Posts Tagged ‘appetizers’

Sausage Cheese Balls

July 29, 2012 7 comments

Sausage Cheese Balls

In a previous post, I mentioned a variation of cheese straws – sausage cheese balls. Well, here is a quick recipe with only three main ingredients (optional seasonings can be added). It’s a fairly versatile recipe; you can use pork, chicken, or turkey sausage. If you want a vegetarian version, you can use soy or TVP (textured vegetable protein) sausage. You can make a gluten-free version using a gluten-free biscuit mix. I even prefer this to the traditional biscuit mix. I have not tried a vegan version with soy cheese and veggie sausage because I have not found a biscuit mix that it is vegan. This is a great recipe to make ahead and freeze. Just thaw, heat (optional), and serve.

Sausage and Cheese Balls (Print recipe)

1 pound sausage (pork, turkey, chicken, soy, or TVP)

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

3 cups biscuit mix (Bisquick or a gluten-free variety)

¼ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, pepper flakes, or Aleppo pepper, optional

¼ teaspoon garlic powder, optional

Cook and drain the sausage (this makes the final cheese ball less greasy). While sausage is cooking, let the cheese come to room temperature. Combine the sausage, cheese, biscuit mix, and optional seasonings. I use my hands to mix it well. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350º F. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve immediately or you can freeze them. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes: about 4 dozen sausage cheese balls.


Cheese Straws

June 29, 2012 7 comments

Cheese Straws

Today would have been my mom’s 76th birthday. Hard to believe it’s been almost three years since she died. Mom was my inspiration for starting this blog. She was a wonderful writer and gifted storyteller, though not the best cook. Mom was the first to admit it! She always said Dad was the better cook and she marveled at how Dad and I would cook without recipes. She urged me to write my recipes and share them with others. Hence this blog.

Mom had three favorite food groups – butter, salt, and mayo (it’s amazing she was as skinny as she was). Probably her favorite snack was cheese straws. Cheese straws have two of her basic food groups covered! It’s only fitting that I share the recipe today.

Cheese straws are a Southern party staple. We serve them at teas, birthdays, weddings, baby showers, open houses, gallery openings, and even at funerals. We give them as gifts and they are well-received.  I always look forward to a package from our friend Ursula during the holidays. I know it will include her delicious cheese straws.

There are many different types of cheese straws. The traditional kind that I grew up with is made with flour, butter, cheddar cheese, cayenne pepper, and salt. The dough is typically pushed through a cookie press into long thin crispy straws.  However, there are many other varieties:  cheese straw wafers, cheese straw “biscuits” with Rice Krispies, sausage (or soy) cheese balls, and even cheese straw dough wrapped olive puffs (the star of many 1970’s cocktail parties at our house!). The South loves cheese straws so much that there are bakeries that specialize in them and there are cooks who have a cherished cheese straw recipe handed down between generations. 

I have experimented with some healthier substitutes. Gluten-free flour blends are better now and can be used in the recipe. Spelt flour also works. Personally, I have not experimented with a vegan version, but I have heard it is possible to use almond or soy cheese and margarine (or a coconut oil blend).

This particular recipe is a tweaked version of several friends’ recipes with a few of my own twists. Special thanks to Dan Tatum, Ursula Vann, and Connie Ulrich for sharing their recipes over the years. I must give full credit to Dan for the technique. I have always used a cookie press but then I tried Dan’s cheese straws over the holidays. He rolled them out with a rolling-pin and then cut them with a pizza cutter. They were awesome! Like little crispy, French fry-shaped cheese biscuits of goodness. The cheese straws in the photos are a little short. We ate the long, pretty ones and then I decided to take photos for the blog. Oops, I’m still learning! Hope you enjoy one of my ma’s favorite snacks…

Cheese Straws (Print recipe)

2 cups grated extra sharp Cheddar cheese, softened at room temperature*

1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)


Preheat oven to 375º F. Mix all the ingredients – you can use a food processor, a mixer with a dough hook, or mix it by hand, the old-fashioned way (my preferred method!). You will end up with a thick dough. You can use either method to form your straws:

Traditional method: Use a cookie press with a star attachment to form the straws directly on a parchment lined cookie sheet.


