Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Month-of-Recipes: Mediterranean Medley

It happens to me every February. Here we are at the end of the month, and I have more recipes left than days to share them. To solve that problem, I combined several with a relationship to the Mediterranean. So you get more than one recipe today! Three in fact. More than that if you count in how to use the leftovers.

To get your party started, I included tzatziki, olive spread, and Greek Greek Yogurt Dip for your appetizer pleasure. A suggestion for an appetizer party is to do it thematically. Break out the ouzo and retsina to serve with these three. To complete the theme, add garlic-basil dipping oil, grapes, cheeses, veggies, crackers/bread, and hummus (no, I’m not sharing my recipe today--maybe another time). Now that’s the way to party Mediterranean-style!

Tzatziki (makes a little more than 1 ¼ cup)

½ medium cucumber, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Drain cucumber shreds and minced garlic, then blot with a paper towel to get rid of excess liquid.

In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Thoroughly blend. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use leftovers on sandwiches or salads. Mix with hard boiled eggs, shredded cooked chicken, or tuna for salad.

Olive Spread (makes more than one cup)

8 ounces cream cheese (low-fat okay), room temperature
Handful green olives with pimiento
Handful of pitted, medium black olives

In mini-food processor pulse olives to chunky. Add cream cheese and pulse until olives are evenly distributed. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Bring to cool (from cold) before serving with crackers and veggies. Leftovers make a terrific sandwich spread with meat and cheese.

Greek Greek Yogurt Dip (makes one cup)

1 cup Honey Greek Yogurt
2 tablespoons Greek Seasoning (on the spice shelf at your grocer)

Mix Greek seasoning into Greek yogurt and blend thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

This is a good dip for fruit or veggies. Serve leftovers on a chicken or ham sandwich instead of mustard or mayo. Use as a creamy salad dressing.

DH’s Ratings: Tzatziki--3 Tongues Up (not a cucumber fan)--tasted “too green” to him; Olive Spread--4 Tongues Up--he liked it better on a sandwich than as an appetizer; Greek Greek Yogurt--3 Tongues Up--as mentioned  earlier, he’s not generally a fan of sweetish appetizers

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Bacon-Wrapped "Stuff"

I was watching an episode of Chopped in which every round had to feature bacon. It reminded me of an upscale version of what has been happening at State Fairs the last few years: How many weird ways can you serve bacon?

On Chopped they had bacon that can sell for $600 a pound in Spain? $600? I’ll never complain about bacon prices at the grocery ever again! And here I thought varieties of bacon meant which company packaged it or whether it was smoked with apple wood! Just goes to show you!

DH is very health conscious, so we don’t have bacon often. In a sop to more healthful eating, I only buy nitrite-free/nitrate-free bacon. Still.

Bacon is addictive--the smell, the taste, the crackling in the pan. There is no flavor comparable. And appetizers made with bacon disappear first from my table. Don’t forget to include Date Bites for Date Nights posted earlier this month if you are doing Bacon-Wrapped Stuff for your party.

Bacon-Wrapped Stuff (makes about 30)

10 strips nitrite-free/nitrate free bacon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
30 “stuff” to wrap: ideas--medium shrimp, whole water chestnuts, tiny potatoes--see Note-, Lil’ Smokies sausages, medium mushrooms, or something else!
[Choose one item or make a combo for a prettier plate]

Set oven to broil and place rack 3-4” from broiler.

Cut bacon strips into third, cross-wise. Toss with brown sugar and set aside for a few minutes.

Wrap “stuff” with bacon. Place on rimmed baking sheet, not touching, seam-side down.

Broil for 8-10 minutes (or until bacon is crispy), turning once. Secure bacon on the “stuff” with toothpicks and serve immediately.

