Lately, I’ve had a difficult time deciding what to make in the kitchen. I’ve been tired and my hands have been bothering me, so whatever I make has to be quick and easy. I haven’t been super inspired by anything – I’ll settle on a recipe and then a bit later, change my mind…
It was the same thing a couple of weeks ago for Superbowl. I hemmed and hawed but ultimate decided on this Mediterranean Layer Dip, which I’ve had bookmarked for a while. I was not disappointed – the dip was fantastic! It had lots of flavor and was easy to customize to personal taste. I can’t wait to make it again.
Mediterranean Layer Dip
Makes a 12-inch plate of dip
- 1½-2 containers store-bought hummus (or homemade if you prefer)
- 1/4 a red onion, diced
- ½ a cucumber, seeded and diced
- 3-4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
- 1 recipe cilantro pesto (below)
- 1 recipe oven-dried tomatoes (below)
- Additional optional toppings: chopped banana peppers, olives, or more toasted pine nuts
Ingredients for the Cilantro Pesto:
- 1 bunch (1½ c.) fresh cilantro
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 Tbs. pecans or walnuts
- 2 Tbs. pine nuts
Ingredients for the Oven-Dried Tomatoes (also from Annie’s Eats)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- pinch of sugar
- pinch of kosher salt
- pinch of black pepper
- extra-virgin olive oil
Make the Oven-Dried Tomatoes: Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat oven to 225F. Place tomatoes on baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper. Bake until tomatoes are mostly shriveled up, about 3 hours. Store in the fridge until ready to be used.
Holiday entertaining isn’t just about sweets and baked goods, it’s also about snacks and appetizers, both savory and sweet. With my friends, there has to be some sort of cheese on the appetizer table, whether it’s a cheese tray, an appetizer compiled with a cheese component, or a baked cheesy dip (i.e. baked fontina with herbs). I’ve always loved brie – my favorite being my bestie’s brie and fig jam – and the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats gave me the opportunity to try out a recipe that I’ve had bookmarked for quite a while. This baked brie is sweet and indulgent – a wonderful addition to your holiday table. Personally, I loved it on top of a warm slice of baguette, although you can also serve it with crackers or apples.
Disappointed I’m not sharing a dessert today? Head over to Meal Planning Magic to see what other bloggers made this week for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats.
Pecan, Brown Sugar & Kahlua Baked Brie
Adapted from My Life As a Mrs
- 13-16 oz. wheel of Brie
- 2/3 c. pecans, toasted and chopped
- 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
- 2 1/2 Tbs. Kahlua
- bread, crackers, or apples for serving
Prepare the Brie: Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Use a paring knife to trace a circle around the edge of the brie, about 1/4 inch in from the edge. Using the knife or a spoon, scrape off rind from the center of the brie, so that the 1/4 inch rim remains. Set in an oven-proof baking dish and set aside.
Top the Brie & Bake: In a small bowl, combine pecans, brown sugar, and Kahlua. Pile on top of brie, staying within the 1/4 inch rim. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until topping is bubbling. Do not overcook, otherwise brie will lose its shape.
Serve immediately with warm bread, crackers, or apples.
I’ve really been craving scallops lately. I’ve been drooling over googlereader recipes, pinning new recipes… I just can’t stop thinking about them. I was going to splurge on them for dinner one night a couple of weeks ago – when I was home alone, drinking a citrus martini and blogging – but I completely forgot to get them at the grocery store. There was no way I was going back to get them – the store was particularly crowded and had a short power outage which added to the madness. Last week, with my hubby out of town, I indulged with two of my besties. A light, tasty meal, a little wine… it was the perfect way to break up the week.
This was the first time I’ve ever made scallops and it was a great success. I did make sure all of the ingredients were prepped beforehand, which helped ensure that the scallops were cooked properly. In fact, the scallops were cooked perfectly. Melt in your mouth perfectly. The herb-butter sauce gave the dish an indulgence I don’t often find in quick-cooking meals, making these scallops great for a weeknight dinner or a special occasion.
I still haven’t satisfied my scallop craving, so you might be seeing another recipe or two over the next couple of weeks.
Serve with a couscous and side salad for dinner, or for an appetizer. I served Pinot Grigio with this dish but you can also try a Oregon Pinot Gris per Fine Cooking‘s recommendation.
