Category Archives: Appetizers

Fresh Caprese Salad

 

Ahhh the Caprese Salad. Trending for years in America, but traditionally know as “insalata caprese” for centuries in Italy. Typically served as an “antipasti” or appetizer, rather than a salad, the caprese salad all Italian home cooks know and love consists of homegrown or local tomatoes at the peak of freshness, young garden-grown basil, thick chunks of buffalo mozzarella, and the finest olive oil you can afford.

Be warned, the recipe I am about to share violates some of the Caprese purist rules, including using baby mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. My apologies. For a true, simple, Italian recipe, try In Italy.

But as they have pointed out, Americans rarely will accept a very simple dish as-is. Our culture demands experimentation, ostentation, and exaggeration. We want to feel special, trendy, unique. We want validation for spending ten times on a meal what the ingredients to make it at home would have cost.

Enough of my soap box. Here is my at-home version of insalata caprese, enough for one light lunch portion or an appetizer for two.

Best in late summer, when tomatoes are at their peak of season and basil is cheap (or flourishing on your window sill)

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella
  • 4 oz cubes fresh tomato
  • 1 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 oz olive oil
  • 1 oz balsamic vinegar
  • Garlic salt & Italian seasoning

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Better yet, grow your own basil! It’s an easy plant to tend, in a garden or a container, and is usually quite prolific. Then you can enjoy the fresh scent and taste of basil in sauces, pastas, and pesto year-round.

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Step 1: Put a large handful of basil leaves into a bowl. Slice the mozzarella on top. Cut the tomatoes into chunks and add those. If you’re going for a nice presentation, use a larger ball of mozzarella and larger tomatoes, and slice into thick rounds. Layer these on a dish, alternating red-white-green. Like the Italian flag.

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Step 2: For the purists, at this point you should add some salt and pepper to taste, and just a drizzle of pure, high-grade olive oil. I also sprinkled on Italian seasoning (a little redundant to add dried basil to my fresh basil but hey, I love herbs!), garlic salt (because there isn’t anything that doesn’t taste better with garlic salt on it), and some balsamic vinegar.

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Dig in! That’s all there is to it. This flavor combination is absolutely heavenly. The classic is of course classic for a reason. However, if this isn’t enough to satisfy your curious taste buds, try one of these variations:

  • Caprese Pizza – use the same ingredients, just slice onto a pizza crust, drizzle with olive oil, and bake
  • Caprese Pasta – dice the mozzarella and tomatoes into cooked pasta, warm or cold, sprinkle slivered basil on top
  • Caprese Bruchetta – put the cheese, tomato, and basil on toasted bread or crostini, sprinkle with oil & vinegar & serve immediately
  • Zucchini slices in addition to tomato
  • Heirloom tomato slices in rainbow colors
  • Pesto, parsley, or mint leaves instead of basil

 

Recipe Review: Smashed Potatoes with Avocado Garlic Aioli from Oh She Glows

 

Vegetarianism and Veganism is consistently growing in popularity nationwide as society becomes aware of the health benefits of whole foods and the dangers of processed foods. Along with this awareness comes a rise in health-related blogs and recipes. I’m a big fan, as I’m always in search of new, fun combinations of food. Especially when it’s healthy foods.

Speaking of healthy foods, today the winner of a FREE copy of dietician Sharon Palmer’s book “Plant-Powered For Life” was Katy Dyer!! This book has over a hundred fabulous plant heavy recipes, as well as 52 tips for a year of healthy living habits. Incorporate one tip per week for a total life makeover. Congratulations!

One of my favorite discoveries in terms of new food blogs is the vegan goddess Angela at Oh She Glows. She has oodles of fabulous recipes, almost all of which I am antsy to try myself. Angela has a knack for combinations and substitutions that makes you say “Why didn’t I think of that! Sounds great!”

I reviewed her Chia Fresca last week, and found it to be a very strange beverage. However, it is surprisingly pleasing and a nice change if plain water bores you. In addition, chia seeds have a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, especially useful if you are following a vegan or vegetarian diet and can’t get what you need from fish or eggs.

