Appetizers/Tappas/Hors D'oeuvres

...Also known as...Alex doesn't want to make a full meal!

I recently had an appetizer night with some new friends. I was, as always, on a budget so I tried to just use what was in the fridge. Low and behold- I succeeded!

On the menu- stuffed mushrooms & bacon wrapped yummies

Stuffed Mushrooms-Ingredients:
Cremini mushrooms, turkey bacon, fresh parsley, onions, garlic, bread crumbs, EVOO, Parmesan cheese
Pre-heat your oven to 375 F. De-stem and wash mushrooms,lay caps underside up on a baking dish lined with tin foil. Finely chop stems, onion, garlic, parsley, and turkey bacon. Drizzle a medium sized saute pan with EVOO and add onions and garlic over medium high heat. Once the onions and garlic are tender and fragrant, add the mushroom stems and allow to cook down. Add the turkey bacon and let it get nice and crispy. Once this mixture is cooked through take off the heat, and stir in a few tbsp of bread crumbs. I used the canned Italian style kind (one of my favorite cheats) but you can make your own in a food processor. The bread crumbs will create a kind of adhesive for the mixture, but make sure you don't add so many that the mixture becomes over dry. The mushrooms and turkey bacon add so much yummy juices you should be able to be pretty liberal with the bread crumbs. Spoon the bread crumb mixture into each mushroom cap, and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake the caps for about 7 mins, or until nice and golden brown. Serve warm.

Bacon wrapped yummies-Ingredients:
Bacon slices, cut in half. Small cooked shrimp, tails removed. Fresh bay scallops. Artichoke hearts.
I hit a dilemma when creating this little dish, I had all of these things that I really wanted to wrap in bacon, but it seemed like overkill to have three separate bacon wrapped items (oh my troubles, why are you so great?) So, my solution was to wrap them ALL TOGETHER in bacon. Hence- bacon wrapped yummies. To get started have the bacon ready to go, shrimps and scallops rinsed and set aside, and artichoke hearts drained and ready to use. I like to have assembly lines, they are amazing, especially if you have a cooks assistant and you really want to make sure they don't mess up YOUR dish :-). One at a time, lay a piece of bacon on a flat surface. On top of the bacon place one shrimp, next to that one bay scallop, and next to that one artichoke heart. Then roll the bacon enclosing all of the ingredients in a nice little package and secure with a toothpick. Repeat until you have the desired amount of units. There are two great ways to cook these little guys. One, stove top in a saute pan. Two, in the oven if you are like me and don't have enough stove top space or zero patience when time to cook rolls around. I chose to bake them in a muffin tin, so each yummie had its own space to cook and get delicious, and no juices spilled onto my oven.

Both of these appetizers proved to be delicious and pretty easy. There are so many ways to cheat when preparing things like this. Here is a little list of the cheats I found helpful in these recipes:

Packaged bread crumbs vs. making my own
precooked peeled shrimp vs. peeling and cooking or paying a butcher to do it :)
canned artichoke hearts vs. cooking and separating my own
pre grated Parmesan cheese vs. spending 20 mins killing my forearm with a cheese-grater

Till next time!!!


I cant believe its not Veal...Saltimboca

I often have the problem (often being always) of wanting to eat GREAT food on a not so great budget. So when I came across a recipe for Veal Saltimboca, I knew I just HAD to figure out something. That something was round steak. Round steak is not a prime choice cut of meat. However, it is cheap. And with enough tenderizing it can be delicious. I found the round steak at my local Henry's, it was grain fed, certified organic, and only two dollars per pound!

Ingredients: Veal (or whatever you can get your hands on), thinly sliced prosciutto, flour, olive oil, white wine, butter (chilled and chopped into cubes), fresh parsley, and capellini pasta

To start, I pounded the round steak down to 1/8th of an inch and seasoned with salt and pepper. I then placed a slice of prosciutto on top of each steak and dredged in flour. I coated the bottom of a large, high walled saute pan with olive oil and set on medium high heat. Once the pan was heated through, I set each piece of the meat into the pan prosciutto side down. While the first side cooked, I added water to a pasta pan and set it to boil. After about four minutes, I flipped the saltimboca so it could get wonderful and golden crisp all around. Once the water was boiling, I salted it and added the capellini. Capellini (or angel hair pasta) only cooks for about three minutes so watch it carefully! Once the saltimboca was cooked through, I placed each piece onto a baking sheet and placed it into the ovenita to keep warm....here is where I got busy, the next step is to make a sauce and right about this time I had to drain the past and cover it to keep warm and I decided I needed a veggie for this dish so I busted out some lemon pepper asparagus too ....I used a white wine to deglaze the saltimboca pan and let it simmer until reduced by half. I then added the trimmed asparagus to a saute pan, added the juice of half a lemon, and a few twists of fresh ground pepper. Adding the cubes of chilled butter one at a time, I whisked the sauce slowly so the butter thoroughly melted and dispersed into the sauce. Once all of the butter was added, I threw in some fresh chopped parsley and let the sauce sit to thicken. I plated this dish by adding some of the capellini to one side of a plate, a few cooked asparagi next to that, then the "veal" saltimboca. I topped the whole dish off with the wine sauce.

