pairing the finished product with some homemade ricotta (really crème fraiche) and sliced baguettes for a party tonight. I’ll bet there won’t be any leftovers!


  1. Pre-heat oven to 225°
  2. Cut pre-washed cherry or grape tomatoes in half; place in a large bowl.
  3. Optional: Add peeled cloves of garlic and or thickly sliced onion to the mix.
  4. Add one or two tablespoons of high quality olive oil and toss to coat.
  5. Lay the tomatoes face up in a roasting pan. Lining the pan with parchment paper will make clean up easier.
  6. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and other dried herbs to taste.
  7. Roast for three to four hours or until cooked to your liking.
slow roasted tomato leftovers in my fridge

These will keep for at least a week in the fridge

Kat’s tip:

Store tomatoes in a jar in the fridge. Some folks recommend adding olive oil with them. To me that just adds extra calories. These lasted in my fridge for at least a week at which time I had single-handedly eaten them all.

I ate them on crackers, I added them to wraps, I tossed them in with omelets, I threw them in with cooked pasta and I used them in burritos when I ran out of salsa. The possibilities are endless.


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Roasted Garlic

Roasted garlic stored in jar

Several years ago a friend of mine brought roasted garlic to a potluck alongside some wonderful soft Artisan bread. I couldn’t stop eating it, finding the taste totally addictive. Of course, the next day my then-boyfriend informed me I was oozing garlic out of my pores but I didn’t care. Like so many other things, I was hooked.

Roasting garlic mellows out the pungent quality that raw garlic has and brings out a nutty, sweeter flavor. This makes roasted garlic a versatile ingredient or a delicious appetizer (just ask me).

You can substitute roasted garlic into practically any recipe that calls for raw garlic. You can also add roasted garlic any number of dishes including hummus, mashed potatoes, pureed soups and sauces. Try blending it into softened butter, plain mayonnaise or cream cheese to liven up sandwiches. Or, use that ubiquitous little butter knife with the sharp point on the end that comes in silverware sets to dig the warm cloves out of their skin right out of the oven; spread some on bread or a cracker. Yum!

In my humble opinion, if you’re going to roast one head of garlic, you may as well roast six. I use a six-cup muffin tin covered with tin foil. I store the roasted garlic in a jar in my fridge where it keeps practically forever.


Preheat oven to 375°

Remove the out layer of papery skin off the garlic bulb

Using a sharp knife, cut the top 1/2 inch off so that all the individual cloves are exposed

Place the heads, cut side up, in a muffin tin and drizzle or brush the top with olive oil

Cover the entire tin with tinfoil and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the cloves are brown on top and soft throughout

Remove from the oven and cool. Once the heads are cool enough to handle, use a sharp-pointed butter knife to dig the cooked cloves out

Store in jar in the refrigerator for future use.

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Appetizers, Kitchen Basics, Scratch cooking


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Hummus and Adventures in Tahini

I love hummus. Probably this is because I love chick peas. I have been known to eat chick peas straight out of the can. Now that I’m on my scratch cooking/bean kick, hummus seems like a natural thing for me to try at home. Processed hummus that you buy at the grocery store is pretty tasty and somewhat low cal. So why, try this at home?

Well, first would be all the extras they add into store bought stuff. Since I’m “unprocessed girl” these days, I opt for making this at home. Second, hummus is sinfully easy to make and really impresses people (especially non cooking types) when you say you made it yourself. Third, and most important, like anything else you make from scratch it just tastes better.

But, like sometimes happens, my plans didn’t unroll exactly as I would have liked. Once I decided to make hummus and googled about a bazillion recipes, I realized I was going to need tahini (sesame seed paste). Crap! Last time I bought tahini it took two grocery clerks at Safeway to find it and it cost $10 for a 6 oz jar. To add insult to injury, I only used two tablespoons and threw the rest away after it got lost in my fridge for an undetermined amount of time.

Hmmm. I’m Scratch-cooking Girl so I consider making the tahini at home too.* I had toasted sesame seeds in a zip lock bag in my freezer and I had both sesame and olive oil. Let me fast forward to the lesson I learned. Do not try to make tahini at home. I whizzed the sesame seeds and oil in my food processor but unless you are making cups of this stuff there isn’t enough volume. The paste ended up under the blade of the food processor and splattered along the wall of the bowl. Next I tried my immersion blender. The paste ended up caked inside the umbrella-cup thingy which protects the blade. Sigh! Last, I transferred the whole mixture to my food mill (aka Krupps coffee grinder). This mixture, although starting to look a little more paste like just got gummed up around the blade.

Crap! I scratch the whole tahini thing off my list. I regroup with a hummus recipe that uses roasted garlic in place of the tahini. I don’t actually have roasted garlic on hand but I do have several heads of garlic so things are looking up. I blend up the roasted garlic hummus and bring it to a friend’s house. She and the other guests are suitably impressed. Hooray!

That would be the end of the story had I not found the tahini pictured at Sprouts. At roughly $4.00 a jar its a much better bargain that the stupid Peloponnese brand. I figure the holidays are coming so homemade hummus is going to be my new thing.

So, here you have it. Kat’s favorite hummus recipe; try making one batch with tahini and one without. Try them both and let me know which you like better!

Roasted Garlic Hummus


  • 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans or 1 cup cooked
  • 2 to 3 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1/4 cup tahini (optional)
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste


  1. If using canned beans, drain and rinse them in cool water to reduce the sodium
  2. Add all ingredients to a food process and blend until you get the desired consistency. Scrape down the sides so everything blends evenly
  3. If the hummus is too thick, continue adding olive oil in one teaspoon increments.
  4. Canned chick peas with have a more salty flavor than ones you rehydrate yourself. Go easy on the salt until you’ve tasted the hummus.
  5. Scoop out and serve with pita bread, chips or cut vegetables
  6. Optional: sprinkle the hummus with paprika, chopped parsley, oregano or rosemary

Kat’s Tip:

In retrospect I realize I really could have made sesame seed paste using my food mill. Instead of trying to blend the seeds and oil together, I might have been able to grind the seeds first, transfer them to a bowl and slowly add oil until I had a paste. Oh well. If I’m ever in a tahini bind again I’ll try to remember this.


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