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This review is my take on her Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Avocado Garlic Aioli.  It is totally vegan, but you would never know it if you weren’t told. Avocado is a fabulous substitute for many dairy products because of its creamy texture, especially when blended. When combined with salsa, it made a satisfying and healthy meal. You could also top with black beans, grilled onions and mushrooms, or steamed broccoli.

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Ingredients:

  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  •  1 tbsp veganaise or plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • Sea salt
  • Diced garnish: green onion, parsley, etc

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Step 1: Rinse the potatoes and poke a few holes with a fork. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Take them out and let cool a little, then smash them with a spoon or bottom of a glass.

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Step 2: In a blender, combine the veganaise, peeled and pitted avocado, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Blend well. If it is not smooth enough, add some  warm water, lemon juice, or olive oil to thin.

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Step 3: Pour 2 tbsp salsa and 2 tbsp avocado aioli over top, and sprinkle with garnish.

This combination is absolutely delightful. The avocado aioli is delicious on its own, and could probably be used anywhere aioli can be used. I loved the salsa, and think adding heated beans as well would perfectly round this out. This would also make a great side dish for many other main courses. Even the meat eater declared this a winner!

Chicken Nests Three Ways: Super Bowl Snacks brought to you by Tyson

 

Word on the street is that this super important football game is happening this weekend. News to me. Glad my mom cares as much as I do (read; not at all) since she is in town!

However, Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips is sponsoring a recipe contest, and of course when she is in town, we have to cook together! So this worked out great.

After much brainstorming and asking friends for ideas, we settled on one of the most versatile bases we know: biscuit cups. The base of all these following combinations is the humble buttermilk biscuit. Then they can be topped with all manner of mouth-watering concoctions.

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The top three: chicken-bacon-ranch, Buffalo chicken dip, and chicken-barbeque-tater tots.

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The Buffalo dip can be served on its own, it is so stinking addictive! Seriously people. Spoons.

Chicken Nests

Ingredients:

  • 1 can biscuits
  • 1/2-1 cups filling
  • Sprinkle of cheese

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Buffalo Chicken Dip

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tyson fully cooked chicken breasts
  • Biscuit dough
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/2 c cream cheese
  • 1/2 c ranch dressing
  • 1/2 c shredded cheddar
  • Hot sauce to taste

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Step 1: In a bowl, mix the sour cream, cream cheese, ranch, and hot sauce. Thaw and chop or shred the chicken breasts, and mix in.

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Step 2: Mix the cheese in well. Use later to fill biscuit cups. Alternatively, you can heat this dip in the microwave or the oven, and serve with chips. Or spoons.

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Step 3: Spread biscuit dough in the bottom of a sprayed muffin or tart tin.  Put about 1 mounded tablespoon into the center. Sprinkle a little cheddar on top.

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Step 4: Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8-11 minutes, until biscuit dough is puffed and slightly browned on top.

 

Chicken Bacon Ranch

Ingredients:

  • Biscuit dough
  • 1-2 Tyson fully cooked chicken breasts
  • 3-4 pieces bacon
  • 2-3 tablespoons Ranch dressing
  • Shredded cheddar cheese

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Step 1: Chop up or shred the chicken. Spread the biscuit dough in the bottom of a sprayed pan.

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Step 2: Cook and drain the bacon, and crunch it up. On top of the biscuit dough, add 1 tbsp chicken, 1 1/2 tsp ranch, and a sprinkle of bacon. Top with a pinch of cheddar.

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Step 3: Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8-11 minutes.

 

BBQ Chicken Tater Bites

Ingredients:

  • Biscuit dough
  • 1-2 Tyson fully cooked chicken breasts
  • 2-3 tbsp BBQ sauce
  • Handful of tater tots
  • Sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese

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Step 1: Spread biscuit dough in the bottom of muffin or tart pans. Chop the chicken and layer 1 tbsp in the dough.

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Step 2: Pour 1 1/2 tsp BBQ sauce on top of the chicken. Plop a tater tot on top, and cover with shredded cheddar cheese.

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Step 3: Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8-11 minutes. If using a muffin tin rather than a tart tin, bake an extra 4-5 minutes.

 

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These are the muffin-tin sized cups, same recipes but add about three times as much of each filling. The size makes for a great dinner, especially if served with extra sauces on the side. These can also be frozen, and re-heated for lunches and snacks later.

