Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sweet and Spicy Cheese Bites

OK...this recipe probably betrays my suburban (some would say "white trash") roots, but it's pretty tasty. And looks elegant enough to have held its own next to the elegant appetizers and canapes I served at our black-tie-optional Academy Awards party in February. It's simple and could prove a hit at your next soiree.

Cheese Bites
From Southern Living

4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese (or 4 ounces Brie)
1 can refrigerated flaky buttermilk biscuits
1/2 cup jalapeƱo pepper jelly (or substitute mango chutney or your favorite spicy/sweet preserves)

Cut cream cheese into 24 pieces, and let soften.

Separate each biscuit into thirds, making 3 rounds. Press biscuit rounds into bottom and up sides of 24 mini-muffin cups. Spoon about 1 tsp. pepper jelly into center of each biscuit cup; top each with 1 cream cheese piece.

Bake at 425° for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, March 26, 2007

AFI DALLAS International Film Festival

Sorry that posts have been few and far between, but I've been working with the inaugural AFI DALLAS International Film Festival. Opening Weekend was wildly successful with packed houses, appearances by Hollywood royalty like Lauren Bacall and Sidney Pollack, and hoi polloi like David Lynch, Bill Paxton, and Chris Klein. Lots of wonderfully quirky movies, excellent documentaries and family films. A highlight of last night was a screening at the magnificent Meyerson Symphony Center of classic Harold Lloyd silent films with live organ accompaniment. Wow!

And there's still much more this week, including hockey movie The Rocket, the wonderful film Bella, appearances by Marvin Hamlisch and Ricki Lake and...well, check out for all the scoop. Sign up for their mailing list and you'll receive daily updates throughout the Festival.

See you at the movies!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sun-Dried Tomato/Goat Cheese Spread

I know I've posted more than a fair share of appetizer recipes lately, but I have a glut of things left over from our Academy Awards party. And who says you have to have a party to make something to nosh on while you're having a cocktail or a glass of wine as you prepare dinner. After all, the Life Should Be Beautiful guidebook says that every night is a party.

This is an interesting twist on an everyday dip. It keeps well in the refrigerator so you could snack on it for a week or so. Goes great on bread, crackers, or crisp fresh vegetables like radishes, celery and carrots.

Sun-Dried Tomato/Goat Cheese Spread
From Southern Living magazine.

1 garlic bulb
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 (11-oz.) package goat cheese
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Cut off pointed end of garlic; place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil, and drizzle with oil. Fold foil to seal. Place on baking sheet.

Bake at 425° for 45 minutes or until cloves are tender. Let cool slightly. Squeeze pulp from garlic cloves; mash.

Beat garlic, goat cheese, and next 5 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until well blended. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve with assorted crackers, breads, and vegetables.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pepita-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Tomatillo Salsa and Queso Fresco

Here's another Southwestern-style chicken recipe. You can mix and match with this recipe from last week. Serve the pepita-crusted chicken with the guacamole sauce. Or the cumin-dusted chicken with the tomatillo salsa. Or go whole-hog (whole-hen?) and serve all at once and let your family or guests come up with their own favorite combinations.

Hint: the combination of bread crumbs and chopped pumpkin seeds also makes a great crusting for fish. Try it with tilapia or catfish.

Pepita-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Tomatillo Salsa and Queso Fresco

2 quarts water
1/2 pound tomatillos (about 10 small), husks and stems removed
1 garlic clove
1/2 to 1 serrano chile
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 (1-ounce) slices white bread
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
3 tablespoons raw shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds), coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled queso fresco cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare salsa, bring water to a boil. Add tomatillos, garlic, and chile; cook 7 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Combine tomatillos, garlic, chile, chopped cilantro, onion, lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor or blender; pulse 4 to 5 times or until coarsely chopped. Set aside.

To prepare chicken, place bread in a food processor, and pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1 1/2 cups. Arrange crumbs on a baking sheet; bake at 350° for 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely. Toss with chopped pumpkin seeds.

Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, and red pepper; sprinkle evenly over chicken.

