Happy Appys for Your Thanksgiving Celebration

We all know that Tom Turkey is the star of the show when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, followed closely by all the side dishes. But who says the appetizers can’t be just as stunning and play a major supporting role?

Mac & Cheese Bites

These are baked, not fried, making them decadent but not loaded with excess fat or oils. These require the use of a mini muffin pan. Their size makes the perfect bite and also makes them perfect for little hands!

7-ounce bag/box of small macaroni noodles, boiled to doneness in a large pot

16-oz bag of shredded cheddar cheese

4-5 slices of American cheese

½ stick butter

1/2 cup of milk (regular milk is best to keep the cheese mixture creamier, but low-fat can be used if preferred)

½ to 1 Tsp Seasoning Salt (to taste)

1/3 to 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Finely chopped chives/green onion

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a mini muffin pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

Drain the hot, cooked macaroni and return it to the pot. Over low heat, add the butter, cheddar cheese, and American cheese to the pot and mix thoroughly. The cheese should be melty and a bit stringy. Heat the milk in the microwave for about 20 to 30 seconds.  Add the heated milk a little at a time to the macaroni and cheese, mixing thoroughly after each addition until creamy but not too liquid. The mixture should be creamy and yet somewhat stiff. If the cheese remains too stringy, add a little more American cheese, which has good melting properties. Add seasoning salt to taste and mix well. Finally, add the panko breadcrumbs a bit at a time, mixing after each addition, until the mac and cheese is of a consistency to form a ball that holds together when scooped. Turn off the heat.

Using a small scoop, place balls of mac and cheese into the mini muffin pan, packing down each well firmly and filled completely. If the wells are filled too loosely, the mac and cheese bites will fall apart. Bake at 375 degrees until the tops are browned and a little crunchy (about 25 minutes or so). Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the tops with the finely chopped chives/green onion. Allow the mac and cheese bites to cool until they can be transferred to a plate or tray without falling apart or losing their shape.  This makes enough for at least two to three pans of mac and cheese bites.

Optional add-ins to the mac and cheese mixture: bacon bits, diced ham, chopped shrimp or lobster, or finely chopped veggies such as different colored bell peppers and onions. For a real kick? Add finely diced jalapeno peppers!

Chicken Dijon Crescent Rolls

Talk about yummy! The chicken and Dijon really complement each other, and the crunch of the water chestnuts is a nice textural element. Chopped chunks of ham are also wonderful in these rolls if you prefer ham over chicken. You can make this a non-meat version by substituting the chicken with veggies like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, chopped broccoli, etc., and substitute the cream of chicken soup with cream of celery soup.

2 Cannisters of Refrigerated Pillsbury Crescent Rolls

1 ½ to 2 cups diced or shredded rotisserie chicken, cooled

¼ cup Dijon mustard

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 small can of water chestnuts, drained and chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

½ Tsp dried rosemary

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, add the shredded chicken, Dijon mustard, soup, chopped water chestnuts, chopped onion, dried rosemary, and shredded cheese. Combine thoroughly. If desired, stir in additional mustard for more Dijon flavor. The mixture should hold together when scooped or spooned.  If it is too creamy, add a little more chicken.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Unroll the crescent rolls and separate them into individual triangles. Place a medium-sized scoop of the chicken mixture onto the middle of the widest part of a crescent roll triangle. Now place your thumbs and index fingers on the widest part of the triangle so that you can roll the triangle over twice or until the narrow point is on top. It’s okay that the filling is not completely covered by the dough. Curve the ends slightly inward. Carefully transfer the filled and rolled crescent triangle onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat the process until the baking sheet has 8 filled crescent rolls on it, placed so that the rolls are not touching. Bake at 350 degrees until the rolls are nicely browned and the filling is hot and bubbly (approximately 30 minutes or so). Allow the rolls to cool for about 10 minutes and transfer to a serving platter. Makes 16 rolls.

Candied Bacon Lollies

You’ve never had a candied bacon lollipop?? Oh, my heavenly stars – – be prepared to make this your newest addiction!

