Thanksgiving officially marks the beginning of gastronomic over-indulgence. With the end of the year approaching, the celebrations start: departmental parties, lab parties, neighborhood parties, family get-togethers… every one of them loaded with caloric temptations…    This Thanksgiving we took a back seat in the kitchen, as we were guests at a fantastic dinner thrown by our dear friends (and neighbors).   Our hostess, knowing how much I love to cook, asked if I’d prepare  an appetizer for the Thanksgiving party, a question that I answered with the most enthusiastic yes!   I opted for something light and refreshing, to provide a counterpoint to the substantial meal ahead, that included a turkey with chestnut dressing that we won’t soon forget!

(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

50 skewers
mozzarella mini-balls (like these)
3 mini-cucumbers
30 grape or cherry tomatoes
30 black Kalamata olives, pitted

for the dressing:
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground fennel
salt and pepper to taste

When you are ready to start prepping your ingredients, put some music on and go to work: slice the mini-cucumbers 1/8 inch thick, cut the tomatoes and black olives in half.  If some olives are too small, leave them whole. Reserve.

Assemble each skewer starting with one small mozzarella ball, half a black olive, another mozzarella ball, a cucumber slice, and finish with half the tomato.  Arrange the skewers on a nice serving platter.

Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients in a small bowl, drizzle over the skewers half an hour before serving.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  The inspiration for this recipe came from two different sources:  “Greek Salad Skewers” from Fine Cooking, and a dressing found in “Small Bites,” but  I modified them enough to make it “bewitching.”  😉  One of my changes was to use mozzarella instead of feta cheese because feta tends to crumble and I am forced to eat all the cheese that disintegrates as I stab it.  If you don’t find mini-cucumbers, use regular ones, but peel them and cut the slices in halves or quarters, depending on the size.

Fennel seed is the secret for the dressing.  I like to use ground and let the dressing sit for a while before using, but next time I’ll use whole fennel seeds and warm them up gently to make an infused oil. Might be even better.

These skewers are very colorful, a nice addition to any cocktail party, but particularly great to open a multi-course dinner. Consider making them for your end-of-the-year festivities.

ONE YEAR AGO: Dundee Cake Bake-Along (and great fun was had by all!)

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Like many other cookaholics, we love dinner parties with friends and colleagues. It’s fun designing the menu, fun to shop for the ingredients, and fun to plan the preparation/presentation strategy for the meal.  Over the years we’ve learned some “tricks” that make life easier:  advance preparation; practicing the exotic dishes beforehand, so as to avoid using guests as guinea pigs; balancing the  labor-intensive and easy dishes.   This appetizer – that I found at Stephen Cooks! –  falls into the “trouble-free” category, to the point that, as Stephen put it  “it’s so simple that it feels like cheating“.

The secret is the use of commercial puff pastry, a life-saver in the kitchens of those who enjoy entertaining.   By all means, make your own if you prefer – but,  in this recipe the pastry is only a “crostini”, so the frozen product works well and saves time and effort.

(adapted from Stephen Cooks!)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough
4 Tbs shredded Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 clove garlic, minced
8 black oil-cured olives, minced
2 Tbs minced parsley (or other fresh herb of your preference)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
salt to taste
4 medium sundried tomatoes, chopped

Allow the pastry sheet to thaw at room temperature, until flexible enough to unfold. Cut in 12 rectangles. Place the cut pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, Silpat, or use a non-stick baking sheet.

Mix the cheese, tomato paste, garlic, olives and herbs. Season to taste. Beat the egg yolk with the water and brush the egg wash on the pastry rectangles.

Spread the cheese mixture on each and then top with a few pieces of the sundried tomato. Bake in a 400F oven for 12 minutes or until the pasty is golden brown. Allow to cool five minutes before serving.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: When I prepared the cheese mixture  it seemed a little too heavy on the tomato.   But, it wasn’t a problem, and I slightly increased the black olives;   otherwise I kept the recipe as Stephen posted it .    This spread will also work on “real” crostini, of course, but the puff pastry makes the recipe special.

Here they are, ready to go into the oven.  I cut the pastry using a ravioli cutter like this one.