Seared Scallops with Herb-Butter Sauce
Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 72 (p. 49)
- 1 lb. large sea scallops
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, divided
- 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs. finely diced shallots (from 1 medium-sized shallot)
- 1/4 c. dry white wine
- 1/4 c. finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (i.e. 1/8 c. chopped parsley and 1/8 c. chopped chives)
- 1/4 tsp. grated lemon zest (from 1/2 a lemon)
- lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
- Prep the Scallops: If scallops don’t come with the muscle removed, remove the muscle from the side of each scallop. Rinse under cold water to remove any grit and pat dry with paper towels. If desired, cut scallops in half (mine were huge – I cut them in half so that the portions didn’t look so tiny). Set aside.
- Mise en Place: If you haven’t prepped your ingredients – chopped and measured your herbs, zested your lemon, etc. – do so now. The scallops cook very quickly – you want to make sure your ingredients are ready to go so that you don’t overcook the scallops or burn the herb-butter sauce.
- Cook the Scallops: Heat a 10-12 in. skillet (I used a cast-iron one) over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. butter and olive oil, heating until hot and starting to sizzle. Check scallops and pat dry again, if necessary. Season with a little salt and pepper and place in pan in a single layer. Cook 2-4 minutes per side, until browned and crisp. Flip and cook another 2-4 minutes. Move to a clean plate set near the stove to keep warm.
- Make the Pan Sauce: Lower heat to medium and add 1/2 Tbs. butter. Once melted, add shallots, cooking until soft, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook until reduced by half, another minute or two. Use a wooden spoon to get up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add herbs, lemon zest, and remaining butter, cut into 3-4 pieces. Whisk until butter is melted.
- Finishing Up & Serve: Return scallops to pan. Using tongs or spoon, toss scallops to coat in sauce. When scallops are warmed through, remove and serve immediately, with lemon wedges if desired.
Easter weekend, I hosted our almost annual wine and cheese party. I say almost annual because we somehow missed last year. I love hosting this party because everyone brings a wine and/or a cheese to share, keeping the menu diverse and the party stress-free. I always try to do a little something extra to make the food shine, like the cheesecake truffles I made a couple of years ago.
This year, I hoped that these crackers would stand out. I’ve been making them since they were first published in Fine Cooking in December 2007. They’re so easy to make, and I absolutely love the “everything” topping – it’s what first made me fall in love with fennel seeds. If you’re not interested in the “everything” or rosemary-sea salt toppings below, make up your own, but be sure to come back and share with the rest of us!
Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 89 p. 45
Makes 3 dozen crackers
Ingredients for the Crackers:
- 1 1/2 c. (6 3/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
- scant 1/2 c. (2 oz.) whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp. table salt
- 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 c. water
- Choice of 1 topping – “everything” crackers, rosemary-sea salt, or your own
Ingredients for “Everything” Cracker Topping:
- 2 tsp. sesame seeds
- 2 tsp. poppy seeds
- 1 Tbs. fennel seeds
- 1-2 tsp. kosher salt
Ingredients for Rosemary & Sea Salt Cracker Topping:*
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
* I did not mix rosemary and sea salt in a bowl or measure. Instead, I just sprinkled the sea salt and dried rosemary on the crackers until it looked like enough to flavor the crackers.
- Preheat oven to 450F and pull out 1-2 large baking sheets. The baking sheets will remain unlined – no parchment paper necessary.
- Fill a small bowl with water and set aside, along with a pastry brush. Mix desired toppings in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and table salt. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in olive oil and water.
- Lightly flour a counter top with either flour. Place 1/3 of the dough onto the prepared surface, leaving the remaining dough in the bowl and covered with a clean towel. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thick. Brush with water and sprinkle with your topping, adding extra kosher salt if necessary. Using a sharp knife, dough scraper, or pizza cutter, slice crackers into pieces, about 1-inch wide and 2 inches long.
- Using a rubber cookie spatula, place crackers on baking sheet, and bake for 9-11 minutes, until slightly browned. (While cooking, prepare the next batch of crackers to go in the oven.) Move to wire rack to cool completely.
Store cooled crackers in an airtight container or ziplock bag for up to a week.
I don’t like football, so the Super Bowl is not very exciting for me. I’ll go to the party, book in hand, and will read if I can’t convince someone to sit on the sidelines and chat. However, I can’t complain too much, it gave me the perfect excuse to make crab dip again.
