Cranberry Pesto Bleu Cheese Crostinis and Cheddar Crisps with Roasted Grape Relish

Last night was my 8th annual BCGC (Book Club Girls Club) Christmas dinner, when we "allow" our husbands to join in the fun. The group consists of three moms from Montessori preschool, a neighbor, and a friend Connor "picked up" at a local Mexican place when he was a mere seven years old. When I started the group, hardly anyone knew the others besides than me. Today we're all BFFs. What the walls could tell, and no one else knows. And we've certainly consumed some great (CASES) of wine through it all too.

Robyn and I were assigned the appetizer course, and she opted for some awesome cheeses. We decided to bring two appetizers complimentary to the cheeses and the meal, Chicken Marbella from The Silver Palate Cookbook. Interestingly, most of the women favored the Cranberry Pesto Bleu Cheese Crostinis, with the tart dried cranberries contrasting nicely with the creaminess of the blue cheese. Make sure to use a high quality blue since the flavor is predominant. It's easy. Throw everything into the food processor and toast baguette slices spritzed with olive oil.

Everyone was pretty thrilled with the novel concept of roasted grapes. Roasting brings out grapes' sweetness, something I've never done before, and the Cheddar Crisps with Roasted Grape Relish, modified from the new Gourmet Today cookbook, were also a hit. While the cheddar crisps themselves were not difficult to make, it was tricky getting them into the mini muffin pan and next time I need to ensure they have a "dish" to place the grape relish to serve.

Cheddar Crisps with Roasted Grape Relish and
Cranberry Pesto Bleu Cheese Crostini

I am not sure where this recipe originated, but I've significantly modified it over the years. The original has you making pesto, but I simply use pesto I made in the summer and froze.

1 clove garlic
1 cup sweetened, dried cranberries
1/2 cup pesto
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup Mascarpone cheese or cream cheese
1/2 cup blue cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
24 each toasted baguette rounds

Pulse garlic in food processor until finely diced. Add cranberries, pesto, walnuts and red pepper flakes. Pulse until blended. Add Mascarpone and blue cheese and pulse until smooth. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point for a few hours. Spread on toasted baguettes just before serving.

Cheddar Crisps with Roasted Grape Relish
For Cheddar Crisps (these can be made three days in advanced and stored in tighly sealed container)
1 cup coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (preferably white)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.

Blend cheddar, flour, and cayenne in a food processor until combined well. Add butter and blend until dough starts to clump, about 30 seconds. Turn out onto work surface and gently knead until combined well. Using palms of your hands, roll dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rope (about 20 inches long). Cut rope into 24 equal pieces and press each piece onto bottom and halfway up side of a muffin cup.

Bake until golden and slightly puffed in centers, about 10 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then invert onto rack to cool completely. Leave oven on.

For the Grape Relish
1 lb seedless red grapes, stemmed and halved lengthwise (3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/3 cup capers
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeño chile with seeds if you like it hot
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/3 cup pine nuts (1 3/4 oz), toasted

Toss grapes with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon oil in a bowl, then roast on a foil-lined baking sheet until shriveled, about 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature on sheet on a rack.

Toss together grapes, capers, celery, onion, jalapeño, garlic, vinegar, pine nuts, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Spoon relish onto cheese crisps and serve immediately.

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