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Muffin sized and tart sized

 

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These are the hot tarts right from the oven. Cheese is all bubbly, and they all smell amazing.

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Served on a vaguely football-shaped serving tray

 

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I can’t even tell you how fantastic these things turn out!!!

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Every one of these flavor combinations is totally delightful.

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They are super delightful, and very customizable. You could top with just about any combination you prefer. Add spinach, or caramelized onions, use other meats or just cheeses.

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The larger muffin sized ones are very filling, with a larger filling-to-dough ratio if that’s what you’re looking for.

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They also make for a very nice presentation.

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Serve with extra dipping sauces. Ranch, BBQ sauce, and hot sauce.

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Add some carrots and celery to your ranch, or make some extra Buffalo Dip on the side as well. Great finger foods, I guarantee these will not last long!

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Diced tomatoes, olives, or green onions can also be a nice topper.

 

This post is sponsored by Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips and The Daily Meal.

Mock-Caprese Goat Cheese Bruschetta

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Bruschetta is a classic Italian appetizer or snack, consisting of bread rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped tomato, olive oil, salt and pepper. Outside of Italy, bruschetta has become a word used for toast topped with just about anything. The most popular is diced tomato with olive oil and mozzarella or other cheese.

Caprese salad, or “insalata Caprese” is another Italian antipasto, or appetizer. Created to resemble the colors of the Italian flag, red, white and green, it consists of thick slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil leaves. Normally topped with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.

Since these are two of my favorite Italian appetizers, I decided to combine them into one delicious bite. However,  at the time I had no fresh mozzarella. Nor basil. Hence, the “mock-caprese”. However, you could use realistically any white cheese, and any fresh herb, and I’m sure it would be tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 1 thick slice farmhouse bread (or other whole wheat slice)
  • 1 fat, fresh Roma or beefsteak tomato
  • 2 tbsp garlic & chive goat cheese (or 1 thick slice mozzarella)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Step 1: Spread the goat cheese over the slice of bread, either with or without toasting it first.
Step 2: Slice the tomato into thick rings and put on top of the cheese.
Step 3: Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. If using fresh herbs, layer them on top now.

You could easily scale this up for a lovely party appetizer, or make as few as will satisfy a snacking crave.

Fried Pickles with Sriracha Ranch Dip

 

For those who have not tried fried pickles, let me tell you something. They are awesome.

Can’t say something is gross until you try it, that was always my mom’s rule. Just try these, and then see if you can tell me “ew”. Frying makes anything better, so even if you don’t like pickles you will probably like these; and if you do like pickles you are in for a real treat!

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Ingredients:

  • Pickles (as many as you’re willing to cut up and fry)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic salt
  • 2-4 tbsp sriracha
  • 1/2 cup ranch dressing
  • 1-2 cups frying oil

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Step 1: In a bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, and egg. This is the base of the batter. Add the spices and mix well. You can even throw in some extra sriracha here if you want. Set the oil in a pan to medium-high.

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Step 2: Take the pickles, and either chop into circles, slices, or use a veggie peeler to make them really thin.

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Step 3: Dredge the pickles in the batter, making sure all sides are well coated. Lay in a pan with about 2 inches of hot oil. You want it hot enough that it immediately starts bubbling and hissing when you put the pickles in, but turn it down immediately if it start smoking.

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Step 4: Fry 2-5 minutes, then flip with a spatula or slotted spoon to fry on the other side. Remove the pickles to a plate covered in paper towels or a cooling rack to drain some of the oil and cool.

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Step 5: Take the ranch dressing, and mix in 1-2 tbsp sriracha (or other hot sauce).

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Step 6: Dip. Eat. Smile. Repeat.

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These are so good you might not want to share, but they are a great party appetizer. They are best served fresh and hot from the pan.

