Monday, January 30, 2012

Blue Cheese Hot Wing Dip

Do you have a Super Bowl party coming up this weekend?  This is a dip that is sure to please...lots of flavor and the kind of gooey decadence that you expect on the most holy day in the football religion's calendar.

Blue Cheese Hot Wing Dip
Makes about 3 cups.
From Southern Living.

1 (8-ounce) package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened and cut into pieces
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1 (4-ounce) package crumbled blue cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons milk (optional)

Garnishes: crumbled blue cheese, chopped green onions, freshly cracked pepper

Serve with: fried chicken breast tenders, celery sticks, radishes, hot wing sauce
Pulse first 10 ingredients in a food processor 4 times or just until blended. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl, and gently stir in blue cheese. If desired, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, for desired consistency. Cover and chill 1 to 2 hours before serving. Garnish, if desired. Serve with chicken tenders, celery sticks, radishes, and hot wing sauce. Store leftovers in refrigerator up to 7 days

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Healthy Snack Ideas

Still on that New Years resolution?  Good for you...

Here are some snacks that will continue to keep you on track.  You'll notice they include lots of fiber, "good" fats, and always some protein.  Use those ideas to create your own favorites as well.
  • Half a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread with a cup of low-fat milk.
  • A hard-cooked egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast and a chunk of Parmesan.
  • Piece of cheese (Cheddar, Swiss, whatever is your favorite), whole wheat roll and a pear (or apple).
  • 1/4 cup hummus with a small whole-wheat pita.
  • This one is particularly easy: Grapes and 2 tablespoons walnuts.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple-Blue Cheese Chutney

I made this tasty chunky sauce the other night for a little party we had.  It was quite good spread on simple crackers.  Bet it would be sublime on toasted walnut bread.  Or even as a sauce on grilled chicken.

Apple-Blue Cheese Chutney
Makes about 3 cups.
Adapted from Cooking Light.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 1/2 cups finely diced peeled Braeburn apple (2 large)
1 cup apple cider (or juice) 
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

Heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots; sauté 1 minute. Add apple and next 3 ingredients (through vinegar); bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes or until most of liquid evaporates and apples are very tender.

Remove from heat; stir in thyme, salt, and pepper. Cool to room temperature. Gently stir in blue cheese.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Soy and Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I love to braise a pork shoulder.  It's simple, economical and you end up with a wonderfully flavorful result that you can use in a variety of ways.

Here's yet another version that I have added to my repertoire.  It was a hit at our Halloween party last October.  And would probably be a hit at your Super Bowl shindig. We served it on little Hawaiian rolls with an Asian slaw.  It would also be good in tortillas with some carrot and cucumber pickled in a little rice wine vinegar.

Soy and Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder
From Cooking Light.
Makes 10-12 servings.

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 (3 1/2-pound) bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cola (such as Coca-Cola)
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce
1 cup diagonally sliced green onions
Preheat oven to 300°.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt. Add pork to pan; sauté for 8 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Remove pork. Add ginger and garlic; sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in cola and the next 3 ingredients (through soy sauce); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 50 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally. Remove pork from pan, and let stand for 10 minutes. Shred pork with 2 forks. Skim fat from cooking liquid.

Place pan over medium-high heat; bring cooking liquid to a boil. Cook 15 minutes or until reduced to about 2 cups, stirring occasionally. Combine pork and 3/4 cup sauce in a bowl; toss to coat. Top with green onions. Serve pork with remaining 1 1/4 cups sauce.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vodka Tomato Cream Sauce

Here's a really simple way to dress up purchased frozen ravioli or tortellini.

Vodka Tomato Cream Sauce

Finely dice half of an onion and sauté in olive oil over medium-low heat until softened. 

Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup dry white wine.

Stir in a can of tomato paste, a spash of vodka and 2 cups of cream or half and half. Simmer over low heat until reduces by half.

Add salt and pepper to taste and toss with your cooked pasta.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Braised Chicken with Kale

Kale is one of those winter super foods.  But some people don't enjoy it on its own.  Here's a dish that combines it with inexpensive chicken pieces and pantry ingredients for a great and pretty simple dinner.  In a pinch or if you're a complete kale-ophobe, you can substitute spinach.  Just know that the more tender spinach won't stand up as well to the long cooking and will be quite soft.