Place breadcrumb-pepita mixture in a shallow dish. Place egg in another shallow dish. Dip chicken in egg; dredge in breadcrumb-pepita mixture.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 4 minutes and turn over. Place in 400 degree oven and bake 10 minutes or until done. Top chicken with salsa, and sprinkle with queso fresco cheese. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and lime wedges, if desired.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What Cocktail are You?

You Are A Martini

You are the kind of drinker who appreciates a nice hard drink.
And for you, only quality alcohol. You don't waste your time on the cheap stuff.
Obviously, you're usually found with a martini in your hand. But sometimes you mix it up with a gin and tonic.
And you'd never, ever consider one of those flavored martinis. They're hardly a drink!
This is a fun game to play. You've seen my results above. Click on the link to find out which cocktail YOU are...
I post this as I drink a .....gin and tonic.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dirty South Sausage Balls

I just love the name of this delicious appetizer. It's kind of naughty. They're easy to make and then freeze until you need them. They need a dipping sauce of some sort to make them truly wonderful. Maybe hot mustard with a little honey. Or something else creative. Let me know what you come up with.

The recipe was printed in the Dallas Morning News and comes from Blythe Beck, the executive chef at a GREAT restaurant here in town, Hector's on Henderson.

Dirty South Sausage Balls

2 pounds pork breakfast sausage (half mild and half spicy)
1/2 pound softened cream cheese
1/4 cup snipped chives (or green onions)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
3 cups panko breadcrumbs or unseasoned dried bread crumbs
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed (Note: I went through a LOT more puff pastry than the recipe calls for. Used two boxes/4 sheets and still had lots of filling left over.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large bowl, combine sausage, cream cheese, chives, cayenne, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Fold bread crumbs into meat-cheese mixture until fully combined. Roll mixture into 1 inch balls.

Roll puff pastry sheets out slightly. Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares. Wrap puff pastry squares around each ball, stretching to cover. Make sure all filling is "tucked in" and pinch seams to seal. Place seam-side down on greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes.

If you freeze them, bake them (still frozen) at 375 degrees for about 17 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Pair of Pear Appetizers

I ran across a wonderful canape filling in Southern Living magazine last year. It's sweet with pear and honey, balanced by the creaminess of goat cheese and a fresh blast of thyme. They suggest it in tart shells made from refrigerated pie crusts that you cut into pieces and press into mini muffin tins and then bake filled at 375 degrees for 8- 10 minutes. That works. There's an even easier way...I've discovered the filling is delicious simply at room temperature in those mini phyllo shells you can buy in the frozen food section of your grocery. A couple of weeks ago, we served them at our Oscar party in those phyllo cups and in some really cool prosciutto "cups" I made by pressing thin slices of prosciutto into mini muffin tins and baking at 300 degrees for 8 minutes until just barely browned. They firm up as they cool. A tray of alternating phyllo-pear tarts and prosciutto-pear tarts was eaten clean in no time at all.

Pear-Goat Cheese Canape Filling

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 to 2 ripe pears, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Stir ingredients together and serve on crackers, bread slices or in tart shells.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bloody Mary Vodka Tomatoes

I am struggling with how to classify these little bites of intense flavor. Are they appetizers? Are they cocktails on a toothpick? I guess they're both. Regardless, they're great things to make for a party... or to have on hand when you feel like inviting a couple folks over after work. They keep well for a week or so in the refrigerator.

Bloody Mary Vodka Tomatoes

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup pepper-flavored vodka (I'm tempted to try them with citrus vodka too.)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of celery salt
Pinch of garlic salt
Pinch of celery seed
(Or whatever goes into your favorite Bloody Mary recipe)

3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon pepper

Prick each tomato 3 times, piercing completely through with a toothpick. That will create 6 holes into which the liquid mixture can seep. Place tomatoes in medium bowl.

Pour vodka and "Bloody Mary" ingredients over tomatoes and stir gently to combine. Soak the tomatoes in the vodka mixture for at least two hours, ideally overnight.