Less than 5: Tuna Salad Puffs

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On nights when you just don’t have the energy or time to cook a whole meal from scratch, these “less than 5” meals are the perfect solution. For me to title a meal as “less than 5” it must require less than 5 ingredients, and it’s an extra bonus if it also takes less than 5 minutes to make.
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For this recipe, I had several cans of tuna I had purchased during a great sale weeks prior. I didn’t want the usual tuna-salad-sandwich, or tuna noodle casserole. So I looked in the fridge, and saw I had a can of biscuits. Viola, dinner inspiration!
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Ingredients:
1 can ready to bake biscuits (or croissants, any type of dough)
1 can tuna
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp relish
Salt & pepper if you like
Step 1: Open and drain the tuna. In a bowl, combine the tuna, mayo, and relish. Mix well.
Step 2: On a sprayed baking sheet, place each biscuit about 1-2 inches apart. Tamp down a small depression with your fingers or a spoon. Fill with 1-2 tbsp tuna mixture.
Step 3: Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown on top.
You can sprinkle these with whatever spices you have on hand, or a little bit of shredded cheese too.
They are great as appetizers, or eat several for a full meal! Feel free to add in other veggies to the tuna, like diced up cucumber or cooked egg, or lemon juice.

Mediterranean Stuffed Mushroom Caps

 

Mushrooms are an awesome alternative to meat, especially thick portobellos or stuffed caps. They have the same texture and flavor if cooked just right, and are endlessly adaptible to different recipes. You really can’t go wrong with stuffed mushrooms. Any combination of grains, vegetables, and/or meat will work.

These Mediterranean-inspired mushrooms happened when I noticed I had some goat cheese, kalamata &green olives, and produce I needed to use. You can use feta if you have it for the most authentic tastes. Or any other type of cheese you like. You can also sub in any other kind of olives, or omit them entirely. The choice is yous.

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Ingredients:
12 medium mushrooms (2-3 inch diameter)
2-3 oz cooked ground beef
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup cooked lentils (can omit)
1 green onion, diced
1 large tomato, diced
3-4 oz goat cheese (or cream cheese)
1/4 cup kalamata/green olives, diced

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Step 1: Remove the mushroom stems, dice up, cook, and add to a bowl. Place the caps flat in a sprayed baking dish.

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Step 2: In the bowl, mix the cooked rice, lentils, and beef. It’s easiest to add the cheese while still a little warm so it gets melty. Add the onion, tomato, and olives.

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Mix everything well, and stuff about 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp of mixture into each mushroom.

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Step 3: Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until juice starts to run. Serve hot.

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These little guys are absolutely delicious! If you use smaller caps, they are a bite-sized appetizer with meal-sized flavor. If you use larger caps, one or two can be a meal unto itself. Omit the ground beef, and you have a lovely vegetarian dish as well.

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The Art of Ethiopian cuisine: Part 1 – Beef & Pork

Happy April! 

Spring has officially begun, and soon enough we will feel it every day in the weather. It’s time for snow melting, sunshine, green grass, boatloads of flowers, chickadees and bunny rabbits.

So ethnic food is a perfect fit! (Wait, what?) Uhhh yeah, you haven’t heard of Ethnic Food April?!? Totally a thing. I just made it so.

Since moving to Colorado, I’ve been exposed to new cuisines pretty often. I’ve become hooked on Ethiopian. A student in my year is from Ethiopia, and she has both shown us local restaurants and cooked a unique Ethiopian dinner in her home for us.

I recently decided to attempt to replicate a full Ethiopian meal at home! This will be a series of posts, all from a ginormous dinner party I threw. 

Also fittingly, this is my 200th blog post!

Wow, I didn’t know I had so many things to talk about. It seems like not too long ago I was excited about my 100th Post wherein I brined and baked a whole pheasant! (Not as hard to do as it sounds, but just as delicious as you might think).

My how time flies. Like pheasants. Anywho, sorry to sidetrack you, on to the Ethiopian!

The Food

Ethiopian cuisine, if you have never had it, mostly consist of various stews, eaten with your hands and the help of a unique flatbread called Injera. The bread is made from a unique grain called Teff, and fermented for several days. It is slightly sour, bubbly, and spongy. It is a very unique experience the first time you try it, but it becomes an addiction.

The stews vary from purely vegan (lentils, sweet potato, etc) through various types of meats (beef, lamb, pork) and mixtures. They lay the bread on a huge middle plate, then scoop piles of deliciously spiced concoctions onto it, which you then scoop up and eat with more pieces of injera and your hands.

