Easy Cheesy Toast

The weather is suddenly feeling cooler here and I was hungry for something warm and cheesy. My brother Tom and I used to make cheese toast when we were kids and I always loved it. Since I’d just baked a fresh loaf of bread, I thought Cheese Toast would be fun and fast. I used The Pioneer Woman’s Recipe, with slight variations. Either way – it’s warm, cheesy, crunchy and delicious and when Ali stopped by, he loved it, too!


2 cups grated Sharp Cheddar
2 cups grated Monterey Jack (or quesadilla cheese)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp seasoned salt (Lawry’s)

Slices of a hearty loaf (I used my easy French Bread.) Cut the slices in half if they are large.


In a medium bowl, combine the Cheddar, Monterey Jack, mayonnaise, Parmesan, pepper and seasoned salt.

Mound the cheese mixture on the slices of bread. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Switch to the broiler and broil for another few minutes, until the cheese is utterly bubbly and starting to get brown in places.

These cheese toasts freeze well. To reheat, just bake them for 5 minutes, then broil another minute of so.

Note: Ree adds 1 tsp of salt and 4 Tbsp of melted butter, but honestly I don’t think you need either. I might also try adding a few drops of hot sauce or Worcestershire Sauce.

This would also be a humdinger served with Tomato Soup!

Caitlin’s Charcuterie Tray/Board

Caitlin's-Charcuterie-TrayWe were going to a friend’s holiday get-together and I wanted to bring something a little different to share. Caitie suggested a charcuterie board and we picked up crackers, meats and cheeses to make it.

We always have a variety of nuts and dried fruits in the house and I had some amazing spiced cherry preserves, so we got started. (Basically I hunted up whatever Caitlin could think of and she arranged everything!)

Here’s what I learned:

1. It’s always nice to have at least two versions of everything.

    • Cheese – we had a nice Brie and cubes of a good cheddar.
    • Meat – we used Prosciutto, Capocollo and Calabrese Salami from a pre-packed tray. You  could also use any spicier turkey salami or turkey ham. Just make sure they are thinly sliced and bite-sized.
    • Nuts – we had cashews and almonds
    • Dried fruit – we used Craisins and candied ginger
    • Something sweet – we had Costco’s chocolate covered raisins

2. A board is nice but it’s more practical to use a tray with an edge to keep things from rolling around. (We actually used a Costco pie tray.)

3. Meats work best rolled into a tube, or a cone. They’re easier to stack and to pick up.

4. Hard cheeses should be cut into little squares. Soft cheese can be served in a chunk.

5. When you place items on the tray, try to keep the items in wedges going around. We started with a nice Brie and a pot of spiced cherries in the middle, and built around that.

6. Plan to vary the ingredients by color. It looks much prettier if you have a light colored item and then a dark item, etc.

7. Use a tiny bowl or cup for any type of relish.  I used a Oui yogurt glass container – can’t bring myself to throw them away – and it worked perfectly.

8. A little greenery (we had fresh rosemary and parsley blossoms) adds a nice fresh contrast to the dish.

9. Crackers or little slices of baguette are the perfect thing to serve on.

10. A small knife, fork and spoon are all you really need for serving. You could probably include toothpicks if you want, but we didn’t really need it with the little fork.

11.  You can cover it with plastic wrap or with the top of the pie tray if you have it.  ( I just peeled the label off carefully and it worked great.)

It’s a lovely thing to bring if you’re visiting and there’s always something for everyone.  Thanks for sharing your charcuterie knowledge with me, Caitlin!



Cranberry Jalapeno Dip


Image courtesy of Joanna Kosinska – Unsplash

Someone brought this dip to Thanksgiving and we all loved it.  So I found a recipe and made it for a get-together with friends last night.  It is crazy easy, looks pretty on a plate and is difficult to leave alone!  (Based on a recipe from SnackinginSneakers.com but with a few changes.) Quite a few recipes called for twice as much sugar but this one was sweet enough.


12 oz fresh cranberries (one bag)
1 large jalapeno, quartered and chopped with stem, seeds and ribs removed
4 medium green onions, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
pinch of Kosher Salt

Two 14 oz. pkgs cream cheese or vegan cream cheese

Add cranberries, jalapeno and green onions to a food processor. Buzz a couple of times until you no longer see large chunks of  cranberries.

