Category Archives: Appetizer

Putting it together

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I was on my feet all day working a wine event and realized I didn’t have a dinner plan. The horror. Being food obsessed, this isn’t something that gets past me very often. I make my meal plans for at least 4-5 days at a span so I always have something yummy in the wings waiting to be prepared. That day, though, my mind was melting in the heat and my best-laid plans were all but gone. This, roughly translated, means that nothing that I had on my plan sounded good.

When I hopped in my car at the end of the day and tried to put something together that wasn’t a vat of frozen yogurt consumed in an ice cold shower. Something that didn’t require standing up too long since my dogs were barking, and something that was tasty and cool and refreshing, that didn’t require an additional trip to the store. Once I had slipped in to the sublime coldness of my air conditioned car I wasn’t getting back out until I was home sweet home.

I first made this shrimp cocktail many years back on an equally mind-melting night. I packed up my picnic hamper with cold beer and fresh tortilla chips and went over to Nick’s house, where he had a pool and air conditioning (I had neither of these things). We sat on the deck in the breeze and stuffed ourselves with chips and shrimp cocktail and ice cold beer, and declared this dish a withering-heat winner.

Food Purists take note: yes, I do know that this isn’t traditional ceviche. For those who are unsure what ceviche is, it’s fish and seafood cooked only with citrus juices, generally lime, whose acids ‘cook’ the fish. But Rick Bayless knows his Mexican cuisine, and I trust his naming of this concoction. It’s very similar to the coctail de camarones you get in a Mexican restaurant. And yes, it calls for ketchup. Think of it in this application as a pre-seasoned tomato sauce base (and don’t even try to use tomato sauce as a substitute, it won’t taste the same and you’ll be severely disappointed. You’ve been warned).

One could go about the shrimp preparation a number of different ways. The suggested poaching in lime water makes for succulent, soft shrimp, but in a pinch I’ve poached them with out the lime water when I didn’t have enough for the completed dish. I’ve also made this with defrosted, precooked, previously frozen deveined shrimp and no one was any the wiser. It’s a great dish to take to a barbecue or potluck, as well as for company. It’s surprisingly filling, too. So on a hot night when you have some folks over, a margarita or two or some icy cold Mexican beer and a great big communal bowl of this is a festive alternative to a sit down dinner. Make it ahead and stir in the avocado just before serving (it gets cloudy otherwise), serve some grill-roasted corn on the cob with chile powder and lime, and it meets or beats every taqueria whose coctail de camarones you’ve dared to try. Give it a whirl, you won’t be disappointed.

Ceviche de Camaron: Shrimp Ceviche “Cocktail”
by Rick Bayless, via Epicurious

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound unpeeled smallish shrimp (I prefer the ones that are 41/50 count to a pound)
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce (such as Tamazula, Valentina or Búfalo, the latter being on the sweet side)
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jícama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
Salt
Several lime slices for garnish
Tostadas or tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade or saltine crackers for serving

1. Cooking and Marinating the Shrimp.
Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein the shrimp if you wish: One by one lay the shrimp on your work surface, make a shallow incision down the back and scrape out the (usually) dark intestinal tract. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour. Spare yourselves, kids – get the shrimp that are already peeled and deveined. No one will know but you.

2. The flavorings.
In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

3. Serving the ceviche.
Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside. We dispense with the additional dishes and eat it out of the big bowl like savages. You may do as you wish, it IS lovely in a tall glass with a couple of shrimp hanging off the side, with the extra lime slices and cilantro sprigs.

Working Ahead:
The ceviche is best made the day it is served. The flavorings can be added to the shrimp a few hours in advance.

Sunday Spectacular: Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Spirals

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My Dad stopped in yesterday, took one look at my decorated mantel, and declared that it wasn’t fall yet and my motives are early. Yes, the weather is still in the low to mid 80s around here, but if football is on it means fall is either here or knocking on the door, if you know what I mean.

We aren’t big football people here at our house. We turn on the game because we like sports but baseball will always rule our airwaves. For me, football is an excuse to have a house full of rowdy folks and to cook up a storm to feed all of them. Cold beer, good food, loud shouts. It’s always a backdrop for a fun afternoon.

And what goes better with football than buffalo chicken? Spicy wings, cool blue cheese to dip them in, and a cold beer to wash them down. Their drawbacks are that they’re messy to eat, messy if you make them fried, and if you grill them you have to watch them like a hawk because those little suckers burn up in a heartbeat. I don’t mind a guest appearance as grill master but I am so easily distracted when I’m hosting. And you know how I hate to burn things. Needless to say we don’t have them often unless someone else brings them.

One day it hit me: I have a recipe for pesto spirals, similar to cinnamon rolls but with savory dough and pesto filling. Why not do buffalo? With the shredded chicken and mozzarella and blue cheese and green onion rolled up into a lightly sweet wheat dough? How could this be bad?