Dan’s method: Use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough on a floured surface. You want the dough about 3/16”. You can use chopsticks on either side as guides. Then, use a pizza cutter to cut long, thin strips. Transfer them carefully to a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack. Store in an air tight container.

*Notes about the cheese: After grating the cheese, leave it out until it comes to room temperature. Whatever cheese you use, you want to grate it yourself! Store bought pre-grated cheese just isn’t the same in this recipe. Something must be added to keep it from clumping and it interferes with the texture of the cheese straws. Cheddar varieties: for the cheese straws in the photo, I used an extra-sharp aged white Cheddar cheese. They were delicious but not the same as when I use sharp or extra-sharp yellow Cheddar cheese.  They just didn’t look the same. Cheese Straw Purists probably won’t like my white Cheddar substitution, but it’s what I had. I thought they were good, even if they weren’t traditional looking! And finally don’t skimp on the cheese, you want 2 full cups.


Cocktails and Kale

June 9, 2012 3 comments

Three Cocktails + Kale Chips = Friday Night

Cocktails and Kale…Today’s odd sounding post is courtesy of  a lazy Friday evening spent at home on our patio. We bought some delicious fresh kale from Tune Farm at the Greene Street Market on Thursday night and we still had strawberries from Dennison’s Farm so it seemed like a natural fit. Well, not strawberries and kale together (but it might not be the worst combination). Instead, we had strawberry cocktails served with oven baked crispy kale chips. In the last post, I shared several recipes for simple syrup. Those recipes will come in handy in the strawberry cocktails. The drinks feature strawberries because they are still so plentiful, fresh, and delicious. However, the drinks would also be good with blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries. These recipes also make wonderful non-alcoholic spritzers.

The drink recipes call for a muddler  and muddling. So, what is a muddler? It is a bartender’s tool, similar to a pestle, used to mash things (muddling). If you do not have a muddler, you can use a fork, the back of a spoon, or even a potato masher (though it probably won’t fit in a glass). I’ve used my lemon reamer and the pestle from our chinois conical strainer to muddle the ingredients. I’ve also thought about using my porridge spurtle. Yes, we have a porridge spurtle. What is a porridge spurtle? A wooden tool of Scottish origin used to stir porridge. We bought a hand-carved spurtle several years ago at the Monte Sano Art Show. We have yet to use it to stir porridge :).

Note: Each recipe makes two drinks. You can muddle and make the drinks in individual glasses, in a cocktail shaker, or even in a large pitcher if you are multiplying the recipe. The directions are for making two drinks directly in the glasses; however, feel free to change if you are using a cocktail shaker or making a pitcher.

Back to the drinks and snacks…these cocktails are light and refreshing, perfect for this early summer-like weather. The crispy kale chips are a crunchy, earthy, and salty balance to the drinks. Enjoy and have a happy weekend…

Strawberry Basil Refresher

Strawberry Basil Refresher

8 strawberries, hulled and sliced (or mashed)

2 tablespoons simple syrup (plain, strawberry, basil, or citrus)

8 fresh basil leaves, torn

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 ounces rum (I prefer white rum for this drink)

Crushed ice

Club soda

Garnish: 2 whole strawberries, 2 lemon wedges (or slices), and 2 sprigs of fresh basil

Serves: 2

Equally divide the strawberries, simple syrup, basil, and lemon juice between the two glasses. Use a muddler to mash everything together. Add rum and crushed ice. Stir. Then fill the glass with soda water. Stir again. Garnish with a strawberry, lemon wedge (I forgot the lemon wedge in the photo!), and basil.

Strawberry Mojito

Strawberry Mojito

8 strawberries, hulled and sliced (or mashed)

4 tablespoons mint simple syrup (or plain or berry simple syrup)

2 tablespoons lime juice

6 fresh mint leaves, torn

2 ounces rum (I prefer white rum for this drink)

Club soda

Crushed ice

Garnish: 2 whole strawberries, 2 limes wedges, and 2 sprigs of fresh mint

Serves: 2

Equally divide the strawberries, simple syrup, lime juice, and mint between the two glasses. Use a muddler to mash everything together. Add rum and crushed ice. Stir. Then fill the glass with soda water. Stir again. Garnish with a lime wedge, strawberry, and/or mint leaf.

