This is my favorite time of year, for many reasons. I happen to love cool weather. The snowier the better, if you ask me. And when it’s cold and snowy outside, I want to hunker down in my kitchen and make fun things that my family will love to eat. Being Heinen’s Cheesemonger, what I prepare in the kitchen usually involves some sort of cheese.
Here are a couple of my favorite appetizer recipes that you should definitely try this holiday season. They’re easy and perfect for just about any occasion!
Classic Cheese Gougères
½ cup water
½ cup milk
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Large pinch of coarse salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
3 ½ ounces shredded Gruyere cheese (about 1 cup), plus more for sprinkling
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes.
Scrape the dough into a bowl; let cool for 1 minute. Beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. Add the cheese a pinch each of pepper and numeg.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a ½” round tip and pipe tablespoon-size mounds onto the baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat in a 350° oven until piping hot.
Makes about 28 gougères
Port-Roasted Grapes on Blue Cheese Toasts
1 cup seedless red grapes
2 tablespoons Port
1 teaspoon sugar
3 ounces creamy blue cheese, such as Point Reyes Original Blue or Hook’s Blue Cheese
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
Twelve 1/8” thick slices Hazelnut Raisin Baguette (from the bakery department)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a small pan, mix together the grapes, port and sugar. Roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the grapes begin to soften and the skins start to shrivel but the grapes are still partially holding their shape, 25 to 40 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let cool.
In a small bowl, beat together the blue cheese and mascarpone.
To assemble, spread about 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture evenly over each toasted bread slice. Place 3 slices touching the center of a plat and top with a spoonful of roasted grapes, being sure to include a little bit of syrup from the pan in each serving.
Courtesy The All American Cheese and Wine Book, Laura Werlin
P’tit Basque with Warm Green Olives
1 cup unpitted green olives, such as Picholine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves, coarsely broken
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon fennel seed, coarsely crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
1 dried red chili pepper
½ pound sheep’s milk cheese, P’tit Basque, Manchego or Ossau-Iraty
With the side of a cleaver or a large knife, gently smack the green olives to crack them open; don’t pound too hard or you will smash them.
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the bay leaves, oregano and fennel seed. Break the chile pepper in half and sprinkle some or all of the seeds into the skillet’ add the chile pods to the skillet. Cook the seasonings briefly to release their fragrance, then add the olives. Cook, stirring, until the olives are hot throughout, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let stand until they are just warm.
Trim the cheese of any rind and cut into thin slices or small cubes. Place the cheese on one end of a serving platter and spoon the olives, with their seasonings, alongside.
Makes 6 servings
Courtesy The Cheese Course, Janet Fletcher
Truffle Goat Cheese in Fillo Cups with a Honey Drizzle
2 packages Athens Mini Fillo Shells
1 lb Mackenzie Truffle Chevre (between 4-5 tubes)
1 cup toasted sliced almonds
Let cheese stand at room temperature for at least an hour. Empty into a mixing bowl (preferably glass or stainless steel) and whip with a hand mixer until light and fluffy, and the volume is increased slightly. Using either a pastry bag or a store-bought sandwich bag, fill the whipped goat cheese into the bag. Cut the tip about ½” – ¾”.
Squeeze the softened and whipped goat cheese into the fillo cups until just above the lip of the cup. Once all the cups are filled, arrange on your serving platter. Just before serving, drizzle the cups with the honey in a zig-zag pattern so it creates “stripes” on the cups. Sprinkle with the toasted nuts and serve.