Well they certainly don’t suck, I can tell you that much. One bite and we were in love, and I have my new favorite snack to take to anywhere we go for football. Super portable, too, as you can make them in a disposable foil pan, let them catch the second rise after slicing and forming, and bake them off either at home or on arrival at your party destination, if you are headed to a place where the hostess will let you drive her kitchen for a minute. You can serve blue cheese dressing and more hot sauce on the side for dipping, if you’d like, but as is this is a pretty tidy package.

Buffalo Chicken Spirals
Makes enough for hungry beer drinkers

– 1 recipe Wheat Bread Dough, sans almonds, or your favorite single loaf bread recipe, or a ball of frozen bread dough, thawed
– 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, grilled and chopped or shredded
– 1/2 c. hot sauce (and we love us some Frank’s Red Hot), plus more for drizzling and serving
– 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella
– 2/3 to 3/4 c. crumbled blue cheese
– 4 scallions, chopped
– 1 T. melted butter, for brushing
– Blue Cheese Dressing for serving (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400*F. Spray your pan (s) with olive oil cooking spray and set aside. Roll your bread out into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface, about 12 x 20, with the long edge facing you:

Stir together the chicken and hot sauce, and spread gently over the dough, leaving a 1″ border on the far side. I splashed on a little more in the naked spots.

Evenly sprinkle on your cheeses and the scallions, and starting on the edge closest to you, roll the whole thing up like you would a cinnamon roll:

On the far edge, lightly brush the exposed edge with a little bit of water and seal. Turn the roll seam side down on your surface. Mark your roll into 1″ pieces with a serrated knife, and using same said knife quickly and cleanly slice the roll into sections. Try not to saw it too much or the roll will fall apart. Place them in to the pan cut sides down so the sides aren’t quite touching and let them rise for about a half an hour.

Brush the tops with the melted butter and pop in the oven. Place the pans in your preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the tops are light brown. Pull from the oven, cool for a minute or two and plate. Serve with more hot sauce and blue cheese dressing, if you’d like.

Hearthside Happy Hour

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We’ve chatted a bit about having cocktails at home rather than going out. Not that going out isn’t fun, and we definitely do go out weekly to our favorite pub. The best bars and lounges I’ve been to have cozy little sofas and settees to settle in to, plush carpeting and a fireplace, but they look at you sideways if you put your feet on the furniture and drape yourself all over their space (even though they have the joint dressed up as an extension of your living room).

It’s just so much more pleasant to have drinks at home. The second round is always free and I don’t have to think twice about it, because I don’t have to drive anywhere. If I want a snack or something to nosh on I don’t have to pay $15 for a plate with a half ounce of cheese and 4 nuts on it. If I want to put my feet on the sofa and laugh too loud and change the music I can and no one is going to turn their nose up at me.

You just can’t buy that kind of comfort and ambiance downtown.

And what of those bar snacks? It’s nice to go beyond a bowl of salted nuts, but salty snacks are always welcome with drinks. A friend brought some of these kale chips around a week or two ago at my office and they were amazing. Light, crisp, salty, nutty, and healthy to boot! They are wonderful with a glass of hearty red wine and a friend to share a laugh. And did I mention easy? You can make them ahead if you’d like, or for an impromptu happy hour at home, you can pick up the kale on your way home and they take a mere half hour from start to finish. Not bad for a fancy pants uptown nosh!

These are pretty as written if you use Tuscan/Lacinato/Dino kale, they stand up beautifully in a glass or a vase and make a striking presentation. I’ve also found that they are a little less intimidating (and more readily eaten) if you rib the kale and cut it into smaller, bite-sized pieces. It works equally well with the standard curly kale too (and I think it’s even prettier). My picture is of the curly kale, sprinkled with some sesame seeds for color and texture.

Tuscan Kale Chips

-12 large Tuscan kale leaves, rinsed, dried, cut lengthwise in half, center ribs and stems removed
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-Sea salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and/or sesame seeds for sprinkling (any or all of these are awesome)

Preheat oven to 250°F. Toss kale with oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and your seasoning choices. Arrange leaves in single layer on 2 large baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 30 minutes for flat leaves and up to 33 minutes for wrinkled leaves. Transfer leaves to rack to cool.

Tomato-y Goodness

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I got a little crazy picking tomatoes yesterday.

The funniest part about the whole thing is that I don’t even like fresh tomatoes, they have to be cooked within an inch of their lives or hidden in tomato sauce or something. but they’re just so pretty, I long to love eating them as much as I love having them in a bowl on the counter as decor.

One way that I will eat them though is slow roasted in the oven. Split in half and laid out on a cookie sheet in a low oven for long hours coaxes out all of the sugars, caramelizing them as the water slowly evaporates out of the tomato. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and spices makes them heavenly. While wonderful alone, they are unbelievable as a pizza topping (and make THE BEST margherita pizza you’ve ever had), they’re great chopped and mixed into quick breads, chopped or left whole and sprinkled on pasta, folded into an omelette or frittata, and they keep well in a jar in the fridge when topped with olive oil. And if you jar and oil them, consider making extras: they’re a beautiful hostess gift when you’re invited ’round for drinks or dinner.

