appetizer

chicken lettuce cups

This one’s in honor of Chinese New Year, and the Year of the Dragon, and “do-it-yourself Chinese take-out”…

We love the lettuce wraps at various restaurants like PF Changs, and this creation could be just as good or better. Fresh, light and healthy.  It was the perfect treat for the red carpet and the Golden Globe awards.  And, bonus… the kids loved them too! Served them with cream cheese wontons, potstickers, steamed edamame and brown rice.  Mmm. Mmm. Good.  Enjoy!

Chicken Lettuce Cups
Adapted from Epicurious
Yield: Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons clear rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup minced red onion
1 cup chopped canned button mushrooms  (I used fresh mushrooms)
1/2 cup water chestnuts, minced
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, minced (I diced my chicken into small chunks)
8 to 10 inner leaves iceberg lettuce, edges trimmed and chilled
Handful of fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Scallions, cut diagonally
Optional: 1/4 cup unsalted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped

Combine the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small bowl and mix together until the sugar dissolves.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok over high heat. Stir-fry the garlic and ginger for 10 seconds. Add the onion, mushrooms, and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Remove the contents of the wok.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the wok. Swish the oil around, add the chicken, and brown for 1 minute, or until no longer pink. Add the cooked vegetable mixture back to the wok, decrease the heat, and stir in the sauce mixture. Stir for 1 minute, or until the sauce is heated and the chicken is cooked through.

Spoon the filling in equal amounts into the lettuce cups. Top each lettuce cup with cilantro, scallions and sprinkle with chopped cashews, if desired. Serve warm.  (Next time, I may even top with crispy rice sticks for a little added texture.)

warm swiss cheese and onion dip

Three ingredients, that’s it. Easy and delicious. Mmm. Perfect for those last minute guests. Thanks to my Grandma for introducing the recipe to me. Enjoy!

Swiss Cheese and Onion Dip
from Grandma Doris

1 cup frozen diced onions
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (I used light mayo)

Mix ingredients and put in a shallow baking or au gratin dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown on top. Serve with chips or crackers.

stuffed mushrooms

My sister suggested this recipe to me a few weeks ago. Not bad… Thanks Kortney.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Cremini, white button or baby bella mushrooms – stems removed and mushrooms hollowed out
Boursin cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Cayenne pepper
Parmesan cheese

(Next time, I may throw in a few sliced scallions, diced shallots. or crushed garlic as well.)

Hollow the mushrooms to look like this…

Top hollowed mushrooms with a dollop of seasoned cheese, i.e. Boursin with herbs.  Add fresh basil, a dash of cayenne pepper and top with parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and mushrooms are browned.  Enjoy.

something to savor…sweet pumpkin dip

I was hooked the first time I tried this (some 5 years ago…)  It’s the perfect fall dip and it goes fab with red or yellow Bartlett pears or sweet, tart Haralson apples, or gingersnap cookies (if you like those).  And, if no one’s looking, you can eat it by the spoonful right out of the bowl.  (I have done it.)

 

Sweet Pumpkin Dip
adapted from Libby’s and various friends’ recipes
yield 5 cups

2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 can (15 oz.) 100% pure pumpkin
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or more, to taste)

BEAT cream cheese and pumpkin in large mixer bowl until smooth. Add sugar, cinnamon and ginger; mix thoroughly. Cover; refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve with sliced pears, apples and gingersnaps. Enjoy.

vietnamese spring rolls

I saw a recipe for these in the Sunday paper and I decided to try them out.  We were due for an Asian night at our house and most of the ingredients in the recipe were those I was familiar with – garlic, ginger, carrots, shrimp, cucumber, red pepper, lettuce, cilantro.  Spring roll wrappers? 

I found them in the Asian aisle shelf stable section at the grocery store.  Pretty simple – soak them in warm water for 30 seconds or so, and they are ready to roll – literally. They’re a bit tricky to roll or get a tight fit and I’m still trying to master the technique.  They can be filled with whatever you’d like – chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu, rice vermicelli, and any combination of vegetables.

This recipe is a combination of one I found in the Sunday paper and one that was online. Mise en place is necessary for this one, but if you do it ahead of time, all you have to do is assemble the rolls.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Makes about 8 rolls

Spring Rolls

1 lb. cooked shrimp (I cut mine into chunks, but could leave whole)
carrots, shredded (I used the pre-packaged carrot sticks)
cucumbers, diced into thin wedges
red pepper, cut into strips
green onion, diced
romaine lettuce, shredded
fresh cilantro leaves
fresh basil leaves
8 large spring roll wrappers – 8.5 in diameter

Sauce
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce

I wrapped my sauce in with the spring roll ingredients, but next time, I’ll serve the sauce on the side for dipping. Enjoy!

pan-seared polenta cakes

My sister makes a mean polenta.  Mmmm.  This was the perfect side-dish to a grand meal of cedar-plank salmon and a snap pea and red pepper saute.