To serve, place in small bowl. Mix salt and lemon pepper in bowl and serve alongside with toothpicks.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette

I'm envious of folks who live in New York or Chicago. Not for the weather...I like my winters warm. But for one particular restaurant/semi-fast food joint. I LOVE Cosi. They serve great salads, sandwiches and soups. All with fresh ingredients put together in interesting ways. Like a roast beef sandwich with wasabi mayonnaise, soy sauce and pickled ginger. And one of the most delicious salads I've ever had. Mixed greens, grilled chicken, dried cranberries, red grapes, pears, blue cheese and pistachios. (Yes...pistachios!) It's all tossed in a great shallot vinaigrette. This dressing comes close, so I'll try it as a substitute and attempt to recreate the salad until some smart franchiser opens one in Dallas. (If I only had an extra $900,000 sitting around...)

(This dressing would also be delicious on grilled chicken sandwiches or a spinach salad with goat cheese.)

Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette
From Cooking Light.

1 medium shallot, peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

Wrap shallot in foil. Bake at 400° for 35 minutes; cool for 10 minutes. Peel and mince. Combine shallot, vinegar, oil, sugar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk.

Serve with your favorite salad mix.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Little Spring Indoors

Spring really HAS come to North Texas. As I drove around yesterday, I realized that the plum trees and peach trees and even the redbuds were in bloom. The pear trees all over town turn into big fluffy snowballs that are more wintry looking than the weather we actually GET in what passes for the cold season here. It made me want to go out for a walk in the woods (or at least a big park) to look for other signs of spring.

There are some old-fashioned flowering shrubs that I really like. The yellow sprays of forsythia. The little stunted bush that is flowering quince. Those bursts of color in the middle of a wooded patch are vibrant harbingers of all the green soon to come. But they're really not good in a home landscape. After their color fades, they tend to look nondescript, messy and overgrown. They're the kind of plants that look great by an old farmhouse, in the woods by a lakeshore, or in a historic cemetery, but they are just out of place in the primped and trimmed yards we create for ourselves these days. Someday I hope to have a plot of land big enough that I can scatter some about...they always make me smile.

In the meantime though, I'm still getting my fix. I bought several branches of budding forsythia tonight at the local Central Market. (Check florists or big gourmet stores in your neighborhood.) They're in a big barrel-shaped vase here by my desk. They'll make me think of the outdoors and remind me of all the exciting and beautiful things going on in the great outdoors.
But, of course, there's no substitute for the real thing. So that walk on the park is on the to-do list.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cumin-Dusted Chicken with Guacamole Sauce

I'm on a Southwestern kick these days it seems. Salmon with chili powder, cumin and orange. Pork tenderloin with molasses, honey and chili powder. I think it's the appeal of bold flavors. Bright spicy smells and tastes that still don't overpower the main ingredient. This is a recipe in that vein. It's a simple, but slightly exotic way to use those frozen chicken breasts you buy at the warehouse club. Some black beans and Spanish rice on the side and you're set! The sauce to go with them could be made on its own for fish, pork or even just tortilla chips.

In a day or two, I'll post another chicken recipe with another sauce so you can have fun mixing and matching to your heart's content...

Cumin-Dusted Chicken Breast with Guacamole Sauce

Guacamole Sauce:
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 ripe peeled avocado, seeded and coarsely mashed

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Cooking spray (or a tablespoon of olive oil)

To prepare sauce, combine first 8 ingredients; set aside.
Preheat oven to 400°.

To prepare chicken, combine sugar, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; sprinkle evenly over chicken. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray or olive oil. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over. Place pan in oven; bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until done. Serve chicken with sauce.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

SAVOR Dallas: A Wine and Food Paradise

For me and other foodie/winos in the Dallas area, this weekend is Christmas, birthday and whatever other holiday you can think of wrapped up into one. It's SAVOR Dallas time. A weekend of food and wine tasting that only comes to North Texas once a year. It's the closest thing we get to the legendary food and wine festivals in South Beach and Aspen.