I found this recipe late last year and immediately loved it. It is thick with a pound of lump crab meat and freshly grated pepper jack cheese, which gave it just a little bit of a kick. If you don’t like the extra spicy, I’m sure a mozzarella or other melty cheese would work just fine.
Crab Dip with a Kick
Adapted from Paula Deen’s Hot Crab Dip Recipe
- 1 lb. jumbo lump crab meat
- 1 c. grated pepper jack cheese
- 3/4 c. mayonnaise
- 1/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan, divided
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbs. fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
- 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- Preheat oven to 325F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
- Pour into an oven-safe bowl, sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbs. Parmesan, and cook for 40 minutes, until hot throughout and slightly browned on top.
Serve hot with fresh bread, crackers, or tortilla chips
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
I love spinach and artichoke dip, but I have never make it very often. I had a hard time finding a recipe that lived up to what I would get at a restaurant. With a little bit trial and error, I’ve made Alton Brown‘s into something that my family and I both love. It’s now something I’m making probably much too often – I made it three times within a month, and will probably continue to make it regularly since I can make it ahead and freeze until needed. The original Alton Brown recipe calls for a cup of spinach and a cup and a half of artichokes. Those seemed weird measurements since both are sold in 10 ounce boxes. I never measured the spinach, but in my version below, you’ll end up with a little over 2 cups of artichokes. I also increased the amount of Parmesan and red pepper flakes suggested, since the original version was a little bland. As I make this, I stir together all the ingredients and then microwave a small spoonful of the mixture, so that I can make any adjustments needed. Then I bake. (Sorry Alton, baking everything for 20 minutes is way easier than boiling the veggies and microwaving the cream cheese.) How easy is that?
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
- 1-10 oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and drained until all water is removed*
- 1-10 oz. box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
- 6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature or slightly softened
- 1/4 c. sour cream
- 1/4 c. mayonnaise
- 2/3 c. grated Parmesan
- 1/2-1 tsp. red pepper flakes (I like a full teaspoon, but if you’re sensitive to spicy food, start at a 1/2 tsp. and taste before adding more)
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
*Tip: I’ve found that the easiest way of removing all the water from frozen spinach is to line a colander or strainer with cheesecloth. Run cold water over spinach until completely thawed. Allow spinach to drain in the colander and cheesecloth for a few minutes after completely defrosted. Then, bring ends of cheesecloth together, and twist to seal in spinach. Squeeze or twist out any water remaining in spinach. The cheesecloth will keep you from losing spinach as you’re squeezing out the water.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- I like to taste before baking – microwave a small spoonful in a bowl until hot. Taste and add more Parmesan, red pepper flakes, or anything else, to taste.
- Transfer mixture to an oven-safe dish and bake for 20 minutes, until hot throughout. If desired, transfer to a mini crock pot to keep warm. Serve hot.
Serve with crackers or fresh bread. Or, serve in mini phyllo cups, for a super special presentation.
Make Ahead & Freeze: The mixture can be frozen once combined. Transfer to a freezer-safe dish, wrap so that it’s air-tight, and freeze until you need it. Can be baked straight from freezer or defrosted. Frozen dip will probably take 30-45 minutes to warm through, but check periodically.
When I was planning our holiday party menu, I had a very difficult time with appetizers. I wanted to balance between heavier, protein-filled appetizers and lighter, vegetarian appetizers. I found it hard to find vegetarian appetizers that were light but not labor-intensive. We were expecting about 50 people, so crostini wasn’t really a feasible option. It would have taken quite a while and so many, it would have been difficult to set out on a platter. I didn’t want a veggies and dip or pita and hummus – the former I’ve done the past two years in a row and the latter just seemed too blah to me. So, when all else fails, I turned to my collection of Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. She hasn’t let me down yet.
These savory palmiers were the perfect vegetarian addition to the holiday party menu. They were a nice light option to counter the stuffed meatballs, crab cakes, and all the desserts. The best part for me was that they were very easy to make. One batch made a large number but was still quick to assemble. I also liked them because I was able to take liberties with the ingredients – I had extra of everything so I was able to fill them a bit more than directed. I enjoyed the tang of the sun-dried tomato, the crunch of the pine nuts, and the bright flavor of the pesto. As I mention below, these palmiers are best served as fresh as possible.
