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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on January 24th, 2018.

cheese_ball_horseradish

A lovely tasting cheese ball, suitable for anytime. The little bit of horseradish in it gives it a different and subtle hint of it – not at all overpowering.

Cheese balls are so appropriate for the holidays. I made this a few days before Christmas and took it to daughter Sara’s house. We were spending the afternoon making tamales, but we ended up eating this and a big pan full of nachos (with the leftover pork and red chile tamale filling and a bunch of jack cheese sprinkled on top) as dinner. After the tamale fest, everyone was fatigued with the process, and the last thing Sara wanted to do was prepare a sit-down dinner. So out came the cheese ball and we just noshed.

For the last several months I’ve subscribed to the New York Times’ daily food section email. And of course, they want me to subscribe (the pay type, and no, I’m not doing that), and every day they remind me that I’m not subscribed, but yet I am able to access the recipes they include in those emails. Most of the time there isn’t anything all that noteworthy, but occasionally they rave about something. And the last week of December they mailed out links (and photos) of the favorites of 2017. This is one of them. And they particularly mentioned the hint of horseradish gave it really great flavor.

There are two steps to making this: (1) the nut coating; and (2) the cheese ball. You use a stand mixer for the cheese – maybe it could be done with a hand-held mixer (try it and see) but the stand mixer made it easy to combine the ingredients. The nut coating (walnuts, maple syrup, butter and salt) is roasted in the oven until just golden brown, then you chop up the nuts and set those aside. The cheese  ball needs to be refrigerated for a few hours (I did mine overnight) and just before serving you roll the ball in the nut mixture and onto a serving platter it goes. Very simple, and nice to make ahead if you’re having a group over and want minimal fuss at the last minute.

The recipe calls for cream cheese, cheddar and Gruyere. I didn’t have the last one, and Trader Joe’s was out of Gruyere (darn) but I found another Swiss type cheese that was similar. I do not recommend you use a domestic Swiss cheese in this – whatever it is American cheese producers do to our Swiss cheese, well, let’s just say I don’t want that flavor profile in the cheese ball. I used Emmental and it was perfect. The herbs add a nice little green hint throughout, and of course, the horseradish, to me, is the subtle star of the show. Also liked the nut coating.

What’s GOOD: loved the horseradish hint in the mixture, and enjoyed the cheese combo too. Very tasty. Easy to make, really, and I like that it all can be made ahead except for rolling the ball in the nuts. A keeper. I see why it made the best of 2017 at the N.Y. Times. I will say, that there is another cheese ball in my life, Bombay Cheese Ball, and I may just like it the best but if you’re not into Indian-style spices (i.e., curry), then this one would be a better choice.

What’s NOT: nothing!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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The Perfect Cheese Ball

Recipe By: The New York Times, 2017
Serving Size: 10

NUT COATING:
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter — melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups walnuts — coarsely chopped
CHEESE BALL:
12 ounces cream cheese — softened
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar — or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper — fine grind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese — finely shredded
1 cup Gruyere cheese — shredded (or other Swiss type, but NOT American Swiss)
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — finely grated
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons fresh dill — chopped (or use 2 tsp dried dill)

Crackers and fresh vegetables for serving

1. NUT COATING: Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together maple syrup, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the walnuts and toss to coat. Pour the nuts onto the parchment lined sheet tray and roast for 8 minutes or until nuts are lightly toasted and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Once cool, roughly chop the nuts to a finer grind.
3. CHEESE BALL: In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese, vinegar, and horseradish until smooth. Season with pepper and salt. Then, add in all the cheese and herbs and mix until just combined. Place the mixture, in a big mound, onto a big sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the excess plastic wrap over the mound and form into a ball. Chill until firm, at least an hour, but a few hours would be better. [Will keep several days.]
4. When you’re ready to serve, remove the cheese ball from the fridge for 20 minutes to soften a bit. Roll the cheese ball in the nuts to coat. Serve with crackers and fresh veggies.
Per Serving: 345 Calories; 31g Fat (78.1% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 435mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 19th, 2017.

ricotta_roasted_grape_crostini

This might seem like an unlikely combination. Roasted grapes, you say? Yes, and garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh thyme, then drizzled with some honey. Sublime.