NOTE: If using tiny potatoes, get the smallest you can. You might have to cut bacon strips in halves instead of thirds to cover. Prepare potatoes before wrapping with bacon by cooking 2 minutes in microwave. Cool enough to handle before wrapping. Continue as above to broil.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up for everything but the Lil’ Smokies. He thought the bacon and sausage together was too much. The slight brown sugar sweetness was a nice surprise that he liked a lot, especially on the shrimp.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Cheesy Rosemary Cream Scones


Before we get into today’s appetizer, I have to let you know that Mission Impastable, Kindle-version, went live this week. If you’ve been waiting to read this mystery with recipes, now could be the time. Check it out at

I have a modest reputation among friends and family for my lemon cream scones with cranberries and almonds (archived in the recipe on this blog). Well-deserved, I might add (she says with no sense of modesty).

All I did here was tweak my sweet scone recipe to make a savory one. Take one of your favorite recipes and play with it. Just keep proportions of wet and dry and you’re good to go!


Cheesy Rosemary Cream Scones (2 dozen)

3 cups flour (+ more for kneading)
3 teaspoons baking powder
zest from one lemon
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon rosemary
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1¼ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated; divided
Heat oven to 400°. Prepare two cookie sheets.
Combine flour, baking powder, zest, salt, pepper, and rosemary.
Add cream. Stir until just moistened.
Mix in 1 cup cheese. Knead dough on lightly floured surface 6-7 times until smooth.
Tip: handle scone dough as little as possible to keep it tender.
Divide dough in quarters. Divide each quarter into six balls. Pat each ball flat into a 1.5-2” disk and place at least 2” apart on cookie sheets.
Top with remaining cheese and bake for 10-13 minutes or until golden brown. Serve room temperature.   

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up  He liked the savoriness of the spice and cheese scones in contrast to the breakfast scones I usually make. Any leftovers get eaten with soup or served as a side bread with meals.

A Month-of-Appetizers: Baked Brie

So sorry to be posting this late. Every year it seems I get behind and lose a day. But no worries. Later today, I’ll put up a second recipe. Wouldn’t want you to be cheated!

I’ve been making a version of baked Brie for decades after a friend served it at her party in the 1970’s. The origin of the recipe is lost in the mists of time, but there are dozens of versions via the Internet these days. Just keep on trying until you find the one you like. (Pick me! Pick me!)

My version for you has cinnamon to kick it up a notch from what the neighbors serve as baked Brie. Also, you might be tempted to just dump on pecans without toasting them. Unh unh. Pecans change flavor with toasting.

So your choice: pedestrian, no toasting; spectacular, toasted pecans. Also, put away the Triscuits and Wheat Thins. You want a cracker that is bland and will not compete with the cheese flavors. You can use day old French bread, too.

As an added benefit this is another one of those two-fer appetizers: the umami taste of cheese and the sweet taste from brown sugar and honey perk up the appetizer party.

Baked Brie

1 small round of Brie (~ 8 ounces give or take)
½ cup pecan pieces
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Carr’s Water Crackers (or some other high quality, plain cracker)

Heat oven to 350°. Put a square of parchment paper on a baking sheet and center the Brie on it.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes until oozy to the touch. Remove from oven to the heat-proof serving dish you’ll be using to serve on. Let sit about 20 minutes.

Spread pecans on same baking pan (sans parchment paper) and toast for about 5-10 minutes (until fragrant). Alternatively, toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly to keep from burning. When fragrant, remove from heat.

Mix brown sugar and honey in a small pan and heat to a boil over medium heat. Let it get foamy (a couple of minutes) and then stir in cinnamon.

Pour evenly over Brie (letting some drip over sides) and sprinkle on the pecans. Serve immediately.

DH’s Rating: 3½ Tongues Up  He doesn’t like his cheese sweetened. Too bad. More for me!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Pumpkin Soup Shots with Coconut Cream

Talk about your different appetizer! While looking for new pumpkin soup recipes (my current fave is below), I came across a recipe for Pumpkin-Carrot Shooters at

It intrigued me to think of soup as an appetizer, but why not, eh? So I took the concept (and their coconut cream recipe) and adapted it to smaller glasses filled with my pumpkin soup. I have lots of these fancy cylinder shot glasses (you can buy sets that include teeny spoons) because I serve lots of mini-desserts. Each glass holds just over ¼ of a cup. Perfect for an appetizer shooter!