I discovered it last year, and, despite an icy weekend here in Dallas, spent two days in tastings and seminars. Learned about sparkling wines from Andrea Immer, mixed cocktails with Dale DeGroff and sat in on a panel which compared (rather competitively sometimes...) Texas and California wineries. Topped it all off with an evening of wines from around the world and foods from the best chefs in Dallas at the International Grand Tasting.

This weekend is the third annual event. I've had the opportunity to get to know founder Jim White over the last several months, and he uses his longtime passion for food and wine to pack the weekend with the best of the best. Friday night will be the Wine Stroll. The opportunity to taste wines in the Arts District and Victory Park. And, excitingly, the chance to taste things from the new restaurants which are working to transform the area adjacent to American Airlines Center into our own version of Times Square.

Saturday brings a series of wine and cocktail seminars with well-known names like Doug Frost, the wine diva Christine Ansbacher and Tony Abou-Ganim. Plus the cooking demos which include gastronomic rock star Rocco DiSpirito. And the debut of Victory Park's HUMONGOUS LCD screens with a showing of Babette's Feast.

Then join me at the International Grand Tasting. A two or three football field size space filled with scores of wineries and other producers serving over five hundred wines, spirits and imported beers. Pair those sips with tastes from chefs like Kevin Maxey from Craft, Stephan Pyles and cheeses from Paula Lambert's Mozzarella Company and you've got an evening to remember. (Go ahead and reserve a room at the Hilton'll be in no condition to drive.)

See you this weekend as we SAVOR Dallas!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Spanish Tapas: Garlic Shrimp with Olive Oil

I once fixed a multi-course wine pairing dinner for my family made up of quintessential Spanish food and wine. Tapas, those wonderful Spanish "small plates," with several kinds of sherry. Paella infused with saffron. Roasted lamb with garlic and smoked paprika. All accompanied by wonderful wines from Spanish wine regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero. We topped it all off with a plate of delicious Spanish cheeses like Cabrales, Murcia del Vino and Garrotxa. And a glass of inky rich Priorat wine. I need to track down those recipes and wine names and post them sometime...

Meanwhile, here's the simplest...and perhaps most from that dinner. Gambas al ajillo. The sweetness of shrimp is underscored by the silky richness of olive oil, the bite of garlic and a kicky hint of red pepper. They're best served sizzling in individual ramekins (or cazuelas, the Spanish earthenware version) with crusty bread to sop up the juices.

(Of course, you could be heretical and serve over pasta accompanied by bread and a green salad for a full meal. Just don't tell your Spaniard friends!)

Garlic Shrimp with Olive Oil

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 whole dried red chiles (or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste)
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
2 pounds shelled and deveined medium shrimp
Sea Salt
Crusty bread, for serving

In a very large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, chiles and parsley and cook over moderately high heat for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the shrimp and cook over high heat, stirring once, until they are pink and curled, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and transfer to small bowls. Serve with crusty bread.

Food/Wine Pairing: This begs for the seaside brace of the driest Spanish sherry you can find. My favorite is Hidalgo's La Gitana Manzanilla. Served chilled, it's almost literally a whiff of the Spanish seashore. Briny with citrus and a little hint of green olive. (Another great pairing by the way.) My trouble is that it's difficult to find in Dallas. I end up having to mail order it. Dallas wine distributors, do you hear my plight?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Grapefruit's Last Hurrah

You can get grapefruit year-round, but my favorite Texas ruby red grapefruits are at their peak in January and February. So, now's the time to enjoy a final burst of sweetness. Here's a simple way to prepare them. They're great with breakfast...or even as a light dessert.

Broiled Grapefruit

Trim a little off the end of a grapefruit half (at least one per person) so they sit flat on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place them on sheet and use a knife to loosen grapefruit sections from membrane.

Sprinkle each half with 1-2 tablespoons sugar. (I like brown sugar on these.) Place 4 inches from broiler and broil until sugar is bubbling and caramelized, about 5 minutes.

It's easy and it's yummy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spring has Sprung....