Roasting every kind of food is certainly “in” these days, isn’t it? I’m most definitely on the bandwagon too – I particularly love roasted vegetables – they gain such incredible caramelization when roasted. So, why wouldn’t grapes be amped up with the same treatment. In fact, fruit of any kind is enhanced with roasting because the sugar in fruit makes for easy caramelization.

There is a bit of assembly required here, so it’s best to get everything ready before hand. Roast the grapes (tossed with vinegar, fresh thyme and olive oil). Cut and toast the baguette slices, toast the pine nuts too. Slightly warm the ricotta cheese to room temp too. Have the honey out (warm it just slightly in the microwave if it’s too thick) and some of the thyme leaves already chopped up.

Gather all the ingredients around you, grab a baguette slice and spread it with the ricotta cheese (do use full fat here – it has so much more flavor), then gently add 4-5 of the oh-so-cute wrinkled grapes on top, sprinkle with pine nuts and more fresh thyme, then drizzle the whole thing with just a tiny bit of honey. The grapes are the star of the show here, as they just burst in your mouth. The pine nuts add wonderful chewy texture, and then you get the honey on your tongue and the rounded-out flavor from the fresh thyme. If you have lemons, add a tiny sprinkle of zest on top too. This recipe came from a cooking class I took a couple of weeks ago with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the flavor combo is just delicious. I wouldn’t be serving this to a cocktail party as they do require assembly at the last minute, but to a small group of friends or family, it’s do-able. Expect each person to eat at least two of them. You’ll love the squish in your mouth when you chomp down on the grapes. Yum. Then you get the flavors of the honey, the chewiness of the pine nuts then the hint of fresh thyme too. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: just that it requires last minute assembly. Don’t make it for a large crowd unless you have help in the kitchen. Assembly would be great for a teenager to do if you have one on hand!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini

Recipe By: cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 6

GRAPES:
1 pound seedless grapes — mixed varieties, de-stemmed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
CROSTINI:
3/4 cup ricotta cheese — (use full fat)
3 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
2 tablespoons thyme sprigs
12 baguette slices — lightly toasted
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon zest — finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet toss the grapes with vinegar, thyme and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until grapes are softened and skins have started to pop.
2. Spoon a tablespoon of ricotta onto each crostini slice, spoon 3-5 grapes on top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Arrange on a serving platter, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle each with more thyme leaves and fresh lemon zest. Add salt and pepper, if desired.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 12g Fat (33.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 336mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 3rd, 2017.

lentil_hummus

Not exactly the prettiest of colors, but the flavors are great. And healthy.

Wanting a simple appetizer that wasn’t rich, cheesy, or full of fat, I found this recipe in my to-try file, that came from Food & Wine. Made with lentils. It called for green lentils – I didn’t have any – nor did I remember ever seeing them at any of my local markets. I guess you can mail-order them. I used brown lentils, which, of course, made the finished product . . . well, BROWN. Do doctor up the top with a drizzle of olive oil and paprika to make it look a little bit better. The recipe indicated serving with red pepper strips (didn’t have any) or fennel strips (had them, but didn’t take the time) so I served it with crackers (pita chip type).

It’s made in the food processor. I actually took liberties with this – I bought a small package of already-cooked lentils (TJ’s carries them). I know . . . lentils are cinchy easy to make. But that was the way it was that day. So since I didn’t make them from scratch, I added a little sprinkle of powdered bay leaf in the mix. This part’s not in the recipe below, since I assume you’ll just make up a batch of fresh lentils for this. I was into saving time since I was having dinner guests and didn’t begin cooking dinner until 3 pm, and they were arriving at 6. I was into speedy. I made a sheet pan dinner (chicken, sweet potatoes, bacon, red onions, big chunks of sourdough croutons) which, when served, I plopped, in the pan, right in the middle of my dining room table. Easy for serving firsts and seconds. Everybody wanted more croutons and red onions.