Pumpkin Shots with Coconut Cream (makes 12 shots)

½ small yellow onion, grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup heavy cream

In a medium pan, heat the grated onion in olive oil over medium heat for one minute.

Add pumpkin, broth, spice, and salt. Stir to combine completely. Stir in cream slowly. Heat to a simmer.

Emulsify with your immersion blender, food processor, or regular blender. Refrigerate. When cold, pour into shot glasses. Bring to room temperature. Top with Coconut Cream right before serving. Demonstrate to guests how to shoot the soup!

Coconut Cream (enough for 12 shot glasses)

¼ cup heavy whipping cream
dash of salt
¼ cup coconut milk

On medium speed, beat cream and salt to foamy. Add coconut milk. Beat until soft peaks form.

DH’s Rating: 3 Tongues Up  He doesn’t really like pumpkin soup (thus my search to find the perfect one he will like), and he thought soup as an appetizer was a pretty bad idea. “So people have to juggle two glasses and a plate?” He might have a point. He thinks it should stay as a first course sitting at the dinner table. With a spoon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Beef Empanadas My Way

Empanadas are crescent-shaped dough pockets filled with spicy meat and baked or fried. I used to make these a lot, but had almost forgotten about them until I was preparing for this Month-of-Appetizers.

My memory of my creation of them is that we had empanadas in a restaurant, and, as I often do, I said, “I could make these!” So I did. Or…rather, I made a version that resembled what the chef had prepared. But not!

Beef Empanadas My Way (makes about 12-15)

1 pie dough
½# lean ground beef
½ medium onion, finely diced
salt/pepper to taste
1 clove garlic minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa chile powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 handful raisins
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a cookie sheet.

Cut the pie dough with a 2 ½” -3” biscuit cutter to make 12-15 circles of dough. Set aside.

Cook ground beef in a small skillet, breaking up until it is tiny pieces and cooked through. Remove beef and add onion to the skillet. Cook until translucent. Add beef back in, add salt and pepper, and stir.

Add minced garlic to the mixture and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in brown sugar, cocoa chile powder, and cinnamon. Remove from heat. Add in raisins.

Fill dough circles with just enough empanada mixture so you can fold over to make crescents. Crimp the open edge to seal.  [You will probably have some meat mixture left. I often mix with cooked rice for lunch.]

Brush each empanada with egg wash. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan and serve immediately.

DH’s Rating: 3 ½ Tongues Up  He likes them, but he never requests them like some dishes. He’s not crazy about having fruit with his beef. As I said before, bless his heart, he’ll eat anything.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Mini-Quiches

One of the options for the Month-of-Recipes focus was eggs. One person thought that would be a good topic. One. Someday, I’ll share multiple egg recipes just to show people the range.

In our household, quiche is on the menu about once a month. And when there’s a party going on…all I can say is, why would you buy those little frozen quiches that taste like they were frozen at the same time as wooly mammoths?

Are these a bit more work? Surely. But the compliments will flow like beaten egg yolks!

Sharon’s Quiche (makes more than 12 mini quiches)
1 piecrust
¾ cup Asiago cheese, shredded, divided
4 strips crisp bacon, crumbled
1 cup fresh spinach, finely shredded
½ cup mushrooms, diced
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 large green onion, diced
1 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375°. Cut rounds from piecrust to fit in the bottom of the muffin pan.
Put piecrust in pan gently. If you press it in too hard it will be difficult to get it to release.

Sprinkle bottom of each round with ¼ cup of the Asiago cheese. Put bacon crumbles over cheese.

In a small skillet, sauté the spinach and mushrooms. Drain. Put spinach/mushroom mixture on top of bacon.

Whisk together eggs and cream. Add onions, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix in ¼ cup cheese.

Pour over veggies. Sprinkle last ¼ cup of cheese over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes-one hour until risen, brown, and done in middle (insert knife to check when middle doesn’t jiggle when you move pan).

