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Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Bleu Cheese

A few weeks ago, my five year old comes out of the dining room holding a little recipe book of cocktails, which he found while rummaging through a drawer in the hutch…the hutch that he’s not supposed to be in, but that’s another story entirely. Liam was holding this little black book of beverages with a page open to a generic looking bit of cocktail clip art. The recipe on the page was for kir royales. Something about the name rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told you what sort of drink a kir royale was. My best guess would have involved whiskey, which isn’t really my thing.

I began uttering my normal line of questioning. Where’d you get that? Why are in the hutch? What other sorts of mischief are you doing in there? But, Liam interrupted me, “I think you should invite some of your friends over for your birthday and make them these drinks”. I smiled briefly, because he’s sweet to think up plans for my birthday. Then I took another glance at that kir royale recipe. Turns out that kir royales are a champagne cocktail, champagne mixed with a bit of creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).

Visions of champagne cocktails, wine, and cheese began dancing in my head. I mean, is there any more heavenly combination than wine and cheese? Wine, cheese, and chocolate, perhaps??

Did you know that 1/3 of all milk produced in the U.S. is used to make cheese?? We certainly love our cheese in this country! During my recent farm-to-table dairy-themed getaway, hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, we had the opportunity to enjoy some of that delicious cheese in combination with some of New York’s tastiest wines.

After we returned from our morning at a local dairy farm, we were given a chance to clean off the eau de cow and change out of our farm attire. The group reunited at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, conveniently located next door to our accommodations at The Inn on the Lake in Canandaigua, NY. The New York Wine and Culinary Center is a really neat place. In addition to a bistro which showcases local ingredients, they have a wine tasting room where you can sample wines from all five of New York’s wine regions, a hands-on kitchen where they offer cooking classes, and an educational amphitheater for demonstration dinners.

New York Wine and Culinary Center

We began our experience in a private tasting room, where a personable wine instructor introduced us to the basics of wine tasting as we sampled a fantastic flight of New York wines. Then they brought out the cheese plate, a perfect way to make the farm to table connection during our dairy-themed adventure. We tasted each cheese on its own, then experimented with pairing each cheese with the variety of wines. Play with my food? Yes, please.

Following the wine and cheese tasting, we moved into the amphitheater, where a chef prepared a three-course meal before our eyes. We enjoyed ricotta and pancetta ravioli in a delicious cream sauce, bleu cheese port wine crusted beef tenderloin over root vegetables in a red wine reduction, and chocolate amaretto crème brûleé. Each course was perfectly paired with another New York wine. Wine, cheese, steak, and chocolate… I’d died and done to gastronomical heaven.

When I returned from my little dairy getaway, feeling fully inspired by cheese and wine, I began planning my kir royale birthday celebration. Pumped up with New York agricultural pride, I selected a few bottles of New York champagne. Then I set about planning the cheese selection…a little pepperjack and NY cheddar with crackers, some baked brie with marmalade on crostini, and a few simple bacon-wrapped, bleu cheese-stuffed dates. Liam was feeling pretty impressed with himself as he watched his brilliant idea become reality. I just barely caught him trying to sneak the cocktail recipe book into his backpack for kindergarten show and tell.

Focus on Technique – Entertaining with Cheese

Entertaining with a cheese-themed spread is effortlessly elegant and delicious.

A few tips for entertaining with cheese:

  • Keep it simple. Cheese has a way of speaking for itself.
  • Choose a variety of mild and pungent cheeses to please everyone’s palate. Try to serve a mix of aged (aged cheddar, gouda…), fresh (fresh mozzarella, chevre…), firm (provolone, monterey jack, gruyere, emmentaler…) and soft cheese (camembert, brie…). A creamy bleu cheese (stilton, gorgonzola, roquefort, maytag…) or spreadable port wine are other popular favorites.
  • Garnish your cheese plates with a variety of fresh and dried fruits, honey, nuts, and/or cured meats. Fresh mozzarella pleases the eyes and the taste buds when arranged on a platter with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette or basil pesto.
  • Serve the cheese with an attractive variety of crackers, baguette slices, and crostini.
  • Consider serving a few warm cheese dishes, such as a cheese dip, baked brie wrapped in puff pastry, or the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates featured in this post. All of these items can be prepared ahead of time and simply thrown in the oven when your guests arrive.
  • Serve with a selection of wine and have fun experimenting with the way each wine and cheese complements each other.