Braised Chicken with Kale
Makes 6-8 servings.
Adapted from Cooking Light.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 bunches kale, tough ribs removed and roughly chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14.5-ounce) can fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (Do NOT leave this adds just the right acidity.)

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle the chicken with black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place flour in a dish, and dredge chicken. Place 4 chicken thighs in pan, and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining thighs, adding oil if necessary. Remove from pan.

Add  any remaining olive oil to pan. Add garlic; cook for 20 seconds. Add half of kale; cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining half of kale; cook 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and broth; bring to a boil. Return chicken to pan. Cover and bake at 325° for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove chicken from pan; stir in vinegar. Serve chicken over kale mixture.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shrimp Puffs

If you read this blog regularly (thanks!), you know that I love appetizers.  I can put on my best Martha Stewart and stuff tiny potatoes with goat cheese topped with caviar.  Elegant, no?  And I am a fan of the retro nibbles that our parents grew up with.  Rumaki, anyone?

But I'm always eager to return to my suburban Texas roots and fix up a batch of white trash nibbles.  You know the ones...they involve Velveeta.  Canned biscuits.  Stuff I don't eat on a regular basis. It requires jettisoning Martha and Julia for Rachael and Guy.  (I know...I'm sorry.)

These little bundles were HUGE hits at a party we had last weekend. Try them and you'll see why...

(By the way, I skipped the dill and added a few generous dashes of Lousiana hot sauce.)

Shrimp Puffs
Makes 20 puffs.
From Guy Fieri and Food Network Magazine.

Cooking spray, for coating the muffin tin

1 7 1/2-ounce can refrigerator biscuits
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
1 scallion, white part and some green, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 pound baby shrimp, cooked and peeled
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a miniature-muffin tin with cooking spray.

Split each biscuit in half and place each half in a muffin cup, pressing it into the bottom and up the sides.

In a medium-size bowl, mix the cheese, scallion, mayonnaise, shrimp and dill. Place 1 tablespoon of the shrimp mixture on top of each biscuit. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the puffs are golden and bubbling.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Simplest Snacks Ever

I posted some simple and healthy snacks yesterday that, while simple, bordered on the gourmet.  Today's are still delicious, but even simpler. 
  • 1/2 cup grapes and 1 stick light mozzarella string cheese
  • 1/4 sliced cucumber and 3 tablespoons hummus
  • 2 carrots cut into sticks and 1 tablespoon peanut butter
Notice the fruit/veggie with a protein theme?  It's a good one to keep in mind as you come up with your own snack ideas.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Quick and Healthy Snacks

Just because a snack is good for you and easy to make doesn't mean it has to be boring. These border on the gourmet....the perfect thing to tide you over at your desk.
  • Spread a slice of pumpernickel toast with a tablespoon of low-fat cream cheese and top with a sliced radish.  Finish off with a pinch of sea salt.
  • Slice two figs in half and wrap each piece with two slices of prosciutto cut in half.
  • Stir 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin and a pinch of pumpkin pie spice into 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • How about a mini-egg salad sandwich? Mash a hard-boiled egg with 1 teaspoon mayonnaise and a pinch of celery salt.  Spread on a piece of whole wheat bread.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cinnamon-Pecan Streusel Coffee Cake

Classics are classics for a reason.  They are dependable recipes that you can go back to again and again.  This is just one of those recipes.  Make it tonight or tomorrow so that you have it ready for Sunday morning.  Then, give yourself a mini-vacation.  Coffee, the Sunday paper and this great breakfast treat.

Cinnamon-Pecan Streusel Coffee Cake
Makes 16 servings.

Butter-flavored cooking spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup fat-free sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon fat-free milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients. Set aside.

Beat sugar and butter with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add sour cream, vanilla, and eggs; beat well. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating just until dry ingredients are moist. Combine brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Spoon 1/2 of batter into prepared pan; sprinkle evenly with 1/2 of brown sugar mixture. Spoon remaining batter over brown sugar mixture, and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture over batter. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack.

Combine powdered sugar, milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a small bowl; stir until smooth. Drizzle over coffee cake.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

French Onion Soup

Here's a dish to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter day.  Make it one Sunday afternoon and then reheat and top it later in the week for a simple weeknight supper.

French Onion Soup
Makes 4-6 servings.