Non-alcoholic version: Just omit the rum. You can add a few extra berries and lime if you want to intensify the flavor. Also, feel free to omit the syrup if you are watching your sugar intake.

Strawberry Mule

Strawberry Mule

This is one of my favorite summer beverages. I especially like how they make it at Amendment XXI; however, it is just as tasty when made at home. It might even be better! You will want to use a strong ginger brew if you can find it. I like Reed’s Ginger Brew. In Huntsville, you can buy Reed’s at Garden Cove, Earth Fare, Foods for Life, and The Fresh Market (I believe they carry it). If you can’t find Reed’s or you think it is too gingery, then regular ginger ale would be fine. 

8 strawberries, hulled and sliced (or mashed)

2 tablespoons fresh citrus juice (lime or lemon juice)

2 tablespoons simple syrup (plain, berry, ginger, whatever you prefer)

2 ounces vodka (plain or citrus)

Crushed ice

2-6 ounces ginger brew (or ginger ale)

Garnish: 2 whole strawberries and 2 lemon or lime wedges

Serves: 2

Equally divide the strawberries, citrus juice, and simple syrup between the two glasses. Use a muddler to mash everything together. Add vodka and crushed ice. Stir. Then fill the glass with ginger brew. Stir again. Garnish with a strawberry and a citrus wedge.

Non-alcoholic version: Just omit the vodka. You can add a few extra berries and citrus if you want to intensify the flavor. Also, feel free to omit the syrup if you are watching your sugar intake. If this is the case, then you can use sugar-free ginger ale. You can even substitute club soda for the ginger ale and add some freshly grated ginger if you prefer.

Kale Chips

Oven Baked Kale Chips

1 bunch of fresh kale

Olive oil


Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.

Wash and drain the kale. Remove tough stems. Chop or tear into medium-sized semi-uniform pieces. I like a few “extra crispy” small chips so uniform is a relative term. Dry the kale – I roll the washed and chopped leaves in a clean kitchen towel. The drier the leaves, the crisper the chips.

Place the dry kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. If you have an olive oil sprayer or mister that would be great (I need to replace our broken one). Toss so the kale is coated evenly. Spread the kale into a single layer on the pan(s).

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan(s) from oven. Don’t worry if the kale has shrunk and looks funny. It will be delicious! Stir. Rearrange in a single layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt. If you used two baking sheets, now would be a good time to rotate the sheets (especially if your oven is as uneven as our oven). Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until crispy (not burned). Sprinkle with a little more salt it you want. If they look a little greasy, you can drain them on a paper towel or a clean brown paper bag. Otherwise, you can cool them on a rack. I skip this cooling step, because I prefer them right out of the oven. As they age, they can get a bit soggy so please store in an airtight container.

*Note: I wait until half-way through to sprinkle with salt. If you add it too early, it can bring out water in the kale while it bakes. Actually, this could make it steam.

Variations:  sprinkle with cayenne pepper, cracked black pepper, finely grated Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast flakes, lemon pepper, Greek seasoning, etc.

The End of a Nice Evening


Italian Dinner Menu – Starters

February 3, 2012 2 comments

These are the recipes for the starters and salad we served at the Italian Dinner.  I posted the Tuscan White Bean Dip a few weeks ago.  Matt made most of the starters and the salad.  So glad I married someone who likes to cook!  He made the marinated olives and they were delicious!  The only complaint – we needed to serve them with a spoon so people could eat the juice with their bread.  Silly hosts, we only put out toothpicks!


Marinated Olives with Orange

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

16 ounces mixed olives (green, purple, black – any combination works)

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 shallots, minced

pinch of cinnamon

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons white vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoons fresh mint chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Dry roast the fennel and cumin seeds in a small, heavy-bottom pan on medium heat.  You want them to heat them until they start to pop, but be careful because they can burn quickly.  Shake or stir frequently.  Remove from heat and let the seeds cool.  Place the seeds in a large container with a lid.  Add the olives.

