Holiday parties are such a wonderful time to visit with friends. It’s an opportunity to pull out your red sweater and put it on without even the slightest doubt of whether or not you will stand out! I like both intimate dinner gatherings and the large “don’t know half the people here” parties. I guess you can say I just love a good party. To me, what makes a good party (outside of the stimulating conversation that is…) is the food. Isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I hardly eat the day of a party. I save as much room as possible for those little bits of food–those little bits I wouldn’t dare eat any other time of year, but can certainly justify during the holiday time.
Many holiday parties mean having to bring an appetizer. Know those cute little tart shells or fancy mini Melba toasts? Don’t spend money on those-make your own! You can make almost 100 from 1 loaf of bread…and you can use the bread of your choice to sneak in some healthiness! (If that is at all possible this time of year!)
Tasty Toasts: This is such a simple and versatile way to use any sliced bread you have on hand. (Even stale bread!) You could even do a mixture of different breads.
Put a slice of bread on your cutting board and flatten with a rolling pin. (Don’t have a rolling pin? Simply wrap foil or parchment paper over a canned good and get to rolling!) You want to flatten the slice of bread thin.
Depending on the size of the slices you are using, a good average is 4 per slice, so calculate how many appetizers you will need.
After you have all the needed slices flattened, use a 2 inch cutter to cut out the slices. Don’t be afraid to get some crusts in the cutouts, they just add dimension to your toast! Start at the corner and work your away across then down. I use my ravioli stamp!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grab your mini muffin tin. If not a non-stick tin, spray a coat of non-stick spray. Press in the cutouts. Decide if you are going to bake the shells WITH a filling or bake the shells WITHOUT a filling. If you have a cold dip, bake the shells then fill afterwards. If you have a dip you want baked into the shell, fill, then bake. Either way, about 10 minutes in the oven.
Don’t have time to fool with filling shells? Simply put your cutouts on a greased sheet pan and give a little spray of olive oil or non-stick spray and bake for same amount of time-think Melba toasts!
Now to give you some ideas for the filling. I always seem to have cream cheese in my fridge this time of year. (I never know when I need to throw together a quick dip like pepper jelly and cream cheese!)
Know that bacon cheddar dip? The real easy one with cream cheese, mayo (use chipotle mayo for an added kick), crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese and seasonings-no special formula. With those ingredients it’s a go! It is good hot or cold. I like it cold then topped with a toasted pecan.
The biggest hit that I make that will sure to leave you getting rave reviews (or at least some serious inquiries!) is my Muffuletta Dip toasts. I am proud to be from New Orleans, Louisiana-home of the Muffuletta. Central Grocery in New Orleans was like a home away from home for me growing up. The aromas from meats, cheeses, and spices would waft across many streets. It was a treat to go get a muffuletta and to scoop olives out the large barrels. My dad and I never seemed to make it home with any olives. We’d eat them all on the way home!
Another mention for those not from the South, a muffuletta is a beautiful round Sicilian sesame bread filled with layers of olive salad (marinated olives, celery, carrots, cauliflower), Mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. Some like it cold, but for me toasted is the only way to go. That’s how I came up with this idea!
The amounts will depend on how many shells you are filling. If you have a favorite ingredient in a muffuletta, it’s o.k. to increase that ingredient! I like to make a big batch for leftovers, of course. It is great stuffed in chicken breasts and baked! (Big batch- 1/2 lb of both meats, 12 oz cheese, 8oz olive salad, 3oz -4 oz cream cheese-is enough for whole loaf of bread and dinner.) The mixture does freeze well.
Depending on how much you need to make, here is a guideline to use:
In a food processor: Put equal parts-ham and salami and pulse until chopped. Add in some grated Italian cheese, pulse until incorporated. Add in olive salad, most stores carry a brand, a spoon at a time. (If you can’t find olive salad, you can substitute olives.) Taste as you go! Add garlic powder and onion powder. When you like the flavor, remove it from the processor and put in a bowl. Fold in cream cheese. I like to use the whipped cream cheese, makes the mixing much easier. It doesn’t take much, it is just a binder to help hold all the flavors together. So again, add a spoon at a time. Press a teaspoon or pipe some into each uncooked shell. Bake for 10 minutes and top with some chopped olives. Sorry I do not have any pictures of the process. As you can see from the photo-I was running late for a party!!
What to do with all the scraps of bread from the cutouts? Keep the oven on 350 degrees and make croutons! Simply put them in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, toss with some Italian seasoning, put on sheet pan and bake until crispy! They cook quick, so after 5 minutes, check pan and give it a shake, continue to bake, 8-10 minutes total.
Put your TO COOK IS TO CREATE thinking cap on: What kind of sandwich is your favorite? Make a dip using those ingredients like the muffuletta. For example, Reuben-cream cheese, 1000 island or Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese-use rye bread for shells! Having a kid’s party? Bake the shells, then fill with peanut butter and jelly! Have a favorite dip? Try it out!
FOOD FUN: Think about how much money you saved not having to buy shells or fancy crackers. At your next party, put a dollar in a basket out on the food table. Let your guests know that it is for the local food bank. It is a generous but easy way to share the bounty of food on the table with others who are less fortunate.