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up  DH loves my quiche as a whole pie or in mini form. I think it’s because of my secret ingredient--nutmeg!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Nutella Brownie Bites

I think I will put this recipe into Prime Rib and Punishment, the second book in my culinary mystery “Dinner is Served” series. Again, the perfect appetizer party has all five flavors, and when the sweet one is so tiny, it isn’t nearly so damaging as having a piece of cake or pie. I can see Alli making these as a challenge to her cooking school students to come up with a mini-dessert.

There are bunches of recipes on the Internet for Nutella brownies and other goodies. This brownie version is one I created, but all Nutella brownie recipes share some of the same ingredients and proportions. Duh.

If you haven’t used Nutella yet, why not? The chocolate-hazelnut spread is relatively new to this country, but well-known in others. These brownies are just one of the ways to explore this taste treat!

Nutella Brownie Bites (makes 12 mini-brownies)

½ cup Nutella                           ¼ cup mini choc chips
1 large egg                                ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon oil                           ½ cup chopped nuts
5 tablespoons flour

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup mini muffin pan with paper or foil liners or spray with Pam.

Put the Nutella, egg, and oil in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and well blended. Add the flour and whisk until blended. Add chocolate chips, cinnamon and nuts.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin (about 3/4 full).

Bake until a toothpick comes out with wet, gooey crumbs, about 11 to 12 minutes (longer for a chewier brownie).

Set on a rack to cool completely. Serve immediately or cover and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Usually I sprinkle on powdered sugar to make them prettier.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up! A two-bite treat is perfect for him after dinner, too, not just at an appetizer party. That’s why he looks the way he does, and why I…well, don’t!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Tortilla Pinwheels

We discovered a couple of years ago that you can buy fresh tortillas, ready to fry up (in order to cook them; they’re raw), in the refrigerated section of our grocery. Ours are near the eggs, but ask if you can’t find them.

Like with anything else, cooking up your tortillas fresh is a bunch better than the ones filled with preservatives sitting on the grocery shelf for weeks. Sure, I use them, the already prepared tortillas, too, for convenience and fast meals.

But whenever I can, I fry tortillas up fresh in less than a minute. Truly!

When DH goes off hiking, I sometimes send this along. He wants something satisfying, but not too heavy. Perfect for a trail or trailer snack!

Tortilla Pinwheels (serves 2)
1 flour tortilla
1 tablespoon Cream Cheese Spread (recipe below), plus a dab more for sealing
4 ultra-thin slices of roast beef (lunchmeat or deli section)
handful of baby spinach
1 cheese stick

Spread the cream cheese spread on the tortilla, reserving the dab for the end.

Cover the tortilla with roast beef slices as much as possible. Overlap if you must or tear to fill in bare spots on the tortilla.

Layer on spinach in the same fashion as the roast beef. Lay the cheese stick near one edge of the tortilla but make sure it is shorter than the tortilla in that place.

Roll-up tightly, tucking in spinach and meat where needed. When done rolling, put a dab of cream cheese spread along the folded edge and press together to seal. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour.

Remove plastic wrap and, at an angle, slice the rolled tortilla in half and then in half again. Put the four roll-ups on a small plate and serve.

Cream Cheese Spread
8 ounces cream cheese (low fat okay)
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (not creamy)

Soften cream cheese at room temperature. Vigorously stir in horseradish. After use, cover and refrigerate.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up! DH loves these. They are easy to pick up, flavorful with a wide-range of tastes in each bite, and they are pretty, too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Pasta Shells with Tuna Salad

I love pasta. So when I named my first culinary mystery, Mission Impastable, it was an homage to my favorite way to carb out! Not every recipe in Mission Impastable is pasta, but pasta dominates the recipe list.

On my MI business card, I include a recipe from the book, “Lasagna Roll-Ups”, on the back. Hopefully people won’t be throwing away that card!

 So how could I do a Month-of-Appetizers without at least one pasta recipe? Impastable!

