Retro Appetizer Bonanza

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cheese mousse on a white plate with green and red garnishI oftentimes imagine myself living in a bygone era. I love the idea of being a Donna Reed-style housewife, rocking a half-apron, and making appetizers that thoroughly explore my love of cheese…*sighs wistfully* When I was tasked with finding some fun, retro appetizers in honor of we heart this Mad Men week, I knew I could come up with something spectacularly retro. I plumbed the depths of my vast vintage cookbook collection. I passed over such offerings as “The Ground Meat Cookbook” and “Cooking Magic with Sour Cream and Buttermilk” and managed to find a few great ideas for your own Mad Men viewing party.

mini cheese balls on a silver two tiered tray

There were several things that kept showing up throughout the cookbooks: mini cheese balls, canapes, and things made with unflavored gelatin. Since I just HATE to limit myself, I decided to go with all three!

Mini Cheese Balls
There are endless variations for this, but the key ingredient is cream cheese. The best way to mix these up is with a food processor, but a hand held mixer will do well, too, just make sure that ingredients are chopped up finely before mixing. After blending mixture, refrigerate 1 hour, then form into balls using rounded tablespoons and roll into topping indicated.

Ham & Swiss Balls
1/2 c. shredded Swiss Cheese
1/2 c. minced ham (I used 6 slices of deli ham)
1 oz. cream cheese
1/2 tsp. brown mustard
Roll into finely chopped fresh chives (one package of chives required).

Tangy Cheese Balls
7 oz. cream cheese
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar
1/2 tsp. Tabasco
Roll into finely chopped walnuts (I pulse one package of nut topping in the food processor for a few seconds and this works out perfectly).

Burning Bush
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 small yellow onion
Roll in minced dry beef (you can find this in the aisle with Spam–if it is in a solid form, pulse it in the food processor until it is in fine pieces).

canapes cookies on a blue and white plateCanapes
Canapes are basically decorative finger foods that are made up of bread or toast with some sort of topping. They’re usually salty or spicy (to encourage drinking—they were apparently quite popular during cocktail hours). I find that the best way to make these is by using a soft bread to sandwich the spread in between and then use a cookie cutter to create fun shapes. That small pumpernickel bread they sell in your deli section is great for canapes, just toast them at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes. You can even use crackers if you’d like. The key is to make them small, flavorful and pretty. You can use any filling and just be creative.

Bacon Horseradish
4 oz. cream cheese
1/8 c. bacon pieces
1 tsp. prepared horseradish
Beat with hand mixer, spread on toasted pumpernickel, top with more bacon pieces.

Cheesy Olive
4 oz. cream cheese
6 sliced green olives
1/4 c. shredded cheddar
Beat with hand mixer, spread on round cut out of bread, top with bread cut out with doughnut cutter, place sliced green olive in hole.

Salmon Avocado
1/2 c. flaked cooked salmon
2 T. mayo
1/2 T. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt, dash pepper
1/2 small finely minced onion
Mix well with fork. Take 1/2 c. avocado, mash with 1 T. lemon juice. Spread salmon mixture on toast round, spread layer of avocado on top, garnish with sliced pimentos.

Finally, the most edible/least frightening thing I could find using unflavored gelatin: Fabulous Cheese Mousse (this is how it was billed in the cookbook)

  • Combine 1/4 c. cold water and 1 envelope unflavored gelatin into small bowl, set aside and let soften for 5 minutes. Dissolve completely by placing bowl over very hot water.
  • Beat 4 oz. Roquefort (or blue) cheese with 3 oz. Camembert (or brie) cheese with hand mixer until creamy.
  • Add 1 egg yolk, 1 T. sherry, and 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce and blend until mixture is smooth.
  • Add dissolved gelatin to cheese mixture, blending thoroughly.
  • In separate bowl, beat 1 egg white until rounded peaks are formed.
  • In a chilled bowl, beat 1/2 c. chilled heavy cream until it resembles whipped cream (soft peaks). Fold egg whites and whipped cream into cheese mixture until evenly combined.
  • Spoon into small (1 pt.) Jello mold that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Chill in refrigerator until firm. Loosen mold by placing in hot water. Unmold onto chilled serving plate and serve with crackers.

Keep in mind that presentation is everything! I’m sure Betty Draper wouldn’t be caught dead serving something without radish roses! Garnishing is half the recipe. Be creative and have fun with it!