When I was in high school here in Texas, there was a certain ritual that always signalled warmer temperatures and the headlong rush to summer. Our principal would at some point right before spring break come on the PA system and in an accent that can only be described as East Texas twang saturated in South Carolina drawl would intone: "Students, spring has sprung." That trademark prologue led into a homily on the inappropriateness of the public displays of affection in the hallways that always seem to be on the increase as the sap to speak. This sermon occurred without fail all four years I was there...and, I can only imagine, continued until he retired sometime a decade or so later.

I couldn't help but smile at the recollection as I walked around our yard today and realized that, yes indeed, spring had sprung. The saucer magnolia (that I always learned to call a "tulip tree") was blooming. (Hopefully, it won't get zapped by a late-season frost as it seems to have every year since we moved here six years ago.) Daffodils are in bloom. Traditional big-bloomed ones as well as some tiny little ones that I planted and that continue to naturalize year after year.

The wildflowers in the alley are beginning to green. Not only the established ones that did so well last year, but also the tiny seedlings that have emerged from the seed broadcast back in November. Already they are fighting with less-desirable "wild" flowers like dandelions and henbit. They won't bloom until summer, so only time will tell who will emerge victorious.

I pruned the rose bushes which live in pots on the back driveway a couple of weeks ago, and they are already sending out new red-green growth that will, in March and April, result in a colorful display, ready to enjoy on walks outside or to be cut, brought in and put around the house. And the iris, the first perennials to bloom in our landscape are eagerly emerging from soil and mulch. If their bloom is as prolific as their foliage, it looks like we're in for a stunning show.

It's not all "sprung" yet though. The wisteria is not quite ready to bloom, and the knobby buds on its lengths are not yet betraying whether they will be flowers (as we hope) or just leaves (as seems to be the case most often dadgum it). And while the iris are ready to go, their successors in the bloom parade, the daylilies, can't even bother to stick their green and lazy leaves out of the ground. his time of year always leads to a panicked moment or two when I wonder if they're all deadfrom drought and freeze. They always manage to come back though.

It's a great time to be outdoors. Warm, but with a hint of chill in the wind. Here in Texas, it's a time to revel in...all too soon, we'll barricade ourselves behind glass in air-conditioned sterility and sweat our way from house to car to office and back. In the meantime, there is sunshine, blooms, pollen (dang allergies) and green.

This is the first spring of this blog, and I'll be sharing with you the things that we grow here that give us so much pleasure. Many of them are perennials, simple to grow with the promise of return year after year. Herbs. Wildflowers. And a tropical plant or two tat have spent their winters dormant in our garage, but soon will burst into color and smell.

For now, my advice is simple. Get outside. Take it in--smell, see and feel all that's out there. For after all, spring HAS sprung.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Balsamic-Glazed Onions

Sometimes an interesting dinner is not about a fancy main course. It's just the addition of an interesting side dish to something as simple as baked chicken or grilled fish. Here's one such interesting side dish. These onions roast for an hour, becoming earthily sweet and infused with the wonderful richness of balsamic vinegar and rosemary.

Balsamic-Glazed Onions
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.

4 red onions, peeled and quartered, layers separated
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary (or use a couple tablespoons fresh rosemary if you've got it)
Kosher salt and ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Place onions on pan and toss with oil, balsamic vinegar and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover pan with another sheet of foil and seal tightly. Roast until onions have begun to soften, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to roast, tossing occasionally, until onions are softened and browned, about 30 minutes additional.

If you'd like, drizzle another tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over onions before serving.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: The Kiss

This recipe was in Texas Monthly magazine a couple years ago. It supposedly comes from the ever-so-hip Hotel ZaZa's Dragonfly bar here in Dallas. It's what my other half would refer to as a "tutti-frutti," a sweetish drink that is just slightly girly. Who cares? It's delicious.

The Kiss

2 ounces raspberry vodka (like Stoli Razberi)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce Chambord liqueur
Slice of lemon for garnish

Shake vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled, sugar-rimmed cocktail glass. Pour Chambord carefully down side of glass; it will sink to the bottom and create a layered look. Garnish with the lemon slice.