November 29, 2014

Easy Holiday Appetizer: Salmon Cucumber Canapés

If you can slice a cucumber, you can make this delicious twist on the classic party appetizer.  With the help of a zesting tool and a pastry bag, you can take the presentation to the next level.  To really wow your guests, you can even cure your own salmon.  It's easier than you probably think.   My Culinary Arts students made these for a school board meeting a few weeks ago.  Add them to your sophisticated entertaining repertoire...


Salmon Cucumber Canapes

Makes approx. 48
  •  2 Slicing Cucumbers (not English) these are the ones most commonly found in grocery stores with the dark green skin.
  • 1 8oz. package cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  •  8 oz. smoked salmon (lox) or citrus cured salmon (see below)*
  • Fresh chives for garnish

Optional Tools
  • A pastry bag fitted with a star tip 
  • A citrus zester (THIS is the one we use)

Step 1:  Cut the ends off of the cucumbers.  Use the single blade side of your citrus zester to create eight evenly spaced stripes down each cucumber (from top to bottom).  Slice cucumbers into 1/3" disks (we used a mandoline for perfectly uniform slices). 
Place cucumber slices on a serving platter.

Step 2:  With an electric mixer, whisk together cream cheese and sour cream until smooth.  Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.  Pipe on to cucumber slices.

Step 3:  Top with a small piece of cured salmon and garnish with two pieces of criss-crossed chive.  Serve.

Tip:  The cucumbers can be sliced up to a day in advanced and stored in a ziploc bag.  The cream cheese mixture can be prepared in advance and stored in the pastry bag so all you have to do is assemble on the day of your event.

Cure Your Own Salmon -- Store-bought lox is good, but pales in comparison to homemade.  For our citrus cured salmon, my students used a recipe from Michael Rhulman (via Martha Stewart).  This recipe is foolproof -- we've used it several times and the salmon always comes out perfect.  All you need is fresh salmon, citrus zest, salt, and 32 hours.  We prepare our salmon in the morning and it's ready to serve the next evening.

You'll find the recipe HERE

My students garnished their salmon canapé platter with a red onion chrysanthemum and a tomato rose.

November 19, 2014

A New Holiday Recipe Favorite: Cranberry Apple Slab Pie

I am so excited to share this recipe!
It's Visions of Sugarplums,
Mom's Apple Pie
and a Norman Rockwell holiday
all rolled into one perfect pastry.

I developed this recipe for Cranberry Apple Slab Pie for my advanced culinary arts class because, well, we had some leftover fresh cranberries in the fridge and the students were craving something sweet.

Although I love baking, I'm not really a "sweets person" (not to be confused with "sweet person".  I hope those that know me find me sufficiently sweet).  What I mean is that I can pass right on by most pies, ice creams and pastries.  This little beauty, however, stopped me dead in my tracks.  The buttery puff pastry and cream cheese filling balance out the sweetness of fruit filling.  With every bite, you experience sweet, tart, creamy, buttery, and flaky.  Serve with vanilla bean ice cream for ultimate bliss.

Cranberry Apple Slab Pie

(Makes 2 pies, 6-8 servings per pie)

  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/3" slices, then cut in half.
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and dried
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • 1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
  • Raw sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line a baking sheet (1/2 sheet) with parchment paper.

Step 1:  In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add sliced apples and cranberries.  Cook, stirring occasionally until apples are soft (approx. 5 minutes).  Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in sugars, flour and cinnamon.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally for an additional 3 minutes.

Step 2:  With an electric mixer (or in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment), beat together cream cheese, sour cream and powdered sugar until smooth.  Set aside.

Step 3:  Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour.  Roll puff pastry with a rolling pin, just slightly to smooth out the creases.  Cut in half so that you have identical left and right sides (pictured below).  Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry.

Step 4:  Place two pieces of puff pastry on the prepared baking sheet.  Dock with a fork (as pictured above).  Divide the cream cheese filling between the two pastry sheets and spread down the middle of each, leaving a 1" border (as pictured below).  Divide the fruit filling between the two pastry sheets and spread on top of cream cheese, maintaining the 1" border.  Using a pastry brush, brush egg wash around the border.

Step 5:  On the remaining two sheets of pastry, brush a 1" border of egg wash on each.  Then, top the filled pastry with one of the remaining sheets, egg wash side down, so that the egg-washed borders meet.  Use the tines of a fork to gently crimp the edges of the two sheets together, taking care not to press all the way through.  Repeat with the second pie.  

Step 6:  Brush each pie with remaining egg wash, then sprinkle with raw sugar.  Using a very sharp knife, cut 6-7 slits in the top of each pie (as pictured below).

Step 7:  Bake at 400°F for 18-20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.  Cool pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Serve slices warm with vanilla bean ice cream.  It also makes a delicious cold breakfast pastry.



November 10, 2014

Spanakopita: Holiday Entertaining with Greek Spinach Pie
#FallForGreek with Debbie Matenopoulos (+giveaway)

Back in July I had the joy of bringing my family's Greek heritage to life in the kitchen when I participated in the It's All Greek to Me Blog Tour celebrating the release of the new cookbook from Debbie Matenopoulos.  

Remember these beauties?  My family and friends loved Debbie's Zucchini Fritters with Garlicky Tzatziki Dip.  You can find the recipe HERE.


With holiday baking and entertaining on the horizon, fans of Debbie's book are spreading the word -- #FallForGreek -- with a November Blog Tour.  I am delighted to be sharing another one of Debbie's easy-to-follow Greek recipes from her beautiful cookbook. Rich in family memories, Greek history, heirloom recipes, and mouth-watering photographs, It's All Greek to Me is worthy of a space on the most discriminating home chef's shelf of favorite cooking tomes.

Ask my family about their favorite dish and you'll get a few different answers.  For my husband it's pastitsio.  My eldest daughter adores avgolemeno. I could eat stuffed grape leaves all day.  Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie) has been a favorite of my little one nearly from the day she started on solid food.  At snack time in preschool she'd call out, "Kopita, Kopita" believing with all her little heart that if she uttered the words, no matter when or where, the savory spinach and tangy feta cheese blanketed with buttery, flaky filo pastry would magically appear.  I never had to worry about the kid eating her spinach.  Popeye would be proud.


So, given the choice to cook-up and share another of Debbie's recipes, Spanakopita was nearest and dearest to my heart.  The "Kopita" made for a wonderful surprise dinner, and even eaten cold the next day has made a heartwarming lunchbox snack.

Spanakopita makes a perfect holiday appetizer, vegetarian side dish, or casserole to tote to a potluck.  Here's the recipe, compliments of Debbie and BenBella Books:




Enter to win a copy of It's All Greek to Me by Debbie Matenopoulos, courtesy of BenBella Books, Inc.  Enter below.  Good Luck!

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