The hummus is whizzed up in the food processor (so easy) with fresh lemon juice, EVOO, garlic, ground cumin, fresh cilantro, salt, tahini, cayenne – and I added a bit of water because I used the already-cooked type lentils (they’re on the dry side) –  you could add some of the cooking liquid if your mixture is too stiff. Taste it for seasonings – adding more salt or lemon juice or cumin. Into a container it went and chilled for a couple of hours (allowed the garlic to mellow a little bit) and it was ready to serve. That recipe is coming up next, I think.

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make. As I’m writing this it’s the next day and I’ve just dipped a couple of crackers into it – it’s very tasty – healthy too. It will keep for a few days, so you could definitely make this ahead.

What’s NOT: don’t love the brown color, but the taste will shine through that little down side. If possible, try to find green lentils!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Lentil Tahini Hummus

Recipe By: Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe
Serving Size: 7

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup lentils — about 6 ounces * (see note)
1/2 bay leaf
1 1/2 garlic cloves — coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon
Salt — or more if needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sweet paprika for sprinkling on top
Pita chips, sliced fennel and red bell pepper strips, for serving

NOTE: If you can find green lentils, good – use them. The finished hummus will have a more greenish tint rather than brown, which isn’t quite as appetizing.
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken stock, lentils and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30+ minutes. If using green lentils, they take a bit longer to cook, up to 45 minutes. Uncover and boil the lentils over high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and let the lentils cool slightly.
2. Transfer the cooked lentils to a food processor. Add the chopped garlic, tahini, olive oil, ground cumin, cayenne, salt, cilantro and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Scrape the hummus into a bowl. Garnish the hummus with paprika and some extra cilantro. Serve the lentil hummus warm or at room temperature with pita chips and vegetable crudités.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 9g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 92mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, on November 25th, 2017.

seeded_cheddar_triangles_crackers

Really easy home made crackers, brimming with cheese flavor (cheddar) and topped with a variety of seeds.

It was a couple of years ago I was at my friends, Joan and Tom’s for dinner, and Joan served these cute-as-buttons cheese triangle crackers. I was smitten with them, and intended to make them pronto. But time moved on and I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I had an event at my house recently – the group of 10 of us watched A Man Called Ove, on Amazon Prime, based on the book by Backman. Then, we all sat down in my dining room and had lunch (soup – a recipe that’s already here on my blog, but I updated it and will post soon – plus seeded bread from Whole Foods and a scrumptious apple dessert made by my co-hostess Linda). During the movie, I served these crackers, fresh out of the oven, and they were gobbled up in no time.

I started the crackers the day before – it’s mixed up in the food processor (EASY!). You  have the option of chilling the dough if you want to, or making them immediately. I wanted to do it ahead, but bake them just before we watched the movie. So, I pressed the dough into two flat rounds, slipped them into a plastic bag and chilled them. I took them out of the refrigerator about an hour ahead of when I wanted to bake them. They’re rolled out into sort of circles, then you brush on some egg white and the seeds are pressed into the top. Then cut them into triangles and into a 350°F oven they went and baked for about 16 minutes. I cooled them about 3-4 minutes before serving them still warm. The recipe came from Southern Living in 2010.

What’s GOOD: how easy they are to make, how wonderful they taste!! The recipe says it serves 16. Well, my group of 10 devoured them in about 30 minutes. I baked each round separately, so I served them about 20 minutes apart. SO, you might want to double the recipe!