This meal was very good, the meat was so tender and had just the right amount of crisp texture on the exterior. The capellini handled the sauce very well and the asparagus paired with the dish beautifully. The only thing I would change would be the amount of salt I used while seasoning. I didn't take into account how salty prosciutto can be, so the steak really didn't need salted at all. This was just one more dish were good food on a tight budget is no impossibility.  Till next time!


Big Easy eating

So heres another first for me...Gumbo. I have always been intrigued by this dish- but ive never prepared or eaten it. Of course, I am used to stews and soups, and figured that gumbo would be very similar in flavor. WRONG! Gumbo is a kind of soup/stew/thing, but the preparation is a bit different and it includeds one thing that I never find myself using in a soup-Roux.
Those of you who cook know this is the base to most things saucy and delicious, and well, French. Since Gumbo is from New Orleans, which is crawling with French decendants, it makes sense that the first step to this dish is roux. A roux (pronounced rew) is just butter and flour whisked and cooked in a sautee pan. The level of darkness and cooking time will establish the major color and flavor of the sauce or dish in which it is being used. Its a really amazing thing to me, and its amazingly delicious.

Ingredients: andouille sausage, uncooked peeled shrimp, lamb riblets or duck breasts (i used lamb, its cheaper), butter, flour, vegetable oil, celery, onions, green bell pepper, garlic, salt, tomato paste, tomato puree, plum tomatoes (lots of these plump red beauties going on)and a quarter cup of white wine. To expand this dish (I was feeding 4 grown boys) I served it over rice. I used the boil-in-bag brown rice because I have found out that I am really not good at cooking rice. Its that whole correct proportion, paying attention thing that really throws me off.

This dish involved, yet again, lots of multi tasking and chopping on my part. All of my burners were going and I had a lot of dishes to do. But it smelled amazing and it was lots of fun to prepare!  First-I whisked a few tablespoons of butter and a quarter cup of flour together in a sautee pan and let it get a nice brown color, which took about 15 minutes. You have to make sure and whisk the roux at frequent intervals to keep it from separating or getting clumpy. Clumpy=bad! While the roux was browning, I chopped onion, celery, green bell pepper, and garlic and set it to sautee in another pan with a turn of EVOO. I was supposed to use veggie oil but im a firm believer in the olive. Its yummy, and the omega 3's arent a bad side effect. While both of those sautee pans were going, I got out my big pasta pot, and poured in a whole quart of chicken broth and set it to simmer. Once the broth is simmering, add the browned roux and whisk in completely.
...beer break....
Once the veggies were nice and soft, I added a tablespoon of tomato paste and a half a cup of tomato puree. Cook this mixture until the color is a deep red brown, and the tomato starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.
While the veggies are cooking, chop the adouille sausage and set it to cook in a sautee pan with a turn of EVOO. The recipe calls to deglaze the veggitables with white wine, which I had on hand, but I used Stone Smoked Porter instead. A really smoky beer can be a great addition to any red meat stew, I use this often in cooking, its also a great marinade! So I started drinking the Smoked Porter, I mean, deglazing the pan with the smoked porter and I let this simmer for about two minutes and then added it to the broth-roux mixture.
Once the sausage is cooked through, remove while reserving the fat, and leave the pan on the heat! Season the duck or lamb with salt and pepper and cook in the fat from the sausage. I really enjoy both lamb and duck, but the sweet, fatty, gamey taste is SO DIFFERENT than what im used to working with, I had to adjust to smelling and then eating this unique flavor. Once the lamb was nice and browned on all sides, I removed it from the pan and cut into bit size cubes. In ANOTHER friggen pan, I dry seared the shrimp then added all three meats to the Gumbo. Then I improvised a bit and added red pepper flakes, ceyenne pepper, and chilli powder (do these people really expect me to use ONLY salt? ) and let simmer for about 20 mins.

^^^Really good recipe!!!!!^^^^ I truly enjoyed cooking this dish. Chris and I had my brothers over and one of their friends who is a fan of New Orleans and creole cooking. He complimented the dish and said it tasted right on to big easy standards.


Orecchiette Fancy Shmancy

Tonight, I had a first. Firsts are always fun and exciting. First pet, first kiss, first drink...always a new experience. This was the first time I can remember following a recipe to exact instructions without messing with something.