*** Don’t forget to enter the dairy themed giveaway! You have until noon on Saturday, November 3. To enter, simply leave a comment on the Delicious Dairy Round-Up post. I’ll assign each comment a number, then use a random number generator to pick a winner. Lots of cute stuff in that gift bag. Check it out HERE

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Bleu Cheese

Ingredients

  • 24 pitted dates
  • 2-3 ounces bleu cheese
  • 8-12 slices bacon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stuffed a bit of bleu cheese into the center of each date. Cut the bacon slices in half or thirds, depending on the length. Wrap a piece of bacon around each date, so it overlaps just slightly. Secure the bacon with a toothpick, then place on a baking sheet. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the bacon is cooked and crisp. Drain on a paper towel. Serve warm.

Birthday Kir Royales

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Cranberry Chipotle Cocktail Meatballs

I hosted a little cookie exchange this weekend. It was really just an excuse to engage in a bit of holiday cheer with a few of my best girl friends…as if we needed an excuse! We drank pomegranate champagne cocktails and warm mugs of mulled wine as we laughed by the light of the Christmas tree. Then we loaded up our trays with the assortment of delicious cookies and homemade bread before saying good night. I love the holiday season exactly for such festive gatherings.

Our evening was as educational as it was fun. We learned such things as:

  • When offering your guests mulled wine, it helps to say the word “mulled” slowly and clearly, so your guests do not believe you are offering them some sort of fancy French mold wine.
  • Carrots are not only delicious, but also an excellent source of small talk.
  • If your boot gets stuck on your foot as you pass through airport security, you will need to sit in the naughty passenger area until the boot can be pried from your foot. (Try to appear as if you’re ok with this situation.)
  • Alec Baldwin likes Word with Friends and Wegmans. And we still like Alec Baldwin.

I made a few snacks for my cookie party, including some spinach-gorgonzola triangles (think spanakopita, made with gorgonzola cheese instead of feta) and these cranberry meatballs. They’re inspired by a recipe I spotted in an advertisement for Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Ocean Spray’s recipe calls for a combination of jellied cranberry sauce and chili sauce over frozen cocktail meatballs. It reminds me of the sweet and sour meatballs which my mom used to make with a combination of grape jelly and ketchup. It was one of her standard dishes to bring to potlucks and they were surprisingly delicious. You’d never have guessed the sauce was made from jelly and ketchup, of all things!

I knew there was something to this cranberry meatball idea. So, I made a few little tweaks to raise the homemade factor in the recipe and to kick up the flavor with a bit of chipotle heat. The result is sweet, savory, spicy, and surprisingly delicious. These tasty little meatballs are going to make a prompt reappearance on my Christmas Eve menu!

Cranberry Chipotle Cocktail Meatballs

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

For the sauce:

  • 2 cans jellied cranberry sauce
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers (from a can of chipotle in adobo)

Directions

To prepare the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ground turkey, onions, eggs, bread crumbs, salt and pepper until well-blended. Form into 1″ balls. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet which has been lightly rubbed with oil. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.

To prepare the sauce: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium/medium-low heat. (Use one chipotle pepper for mild/medium heat or two chipotle peppers for medium-hot.) Use a fork to smash up the cranberry sauce. Stir and cook for about 5-7 minutes until a sauce forms. Remove the sauce from heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the mixture using a blender, immersion blender, or food processor. Pour the sauce over the cooked meatballs.

Meatballs and sauce can be refrigerated or frozen until use.

To reheat: Reheat the meatballs in a foil-covered baking dish in a 350 degrees oven, until the meatballs are heated through, about 25-30 minutes (frozen meatballs will take longer). Periodically stir the meatballs as they reheat. Alternately, the meatballs and sauce can be reheated in a saucepan over medium-low heat or in a slow-cooker.

Makes about 60 cocktail-sized meatballs

Tis the season for festive cocktails, like pomegranate champagne cocktails and mulled wine.

For the pomegranate champagne cocktails: Place a few pomegranate arils (the bright red seeds) into the bottom of a champagne glass. Pour a splash of pomegranate juice over the arils. Fill the glass with champagne. The arils sparkle like floating gems and are really fun to pop in your mouth as you enjoy your festive cocktail.

For the mulled wine: Mulled wine is warm, spiced and flavored wine…sort of a warm sangria. It’s typically made with red wine. The flavors and spices can vary. I combined 1.5 liters of Merlot with 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup of pomegranate juice, and two cinnamon sticks. Then, cut one navel orange in half. Squeeze the juice into the mixture, then place the orange halves into the liquid. Slowly warm the mixture to a very gentle simmer. Allow to gently simmer for about 20 minutes. Do not boil. Serve warm. You can prepare the wine on the stovetop in a saucepan or use a slow cooker.