What’s NOT: really nothing – these are so easy to do, especially if you’ve made the dough ahead of time.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Four-Seed Cheddar Triangles (Crackers)

Recipe By: From Southern Living, 12/2010
Serving Size: 16

10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese — shredded
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter — cut into 4 pieces and softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons half and half
SEASONINGS:
1 whole egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted — salted
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons sesame seeds — toasted
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

1. Pulse first 5 ingredients in a food processor at 5-second intervals until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add half-and-half, and process 10 seconds or until dough forms a ball. If it’s too dry, add about a teaspoon of the half and half and pulse again until the dough forms a ball. Divide in half.
2. Dough may be wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a zip-top plastic freezer bag, and chilled up to 3 days.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. If you chilled the dough, leave it out for about an hour before trying to roll it out. Roll each half into a 9- to 10-inch round. Transfer rounds to parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
5. Whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tsp. water just until foamy. Stir together pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, sesame seeds, and black sesame seeds. Brush rounds with egg white mixture, and sprinkle with seed mixture and press lightly so the seeds stick to the dough. Cut each round into wedges of random sizes, using a fluted pastry wheel. Separate wedges about 1 inch apart onto the baking sheets.
6. Bake 16 to 18 minutes; cool on baking sheets on wire racks for 10-30 minutes.
Per Serving: 199 Calories; 14g Fat (64.8% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 233mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on November 15th, 2017.

 

blackberry_cuke_caprese_skewersSara_375

A quick and easy appetizer that’s very healthy and fun.

A post from Sara . . .I find dinner with my family to be a bit of fun because we are all so willing to try new foods and flavor combinations. I brought this appetizer with me to my brother’s house and everyone loved it. I chose it because it was so easy to make and it travels very well.

Typical of Southern California, I was on the road for almost 4 hours! It’s 130 miles from where I live in San Diego County, to where my brother lives near Pasadena. Can you tell the traffic was awful?

I love simple appetizers that are fresh and quick as well as pretty to look and easy to eat. These definitely fit the bill. The recipe came from a blog called The Sweetest Occasion, by Cyd Converse. I didn’t have the marinated mozzarella balls (but you can add your own seasonings if you’d like and roll them in some good EVOO). The blackberries were sweet. You DO want sweet blackberries because the appetizer is quite savory and to add an unripe blackberry (very tart) to the mix would be pucker-worthy. I made the platter at home and 4 hours in the car was fine. I squirted the balsamic glaze on them just before serving (hard to see in the photo, but really, I did use the glaze).

What’s GOOD: how easy they were to make. They traveled well. Everyone liked them a lot. They’re also very colorful – put onto a white platter, it looked SO pretty!  This recipe is a keeper!  I’ll serve this for years to come.

What’s NOT:I can’t think of any negatives for this jewel.

Printer friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Blackberry Cucumber Caprese Skewers

Recipe By: The Sweetest Occasion (blog) by Cyd Converse
Serving Size: 12

25 mozzarella balls — fresh (mini ones)
25 blackberries — you need sweet ones
25 basil leaves — use large ones
25 cucumber — cut in chunks, preferably English cucumber Balsamic glaze to drizzle on top
25 Bamboo skewers, 3″ long

1. Using 3″ bamboo skewers or similar, layer your ingredients starting with the mozzarella balls, then a folded basil leaf followed by a blackberry and a chunk of cucumber.
2. Line a tray with your finished skewers and refrigerate or serve right away.
3. Drizzle with balsamic glaze right before serving.
Per Serving: 286 Calories; 5g Fat (15.6% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 21g Dietary Fiber; 13mg Cholesterol; 33mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, on June 2nd, 2017.

crostini_pea_puree_yogurt_mint

Seems like I’m on a roll lately with some really wonderful recipes. Not that any of them are my originals; they’re just ones that I’ve found someplace and they definitely need a permanent home in my kitchen repertoire.

