Merlot Meatballs
Merlot Meatballs (By Sherron Watson , Carroll County Times)

It seems like the older I get, the faster time speeds by. In the weeks before each year ends, I spend time reflecting on what I've accomplished and what I wish I had completed. I have to laugh at things that were overzealous to begin with.

Overall, I find myself happy with this past year. It started off different. Pregnancy wasn't in the plan, but we are so delighted with our little bundle of joy. Twists and turns prevented me from doing too many outside activities and I spent a lot of time at home and, toward the end, on bed rest.

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This year I'm planning to get out more. I hope to spend more time with my friends. A girls' night out sounds wonderful; a night in would work, too!

There's something so comforting about being with your closest friends - sharing stories, laughing, eating, drinking your favorite wine and reconnecting.

I am lucky because many of my friends love to eat. We use these gatherings to test, try and share new recipes. We always leave with our bellies full. I hope to get together with my friends more often in the new year.

A night with friends doesn't have to be a huge event or even be planned months in advance. I actually prefer last-minute invites.

In fact, the last-minute girls' night is what I had in mind when deciding on these four easy appetizers.

I don't usually like to choose favorites, but I will here: I love the Merlot Meatballs. The sauce is creamy and full of flavor. In fact, buy an extra baguette to soak up the sauce once the meatballs are all gone - trust me!

I share lots more recipes and suggestions on my blog, Simply Gourmet. Visit online and get inspired for daily meal planning, parties or simple indulgence!

Bacon Ranch Cheesy Bread

Prep. Time: 15 minutes

Bake Time: 30 minutes

1 loaf French bread

1 cup ranch dressing

1 cup crispy bacon pieces

1/4 cup green onions, diced

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2 cups grated jack cheese

Jalapenos (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut French bread on an angle in one direction. Do not go all the way through the bread.

Turn the bread and cross-cut to form squares of bread.

In between cuts, brush with ranch dressing.

In a medium bowl, mix cheese, bacon and green onion.

Separate cuts with fingers and fill with cheese mixture.

Place on a piece of foil and cover with an additional piece of foil.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove top piece of foil and continue baking for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Merlot Meatballs

Makes 16 to 18 meatballs

Prep. Time: 30 minutes

1 bag pre-made meatballs (16 to 18 count)

1/2 cup diced mushrooms, small

1/2 cup diced onions, small

2 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup Merlot wine

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon honey

Bake meatballs according to package directions.

In a large saute pan on medium-high heat, melt butter; add garlic, mushrooms, salt/pepper and onion. Cook until onion is clear.

Turn heat down to medium, and add wine, cream, honey and parsley.

Add meatballs and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced and thickened.

Serve in a large bowl, over noodles or in individual serving dishes.

Goat Cheese and Salami Appetizer

1 small package flavored goat cheese (I used cranberry)

20 slices Genoa salami

20 green grapes

20 thin slices cucumber

Spread goat cheese on each piece of salami.

Lay a slice of cucumber on goat cheese.

Add one grape. Using a toothpick to secure, fold sides of salami up around grape and pierce toothpick through all layers.

Cantaloupe and Prosciutto Crostini

Prep. Time: 15 minutes

Bake Time: 15 minutes

16 slices baguette-style bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 slices mozzarella cheese, cut in half

1/2 cantaloupe

8 slices prosciutto

Flavored vinaigrette (optional)

Mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut bread into 1/4-inch thick slices. Brush each side with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake bread for 10 minutes. Remove, add 1/2 slices of mozzarella cheese and return to oven for 5 more minutes.

While cheese is melting, use a potato peeler to make thin slices of cantaloupe. Cut prosciutto pieces in half.

Remove crostini from oven and lay a folded piece of prosciutto on top of cheese. Add folded cantaloupe and top with a small leaf of mint.

Optional: Add a drop or two of balsamic vinegar. I used cherry.

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I received a note from a reader asking about the chocolate pretzel cookie recipe I shared in last month's issue.

In the recipe, I forgot to include when to add the cocoa mixture, which is right after you add the egg. If added at any time during the process of making the dough, it will not alter the cookie in any way, and most bakers won't have an issue with just adding the mixture.

Sherron lives in Cape St. Claire with her family. Hungry for more? You can find Sherron online at http://www.simply-gourmet.com.

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