For summer get-togethers we love the chilled and the grilled, and we don’t even want to look at the oven. Here we present the building blocks for a range of luscious appetizers that fill the bill for summertime tastes and preferences.
It starts with an 8-ounce package of cream cheese or Neufchatel. Release it from the package into a bowl and let it soften at room temperature. Better yet, speed up the process by using a microwave-safe bowl and the defrost mode on the microwave oven. Check the consistency of the cheese after a few seconds of “zapping.” Stop when it’s very soft but not melted.
Once soft, you’ll create a filling or a spread, depending on what you stir into the cheese. A tablespoon or so of ranch dressing mix and a pinch of snipped chives form a foundation for pinwheel appetizers; the cream cheese spread goes on a tortilla wrap that’s then layered with fresh vegetables (pepper strips, sliced green onions, etc.), olives, herbs, and maybe meat and more cheese. Go here to see what they look like after they’re rolled, sliced and picked.
Another recipe we like mixes cream cheese with adobo, green onion and diced tomatoes as a creamy stuffing for colorful, crisp pepper halves.
Cream cheese appetizers should be made and chilled for two hours before the “unveiling.” Consider presenting these beautiful bites on clear tableware so they get the spotlight they deserve.
Match the heartiness of this offering by placing them on gingham-patterned plates and use bandannas as napkins.
You normally use the grill in two steps for these appetizers. The first time is to cook the meat and the second round is for melting the cheese in the assembled quesadillas — and adding those awesome grill marks.
Our current quesadilla crush is a marinated steak teriyaki with fresh pineapple and mozzarella.
Have you seen these? You cut cucumbers into thick (1” to 2”) slices and hollow out one end with a melon baller or small spoon to create a vehicle for almost every kind of filling imaginable.
They are clever and simple, just as we like it. Just start with the right cuke, which is a slicing cucumber that’s long, straight and smooth.
Whether you peel it depends on your own taste, thickness of the skin and whether it’s been waxed. A lot of cooks like to peel selected parts of the cuke for vertical dark stripes in the finished cups.
You could fill the cups with dollops of your favorite tuna salad recipe and garnish with springs of fresh dill, or follow Martha Stewart’s lead with a batch of gazpacho. A lemon or red pepper hummus is really good, plus gives you the flexibility to use your favorite prepared product if you like.
Save extra cucumber from your hollowing-out exercise for cocktail time.