With that lead-in, it won’t come as a surprise that I’m telling you, you’ve GOT to try this. I was just blown away by how delicious it is. Easy? Yes. Healthy? Yes, indeed. Unusual? Yes – certainly the mint added a lovely burst of flavor, but so did the lemon zest too. Really all of it is a burst of flavor. And most people can’t figure out what the “green stuff” is. Some guessed pesto.

pea_puree_4_crostiniI took this appetizer to my daughter Sara’s for Easter dinner. I’d made up the pea puree ahead of time, also the yogurt mixture, and I’d also toasted the baguettes too, the day before. I packed everything up in a little fabric ice chest and constructed them at the last minute. Easy to do. These aren’t fussy.

You’ll be very surprised by the taste of the peas – they contain SUGAR and garlic. The yogurt is just Greek yogurt (about half a cup is all) mixed with some fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, oil and salt. But when you put the whole “package” together, you get this lovely crunch in your mouth, the pea hits your palate, then the mint and the lemon zest. Altogether wonderful.

pea_crostini_platterIt’s easy enough to do most everything ahead – the pea puree, the yogurt, the toasted bread and at the last minute, construct them with the fresh mint on top. And a bit more lemon zest. To tell you the truth, I think I could make a meal of these.

What’s GOOD: everything about this little morsel is delicious. I can’t say enough good things about it. Let me know what you think . . .?? It’s easy to make (and make most everything ahead) and it’s not heavy or bad for you (except the fact that it’s mostly carbs).

What’s NOT: nary a thing that I can think of!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Crostini with Pea Puree and Greek Yogurt

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Amy Scattergood, Los Angeles Times
Serving Size: 16

1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or 2% may be okay
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
PEA PUREE:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 cups frozen peas
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 small garlic cloves — minced
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
SERVING:
16 baguette slices — 1/4″ thick, toasted
Thinly sliced fresh mint for garnish
Grated lemon zest for garnish

NOTES: Use a baguette for the bread, or ciabatta. Brush the bread with olive oil, then toast to a golden brown. If using ciabatta, break each piece in half for a more normal appetizer serving.
1. Mix yogurt, olive oil, sea salt and lemon peel in a bowl and set aside.
2. Run hot-hot water over the frozen peas, then drain. Place in food processor with garlic, salt and olive oil. Blend until smooth.
3. Spread about 1 1/2 T pea mixture on each slice of bread, then spoon 2 tsp yogurt on top and garnish with sliced mint. Make these just before serving, and zest more lemon over all of it on the serving platter.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 4g Fat (31.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 3mg Cholesterol; 240mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Salads, Vegetarian, on May 21st, 2017.

georgia_cracker_salad

How many superlatives can I use here – oh my, fantastic, off the charts, amazing, is it possible, so good!

The other day I was looking through my to-try recipes for a salad to take to a function. I paused at this recipe I’d downloaded some time ago. I read it through. So easy. Could it really be that good? It doesn’t LOOK all that wonderful – kind of bland looking, really. And considering the ingredients (saltine crackers, tomatoes, green onions, hard boiled egg, mayo, salt and pepper) you might wonder. So I went to Paula Deen’s webpage and there is a video clip of her making this, with her son. She talked about its origins (Albany, Georgia) and that occasionally they feature this at the salad bar at their restaurant.

BUT – the reservation here is that it MUST be eaten immediately after you toss it together. Well, I could do that. All you have to do it chop up some fresh tomatoes (use good tasting ones, please) and chop up some green onions. Oh, and make 1-2 hard boiled eggs. And scoop out some mayo to add at the end. And crush a sleeve of saltine crackers (do it while it’s still in the paper sleeve). Nothing about this is hard. I had this all figured out in about 2 minutes. As I write this I haven’t taken it to the luncheon yet, but since I bought the ingredients, I just bought more and served it for a dinner I did here at home with friends.