Pasta Shells with Tuna Salad (about 12 servings)

12 large pasta shells
12-ounce can of chunk light tuna in water, drained
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup salsa (choose your heat level)
4 green onions, thinly sliced green and white parts
handful of cilantro, shredded
fresh pepper
¼ cup pepperjack cheese, shredded or grated

Cook pasta shells to al dente per package directions. Drain and cool, separated, on a platter.

Mix tuna, mayo, and salsa thoroughly, breaking up tuna chunks to even size. Add onions, cilantro, and pepper and blend in. Fill pasta shells with tuna mixture. Top with cheese. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

DH’s Rating: 4 Tongues Up. DH liked the flavor, but he wanted to eat them with a fork. No, no, no. This is not fork food, but finger food. He doesn’t like to lick his messy fingers like I do.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Black Bean Bites

Being in the desert southwest for nearly 25 years and getting hooked up with DH several years earlier than that has changed my cooking style and ingredients considerably. I’ve lived in every section of the country except the Pacific Northwest. One of my favorite activities (Oh, stop it! You knew I was weird.) is grocery shopping in my new locale.

In the deep South for instance, I was amazed at the types and brands of grits for sale. In the desert Southwest, you can buy bags of beans and rice at the grocery store. A quick trip around a store, really looking at products, gives a sense of the “flavor” of the area, even in a more homogenous society via advertising. Local tastes, so to speak, will still prevail.

My own little desert rat DH loves Sonoran desert cuisine. Not nearly so hot as Tex-Mex or New Mexico cuisine, the chilies in Sonoran food tickle the palate rather than scorch it off.

To that end, I have learned to cook differently than farm country Ohio where the bottle of hot sauce sat on the table to give some zip to bland foods. The first time I ever cut fresh chilies . . . well, that’s a sad/funny tale for another time. Today, I share a variation on my Hermosillo Salsa (see link on the side to the YouTube cooking school video) for bite-sized snacking. This is a hearty, protein-laden appetizer I pair with grapes.

Black Bean Bites (makes about 30)

½ cup black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup Mexicorn, drained
1 Roma tomato, finely diced
1 tablespoon canned chilies (choose your heat level--I use mild)
handful of fresh cilantro, shredded
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lime juice
zest of ½ lime
Scoopable tortilla chips (Tostitos is one brand)

Thoroughly blend beans, corn, and tomato. Stir in chiles, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice and zest. Refrigerate for at least two hours, giving a stir after one hour. Serve by placing the mixture into individual depressions of the chips.

Tip: Sitting for a while can make the chips soggy. Fill only enough for a couple per person initially. You can always fill more chips quickly if needed.

DH’s Rating: Five Tongues Up! This is one of his all-time favorites. Any leftovers are gone the next day.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Pumpkin Pie Fruit Dip

I write a food column, “The Quick Cook”, for a small town newspaper in Arizona, The Pinewood News. I publish one column a month. I guarantee to make the cooking life easier with my Quick Cook Tips and simple recipes. I will not live long enough to write all the columns I want to do!

In the past two months, I made the case for not buying the very expensive spice blends (which you bought for one specific recipe); rather, likely the person with a decent spice shelf can concoct the combos with existing bottles of spices bought, mostly, for one recipe.

Today’s appetizer makes use of one of the most ubiquitous of those little jars: pumpkin pie spice. For the pumpkin pie fruit dip, you can use the commercial spice blend, but below the recipe, I share my pumpkin pie spice combo to use instead! A two-fer today!

Pumpkin Pie Fruit Dip
1¼ cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
8 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup vanilla Greek yogurt (or honey Greek yogurt)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
Apple and pear slices
Graham crackers

With a mixer on low speed blend the pumpkin puree with the confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add yogurt and pumpkin pie spice. Mix in thoroughly. Pour into the serving dish and refrigerate at least an hour. Serve with fruit and chocolate graham crackers.

Pumpkin Pie Spice  (makes about ½ cup)
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground cloves

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container away from light.

DH’s Rating: 3 ½ Tongues Up  DH isn’t a huge pumpkin fan but he does like that this is a relatively healthful dip (if you don’t count the sugar!).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries

Here we go again with that umami taste moderated this time with a sweet. This recipe is a cousin to the cheese puffs shared earlier this month.