6 large yellow onions (the sweeter the better), peeled and thinly sliced.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups beef stock
1/2 cup dry white wine (or go especially French and use dry vermouth)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper

To top:  thinly sliced French bread, lightly toasted and grated or sliced Swiss cheese (Gruyere if possible)
In a large saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until well browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes (or longer). Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the caramelization.

Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock, wine, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover partially and simmer about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf.

Ladle into individual oven=proof soup bowls or ramekins.  Top with the toasted bread and cheese. Put under the broiler, watching carefully, until the cheese bubble and browns slightly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: American Flyer

I tried this one the other night as we sipped Champagne on New Years Eve. I thought I would mix things up a little (literally), pulled out The Ultimate Bar Book and experimented.  This sipper was delicious.  Like a fizzy Daiquiri in a flute.

American Flyer
Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 ounce white rum
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3-5 ounces chilled sparkling wine

Shake all the ingredients except the bubbly with ice.  Strain into a chilled champagne flute and slowly top with the sparkling wine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tim Byres' Favorite Cheap Eats

I always make a New Years resolution to try new spots here in town.  But given the state of my economy (just call me Greece), I can't quite afford places on the various Best New Restaurant lists.  Too many stars, too many dollars.

So I was excited to run across a feature in the November Southern Living that listed Tim Byres' favorite places for cheap eats.  Byres is the chef at Smoke, the great restaurant out in Oak Cliff (great view of the Dallas skyline, by the way) that features house-smoked meats, housemade pickles and Southern treats like pimiento cheese croquettes.  I love the place, so I trust Byres.

Here's his take on cheap eats that can't be missed:
  • Edelweiss German Restaurant in Fort Worth:  Looks like I'm headed here for sausage, sauerkraut and an accordion-accompanied polka soon.  
  • Wingfield's Breakfast and Burger I checked out the reviews on this one.  Sounds like the double cheeseburger could feed a small family.  Byres calls it a "hamburger-grease-down-your-arm, iced-tea-on-a-bench kind of meal."
  • Kalachandji's: I've been there, but this reminds me to go back.  The buffet option means you can check out the vegetarian options to your heart's content.
  • Mai's Vietnamese Restaurant: I've been here also, and I concur with Byres' thumbs up.  It's as authentic as you can get this side of Saigon.  The only question is which to try first...the pho or the clay pot.
  • El Ranchito: We would have taken Byres' Texas card away if he hadn't included a Tex-Mex place...and I look forward to trying this one.  He suggests the Cabrito.  Sounds good to me.
What cheap eats places can you add to my list?  Post in the comments below...

Monday, January 09, 2012

Bananas Foster

How's the health kick going?  I'm actually on track.  But rather than completely denying myself, I have a treat every now and then.  This one is nice and warming on a winter night.  Keep the portion size reasonable and you should remain relatively guilt-free.

Bananas Foster
Makes four servings.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum or orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger (optional, but don't skip it if you have it)
3 bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise and crosswise

1 pint vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar, rum (be will flame up), cinnamon, ginger and 1/4 cup water. Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Add bananas and sauté until softened, 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and let cool for 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide ice cream among 4 dessert bowls. Spoon bananas into bowls and drizzle sauce over each. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Healthy Ideas for the New Year

I'm betting that at least some of you made one or more of a set of related resolutions: eat healthier or lose weight.  I'm right there with you.  So these tips from Rachael Ray's magazine are welcome additions to our kitchen bag of tricks.
  • Toss some herbs (dill, thyme, parsley, etc.) into your salad as you toss it.  An Italian study says that they increase the antioxidant levels in the other vegetables.
  • Forget about bottled salad dressings...even the "low-fat" versions are full of sugar and preservatives. Makes your own with flaxseed oil or olive oil for a dose of good-for-you fats.
  • You can get those good fats by adding a small handful of nuts to your salad as well.
  • If you're making a creamy dressing like Ranch, replace half of the mayonnaise in the recipe with non-fat Greek yogurt.  The result will be creamier with fewer calories and higher levels of calcium and protein.
  • If you eat half an avocado in your salad, you up the concentrations of lycopene, beta-carotene and alpha carotene in your blood.
  • Craving mashed potatoes?  Substitute turnips for half of the potatoes in the recipe and you'll increase vitamins and decrease calories.
  • I love rice, but it's not on my diet plan.  I can swap quinoa out for it in my pilaf and risotto recipes to pump up the fiber the quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Make a guilt-free cream sauce. Instead of using a cup of heavy cream, mix in a cup of skim milk and 1/2 cup pureed white beans. Fewer calories and 25 percent of your daily requirement of fiber.
  • Next time you make marinara sauce, wilt in 6-8 ounces of spinach.  More fiber, plus iron and potassium.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Housemade Gravlax

I'm a sucker for good cured salmon.  I use it to make elegant canapes for parties.  Snack on it at the cocktail hour.  And often have a couple of slices on toast or bagel things for breakfast.