Brunch – It’s the meal that comes with a Mimosa

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There’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And then there’s BRUNCH, the meal that comes with a Mimosa. Sign me up for that one! I do love a good, hearty brunch! Aside from enjoying my darling breakfast at lunch time, brunch usually means good times with good friends and family.

Yesterday, we hosted our first Brunch to BBQ party. And it was a fantastic success, though we never actually fired up the grill. We started with a wonderful brunch and several Mimosas. Then, we lied around on the living room floor until we felt like we could move again, watched a bit of the World Cup and then headed outside for a few games of Polish Horseshoes. My sister whipped up a batch of margaritas and the festivities continued. Later in the day, we enjoyed dinner and then relaxed in the backyard until it was time to sleep. A great day!

Here are a few details on the brunch…

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Ingredients

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Toast English muffins in a toaster. Place on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm while you assemble the other components. In a skillet over medium high heat, cook each slice of Canadian Bacon for a minute or two on each side, until it is hot and slightly browned. Place one slice on each English muffin in the oven to keep warm. Poach the eggs, according to the procedure shown here. Hold the eggs in the cold water bath while you prepare the hollandaise sauce (Recipe here). Prepare the hollandaise sauce and keep it warm above a bowl of warm water. Reheat the eggs by gently placing them in a pot of barely simmering water for about a minute. Remove the eggs and dry on a paper towel. Place one egg on each English Muffin. Top with a spoonful of hollandaise sauce. Serve immediately.  Serves 4


*As a little variation, use smoked salmon in place of the Canadian Bacon. Just don’t cook the salmon or put it in the oven!

Salmon Eggs Benedict

Brunchy Beverages

Brunch and Mimosas go hand in hand. Bellinis are another brunchilicious option. Both Mimosas and Bellinis are champagne cocktails. Mimosas mix orange juice with champagne while Bellinis traditionally combine champagne with peach nectar. About 2 ounces of fruit to 4 ounces of champagne should do the trick. Substitute other fruit nectars to make your own variation. For a non-alcoholic option, use ginger ale or sparking cider instead of champagne.

Mango Bellini

Homemade Cream Cheese with Bagels

Make your own flavored cream cheese by softening cream cheese and adding your own flavors. For today’s brunch, I made scallion cream cheese by mixing in a bunch of chopped green onions and an olive cream cheese using a mix of chopped olives. Sliced Spanish olives with pimento would work great too! After you stir in your flavoring, put the cream cheese back in the refrigerator to cool before serving. A few other ideas for homemade cream cheese flavors: Smoked Salmon, Strawberry, Veggie, Blueberry, Honey-Nut, Roasted Garlic, Sun-dried Tomato, Maple, Cinnamon Apple, Cherry Almond, Spicy Pepper.

Homemade Cream Cheese

Breakfast Pizza

Breakfast Pizza

My sister treated us to her breakfast pizza, which as she explains, is based off of a breakfast pizza she saw offered at a Hess gas station. Imagine my surprise! Basing a dish off of something you saw at a gas station?? I suppose food inspiration can come from anywhere! I may base my next Beef Wellington off of Hess’ food offerings. All kidding aside, this pizza is delicious. It’s easy to put together and makes a great dish for guests.

Ingredients

  • 1 Prepared Pizza Crust (my sister uses a whole wheat crust)
  • 1/2 pound Bacon
  • 1 1/4 cup Mozzarella Cheese, shredded
  • 6 Eggs
  • 1/4 cup Milk
  • 1/4 cup Cheddar, shredded
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a skillet, cook bacon until crispy. Allow bacon to drain. Then, crumble it into small pieces. Reserve bacon grease. Whisk the eggs together with the milk. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and then cook in a pan until scrambled. Set aside. Brush the pizza crust with a bit of the bacon grease. Sprinkle about a cup of the mozzarella cheese over the crust. Top with the scrambled eggs and bacon. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and the cheddar cheese on top. Season with a bit of pepper. Bake for about 8-10 minutes.

Breakfast Casserole

Sarah's Breakfast Casserole

A good friend brought along a breakfast casserole, a delicious mix of eggs, cheese, bread, and sausage. She explained that ever since she enjoyed this dish at a friend’s house, it’s been her go-to breakfast recipe. It’s a great all-in-one breakfast dish that’s perfect for a crowd. My mother in law makes a similar casserole, but she uses peppers and onions too. They’re both delicious. I’ll have to get the recipes to share with you soon!

Part 1 of our day was perfect!  The food, the drinks, and the company were all amazing.

Round 1 Results: Food - 0 The Gourmand Mom - 1

To be continued…

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The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

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