My writing critique partner told me about this treat she had at a writing group meeting she attended. The savouries had apricot jam in the thumbprint depression, not figs. She went on-line to find a recipe, knowing me oh-so-well! Savouries, by the way, fit in the food category with salty or spicy foods.

She handed this recipe for Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries over to me from The Runaway Spoon and posted at Food52 ( I went on-line and found a variety of recipes for blue cheese thumbprint crackers. The main difference seems to be in the amount of butter used. This one is half what another site calls for.

Obviously one can modify the filling to fit individual tastes. And how pretty would that tray be if you put a variety of fillings in them? Imagine strawberry, lemon curd, and blueberry! It makes three dozen so there are lots of ways to fill them. Cheese and fruit is a natural pairing, so go ahead and experiment to find the flavor and color combo you like best. I included the recipe as written from the website. But play with it. I did!

Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries (about 3 dozen)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Ground black pepper
Fig preserves, about 3 Tablespoons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the flour, butter, blue cheese and a few grinds of black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the dough just comes together and starts to form a ball.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to pull the dough together. Roll out to 1/8 inch thick with a floured rolling pin. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter and transfer the rounds to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using the back or a round half-teaspoon measure or your knuckle, make an indentation in the top of each dough round. Spoon about ¼ teaspoon of fig preserves into each indentation, using your finger to push the preserves as best as possible into the indentations.

Bake the savouries for 10 – 14 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom.

Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, the remove to a wire rack to cool.

You’ll find fig preserves at the grocery – it may be shelved with the “fancy” jams and jellies. You can make these a day ahead and keep them in two layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container.

DH’s Rating: 4 Tongues Up  He liked blue cheese well enough, but he preferred the cheese puffs made with cheddar and no fruit filling. Philistine!

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Chocolate Cinnamon-Sugared Pecans

Happy Valentine’s Day! And what would today be without a sweet treat, especially a chocolate one?

If preparing an appetizer array, remember you need all five tastes, so this one could be for “sweet”. Additionally, I count it as a health food. You have your dairy (egg whites are where the protein is), your nuts, your chocolate, your cinnamon. And little fat (other than the chocolate). See! A health food!

Chocolate Cinnamon-Sugared Pecans
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups pecans halves
1 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
12-ounce package Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers

Preheat oven to 250°. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk egg white until frothy. Whisk in vanilla until fully blended. Stir in pecans and evenly coat them.

Mix brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon (and red pepper flakes if using) in a small dish. Pour over egg-coated pecans and mix to evenly coat the nuts.

Spread nuts evenly, without touching if possible, on baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, turning after 30 minutes. Let cool.

Melt the dark chocolate wafers according to package directions. Put cooled nuts into the chocolate and mix to evenly coat nuts with chocolate. Spread again on the baking sheet and allow to set up (about an hour).

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up  DH is the chocoholic in the family. I love chocolate; he LOVES chocolate! He liked both versions, but being a Southwest guy, the version with red pepper flakes is his favorite.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Month-of-Recipes: My Way 8-Layer Bean Dip

My dear mother-in-law, Fran, was not, she would admit, enamored of cooking. She did it. She fed her family well, but she took little joy from the process. I think I was always a bit of a puzzlement to her.

But decades ago, soon after we moved from Iowa back to DH’s home state of Arizona, Fran served a delicious appetizer. I have no idea where she got her Seven-Layer Bean Dip recipe (there are plenty of versions on the Internet now), but I know someone gave it to her or she found it in the paper. I know this because, bless her heart, she didn’t play with food like I do to create new recipes.

So, to the creator of that first recipe for Seven-Layer Bean Dip, I give a tilt of the spoon. But I never follow the recipe, so here is my version of Fran’s great appetizer.

To make my 8-Layer version more healthful, I have substituted a few ingredients with others. Fran used a can of refried beans as her base. I puree a can of black beans. She used sour cream. My dip has Greek yogurt instead. I don’t use guacamole, but I do mash up avocados with garlic salt.

