Recipes: Appetizers

Asparagus & Gruyere Tart

This sophisticated app, shared by our member Jenny, looks beautiful and is so easy to make. You can also use Fontina or other dry, fatty cheeses.

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
1½ pounds medium or thick asparagus

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 400º F.

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16 x 10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges.

Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1-inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at ½-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 8 minutes.

Remove pastry shell from oven and sprinkle with cheese. If needed, trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell. Arrange in a single layer over cheese, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper.

To prevent the edges from over browning, use a thin strip of aluminum foil to cover the edges of the tart before placing in oven. Bake for about 15 minutes until asparagus is tender.

Serve warm or room temperature. Use a pizza cutter for easy serving.

Pairing Suggestion:

Wisconsin is known for its cheese, so this appetizer complements the state’s pastoral settings conveyed in Driftless by David Rhodes, Thank You for All Things by Sandra Kring, or Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Jenny’s signature dish and book club favorite. It’s a tasty and healthy appetizer that doesn’t make you feel like you have to show up at the gym for the next week to burn it all off.

2 teaspoons olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger

1 pound ground turkey breast

5 ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 cups finely shredded napa cabbage

1 cup thinly sliced green onions

¼ cup soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 teaspoon sriracha

⅓ cup chopped cilantro

1 head butter lettuce



  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
  2. Add the turkey, mushrooms, and salt.
  3. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often and breaking up the turkey with a wooden spoon until cooked through.
  4. Add the shredded cabbage and green onions. Cook until the cabbage is just wilted, about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and Sriracha. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.
  6. To serve, carefully remove each individual leaf from the lettuce, place turkey mixture on the leaves and serve with dipping sauce.


Dipping Sauce

¼ cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon fresh shredded ginger

Combine all the ingredients and whisk to combine.


Pairing Suggestions:

We relish Asian culture in food and books. This healthy dish with a lively bite wraps up perfectly with The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and Out by Natsuo Kirino.

Feta Cheese-Walnut Rugelach


Heather serves wonderful dishes when she hosts book club. This recipe was in high demand and is easy to whip up!


1 recipe Savory Cream Cheese Pastry, chilled (recipe below)

8 tablespoons apple butter, divided

1 1/3 cups or feta cheese, divided

1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted, divided*



  1.  Cut each chilled pastry round in half; cover and refrigerate until ready to use
  2.  On lightly floured surface, roll 1 dough half into 10 inch circle (keep remaining dough refrigerated until needed); spread with 2 tablespoons of the apple butter.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the cheese and 1/4 cup of the nuts. Pat filling lightly to form even layer.
  3.  Cut round into 8 wedges (like a pie).  Starting with the wide end, roll up each wedge tightly around filling.  Arrange side-by-side, without touching, on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.**
  4.  Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake fresh or frozen pastries 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature.

*To toast walnuts:  place on baking sheet, bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until pale brown and fragrant.  Cool.

**Can make this pastry ahead of time to this point. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight or freeze 2 hours or until firm. Place rugelach in freezer bags; freeze up to 3 weeks.  When ready to bake, place frozen rugelach on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.


Savory Cream Cheese Pastry


2 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

8 oz cream cheese, softened



  1.  Whisk flour and salt in small bowl. Beat butter and cream cheese in large bowl at medium speed 2 minutes or until fluffy.  At low speed, beat in flour mixture 1 minute or just until dough forms.
  2.  Divide dough in half; shape into 2 flat rounds.  Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight (To freeze, place chilled dough rounds in freezer bag, freeze up to 1 month).

makes 1 1/2 pound dough


Pairing Suggestions:

The sweet and salty of the rugelach recipe blends perfectly with books of a similar taste like Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, and So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Eiger.

Sesame-Soy Meatballs

Amy served this delicious meatball recipe from Cooking Light (November 2010) at our February discussion. It was a hit and everyone wanted the recipe. Enjoy!

1/3 cup minced green onions
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. lower-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
1 Tbsp. chile paste (such as sambal oelek)
1/4 tsp. salt
6 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 lb. ground sirloin

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Combine the first seven ingredients in a large bowl.  Add beef; mix gently to combine.  With moist hands, shape beef mixture into 20 (1 1/2 inch) meatballs.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the meatballs to pan; cook 4 minutes, turning to brown meatballs on all sides. Arrange browned meatballs in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining meatballs. Bake meatballs at 400°F for 7 minutes or until done.

Serve with steamed sugar snap peas and two cups cooked rice tossed with 1 Tbsp. chile paste.


Pairing Suggestions:

Classic Asian flavors, dim sum-style serving, and healthier-than-it-tastes appetizer make this perfect to serve amid discussions of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Croke, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.