Add everything else and buzz for 30 more seconds. Turn out into a medium bowl and stir gently for a few minutes until sugar is dissolved.

Let sit for 30 minutes. Dump into a strainer and let excess liquid drain away for 5 minutes or so. It doesn’t need to be completely dry – just don’t want liquid running all over the serving platter.

Open foil surrounding each brick of cheese and slice horizontally into two thin layers. (You may not need all of it depending on the size of your platter.)

On a large white platter, arrange cheese to form a long, flat rectangle in the center. Neaten up the corners and edges and smooth the top with a knife. (You can stop at this point, cover the platter with cream cheese and hold it until you’re ready to serve.)

To serve, scoop the cranberry mix over the center top of the cheese and gently nudge it so it just sort of spills over the edges of the cheese. If you’ve saved a couple of cranberries and some Cilantro, you can add a few to the top.

If you’ve dashed off from home and left those behind, it’s still very festive looking.

Serve with a nice wheat cracker.

Also fantastic with leftover chicken or turkey in a sandwich.

Boursin-Style Cheese Dip

I used the Boursin Cheese recipe from Food.com, and added a few more ingredients to make a slightly softer cheese spread.  This is great with crackers, flat bread or fresh veggies.


8 oz butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp plain yogurt (unsweetened, full-fat)
3 Tbsp grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried dill weed
1⁄2 tsp dried marjoram
1⁄2 tsp basil
1⁄2 tsp chives
1⁄2 tsp black pepper
1⁄2 tsp dried thyme, crumbled
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley or 1 heaping Tbsp dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder


Blend the butter, cream cheese, mayo, yogurt and parmesan cheese until smooth. Dump in all spices and mix well.

Can use immediately, but tastes better if it sits for a half hour or so.

Rosemary Focaccia

Yesterday, Ree Drummond (the Pioneer Woman) featured a simple Rosemary Focaccia bread.  It was a cold, dreary afternoon and the thought of warm bread baking for supper was just irresistible. Plus, I had everything I needed to make it, since I brought my herb pots into the sunroom for the winter.

I served it with Ina’s Eggplant Gratin and both were easy and delicious.  In fact, I’m munching on leftover Focaccia this morning, warmed in the toaster and smeared with a little butter.

I made the recipe exactly as directed – only pulled it out of the oven after 25 minutes since it was golden brown.  This recipe looks complicated but it’s actually pretty simple.

Dough Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 Tbsp Olive Oil plus more for greasing the bowl and the pan
2 tsp dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cup warm water

Dump all in a mixing bowl. If you have a mixer, use the paddle and switch to the dough hook once it’s mixed. Let the dough hook run for several minutes, watching it as the dough will want to creep up the hook.

Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead gently until it is smooth and not sticky. (I may have used more flour – my dough wasn’t too sticky.) Rinse out the mixing bowl, dry it and spread olive oil all around it. Pop the dough back in, wiggle it around a second and the flip it over so all surfaces are oiled.

Cover it with oiled plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Prepare topping ingredients:

1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh Rosemary
Fleur de Sel (I used Maldon – but Kosher salt would be fine, too.)
Crushed Red Pepper to taste (couple of pinches)
Cornmeal as needed (a couple of Tbsp?)

After dough has risen, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet or shallow roasting pan, and spread 1/4 cup of olive oil around on the pan. Sprinkle cornmeal evenly. Take dough and gently stretch it into a rectangle shape.

It’s a little easier if slide the parchment out of the pan and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough.  Just be sure to roll from the outside in so you don’t end up with a thick edge, and keep the size so it will fit back in the pan.

Then slide it all back into the backing pan, and cover it with an oiled piece of plastic. (I just flipped another roasting pan over it), and let rise for 20 minutes.

Remove the wrap (or pan), and poke holes every few inches. Pour the 3 Tbsp olive oil over the top, and sprinkle the rosemary, red pepper and Fleur de Sel over it.

Bake it for 25 minutes. It’s done when it’s golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.  (The original recipe called for baking 30-35 minutes.)  Yum.

Apricot-Orange Almond Goat and Cream Cheese Log

It always seems like we’re noshing all day when everyone is home, and I wanted to try something different for New Year’s Eve. I made a version of Jenn Laughlin’s cheese spread and it was ridiculously delicious, and also so easy!