Break out your favorite chips and have a party ‘cuz this makes a platterful! Put out some buttercrunch lettuce cups for people to use instead of chips. Yummers!

8-Layer Bean Dip (probably serves a dozen people)
2 avocados, mashed
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 cans black beans, drained and pureed
4 green onions, sliced thinly, white and green part
1 large can black olives, sliced (you’ll have some left)
4 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 small can green chilies, pick your heat level
1 cup Mexican blend cheeses, grated

Mash the avocados to a fine paste and blend in garlic salt. Set aside to let flavors blend.

Drain and rinse the black beans. Puree. Some small chunks are okay.

Get out a large dinner plate and spread the pureed black beans to an even thickness. Keep beans at least an inch from the plate edge.

Sprinkle the green onions evenly over the beans. Place the olives on top of the onions, touching one another until the whole layer is black. Each layer should look distinctive from the sides, so don’t cover sides with new layer ingredient.

Top with avocado-garlic spread. Sprinkle the diced tomatoes evenly over the avocado.

Evenly distribute green chilies on the tomatoes. Gently smooth yogurt over the chilies.

Press cheese into the top and sides of the dip. Refrigerate for at least an hour. This dip holds up for as long as it lasts.

DH’s Rating: 6 Tongues Up? Unh unh. No fair changing the rating system. <shrug> I guess it shows how much he loves this appetizer.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Cauliflower Popcorn

Cauliflower intimidates some people I know. All they know to do with it, is cut it up to bits and sprinkle in salads “because it’s good for you”. If pressed, they couldn’t say exactly how it’s good for you, but that’s what “they” say.

And that head of cauliflower languishes in the veggie drawer between salad making sessions until, turning brown, it is tossed in the garbage. Sigh! Okay, they are substantial in size, true. You get your money’s worth with a head of cauliflower. But not if you don’t use it.

Next time you are overwhelmed with the size of your cauliflower, cut off part and make this really yummy soup from Pioneer Woman

Or even better, astound your friends with an appetizer they never considered making. There are two versions of roasted cauliflower--florets and whole. Roasting really changes the flavor of cauliflower. Try the recipe here for the florets, but a good recipe for whole roasted cauliflower (to serve as a dinner side dish) can be found here:

The recipe for Cauliflower Popcorn comes from a posting at “Cooks R Us”, a Facebook cooking group run by Evie da Boss, but recipes for cauliflower popcorn or cauliflower poppers are all over the Internet.

Cauliflower Popcorn
1 head of cauliflower
Butter-flavor cooking spray
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.

Cut the head of cauliflower in half and remove the tough core and green parts.

Break the head apart into bite-sized pieces and arrange on the baking pan without touching, if possible.

Spray the cauliflower pieces with the butter-flavor cooking spray. Sprinkle on turmeric, fresh ground pepper, and salt.

Bake 20-30 minutes until lightly browned. Serve immediately.

[NOTE: This messy due to the turmeric so serve wet wipes along with the dish.]

Oh, and just how is cauliflower “good for you”? It is one of the cruciferous veggies you should be eating at least 2-3 times a week (1.5 cups per serving). Cruciferous veggies help your body detox, build your anti-oxidant system, and help fight inflammation. Cauliflower is also high in a lot of necessary nutrients. In fact, 1 cup of cooked cauliflower provides more than 73% of your daily Vitamin C requirement. So eat that cauliflower as many ways as you can!

DH’s Rating: 2 Tongues Up  Nah, he prefers it raw in his salad. Too bad!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Month-of-Recipes: Chicken Cupcake Bites

I’ve written about chicken and turkey cupcakes before, so how could I leave them out of this line-up? This variation has some ingredients modifications and is baked in a mini-muffin pan to keep these bite-sized. If you don’t have a mini-muffin pan, you can use a regular one, of course. But a regular-sized chicken cupcake is probably more than you want for an appetizer.

So go buy one of those little pans. I use mine as much as the regular size since we like teeny dessert bites, too.

