Desert the Desserts

Ask someone to share a holiday recipe and 90% of the time they will share a sweet or dessert recipe. Time to saunter over to the savory side of the holidays and “desert the desserts.”  My plan is to accent the “beginning” (appetizers) instead of the “end” (desserts) of the eating spectrum. These recipes are quick to assemble and easy to prepare — no exotic ingredients required! 

For this recipe, don’t even try to tell me you (or someone in your family) doesn’t like dates! This is the recipe to change everything you have ever thought about dates — because everything is better wrapped in bacon! 

Bacon Wrapped Cheese Stuffed Dates 

16 pitted dates (they should be soft and fresh)

¼ cup cream cheese, softened 

¼ tsp. sea salt

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

8 bacon slices, cut in half 

Preheat oven to 400° F. Carefully cut each date lengthwise with a scissors, cutting only one long side of each. In a small bowl, mix cream cheese, sea salt and cinnamon. Stuff dates with about ½ tsp. of the cheese mixture. Tightly wrap each stuffed date with ½ slice of bacon and secure with toothpick.

Place bacon wrapped dates, seam side down, on rimmed baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then use tongs to flip each bacon wrapped date, and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Bacon is done when it looks crispy and dark golden brown. Watch the bacon closely as you may need a few more minutes for the bacon to crisp. Remove from oven, place on a paper towel for a few minutes, then move to serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature (as the cheese is very hot straight from the oven.)

Fresh rosemary is a must for this next recipe and is easily available now. Go on, spend that extra dollar for this ingredient!

Savory Rosemary Cheddar Shortbread Bites

24-30 pieces

8 T. (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1 cup flour

1½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 T. chopped rosemary

Dash cayenne pepper (optional)

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Place all the ingredients in the food processor. Pulse eight times. Run the food processor until the dough has gathered into a ball. Remove the dough, knead it together a bit and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a log about a foot long. Roll it on the plastic wrap to make the log shape. Wrap in the plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350°.

Line two sheet pans with parchment/silicone sheets. Remove the dough from the fridge. Use a sharp knife to slice rounds about 1/3 inch thick. If it's difficult to slice, let it rest for five minutes and try again. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the shortbread is just beginning to brown. Rotate the sheet pans from top to bottom halfway through baking.

Remove from the oven and cool for five minutes on the pan before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely. Taste the shortbread and sprinkle with salt, if desired.

For these truffles, take the time to finely chop the ingredients for the coating — you want to be able to get the maximum amount of that coating on each cheese truffle.

Cranberry Pecan Goat Cheese Truffles

10 oz. soft goat cheese

6 oz. cream cheese

2 tsp. cinnamon

3 T. honey

1 ½ cups chopped pecans, divided

1 cup finely diced dried cranberries

½ cup finely minced fresh parsley

In a large bowl, beat goat cheese, cream cheese, cinnamon and honey until light and fluffy. Add ½ cup chopped pecans, folding to combine. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, toss together remaining pecan chips, dried cranberries and parsley. 

Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out cheese filling, roll into smooth ball, and roll in pecan mixture. Press into the coating as you roll it so you have plenty of coating on each one. Continue until all truffles are coated. Refrigerate cheeseballs until ready to serve. Make these up to three days ahead, making sure to store them in an airtight container. Serve with crackers, warm crostini, on a toothpick or press on top of a Shortbread Bite!

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