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Also available on Food Network
Makes 60 Palmiers
- 1 pkg. puff pastry sheets, defrosted
- 1/2 c. pesto
- 1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
- 1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (drained and diced)
- kosher salt
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. (Do not preheat the oven yet, as dough will have to be refrigerated).
- Lightly flour a large cutting board or counter. Lay out one sheet of puff pastry and roll out until it’s about 11×9.
- Spread half of the pesto, goat cheese, pine nuts, and diced sun-dried tomatoes on the first sheet of puff pastry. Make sure you go to the ends of the pastry sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Fold each of the short ends into the center twice. Press down slightly.
- Move to prepared baking sheet and repeat with remaining sheet of puff pastry and the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate both sheets for at least 45 minutes.
- Just prior to removing from the fridge, preheat oven to 400F and line another two baking sheets with parchment paper (or reuse the one from the fridge).
- Cut each log into slices, about 1/4-inch thick. You should get about 30 slices per puff pastry log.
- Place slices on prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart, cut side down. Bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Palmiers are best as fresh as possible. I had tried them leftover, the day after I made them, and they tasted pretty stale.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 15-30 minutes
My hubby loves crab cakes but I don’t make them very often, both because fresh crab is expensive and they tend to be a bit time-consuming. I always make Emeril’s crab cakes – a meaty crab cake tossed with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, bell peppers, and all sorts of other goodies, fried, and then topped with a lemon-butter sauce that’s has a kick from “Emeril’s essence,” his “bam!”
I love Emeril’s recipe, but for some reason, I wanted a change. These mini crab cakes were a less time-consuming to make than Emeril’s. There was less prep work and no frying. Instead, panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan make a little crust for a creamy crab mixture. Pop them in the oven and you’re good to go.
I can’t emphasis how much everyone enjoyed the crab cakes. I made a double batch (over 50 mini crab cakes) and within half an hour, they were all gone and I had three request for the recipe. This new recipe was most definitely a success!
Mini Crab Cakes
Makes 24+ crab cakes
- 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- ¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 large egg
- ¼ c. sour cream
- ½ tsp. lemon zest
- 3 Tbs. minced fresh chives, divided
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 8 oz. fresh lump crab meat, patted dry and coarsely chopped
- 1 c. panko breadcrumbs
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese, 1/4 c. Parmesan and egg on medium speed until just combined.
- Add sour cream, lemon zest, 1 Tbs. chives, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper. Beat to combine.
- Fold in crab meat and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine panko breadcrumbs, remaining 1/2 c. Parmesan, and remaining minced chives.
- Spray a mini muffin tin with cooking spray. In each cup, place 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs, pressing down slightly to form a crust. Top with another heaping tablespoon of the crab mixture. Sprinkle with a little more of the breadcrumbs.
- Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until crab cakes begin to brown.
- Garnish with fresh chives, if you’d like. Serve hot.+
* While the crab cakes are best hot, I have served them at room temperature.
I’ve always thought of deviled eggs as an Easter appetizer. No idea why, but it just never occurred to me to make deviled eggs for any other holiday or party. I guess I thought that they wouldn’t fit in with any other holiday or party.
However, I recently received several suggestions for deviled eggs as a Thanksgiving appetizer. I was surprised and ignored the first recommendation, since deviled eggs didn’t seem fitting for this time of year. However, when the suggestion kept popping up, I realized that my preconceptions of deviled eggs may have been wrong. In fact, this was the perfect appetizer for this Thanksgiving, when I’ll be hosting my parents, hubby’s parents, and our siblings for a long weekend. I had been looking for prepare-in-advance, non-baked, vegetarian appetizers for the holiday and deviled eggs (an appetizer my hubby loves but never gets) fit the bill.
If you haven’t already planned your Thanksgiving menu, you may want to consider adding this traditional appetizer to your list. You can make it a day or two in advance and pop it in the fridge. Serve without baking. And if you’re my family, bring a little bit of the unexpected into the day.
Yields: 18 halves
By Books n’ Cooks
~ 9 large eggs, hard boiled and halved
~ 1/4 – 1/3 c. mayonnaise
~ 2 tsp. spicy brown mustard (I used Kosciusko mustard)
~ 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
~ 1/4 tsp. pepper
~ chives or paprika (for garnish)
Separate egg whites from egg halves, placing yolks in a small bowl and egg whites on a plate or serving platter in a single layer.