Orecchiette pasta with Canellini Beans and Spinach-from Gourmet Meals in Minutes
Ingredients: Orecchiette pasta (which is kind of a more flat version of a shell, like a saucer shape, one of the more delicate pastas ive worked with), canellini beans (wow, amazing), chicken stock, onions, garlic, fresh baby spinach, EVOO, red pepper flakes, salt.

When books and shows advertise super quick delicious meals, they are usually good and quick to prepare, but talk about some rediculous multi-tasking. I was non stop for about thirty minutes on this one. It required no real skill, just a watchful eye, a really good handle on my stovetop settings, and quite a bit of chopping. Also, I usually like to have a side beverage while im cooking, a good beer or small glass of whisky, but this time- no dice. I didnt have time to drink! Oh, the horror. ANYWAYS...
To prepare: start a pot of water to boil for the pasta, chop onions and garlic very fine and add to a sautee pan coated with EVOO. (I decided to prepare boneless-skinless chicken thighs for this dish as well for a protein, so at this time I seasoned them with salt and pepper, and placed them in a hot pan coated with EVOO and about a Tbsp. of butter) Once the onions and garlic are nice a soft add a cup of chicken or vegatable stock, a can of drained and washed canellini beans, a few shakes of red pepper flakes, and a sprinkle of salt. Allow the "sauce" to simmer until it reduces (this turned out to be a little less than 15 mins, which is a guess based on my ever so accurate internal clock) and let the pasta cook to al dente. Once the pasta is finnished, add a few handfuls of baby spinach (no stems) to the PASTA WATER (so brilliant) and let wilt. Drain the pasta and spinach in a colander, add back to the pan, and add the canellini's and sauce.
I served this pasta on a small dinner plate next to the cooked chicken thighs atop a bed of fresh spinach and loaded the pasta with grated parmesean. This dish was so light and fresh, and amazingly delicious. The orecchiette pasta was perfect for holding a light sauce, and the canellini beans matched the texture of the pasta perfectly-while at the same time absorbing the flavors of the chicken stock and onions. One thing I could really do without was the red pepper flakes, dont get me wrong, I looovvee red pepper flakes, but they didnt add any real noticable flavor or color to the dish. I paired this meal with a Stone IPA of course, a wonderful contrast to the subtlety of the dish.

Till next time..heres an after photo Photobucket


Eggplant "Cop out"nata

Happy Sunday! Super bowl Sunday- to be exact.
This past week, my aunt sent me a new cook book from the CIA (culinary inst. of america) and it is so gorgeous, Ive done nothing but mark off recipes and drool over pictures for days. When my boyfriend's... I guess you all know thats Chris, so I might as well call him so... when CHRIS's  parents extended us an ivitation for the big game, I knew exactly what I was going to prepare from my new book for the occassion.

Eggplant Proscuitto Paninis!
This recipe grabbed my attention because
a) there was a picture :)
b) whenever a dish calls for only a few simple ingredients, I know it will shine. Most of my endeavors in the kitchen are relatively simple when it comes to the ingredient list because its cheaper that way AND the flavor, complexity, and whole experience you get from simple ingredients holds no flame to overspiced and busy plates.

This recipe called for: procuitto, riccota cheese, basil, and Eggplant caponata. What the heck is eggplant caponata!? So, to google I went to find out. Apparantly, it is a kind of Italian chutney-ish salsa-ish thing. You chop eggplant, tomatoes, olives, and add capers and various herbs, vinegars, and spices. You let these various ingredients marinade, you bake, you sautee, blah blah. Sounds really good, but a few things struck me. One- too many ingredients. Two- im putting this on a sandwich, I dont want a chutney sandwich, I want an eggplant sandwich! Sorry, Panini. I like to bit through an even textured item on sandwhiches, especially when its one of the main ingredients.

Therefore, I decided to do my own thing. I improvised and made my own version, im calling it an eggplant "cop out"nata. I used the basic idea and flavors of a caponata, but changed up the process.
I took an eggplant and sliced it super thin- about 1/8 inch thick. I put the slices into a small container and filled it half way with heavily salted water. Then I added a two count of EVOO, a splash of balsamic vinegar, splash of apple cider vinegar (I would have used white vinegar, but im out), a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. I then let this sit in the fridge overnight and got a sort of pickling effect. I removed the slices from the container and did a quick pan fry with a little butter. I stored these in the fridge for a few hours, separating each slice with some paper towel (I would have used cheese cloth, but im not that sophisticated) so they wouldnt get too soggy. For the acctuall panini process I used a ciabatta that was coated with sesame and poppy seeds which, when toasted, proved to be especially delicious. The seeds added a nice crunch and a little flavor as well, I sliced this in half. I slathered one side of the bread with ricotta cheese that was mixed with a little white pepper and some fresh thyme leaves, layed down a few slices of the Eggplant "cop out", and then added a layer of proscuitto. I drizzled the other half of the bread with EVOO, folded, and put into a panini press for about 5 minutes.