OMGosh! This salad is just so crazy good. I made one recipe (using one sleeve of saltine crackers), one heirloom tomato, 2 hard boiled eggs, 3 green onions (using most of the tops too), pepper, maybe some salt, and the last thing you do is add the mayo. Have everything all ready ahead – I’d chopped the tomatoes and green onions, plopped the eggs in on top and just let that sit. I’d also put out about the amount of mayo I thought it needed and at the very last second it got tossed. I served it as a side salad. Paula Deen says where this recipe is from it’s served as an appetizer (or light lunch) with cold shrimp all around it. I think this would be hard to eat as an appetizer unless you served it with small plates and forks to eat it.

When I made it, I used about a cup of mayo. The recipe called for 1 1/2 cups, and I noticed in the video they added more as it was needed, and they may not have used a full portion either. I’d start with 1 cup and only add more if you think it really needs it.

When I take this salad to my function, I’m going to add a couple more chopped eggs on top (sliced, that is) instead of shrimp. What it will look like is a potato salad. But definitely it’s NOT! I can’t wait to make this again!

What’s GOOD: every single solitary smidgen of this is delicious. Worth making. Don’t eat a lot of it, then you won’t feel guilty for all the fat grams you’re eating. I’ll definitely be making this again soon.

What’s NOT: nothing other than the calories!

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Georgia Cracker Salad

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Paula Deen
Serving Size: 6

2 medium tomatoes — chopped
3 green onions — chopped (including most of the green tops)
2 large eggs, hard-boiled — finely chopped
pepper to taste
32 saltine crackers — (a sleeve)
1 cup mayonnaise — add more if needed, up to 1 1/2 cups

1. In a medium sized bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, green onions (use most of the dark green tops too as they add nice color), and the hard boiled egg(s). Grate in some pepper.
2. Crush the saltines in the sleeve until they are coarse pieces. Don’t overdo it – it’s nice to have a few larger pieces. Add it to the bowl, then add only enough mayo to make it moist – toss it well, then taste as you go. It may need another tablespoon or two of mayo. Mix well and serve immediately. Do NOT let it sit as it gets soggy.
SERVING: scoop into a bowl just slightly bigger than the salad. Serve as a side salad or with cold shrimp it would make a lunch serving.
Per Serving: 369 Calories; 35g Fat (81.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 442mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on April 2nd, 2017.

cauliflower_tapenade

Cauliflower isn’t exactly at the top of my vegetable “like” list. Not that I dislike it. That’s not it. It just doesn’t have all that much flavor – to me anyway. I know it’s good for me, though. I’d probably never have made this dish except it was served to me. It’s wonderful. Really delicious.

At the moment, cauliflower is the new “IN” vegetable. There’s cauliflower everywhere, including the new riced cauliflower at Trader Joe’s and Costco. When I’m served that ubiquitous mixed vegetable at a restaurant – with broccoli, maybe a red pepper strip or two, and some zucchini, perhaps, if there is cauliflower I may scoot it around my plate, thinking I’m going to eat it, but often I don’t. Steamed cauliflower just holds zero interest to my palate. I like cauliflower mashed to resemble mashed potatoes – with all kinds of good stuff in it like butter and sour cream. And I don’t dislike roasted cauliflower on occasion – the roasting (caramelization) makes it much more interesting and edible to me. And one of my very favorite green salads (Garlic VIP Dressing) has some tiny cauliflower florets (and toasted, sliced almonds too) in it. Coated with salad dressing, I love cauliflower. I think I prefer raw cauliflower, as long as it’s cut into fairly small bites.

If you like to make an appetizer, and you’d like it to be a bit more healthy, try this one. Normally a tapenade is olives – mostly olives. This has some, but it’s mostly cauliflower. You might be able to taste the cauliflower, or not. Surely people will ask you what it is. It does not look like hummus. It’s kind of light dirty brown (from the Mediterranean olives in it).