  • krista

    Lives in the middle of nowhere with her amazing hubby and two codependent dogs that love to hate each other. She enjoys dance parties of one and last minute road trips, prays for Angela Lansbury's immortality and can never own enough blush. She averages one "Silence of the Lambs" quote a week and feels no shame over this. Perhaps she should. skin tone: NW15 skin type: sensitive/oily favorite beauty product: Blush, lots and lots of blush


  1. I think those balls look and sound delicious! And wouldn’t they be worth it to make just to hear people say that all night “why, your balls are delicious!”

    The Fabulous Cheese Mousse scares me though…

    Can we just give it up for Krista everyone? She really threw herself in this project. I mean, look at that garnish!

  2. My balls were delicious! :)
    Don’t fear the FABULOUS cheese mousse! I will say, if you don’t like blue cheese, it’s probably not for you. I love blue cheese, though, so I didn’t have a problem with it.
    A quick tip for those daring enough to try the cheese mousse: whenever you remove it from the jello mold, if the mousse doesn’t look smooth, use a pastry brush to “paint” out any blemishes.

  3. KRISTA YOU ROCK!!!! Look how gorgeous those platters are.. the radish garnish is the ultimate culinary accordion rose pretty!! & your Mousse!!

    & the shaped sandwiches.. I want to come over to your house for a cocktail party!!! :)

    Everything sounds & looks divine!! I bet you would throw a Mad Fabulous High Tea!!!

  4. Wow – Krista these pictures are amazing! How did you ever move after eating all that fabulous cheese? And how did women stay in shape serving those kinds of foods?

    The mousse is a little frightening – I’m not a fan of geletan quivering, gelly cheese is just odd! But, it is topped with green olives, so how bad could it be? Mmm, olives.

  5. And also, that bacon horseradish canape? That sounds really tasty. I heart Mini sandwiches!

  6. Tyna–honestly, everything was so flavorful, you only needed a taste of everything, so there was no cheese overload. As for the mousse, it was light and fluffy, not gelatinous. I think the unflavored gelatin was just to help it keep its shape and to help bind the ingredients together. I freaking loved the olives on it…it was really good on the toasted pumpernickel *wipes away drool*.

  7. Those look amazing, Krista you must throw the best parties :) I want a heart shaped sandwich! YUM!!!!!!!

  8. I think the blue cheese mousse on toast does indeed sound fabulous! As do the balls. I could pretty much live on cheese, so I’d be very happy with this spread.

    Mad Men week is fun! Can every week be Mad Men week?

  9. I can vouch for the aforementioned appetizers. It’s amazing really that I’m not 400lbs with Krista’s culinary skills.

    The fabulous cheese mousse was very good. It is a very light and fluffy affair. I thought it was going to be thick and have the consistency of say prepackaged dip, but it is definitely a mousse. You really do need to like blue cheese to enjoy this though. If you aren’t a blue cheese lover or are on the fence, be warned that this is an old school recipe and takes a little planning and time to create (I got tired just watching K whipping and folding all of the ingredients).

    The cheese balls were probably my favorite. Ham and swiss were absolutely amazing. The burning bushes were very nice to look at, and they will fulfill your cravings for something salty. (I recommend pairing this one with your favorite beer)

    The canapes were also an aesthetically amazing appetizer (I love alliteration). I mean the presentation was incredible. The cheesy olive was great as was the bacon horseradish (seriously, bacon does make EVERYTHING better).

    Obviously, these dishes were from cookbooks that came out before the AMAs modern guidelines on heart health, so take it easy when enjoying. It’s a dangerously delicious (more alliteration yea!) amount of cheese, salt and bacon in one place.

  10. Krista does throw the best parties! Seriously, if she lived in the 50’s people would be clamoring for invites to her soirees. She would dress like Joan and cook like Betty (or most likely her hired girl.) And you would get all of the best neighborhood gossip from her!
    She truly went above and beyond for her appetizers. It was quite a beautiful spread. My favorite was the Burning Bush (which I think could be appropriately called La Lohan in this day and age.) It could be a bit salty but when spread on a cracker was delightful! I also very much enjoyed the ham and swiss balls. The mousse was a site to behold! But alas, I am not a blue cheese fan so it tasted a bit…footy to me. The food is all in the presentation and as you can tell in the pictures Krista did an amazing job! Thanks for letting me taste test (you may all be jealous of me now!)

  11. Ha – my mind went right to that SNL skit as well!

    Krista, add me to the guest list as well! That cheese ball tower is the balls! Come on, some had to say it.. What an amazing display. Oh, and iIn my opinion, green olives make all foods (and drinks) better. Why do people wrinkle their nose at the poor green olive now?

  12. CB–My cheese ball tower was THE balls! Ha!
    C—I also totally thought about the Schweddy balls…I freaking love Alec Baldwin…

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