Chicken Cupcake Bites (makes 24)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ teaspoon salt

8 oz cream cheese, softened
½ medium onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon tarragon
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
1½ cup cooked chicken, finely shredded

Preheat oven to 375°.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, butter, tarragon, yogurt, and salt to make a soft dough. Set aside to rest while you prepare the chicken filling.

Mix cream cheese, onion, garlic, tarragon, and red pepper flakes together. Reserve ½ cup cheese. Add remainder to cream cheese mixture. Add chicken. Stir thoroughly.

Lightly spray the muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Divide the dough into 24 equal-size balls. Roll or press balls into circles. Press dough into muffin cups bringing some dough up over the top edge.

Divide chicken mixture among the biscuits. Tuck the top edges over the chicken mixture so it is partially covered. Top with reserved cheddar cheese.

Bake for ~20 minutes or until dough is lightly browned.

Lift out of the muffin pan and put on a platter. Serve immediately.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up. He likes these for appetizers, for dinner, or for lunch while hiking. Tasty, filling, and satisfying. What more could you ask for? Oh, and people WILL ask you to share this recipe!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Month-of--Recipes: Cheddar Cheese Puffs

At one of our neighborhood appetizer parties, Joan Alf brought these addictive little guys. I could not believe how much flavor was packed into the one-bite treat. Of course I asked for the recipe, which she graciously shared. And of course I make them every time I can.

I am especially attached to this treat because of a very personal connection. I had a stroke almost two years ago. My magical and wonderful occupational and physical therapists brought me back from a totally dead right side to the mobility I have today. As part of therapy, they asked what I wanted to get back to doing in my life. “Cooking” was my first response.

The occupational therapists tailored part of my rehab around the kitchen. I went shopping for the ingredients for Cheddar Cheese Puffs, reaching, bending, and lifting at the grocery store. I had to stop and sit three times.

Then, the next day, I made the recipe. The stirring, kneading, and ball-rolling were very difficult. It took me close to an hour to get them ready to bake. Trust me. It won’t take you even close to that!

Cheddar Cheese Puffs
1 cup extra sharp cheddar, shredded
½ cup flour
¼ cup butter, softened
1 big squirt of regular mustard

Preheat oven to 400°.
Combine all ingredients by mixing together then kneading to incorporate evenly. Roll into one-inch balls.
Place at least one-inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Serve immediately.

Note: These are not as good cold. If you have leftovers, reheat in an oven before serving.

I love these Cheddar Cheese Puffs, and so does DH--for a lot of reasons!
DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Month-of-Appetizers: Bruschetta and More

One of my go-to appetizers is bruschetta. We like that it is a relatively healthful appetizer, but even more, it is one of my two-fers: cook once, eat twice.

I make more than we need and use the leftover tomato mixture to toss with hot pasta, Asiago cheese, spinach and maybe some squash. This makes a lovely vegetarian dinner or a great quick summer supper. If you don’t want to have leftover tomatoes to toss with pasta, just cut the recipe in thirds. That should do it. I wouldn’t know for sure, however, since I NEVER cut it!

For appetizer use, I make a bunch of the little boogers and serve with olive oil and dipping bread, some grapes. Voila!

Bruschetta (serves 4 with leftover tomato mixture)
9 Roma tomatoes, chopped fine                       
3 large cloves of garlic, minced                       
3 tablespoons best-quality olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons shredded Asiago cheese, divided
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
8-1” slices of French bread, day old is best

Mix tomatoes, garlic, and 1 tablespoon olive oil together in a bowl. Cover and let sit so the flavors get acquainted while other items are prepared (at least 3 hours).

Slice French bread loaf into 1” pieces. Brush slices lightly with remaining olive oil, and sprinkle on Asiago cheese, reserving one tablespoon for later use.

Put under broiler for a couple of minutes until very lightly browned. Set aside.

Right before serving, spread one teaspoon of the tomato mixture onto 8 bread slices and sprinkle on remaining Asiago cheese.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up  DH had never had bruschetta until I wandered into his life. Now he thinks that is the mainstay of our appetizer parties.