Another recipe from Julie with an outrageous name, Atomic Buffalo Turds. Search the internet and you'll find that the name and recipe are not so unusual among the BBQ crowd.

30 Jalapeno peppers
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup pulled pork*
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 Tbs. honey
1 lb. bacon
Penzey's BBQ 3000 or similar rub


Preheat oven to 375°

Remove bacon and cream cheese from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

Mix all ingredients except bacon and BBQ rub.

Split jalapenos lengthwise and remove seeds. Fill each half with cream cheese mixture. Place two jalapeno halves back together.

Cut bacon in half and wrap around each appetizer. Sprinkle with rub.

Bake 20 minutes or until desired crispness for bacon.


*For a good pulled pork recipe, use the North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork from Allrecipes. Just skip the last step dealing with making the vinegar-based bbq sauce. It's not needed for this recipe.


Pairing Suggestions:

Don't judge a book by its cover or a recipe by its name, surprise endings leaving you wanting more. Dish these up with An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps


Amy brought this yummy dish to our holiday party and everyone wanted the recipe. She said, "I got this recipe off the internet a few years ago from Paula Deen I believe. But, for all of you Penzey's fans, I noticed that Penzey's has a slightly different version. Instead of the chili powder, their recipe calls for their "BBQ 3000" spice."
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. packaged sliced bacon
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Penzey's BBQ 3000
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Cut bacon into thirds and then separate into individual slices. Wrap each chicken cube with bacon and secure with a wooden pick. Stir together brown sugar and BBQ spice. Dredge wrapped chicken in mixture. Coat a rack and broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place chicken wrap on rack in broiler pan. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until bacon is crisp.


Pairing Suggestions:

Serve this sassy recipe with southern-inspired creations like The Help by Kathryn Stockett, A Confederancy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and Big Stone Gap by Adrian Trigiani.

Eggplant and Rosemary Foccacia

All measurements are approximate. I have made foccacia with premade pizza dough dozens of times. You really can mess around with the recipe to your tastes. Enjoy! --Allison B.

2 bags Sorrentino dough (from Sendiks)
1 can tomato paste
1 eggplant
whole milk ricotta
shredded romano cheese
extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
fresh rosemary

Take eggplant and cut strips of skin off the eggplant (I like the taste of the skin but if you leave it all on it gets tough to bite into without pulling out all the eggplant).  Cut the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices, heavily salt the eggplant on both sides and put between papertowel for 15 + minutes.  Rinse off and pat dry.

I love parchment paper and cook most of my baked goods on it.  Cover one ball of dough with evoo.  Pull stretch and push the dough to cover much of a cookie sheet (13X9?).

Cover dough with a thinnish layer of ricotta and dot with tomato paste.  (I used 1/3 to 1/2 a tiny can).  Layer on eggplant.  Cover with second pizza covered in oil.  Stretch as much as you can with your hands to fully cover the bottom layer.  Once covered with the second pizza dough stretch the whole bread out starting the the middle and push to sides of the pan.  There will be an inch plus between the end of bread and the end of the pan. 

Liberally pour oil on the bread.  Slice 1/2 and onion in rings, cut the rings a little.  Put onion, rosemary, and romano cheese (1/4 + cup maybe) on bread. 

Cook as directed on pizza bag but it will take longer because of how thick the bread will be.

Chocolate-Covered Bacon

Jenny made this for the book club holiday party. The original recipe was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sunday, Octboer 26, 2008 on page 4N.

Makes about 12 pieces.

½ pound high-quality chocolate (sweeter is better)
1 pound apple-wood-smoked bacon
Coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper, making sure paper doesn't hang over edges or touch sides of oven. Place bacon on parchment. Slices may touch, but make sure they don't overlap.

Bake about 15 minutes in preheated oven, or until bacon begins to turn slightly golden. Watch closely.

"You want a bacon that isn't floppy, but you don't want it to be too brittle, either. You might have to eat a couple pieces to make sure it's just right."

While bacon is baking, melt chocolate in double boiler set over hot water. Or melt chocolate in microwave at full power (100%), stirring every 20 seconds and watching carefully.

Lay cooked bacon gently in melted chocolate, leaving one end free of chocolate. That end is the "handle."

Apply chocolate to the upward facing side of the bacon with a pastry brush. "Allow any excess chocolate (what is excess chocolate, really?) to drip off or help it with your brush."

For the best flavor balance, apply chocolate liberally.

Lay chocolate-covered bacon strips on cool baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Sprinkle very lightly with sea salt. Cool in refrigerator for one hour, or until chocolate is firm.

One final note from Dorsch: "I must stress that quality ingredients are absolutely key to this being the surprising treat that it is, as is true for so many dishes with simple ingredients."