So why not make it at home?  It's simple and inexpensive.  This recipe calls for a two-pound fillet, but you can easily adjust the cure quantities and make a lot less.

Housemade Gravlax

1 large bunch fresh dill, roughly chopped
2 cups coarse salt
2 cups brown sugar
Two 2-pound extremely fresh salmon fillet (sushi grade), skin on
1 teaspoon crushed Szechuan peppercorns
1/4 cup vodka

Crush the dill with the coarse salt and add the brown sugar.

Sprinkle the salmon fillets with the Szechuan peppercorns. Cover with the dill mixture and splash with vodka. Sandwich the fillets together, tail-to-tail, and cover with plastic wrap. Cover the salmon with another plate and something that weighs about a pound. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

After that time, the flesh will have lost its translucence. Rinse under cold water and pat dry.

Slice the gravlax thinly on the bias and without the skin.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fried Confetti Corn

This recipe will be spectacular when cooked with fresh summer corn, but there's no reason you can't treat yourself to this bright spot on a winter day. One bag of frozen corn is about 3 cups.

Fried Confetti Corn
From Southern Living.
Makes 8 servings.  (You can half it easily.)

8 bacon slices

6 cups fresh sweet corn kernels (about 8 ears)
1 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon, and drain on paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons drippings in skillet. Coarsely crumble bacon and set aside.

Sauté corn and next 3 ingredients in hot drippings in skillet over medium-high heat 6 minutes or until tender. Add cream cheese and half-and-half, stirring until cream cheese melts. Stir in sugar and next 2 ingredients.

Transfer to a serving dish, and top with bacon.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Dependable Value Wines

I refuse to be a wine snob. I believe people should drink whatever they enjoy...whether expensive or not...from a respected French chateau or a more humble Texas producer.  (I reserve the right to turn my nose up at sweet pink white Zinfandels though...sorry.)

That said, it's always nice to have your opinions reinforced by a "best of" list.  Especially when the list is made up of quite a few bargains.  Back in October, The Dallas Morning News celebrated five years of its wine panel with a collection of its favorites.  Here are several that we agree on.  They are well worth checking out. (Plus check out this list of bubblies I posted a couple of weeks ago.)
  • Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec: This Argentinian gem is bold and a versatile pairing with many foods. Check out the winery's other options, including a red blend and a white blend, as well...they are all delicious.
  • Borsao Granacha: Spain produces lots of delicious wine bargains, including this one.  It's spicy and also a versatile pairing.  How about an Italian cross-border pairing with pizza?
  • Belle Glos Pinot Noir: The Melomi bottling is a good value at around $20, but I've been known to splurge on their more expensive products as well.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Years Resolutions

OK...we all have made resolutions, right? Lose weight. Be kind. Stop smoking. All the usual suspects.

But who says resolutions have to aim high? What other more simple things might we do to make our lives less complicated? Sometimes the little things can be just as important, no? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Download all the pictures in your digital camera to your computer. Heck, while you're at it, add them to your Flickr account to share with others.
  • Throw out all your expired coupons...and put the good ones in your glove compartment so you actually have them when you need them.
  • Audit your shower stall. get rid of any soaps, gels, shampoos and the like that you haven't used in a while.
  • That stack of magazines you've been saving? You're never going to get to them. Eliminate at least half of them. And recycle of course...
What other tips/resolutions can you share with the rest of us? Post them in the Comments below.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Godfather's Wine Advice

The beginning of a New Year is an opportunity to look back...and to look forward.  I think this article from Food & Wine magazine says some great things.  Cheers!

Happy New Year!

For as many years as I can remember, New Years Day has been about the Tournament of Roses Parade. (And, yes, black-eyed peas.) It's usually a bit chilly here in Dallas, so I can see (usually) warmer Pasadena and marvel at the floral masterpieces.

Eighteen million. That's now many flowers they use. Just think...a couple more months and you can be out in your own garden creating your own float...