The cauliflower is tossed with some olive oil and a spice rub of some kind (Tarla used a blackened seasoning rub on it), then roasted until the tops were crispy brown. They they were combined with some pitted black and green olives, green onions, lemon juice, S & P. And more olive oil to make it smooth. Tarla used some olive bread (large baguette shape) and toasted the slices, then she scooped some of the cauliflower tapenade on top and served it with a salad. It could be served that way, or also as an appetizer. It’s also sprinkled with some smoked paprika on top – it wouldn’t be necessary to do that, but the smoked paprika adds a lovely little smoky taste to it.

What’s GOOD: it’s sort of healthy (though it has a goodly amount of olive oil in it) and you’ll get in a small portion of veggies when you serve it. It’s really delish.

What’s NOT: only that you do have to roast the cauliflower (about 15 minutes or so) first. Otherwise, it’s very easy to do. Do buy pitted olives if possible!

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Cauliflower Tapenade

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, chef, 2017
Serving Size: 12

3 cups cauliflower — cut into 1″ florets
2 teaspoon blackened seasoning — or other spice rub
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 cup Mediterranean olives, mixed — pitted
2 green onions — sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup EVOO — or more if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Smoked paprika for sprinkling on top
Olive bread or Baguette slices — for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a rimmed baking sheet toss the cauliflower with 2 T of EVOO and the spice rub. Bake until golden brown on some of the edges, about 15 minutes. Turn the florets once during the baking time. Remove and let cool.
2. In a food processor, combine oil, olives, green onions, and lemon juice; blend until mostly smooth. Add cauliflower and about 1/2 teaspoon salt plus pepper to taste; blend until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides at least once. Taste for seasonings. Refrigerate until cool. Makes 2 cups.
3. Toast the olive bread or baguette slices, spread each piece with the tapenade and sprinkle lightly with smoked paprika.
Per Serving (tapenade only): 126 Calories; 14g Fat (89.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 45mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on November 22nd, 2016.

maple_sriracha_oyster_crackers_appetizer

Addictive? Well, yes. Tasty? Oh my, yes. Salty and sweet and everything you want in a little tasty nibble to serve with drinks or other appetizers.

I think I saw this recipe on Pinterest awhile back and visited the website, The Cookie Rookie. I made a decision, right there and then, that I’d make these. I bought the oyster crackers and made these little beauties. It’s really VERY easy to do.

You heat up a mixture in a large, wide frying pan – canola oil, unsalted butter, sriracha sauce (use your discretion as to how much – I used 1 T. for the recipe size below and it was lightly hot/spicy from the sriracha), maple syrup, honey and seasoning salt. Becky, the blogger who devised this recipe, uses Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, but I think you could use any kind of seasoned salt of your choice. Once the mixture is melted and simmering, turn off the heat and pour in all the oyster crackers.

You’ll stir it and stir it so the crackers absorb the liquid. DO mix it continuously and until ALL the liquid is gone. You need to do this, otherwise you’ll have a puddle of sauce later on. Eventually all that liquid will be absorbed as you stir. Then you pour them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for an hour at 200°F, stirring the crackers every 20 minutes. If you decide to do a double batch, use two baking sheets – you want the crackers to have some room around them so they dry and get crispy.

What’s GOOD: Oh gosh, these are so very good. I gave some to 3 close friends of mine at a breakfast one morning and they could hardly keep their hands out of the baggies. I served them with appetizers to some guests one night. Loved them. A lot. They’re crispy. They’re crunchy, kind of. They’re sweet. They’re hot. All at the same time. Altogether delicious! A keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. An easy recipe to make and do a day ahead if you want to. I think they’d keep for a week or so. Becky thought 2 weeks.