This panini was REALLY GOOD. It was accompanied by an equally good flank steak sandwich created by Trish who supplied my panini press and kitchen space :)
So I guess cop outs aren't always bad
Till next time


Brussels sprouts are GOOD

I am obsessed with these little guys. I only recently tried them for the first time, and I cant stop thinking of new ways to cook them. Last night I prepared them my favorite way so far.

Ingredients: brussels sprouts, butter, salt, lemon, apple cider vinegar, onions, garlic, parmesean cheese.

First I trimmed the stumpy parts of each sprout so all the bad leaves fell off, and that way you dont have to peel them one leaf at a time, awesome!
Then I boiled the sprouts in salted water for about 5 minutes. While they were boiling I heated up EVOO and butter in a pan and added onions sliced thin and some chopped garlic and let it get tender and fragrant. I strained the sprouts and added them to the butter onion mixture, added the juice of half a lemon, and a capful of apple cider vinegar. I read that it is good to salt the heck out of this- so I did so, and recommend it. I am not a huge salt person, but too much was just enough on these.
I covered the pan and let the sprouts cook for about 15 minutes. I then pulled of the cover, added a few handfuls of grated parmesean and put the cover back on.

They were SO GOOD! The lemon and vinegar worked really well together, the broke down some of the firmer parts in the veggie and added a really good tangy flavor that was complimented by the salt and cheese.

I have made these with bacon, pancetta, and prescuitto and the way I prepared them last night proved to be a lot better. I think the fat in the butter was just enough, the fat from pork was a little too much for a vegg. Next im going to try breading them.

YUM YUM! till next time...


Ratatouille and Buttermilk Biscuits

Ratatouille is one of my most recent favorites. I love meals that can be cooked in one big pot for hours, and enjoyed for days. I usually make this when i have a variety of veggies to cook that dont have much shelf life left. I also really enjoy this recipe with buttermilk biscuits.

Ingredients:Onion and garlic,diced. Tomato paste, chicken broth, any variety of vegetables chopped evenly. I prefer to not use any leafy veggies, like broccoli, because this stew cooks for so long they wont hold. I usually use: eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, any color pepper, zuccini or cucumber, squash, mushrooms, and carrots. Using as many colors as you can makes this dish really gorgeous. I also use whatever fresh herbs i have on hand. Rosemary and thyme are my favorites! I also like to add a lot of grated parmeseano,regianno,asciago, or any other aged sharp cheese to the top of this when im serving it!

To start, chop everything...this takes a while...then add the onion and garlic into the bottom of a big stew pot with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook until tender and fragrant. Add a big tablespoon of tomato paste to the bottom of the pan, stir and cook until the paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Deglaze (remove the bits that are stuck to the pan by pouring something on it and scraping with a wooden spoon) the pan with chicken stock( about a cup, more if you want this to be more soupy) and let that simmer. Add all of your veggies and turn the heat down to a medium low, cover and WALK AWAY. This is a great recipe because after these steps, you are basically done. During this time I like to prepare my buttermilk biscuits.

Biscuits: Ingredients: 3 cups of self rising flour, 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk, 1/2 cup of butter
Make sure your butter is room tempurature. Baking is like science, you have to be exact to procedure (which is why Im no good at baking, but I am good at making these!) so follow these steps.
1.put the flower in a big bowl
2. chop your soft butter into squares and add it to the bowl, i like to mix this with my hands like a pie crust, making sure all of the butter is incorporated. It should end up in small pea size balls in the flour
3. make a hole in the flour mixture and add the buttermilk. I use a wood spatula to FOLD the flour around the buttermilk. Overworking these biscuits is a big no no. Fold it just enough so the buttermilk is dispersed, and then dump the mix onto a floured surface. Fold into a dough with your hands. It will seem a little uneven but thats good. You want some parts of the dough to be floury and others lumpy with butter. The best part about these little guys is how flaky and light they are!
4. I use a wine glass to cut the biscuits out because i dont have a cookie cutter, but if you have one. Use it!
5. put them in the oven at about 350f until they are golden brown. YUM!!!

Ratatouille continued...
Once the stew has been simmering for an hour or so, I add my herbs. You dont even have to take the leafy parts off the stem because they will just fall off while cooking, however, if you do this you have to fish out the stems later. Add some s&p to taste, recover, and let cook for another hour.

Thats it! I made this last week and its always such a hit. I just finished the leftovers last night! My boyfriend really likes to mix this with a marinara sauce pasta (typical italian) but i tried it and its really good!
Till next time...