Mix the orange zest, lemon zest, shallots, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, olive oil, orange juice, mint, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Pour over the olives and toasted seeds.  Mix, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.


Crostini with Roasted Garlic

3 heads garlic, whole

2 tablespoons olive oil

pinch of Kosher salt

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 loaf of Italian or French bread, in ½” slices (thinner if you prefer, I like ¼”)

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Remove the outer, papery layer of skin on the garlic heads.  However, leave the skins of the individual cloves intact. Use a sharp knife to cut off a ¼  to ¾-inch slice from the pointy end of each garlic head. Place the bulbs in a garlic roaster (if you have one, we do not), an over-proof container, or you can wrap them in foil.  Drizzle the garlic with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid or use foil.  Bake for 50-60 minutes until the garlic is soft.

Let the garlic cool, and then use your fingers to squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves.  Or you could use a tiny fork or a butter knife to remove the garlic.

Put the garlic in a bowl, mash with a fork.  Add a little more olive oil if it is too dry (you can use the oil from the garlic roasting if you want).  The mixture should be spreadable.

Toast the bread, the oven should still be hot from roasting the garlic.  Spread with the garlic. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Serve.



Caprese Crostini

For this recipe, there are no quantities.  You’re basically making little open faced tomato and cheese sandwiches.  Make as many or as few as you want.  I’m just listing the ingredients so you know what you need:

Italian or French bread, in ½” slices (thinner if you prefer, I like ¼”)

raw clove of garlic

tomatoes, either Roma, cherry, grape, or regular (whatever is in season and looks good)

fresh mozzarella

fresh basil, thinly sliced

olive oil

Balsamic vinegar (Balsamic Vinegar Reduction, sold in some groceries and gourmet markets or you can make your own)

Kosher salt

black pepper, freshly ground

Toast bread.  Rub the bread with a raw clove of garlic.  Drizzle the bread with olive oil. Top with a slice of mozzarella. Slice the tomatoes, and put a slice on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.    Sprinkle with the basil.  And drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Fennel and Orange Salad

This is the salad Matt made for the Italian Dinner.  It was the first time he’d made the salad so it was basically an experiment.  But it worked out well and was a big hit. I’m not a huge fennel fan but I really liked the salad.  He used one orange per person.  This is a versatile recipe and can be scaled up or down.  He used pomegranates, but if you don’t like them or if they aren’t in season, you could use dried cranberries.  For a totally different taste, you can mix it up and substitute sliced ripe olives for the pomegranates and add some red chili flakes for a touch of heat.


8 oranges (he used a combo of Valencia, navel, and blood oranges)

1 teaspoon orange zest

3 tablespoons orange juice

¼ cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced

1 mild medium sized white onion, thinly sliced

½ cup pomegranate seeds

Wash and dry the oranges and then Zest some of the orange (no white pith) and reserve it for the dressing (about 1 teaspoon). 

Section the oranges.  To me, the easiest way is to slice off the top and bottom.  Set the orange flat on a cutting board, and then use a knife to carefully remove the peel along with all of the pith. I cut from top to bottom vertically, following the orange’s curve.  To remove all of the peel and pith, you will probably end up cutting some of the juicy flesh, but that’s ok.  It’s better to not have the pith.  While working over a bowl, take your knife and cut out each individual section of the orange.  You’ll be left with a bunch of pith, squeeze this to remove any juice. Another way to section an orange is to cut the orange in half and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp, kinda like you would do with a grapefruit.  Reserve at least 3 tablespoons of the juice for the dressing.  Drink the rest (if you want!).

Mix the olive oil, orange juice, orange zest, salt, and pepper.  Toss this with the orange sections, fennel, and onion.  Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve.


Note:  I’m having some font/style issues with WordPress today, sorry if there are inconsistencies.  Also, issues with spacing and proofreading. I’m frustrated and tired of tinkering with it, so I’m just gonna post “as is.”