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Sriracha & Maple Syrup Oyster Crackers

Recipe By: The Cookie Rookie blog
Serving Size: 8

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce — or more if you like it hot
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt — or other seasoning salt
8 ounces oyster crackers — (I used Trader Joe’s)

1. Melt the oil and butter in a wide, large skillet. Add Sriracha, syrup, honey & salt. Bring to a low boil then turn off the heat.
2. Add the crackers and mix until the crackers are evenly coated. Continue to stir until all the liquid has been absorbed by the crackers (otherwise there will be a little puddle on the baking sheet).
3. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Cool and place in plastic ziploc bag to keep them crispy and fresh. Eat within a few days.
Per Serving: 251 Calories; 16g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 228mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on October 7th, 2016.

artichoke_crostini

Such a fun appetizer – artichoke hearts (frozen, defrosted) with garlic and a bit of fresh spinach, then pureed with lemon juice, Parmesan, Feta. THEN, the best part, served with a light sprinkle of lime salt (fresh lime zest mixed with flake salt). I absolutely loved it.

My assignment for the dinner group was an appetizer. Someone else was bringing gazpacho, so the hostess asked for something else, finger food of some kind. I scanned through my many recipes and found this, that I’d recently read from Valerie Bertinelli’s cookbook One Dish at a Time: Delicious Recipes and Stories from My Italian-American Childhood and Beyond. If you haven’t caught it, she has a show on the Food Network. Every dish I’ve prepared from the show, and now from the cookbook (at the library) has been gosh-darned good.

artichoke_puree1First, I defrosted a 12-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts (Trader Joe’s), drained them, then lightly sautéed them in a little olive oil, then added the garlic and fresh spinach (just a few handfuls). That mixture got pureed in the food processor with a light amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some Feta, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It is improved with a bit of sitting in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, I made the LIME SALT. Nothing but a zested lime (the juice is not used in the dish) and some good flake salt. Some fresh, tasty radishes were thinly sliced, a baguette was sliced and the pieces lightly toasted, and it’s all done.

lime_saltMy friend Sue was visiting and she helped me make this, then we assembled them at the host’s home just before serving. One side of each baguette slice is rubbed with a raw half of a garlic clove (the mixture is fairly heady with garlic – it took about 2-3 garlic cloves to rub all the bread slices), then you pile the artichoke mixture on top, and wedge a slice or two of radish on top and sprinkle with the lime salt. See photo at right of the lime salt .

What’s GOOD: For me, this dish was just fabulous, and the lime salt is what makes it. You definitely taste the lime and the salt, but it enhances the subtle artichoke and garlic flavors. The crunch of the fresh radishes is also a big boost of flavor and good mouth-feel. I’d definitely make this again. Do note, if you’re interested, this is very low fat but high on flavor. If I’d had sufficient left overs, I was going to add a bit of olive oil and add it to some hot pasta. But no, didn’t have any left overs!

What’s NOT: There is a bit of prep to this, but it’s not excessive. It helped that I had a friend to help me with it and we got it done in less than 30 minutes. It takes very few minutes to assemble it if you have all the parts done ahead.

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Pureed Artichoke Crostini with Lime Salt

Recipe By: Adapted from “One Dish at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts — thawed and patted dry
2 cups baby spinach
2 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
LIME SALT GARNISH:
2 tablespoons sea salt flakes
1 lime — zested
SERVING:
1 baguette — sliced into thin rounds and toasted lightly
2 cloves garlic — halved
4 radishes — very thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the artichokes, spinach, chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice and saute until the spinach begins to wilt and the garlic becomes fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, feta, parsley and the remaining tablespoons lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Add the kosher salt and season to taste with pepper.
2. SALT: In a small bowl, combine the sea salt flakes and lime zest with your fingers. Set aside.
3. Cut the remaining garlic cloves in half and rub, cut side down, onto one side of each slice of toasted bread. Spread the artichoke mixture generously among the slices, place on a platter and serve with radishes standing up in the artichoke mixture and sprinkled with a tiny pinch of the lime salt (so you can see it on the radishes); or, spoon the artichoke mixture into a serving bowl and serve with the bread slices on the side. Garnish with the radishes and lime salt.
Per Serving: 139 Calories; 3g Fat (19.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1385mg Sodium.

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