Pan-Seared Polenta Cakes (Kortney’s recipe)

I bought the chub of polenta from Trader Joe’s, then sliced them into 1/2 inch rounds.  Added olive oil to a cast iron skillet over med-high heat and pan-seared both sides of the polenta until brown and crispy.  Once the polenta was cooked and browned on one side, my sister flipped them over and placed a dollop of chevre (goat cheese) on top of each round, followed by diced sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and sliced scallions (green onion).   Cook until other side is brown and crispy.  Serve warm.

Ingredients: polenta, chevre (plain or seasoned with herbs), jarred sun-dried tomatoes, basil and scallions

One thing to note:  you have to use the right pan for this.  One that gets hot and maintains temperature.  We used an enameled cast iron skillet.  It took us awhile to get the brown and crispy effect, but it was worth the wait.  The key is to leave the polenta until you notice the browning edges, then flip sides.  If you try to flip too soon, the polenta cakes will stick to the pan.

Yum, yum, yum.

caramelized shallots

This recipe just sounds good.  I must try it – shallots and the Barefoot Contessa. How can it go wrong? Two of my favorite things. 

Caramelized shallots
adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe

Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds fresh shallots, peeled, with roots intact
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof saute pan, add the shallots and sugar, and toss to coat. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the shallots start to brown. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss well.

Place the saute pan in the oven and roast for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shallots, until they are tender. Season, to taste, sprinkle with parsley, and serve hot.

cream cheese wontons

We like to do Chinese takeout night, and sometimes, it’s our own version of takeout.  We usually whip up a batch of fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, egg rolls, potstickers, cream cheese wontons, and sometimes a beef and broccoli or other stir fry.  The kids LOVE cream cheese wontons.  And, they usually want more than the typical 6-8 you would get in an order.  We’ve started making them at home.  They’re actually really simple to make – they just take awhile to put together. 

Two ingredients – cream cheese and wonton wrappers.

Some like to add green onion, garlic, sugar or crab to their cream cheese, but we like ours plain jane.

To assemble them, I usually grab a flexible cutting board, a small ramekin full of warm water,
cream cheese and wonton wrappers.  I also grab a plate or something to place my assembled wontons on.  Lay a wonton wrapper on the cutting board and place a dollop of cream cheese in the middle.  (Not too much cream cheese, as they won’t seal properly and you’ll lose it when deep frying.)  Dip your finger in the warm water and run it along two of the wonton wrapper edges.  Fold the wonton wrapper into a triangle – (two dry edges opposite the wet edges) and seal them – pressing down and scrunching them up into a tiny purse-like shape.

Here’s what they look like once assembled:

Deep fry in a deep fryer.  If you don’t have a fryer, heat vegetable oil over a med-high heat burner in a deep, heavy-duty sauce pan until a piece of bread starts to sizzle when dropped into the oil.  Deep fry until golden brown and they float to the top.  

Here’s what they look like once they’ve been deep-fried.

Serve hot with side of sweet and sour sauce.  I also like to add soy sauce and maybe a dash of sriracha.  Enjoy!

chris’ smoked chicken wings

Smoked Chicken Wings (courtesy of our great neighbors)

1 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

1 – 1 1/2 lb. chicken wings (thawed)

Start your smoker and get coals ready – let them burn down until you see ash forming on the top coals.  Add wood chips soaked in cold water for 30 min.  Rub seasoning onto wings and place on smoker rack. Wings only need about 45 minutes to smoke at around 300 degrees.  Finish wings on grill for about 2 minutes to crisp up the skin.  Serve them dry or with your favorite sauce.  (We used bbq sauce, but am also anxious to try buffalo sauce.)  Enjoy. 

lamb pops

My sister always talks to me about the racks of lamb she prepares (on almost a weekly basis).  I will post her recipe sometime. 

I haven’t had lamb more than maybe a couple of times, but on Mother’s Day this year, I wanted to try something special and different.  I found this recipe through a google search of “lamb pops”.  These were described as an appetizer, but could easily be a main dish.  I bought a rack and cut them into mini chops, let them marinate and had Jeff grill them. 

Oh my,  they smelled amazing when they hit the hot grill.  They were wonderfully delectable and rich – the flavors melded nicely.  I would definitely make this recipe again.

Lamb Pops

2-3 pounds of boneless lamb butterflied (cut into mini chops) – I buy my mini rack at Trader Joe’s
½ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup red wine (preferably the same wine you will be serving with the meal)
¼ cup soy sauce
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons dried rosemary

Mix the ingredients together and rub on the meat. Refrigerate 2-4 hours. Take out of refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.
Preheat gas grill to 350-400 degrees.
Cook on one side for five minutes. Turn and grill other side for five minutes. Continue cooking until meat reaches an internal temp of at least 145 degrees (medium rare) or 160 (medium).
Remove from heat; let meat sit for a few minutes. Enjoy.