Monday, February 13, 2017

Appetizers and an Open House

Tetiana & Scott with the Appetizers
Tetiana & Scott with the Appetizers
I wrote last week about creating some new appetizers, with the intent to make them for an upcoming Open House for Re/Max Preferred Choice here in town. Tetiana Althoff, Broker Associate, held the open house at 12936 Prairiewood Drive, with Scott Grebner, Broker-Owner, in attendance.

The recipes for three of the four appetizers I made were posted either in this blog or as the bonus recipe in my February Newsletter. The only recipe I had not posted yet was the Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers, and oh my, they were so delicious. All four of these appetizers were wonderful, if I do say so myself. All four are cheese-filled, so if cheese is not your thing, then these wouldn't be for you. Cheese just tastes so good. From the little mini strawberry cheesecakes to the Spanakopita Cups, they were all delightful.

The Four Appetizers Served
The Four Appetizers Served, clockwise from top left: Spanakopita Cups, Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers, Strawberry Mini Cheesecake Tarts in Chocolate Shell and Buffalo Chicken Rolls
When Tetiana holds an open house at one of the realty's high end homes, she occasionally asks me to make appetizers and she will bring an assortment of wines. One of the wines this time was an Australian red blend called "19 Crimes." I can attest that this lighter red went well with all the appetizers, even the cheesecakes! Other wines were Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. She tries to have something available for most tastes. 

Filled Mini Sweet Peppers just before baking
Filled Mini Sweet Peppers, just before baking
MAKE AHEAD IDEAS: The Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers are a wonderfully easy appetizer to make ahead and bake just before serving. If pressed for time, make the filling up to 3 days ahead. For freshness, it is probably best not to cut, remove seeds and stuff the peppers until the day before the event. I did this last part and set the peppers on the baking sheet I would use to bake them, then covered them with foil before refrigerating the whole pan. Just on the off chance that the foil might stick to the cheese filling, I lightly sprayed the foil with non-stick spray before covering them. Once baked, while they are lovely warm or at room temperature, and yet they are still just as good once chilled.

Of the four appetizers, the ones that hold up best once baked are these Mini Stuffed Peppers and the Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes. The Buffalo Chicken Rolls are best if rolled and chilled the day of the event, as the tortillas begin to get soggy. The filling can be made a day or two ahead. It doesn't affect the taste, but only the texture. Similarly, with the Spanakopita Cups, the fillo cups begin to get soggy after a day, though the flavor is fine. It takes no time at all to fill the fillo cups if you own a little 2-teaspoon cookie scoop to fill them. It took less time to fill the 30 fillo cups than it took to heat the oven!

Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers
Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers

Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Mini Sweet Peppers

Makes 40 - 50 half-peppers (from a 1-pound bag) 

4 slices thick-sliced bacon, or 6 - 7 slices regular bacon
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces soft goat cheese, Chevre or Montrachet
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ⅓ cup)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1½ teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (1-pound) bag mini sweet peppers

In a nonstick skillet, fry the bacon until just almost crisp. Remove the bacon to drain on paper toweling. Pour off most of the bacon grease, leaving about 2 teaspoons in the pan. Return the pan to the heat, and on low, cook the shallot and garlic until they begin to caramelize slightly, stirring often, for about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the shallots are cooking, place the three cheeses in a mixing bowl and beat well with a hand mixer until well combined and mostly smooth. Add in the Worcestershire, egg, rosemary and black pepper and mix again to combine. Mince the drained bacon until quite fine (some of the peppers are very small, so no large chunks), then add the bacon to the mixing bowl. Once the shallot/garlic mixture is beginning to caramelize, add these to the cheese mixture and mix again to combine all the ingredients. * Do Ahead: This mixture can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated. When ready to fill the peppers, remove the filling from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for ease in filling the peppers.

Cut all the mini sweet peppers in half, lengthwise. Endeavor to keep the stem end on, even cutting down the center of the stem if possible. This makes for a very pretty presentation. There are few seeds in most of the little peppers, but there are some. A small knife works well to make a tiny cut just inside the pepper's stem end, to remove the seed section and pull out any larger membranes. *Do Ahead: If time is pressing, this can be done the day before the event. Fill the peppers and smooth the top with a table knife or a spoon. Set them onto a baking sheet, then cover with foil and refrigerate. 

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees, then bake the peppers for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they just start to brown on top. The goal is to "set" the filling without totally cooking the peppers. Serve warm or at room temperature.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest  at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.