8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup almonds, crushed (I used Trader Joe’s Sesame Honey Almonds, but you can use regular salted almonds, or other slightly-sweetened almonds.)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I used flat leaf parsley) or Basil
1/4 cup Sarabeth’s Orange Apricot Marmalade
4-5 dried apricots, chopped
honey for drizzling

Blend the cream cheese and feta cheese.

In a gallon zip lock bag, pound the almonds until they are crushed. (I used a wooden potato masher.) Add the parsley and apricots.  (I was out of apricots so I skipped them.)

On a long, narrow plate, carefully spoon out the Orange Apricot preserves. (We love Sarabeth’s Orange Apricot Marmalade, but you could use 1/2 apricot preserves, and 1/2 marmalade.)  I might use a big more marmalade next time, or try warming it and drizzling it over with the honey.

Carefully cut the top off the bag of nuts and parsley. Gather the cheese mixture into a roughly long log shape and drop it into the nuts mixture. Press the mixture into the bottom of the log, and then carefully rotate the log to get nuts on all side. You can also square up the ends of the log, and press nuts into them.

Carefully remove the cheese log and place it on the marmalade.  Drizzle lightly with honey. Garnish with a few parsley leaves, and serve with hearty crackers or slices of Granny Smith apples.

Jenn Laughlin says it’s also great with fig preserves.

Crudites with Dip

Made this for Thanksgiving 2007, and 2013. I think the dip is originally a Martha Stewart recipe. Part of the fun is to have lots of different, interesting vegetables. I gathered lots of little clear glass containers for the veggies and put them on a tray, with the dip in the center. Prepping the veggies take a little time but it’s worth it. You can also serve hummus with roasted red pepper.

green beans, tips cut off and blanched
thin asparagus, trimmed and blanched
celery sticks
jicama sticks
cucumber spears
scallion sections
baby carrots
grape tomatoes
yellow squash spears
zucchini spears (Both the yellow squash and zucchini are surprisingly good with dip.)

Arrange in glasses and bowls and serve with dip, below:

1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp minced chives
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 large shallot, finely diced

Mix all in a large mason jar and refrigerate until just before serving. (Note, I didn’t write down salt when I wrote the recipe, but I’m certain I added some. Taste and add salt as needed.)

Note: blanching vegetables is super easy. It just means slightly cooking vegetables. I use a deep basket shaped strainer that I got an an Asian grocery store, but you can just do it with tongs if you don’t have a strainer that fits in your pot.

Here’s how you do it. Bring a medium sized pot of generously salted water to the boil, and have another large bowl of ice water close by.

Put veggies in very briefly, maybe 2 minutes. Remove and plunge veggies into ice water for a few minutes, until they don’t feel warm anymore. This softens them up just a bit without losing their crunch. It also keeps the colors nice and bright.

Texas Caviar with Avocados

We had this at our friend Dot and Johns’s New Year’s Eve party and I couldn’t stay away from it. It’s a wonderful appetizer, especially for me since I find appetizers challenging.

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup jalapenos, seeded and diced
1 cup Italian salad dressing
dash of cayenne pepper
2 avocados, diced

Mix all above and serve with scoopy corn chips.

Colleen’s Blue Cheese Cheesecake

This savory cheesecake is a specialty of my friend Colleen, who is such an amazing cook. It’s a beautiful appetizer (something I’m normally terrible at) and perfect for potlucks.

Most people are familiar with sweet cheesecake so this cheesy, tangy one is something totally new.    Colleen puts it on a large platter garnished with pretty globe grapes and serves it with crackers.  (She makes it with light cream cheese, light sour cream and light mayonnaise, and it’s delicious, too – so you can do that if you wish.)

3/4 cup crushed club crackers (18-20 crackers)
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Mix in a bowl and press into one large or two smaller springform pans. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese
8 oz. of blue cheese
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 eggs

Blend all ingredients very well and pour into baked crust. Smooth the top and bake at 300 for another 45 minutes. ( Check at 40 minutes if  you’re making two smaller ones.) Remove from oven and let rest one hour. Gently loosen edge with a butter knife and chill the cheesecake for several hours.

To serve, just remove the sides of the springform pan, and place the cheesecake on a large platter, with crackers and globe grapes. This would probably also be delicious with sliced apples.