If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it! It is even more fun as a social experience. 

The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 1 – Beef & Pork

The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 2 – Chicken & Fish
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 3 – Potatoes & Lentils
The Art of Ethiopian Cuisine: Part 4 – Cheese, Greens, & Injera

Part 1: Beef and Pork

So the ground beef stew is called Minchet-Abesh Alicha. The recipe I used was based off the recipe HERE from Food.com.

Meanwhile, apparently pork stew isn’t really an Ethiopian thing (at least not that I could find much online) but the recipe I ended up sorta following can be found HERE from Thomas the Accidental Gourmet. As far as I can tell, they don’t eat pork in Ethiopia.

But in America we sure do. So I decided any meat can be stew-ified and went ahead.

Ingredients (Minchet-Abesh Alicha):

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced onions
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock/water
  • Garlic salt
  • 2-3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon

 

The spices really make the dishes shine. But there is plenty of room for substitution. If you don’t have some spices, or don’t want to shell out for them, don’t worry about it and use whatever spice mixture you like. It’s the bread that really makes the meal unique!


Step 1: Brown the ground beef and drain. (I actually used ground turkey, shhh don’t tell!) Add either 1/2 cup onions to butter and cook until translucent, or use dried onion flakes, about 2 tbsp. Mix with the ground beef. 

Step 2: Add all spices you are using, stock or water, and diced tomatoes. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, the longer the better. All the spices blend together and infuse the meat.

Your house/apartment will smell divine! This was probably the favorite of all the dishes cooked.

Ingredients (Pork Stew):

  • 4 pork chops (or 1 small roast) diced
  • 1/2 cup stock/water
  • 2 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes

Step 1: Dice the pork, brown in a pan with the stock. Add in the spices and bring to a simmer.

Step 2: Add the diced tomatoes, or 1 small can tomato paste. Simmer another 10 minutes or until ready to serve.

This is what the finished meal looked like:

 

The ground beef stew is mid-left, pork is on the upper right. Wait until the injera post, where you get to learn how to make Ethiopian “pancakes”…

Up next: Chicken & Fish!

Easy-peasy mini pizzas

These adorable appetizers are sure to be a big hit with a crowd! They are also easy & quick enough for any weeknight dinner, and kids are sure to love them too. You could even build a “top-it-your-way” bar with various (quick-cooking or pre-cooked) toppings, veggies, and cheeses.

Ingredients: 
Bagel thins, cut in half
Jar of pasta, pizza, or marinara sauce
Fresh grated parmesan
*Any other toppings you want!

Step 1: My mom insists everything is better with some fresh grated Parmesan. I’m beginning to believe her.

Step 2: Spread the sauce on the bagel thins. Top with cheese (and/or veggies, pepperoni, sausage, etc) and pop into a toaster oven. You can also use a baking sheet in a real oven, or a toaster on its side.

Step 3: Arrange prettily and serve! Told you they are easy-peasy!


What do you put on your pizza?


Potato Skins

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A game-day classic, potato skins are always a hit. A friend was having a football party, I had a 5 pound bag of potatoes, guess what I made! They are very simple, though time-consuming.
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Ingredients:
6-12 potatoes, washed and cut in half
Butter/margerine
Sea salt
1/2 pound bacon or turkey bacon
Cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Salsa
Green onion/chives

Step 1: Rub potatoes with oil, and poke holes in them with a fork. Microwave potatoes on high for 10 minutes.

Step 2: Cut potatoes in half, cover outside and insidewith butter and sea salt. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Step 3: Hollow out the potatoes. Flip upside down, bake for another 20 minutes. You can use the scooped-out part for mashed potatoes, soup, or just eat them because they’re warm and salty and delicious.

Step 4: Flip back over, brush with more butter and bake a final 20 minutes. You’re now ready to top them.

Step 5: Cook the bacon on both sides until brown. Drain on paper towels and break/cut into small pieces. Sprinkle a healthy tbsp into each potato skin. Cover with cheese, a dollop of sour cream, salsa and/or green onion.

Made in your own home and not deep-fried, these are healthier for you than if you ordered them from a bar or restaurant. Leave off the bacon for a vegetarian treat.