Monday, January 2, 2012

Well hello there, 2012. What's cookin'?

Happy New Year's, all!!! Hoping you had a safe, fun, and enjoyable new year's celebration!

We celebrated here in the big apple with a massive spread of food, cupcakes (duh), and cocktails with good friends. A party tiara here & there, and you have one smashing evening. All of these little appetizers filled us up enough to keep us going in alcohol land, without weighing us down. Literally. Easy prep, easy clean up, and easy eating makes these goodies a hit at any party. Pizza, pastries, hummus, and mini cupcakes--- you just can't go wrong! Even my little man was waiting by the table for scraps.... with a tiara of course :) Cheers!!

Charlie, the "little man"

The Menu:

Whole wheat pizza with red-wine caramelized onions, sun dried tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese
Chicken sausage pizza with onions & fennel
Puff Pastries filled with blue cheese & balsamic glazed figs
Homemade hummus
Lemon, Blueberry, & Vodka spiked mini-cupcakes

OK, these are lots of items. I am going to start with the cupcakes. Dessert always comes first. And when you're hosting a little mini dinner party, bake all desserts first so they're nice and cooled and prepared by the time you get to serve them. I took my lemon cupcake recipe (found here) and topped them with a bluelberry buttercream with a splash of vodka. Make the cupcakes, let them cool and here's how to prepare the frosting:

Blueberry & vodka Buttercream:

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup favorite blueberry jam
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup citrus vodka (such as Absolut Citron)
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

I actually make my own blueberry preserve. Easy peasy: reduce 1 pint blueberries, zest of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tsp corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup water. Let this cook down until it reaches a jam consistency, roughly 45-50 minutes. Cool thoroughly then store in the fridge.

Whip your butter with half the sugar in a mixer. Then, add the vodka. Whip some more. Add the blueberries, and remaining sugar. Add more sugar if you like thicker frosting. More vodka flavor? Add more vodka. Want to make this virgin? Use milk to substitute the vodka.

Next up: Figs, Blue Cheese, and puff pastries & toasted pita. Yum! I let these black mission figs soak up some reduced balsamic vinegar for roughly 15-20 minutes. They become sticky, sweet, and amazingly moist. They can be stored, stuffed, diced, or devoured just as is. I for one think blue cheese & figs belong together like peanut butter & jelly. Try this dip out in any way you want. I used the left over dip with toasted pitas. Here's how it's done:

1 8 oz package cream cheese
6 oz blue cheese (the creamier the better, cow's milk blue that crumbles easily)
1 cup diced black mission figs
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
2 tsp sugar
1 package store bought puff pastry (comes with 2 sheets)

Dice the figs up into medium size chunks, add to the pan with the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Leave on medium-low heat and let reduce down for roughly 20 minutes until the syrup is fully absorbed in the figs and they become sticky and soft. Meanwhile, whip the cream cheese, blue cheese, salt & pepper together in a large bowl. Additionally, fold out your puff pastry sheets. Put 2 tsp of the filling onto one half of the sheet. Top with 2-3 of the fig chunks. Be sure to leave about 1 inch between fillings, and only cover half the sheet. When covered, fold the puff pastry over. Take a pastry brush and dust the edges with milk or egg wash so you can seal them up. Seal, dice, and place the pastries on a baking sheet. Bake at 400F for roughly 15 minutes or until edges browned and pastry... puffs up!

If you don't use the pastry method, Take the cheese dip, place into a bowl, top with the figs, and serve with toasted pita chips or crostini's.

I have to say, though. As great as the figs are. The pizzas were a bigger hit. I mean, who doesn't love pizza? The options are endless, and it's so hard to screw up pizza. Buy some dough, and you have dinner in less than 30 minutes. OK, pizza dough is always better home-made... but this is NYC. There is great pizza dough to be bought at just about every corner bake shop. Grocery store, or deli. Check out your local favorite places, they sell their dough, all you have to do is ask! 

Pizza #1: Sun Dried Tomatoes & Red Wine Onions

Whole wheat pizza dough
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine, whatever you have open
1/3 cup tomato sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
salt, pepper 
olive oil

Begin by coating the pan with a few tbsps of olive oil, and sautee the onions on medium-low heat. Don't burn, but let them cook down. Once they have reduced in size and begun to caramelize, add the sun dried tomatoes. Let cook for 5-10 minutes until the tomatoes soften, then add the wine. Let it cook out for 2-5 minutes then add the tomato sauce. Let this thicken for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, take your pizza dough, roll out on a floured surface and add to your non stick pizza or cookie pan. Bake at 400F (or to the dough's instructions) for 15 minutes. Remove, add the sun dried tomato & onion reduction. Top with a generous heap of mozzarella cheese and bake another 15-20 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and brown around the edges. Cool, slice, serve.

Pizza #2: Sausage & Fennel


1 lb chicken sausage with italian herbs (or your favorite store bought sausage, with neutral ingredients or italian seasonings)
1 small fennel bulb
1/8 cup diced fennel fronds (the leaves at the end of the bulb that looks like herbs)
1 medium white or yellow onion
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
salt, pepper, garlic salt

Preheat your oven to 400F, or to dough's instructions. Roll out your dough and bake until half cooked, 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile, reduce your diced onion & fennel bulb in olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic salt on medium heat. Once it begins to reduce and soften, add your sausage. Let the meat cook thoroughly and marry with the onion fennel mixture for about 15 minutes. When all is done, add to the half cooked pizza dough, top with the mozzarella cheese, and bake until edges browned and cheese is melted and gooey. Cool, slice, serve!

Last but certainly NOT least.... The Best Hummus, and easiest recipe, you will ever make. You won't go back to the store bought stuff anytime soon, promise! 


1 can chick peas
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
3-4 tbsps tahini (sesame seed paste)

Get out your blender. Open the chick peas, and drain about 1/3 of the juice of. Pour remainder into the blender. Add the garlic clove, juice of 1 lemon, salt, and tahini. Blend until smooth & creamy. Pour into a bowl, sprinkle with paprika and a dollup of olive oil. Serve with veggies and pita chips! Yum!

I served everything with some sliced veggies, crackers, pita chips, wine, and a killer champagne punch. A bottle of Jameson may have made an appearance, I'll plead the 5th on that.
HAPPY 2012 EVERYONE! Here's to hoping your resolutions stick around this year.

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