Aromatic Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

From Cooking Light

1  tablespoon  sugar

1  tablespoon  extra-virgin olive oil

1/2  teaspoon  salt

1/2  teaspoon  dried basil

1/2  teaspoon  dried oregano

1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

4  pounds  plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise (about 16 medium)

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, tossing gently to coat. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Roast at 200° for 7 1/2 hours.

OK, but I cheat when I make them. I slice them in half, lay them out on a foil-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle them with all of the goodness, drizzle them with olive oil (and sometimes a little more than called for because who measures olive oil?). I also have roasted them at 225 for 5 hours instead of the 7 and a half, which makes them weeknight doable depending on when you get home. That said, they’re a great make-ahead item to wow your masses of hungry folks, just bring them to room temperature before serving.

Zucchini, Part 2

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Welcome to the second installment of our zucchini series, which I hope is aiding in your blight of excess squashes. Speaking of blight, my poor squashes have come down with a case of aphids, of all rotten pests, which has in turn given them a lovely moldy tinge. Aphids, if you don’t know, will not only eat every single flower on your plants but leave behind a sticky residue called ‘honey dew,’ which is not sweet of them and turns to mold. UGH. In a home garden, this is easy enough to fix with a squirt bottle of dish soap mixed with water (must have phosphates), or a commercial ‘green’ killer like the Hot Pepper Spray that I use. However, my garden isn’t here at La Casita de las Sombras, due to all that lovely shade. My garden is here at the Community Garden, a mile or two up the road.

Community gardens are a lot like kindergartens, in that when one kid gets a cold everyone else’s kid gets it too. I found the source of the aphids on someone else’s pumpkin patch and I’m embittered that they won’t do anything about it. Fix your sick kid so mine quits catching it too, will ya?

But I digress. While my plants aren’t producing quite as heavily as they were or should be, I still get more than what we can eat on a regular basis before growing weary of them. The next recipe I present to you is for Refrigerator Zucchini Pickles, from the Jimtown Store cookbook. These pickles are so simple to make, and yummy to have around for an antipasti platter or any application where you’d use a pickle slice. They’re sweet and sour and summer wonderful. The recipe says they are good for a month, but I’ve had success with them living a very full life in the fridge for longer, just make sure the pickles stay submerged in the liquid.

These also make a lovely hostess gift in a jelly jar with a cute ribbon or homemade label, and the recipient for some reason doesn’t get that ‘oh thank you, more zucchini’ look on her face. Sweet shenanigans!

Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles

Courtesy of the Jimtown Store Cookbook

Makes about 2 quarts

1 teaspoon whole yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon celery seeds

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

2 ½ lbs. (7 – 8 medium) zucchini, sliced into ¼” thick rounds

1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 ½ cup white wine vinegar (I’ve also used regular white vinegar in a pinch)

1 ½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup loosely packed tiny, stemless dill fronds about ½” long

In a small heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the mustard seeds, celery seeds and fennel seeds, stiffing often, until fragrant and brown, 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from the skillet immediately and cool.

In a shallow, 3-quart nonreactive dish, scatter the zucchini and onion.

In a medium non-reactive saucepan over moderate heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, toasted seeds, salt, turmeric, pepper and dill. Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, Pour the hot mixture over the zucchini and onions. Stir to combine and cool to room temperature.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at leat 24 hours. Transfer the pickles and their liquid to 1 or 2 large jars or containers with tight fitting lids and store in the refrigerator. The pickles will keep up to 4 weeks.

Zucchini, Part 1

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So like many gardeners this time of year, my zucchini runneth over. Unlike many gardeners, I had the prudence and foresight to plant only one zucchini and one patty pan squash, rather than the multitude of varieties that I really wanted to have. There are only two of us in our house, and the cat does not eat his vegetables like a good boy. And yet, I still find myself wondering what to do with the sizeable hill of squash overtaking my vegetable bin. How does this happen with just two plants and a not-so-hot summer?

Thus, here is the first of a couple of posts that include recipes for zucchini. I don’t know about you but I get sick of the same old sauté and long for something more interesting. This recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, but like all recipes I can’t leave well enough alone and had to riff on it to add more Cadi-ness to it. My changes are starred at the end of each paragraph. This is hearty enough to be dinner alone, and it halves easily so you aren’t stuck eating it for many moons.

Squash Rice Casserole

Adapted from Cooking Light, Makes 8 Generous Servings

Ingredients

8  cups  sliced zucchini(about 2 1/2 pounds)

1  cup  chopped onion

1/2  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

2  cups  cooked rice

1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

1  cup  fat-free sour cream

1/4  cup  (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided

1/4  cup  Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

1  teaspoon  salt

1/4  teaspoon  black pepper

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain; partially mash with a potato masher.  *I’m not a big fan of boiled squash. I sliced mine thinly and sautéed it with the onion in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. I then added ¼ cup of water, put on a lid, and steamed the squash for a minute or two until it was soft but not mushy. I didn’t bother to mash any of it either.*

Combine zucchini mixture, rice, cheddar cheese, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and eggs in a bowl; stir gently. Spoon mixture into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Preheat broiler. Broil 1 minute or until lightly browned.