Nonstick cooking spray

1/3 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon water

1 pound thick-cut bacon (about 14 slices)

28 Bamboo skewers (Soaked in cold water for at least 20 minutes)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, maple syrup and cayenne in a medium bowl; stir in the water.

Cut the bacon strips across in half. One at a time, dunk the pieces of bacon in the sugar mixture, wipe off the excess with your fingers, and place the pieces flat on the baking sheet. When the bacon has formed one layer on the pan, thread a skewer through each slice, keeping the slices flat and leaving some of the skewer sticking out at the bottom as a handle.

Top the skewered bacon with a second piece of parchment paper and place an empty baking sheet on top. This keeps the bacon weighted down so it stays nice and flat. (The sheet pan goes directly over the parchment-topped bacon.) Bake until the bacon is cooked through and dark brown around the edges, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking pan to cool.

These make a great presentation when a few at a time are placed in small, individual mason jars (bacon side down and skewers sticking out of the top). Add some toasted cornbread “croutons” for an even more impressive dish!

Devilled Egg Salad Dip

Devilled eggs can be a real pain to make sometimes, especially when the eggshells don’t cooperate and take half the egg whites with them (grrrr!).  Spare yourself the headache of trying to make that perfectly gorgeous platter of devilled eggs and just make it into a dip! Double the recipe for a larger crowd.

7 Hard-boiled eggs, cooled and peeled

¼ Cup mayo

1 Tsp stone-ground mustard (regular mustard is fine, too)

Slice the eggs in half and remove 6 of the yolks into a medium-sized bowl. Set aside the egg whites.

Mash the egg yolks with a fork or potato masher until they have the texture of fine crumbs. Add the mayo and the mustard. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Roughly chop 6 of the egg whites and add to the egg yolks, mixing well. It should look like egg salad. If the mixture is too thin, mash the remaining egg yolk and chop the remaining egg white, and add to the mix. Taste the mixture to see if you would like more mayo or mustard. Add a few sprinkles of salt and pepper, just enough to add a little seasoning. Taste to see if you need a little more.  Transfer the egg salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle the top with ground paprika for color. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Place the serving bowl on a large plate or platter and surround the bowl with “dippers” such as pita chips, crackers, carrot sticks, celery sticks, olives, dill pickle spears, or sweet baby gherkin pickles.

Smoked Salmon Caprese Toast

Who doesn’t love a beautiful caprese salad? The lovely tomatoes, aromatic basil, and luscious mozzarella cheese slices all drizzled with a zesty balsamic vinaigrette were just made for each other. Here’s a take on this classic that adds smoked salmon, thinly sliced lemon, and capers – – all layered on a crunchy piece of toast for a truly impressive and happy appy!

½ pound of chilled smoked salmon, thinly sliced

2 lemons, zested and thinly sliced (retain the zest and remove the seeds)

1 log of sliced mozzarella cheese

2-3 ripe heirloom tomatoes (or ripe Roma/plum tomatoes), sliced (don’t slice too thin or they will become mushy)

Medium or large bunch of good-sized fresh basil leaves

Italian salad dressing

Small jar of capers

Balsamic vinegar

French Bread Baguette (Slice and toast your own, or use packaged bruschetta slices)

Place the mozzarella slices and sliced tomatoes in a single layer in a large baking dish. Drizzle generously with Italian dressing, enough that the mozzarella and tomatoes are coated. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. After 1 hour, remove the plastic wrap and flip the tomatoes and mozzarella over so that the other side gets coated in dressing. Replace the plastic wrap and return the tray to the fridge for another hour.

Remove the baking dish of tomatoes and mozzarella from the fridge and uncover.

Place the toasted baguette slices on a large serving platter or tray. In the following order (from the bottom up) layer one of each of the remaining ingredients on top of each piece of toast:

Tomato slice

Mozzarella slice

Basil leaf

Smoked salmon slice

Lemon slice

A few capers

Once the platter is full of Caprese toast, lightly drizzle balsamic vinegar over the tops of the toast, then sprinkle lightly with the retained lemon zest. Take a picture, because it’s going to be gorgeous!

Tip: Using a slightly sweet balsamic vinegar (such as fig or pomegranate) adds a nice touch.

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