In a small bowl, mix hard boiled egg yolks, 1/4 c. mayo, mustard, salt, and pepper with a fork, smashing egg yolks so that the mixture is smooth. If it’s not smooth enough, try beating with electric beaters. If it’s a little too thick, add a little extra mayonnaise.
Spoon (or pipe with a pastry bag) about 1 Tbs. of the egg yolk mixture into each egg white. Top with a sprinkle of chopped chives or a dusting of paprika.
Everyone knows I’m not a football fan. Actually, that’s an understatement. To me, football is a bunch of fat guys jumping on each other. I just don’t understand the obsession with football. My college didn’t even have a football team, not even a terrible one. I remember one of my first trips home with my husband, 5 years ago. We went to his buddy’s house to watch an Alabama game. Intimidated with all these new people, I whispered to the hubby, “did so-and-so play for Alabama?” Confused by my question, because the guy was not exactly built like a football player, I was told no. I should have just left it at that, but I whispered (a little louder than I realized), “If he didn’t play, then why does he have all these professional photos of Alabama football players on his wall?” I could have understood it if the photos were of him, but some random dude he didn’t know? Just didn’t make sense to me. Needless to say, the hubby looked at me and rolled his eyes while the rest of the room overheard me and wondered what type of lunatic my now-husband had brought home.
You’d think that after being with my husband for 5 years, that I would have gained some appreciation for football. Nope. While the hubby watches football, I curl up with a mystery novel. Despite my opinion of football, I somehow got talked into watching a game at a friend’s house. In fact, not only did I have to
pretend to watch the game, but I got volunteered to bring something. No idea how that happened…. and really, I think the only reason I survived the game was because I brought some crafts, and received constant compliments on how wonderful these pretzels were.
This was my first time making soft pretzels (or pretzel bites) and although a bit of work, they weren’t very hard. We all found them super tasty. I thought they tasted like real New York pretzels, bought just off the street. I served the pretzel bites with cheese dip from Two Peas and Their Pod, but I did not repost the recipe here because I wasn’t happy with the way it came out (although the dish was gone by the end of the night).
Note: I did make these in advance and reheated a couple times throughout the night. The flavor and texture was fine through each reheat.
Make ahead / freezing instructions available on Annie’s Eats, although she uses a slightly different recipe than the one below.
Homemade Soft Pretzels or Pretzel Bites
Makes 8 large pretzels or 8+ dozen pretzel bites
~ 1 1/2 c. warm water
~ 2 Tbs. light brown sugar
~ 1 pkg. active dry yeast
~ 3 oz. unsalted butter, melted
~ 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt plus more (or coarse sea salt) for sprinkling
~ 4 1/2-5 c. all-purpose flour
~ vegetable oil or spray
~ 3 quarts water
~ 3/4 c. baking soda
~ 1 egg, beaten, with 1 Tbs. cold water
Make the Pretzel Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine water, sugar, yeast, and melted butter until just combined. Turn off and let stand for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, turn mixer to low and add kosher salt and flour. When just combined, increase speed to medium until dough begins to pull away from sides, 3-4 minutes. If dough is too wet, add flour 1 Tbs. at a time.
Turn dough onto a flat surface and with your hands, knead into a ball.
Oil or spray mixing bowl and return dough to bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise. Dough should double in size, about 1 hour.
Cook the Pretzels: When dough has doubled in size, prep everything for cooking.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.
- Set a small roasting pan or large skillet with at least 3-inch high sides on the stove over high heat. Fill with the 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add baking soda.
- Preheat oven to 425F.
As water is coming to a boil, remove dough from bowl and place on counter or a large cutting board. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, 22-inches long.
- If making pretzel bites, cut dough into 1-inch pieces (I used a plastic bowl / dough scraper to protect the counters).
- If making full pretzels, lay dough on counter. Take the right side and cross it over to the left. Then take the left side and cross it to the right. Press down slightly where dough overlaps.
In batches, put pretzel bites or pretzels into boiling baking soda-water for 30 seconds. Do not let the pretzels touch during boiling. With a slotted spoon, remove, letting excess water drip off before placing on baking sheet.
Brush tops of pretzels with egg wash. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, on baking sheet or baking rack before serving.
Variations: According to Two Peas and Their Pod, you can make these into cinnamon and sugar pretzels by sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar instead of salt. The frosting would be 3 Tbs. cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and a little bit of milk, whisked together. I have yet to try this, but plan on it!