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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Holiday Entertaining: Appetizers

Whatever you celebrate and wherever you are, I hope the holiday season has been filled thus far with peace, love, joy & great food!

Today, I posted a video about how to make 3 appetizers that we really enjoy here in our house (see the link a bit farther into the post): Taco Bites (which I have long promised to share a recipe for), Pesto-Parmesan Crostini & Sausage Rolls. The latter 2 apps really require no recipe at all (visit the video link for instructions), but I wanted to share the actual recipe for the Taco Bites with you here (as well as for any viewers who might like some guidelines to follow).  All of three of these appetizers are delicious and perfect for your New Year's Eve parties (or any other entertaining opportunities that you may have coming up).

A former coworker of mine found the Taco Bites recipe in a magazine – it was the winner of one of those recipe contests where you create a recipe with a specific ingredient – Ranch Dressing in this case – and she thought it sounded good so she fixed it for our company Christmas party.  We all loved them, so she shared the recipe and I’ve been making them ever since.  They are always a hit!  

I don’t actually measure anything with these, I just go head and brown my sausage of choice, then add chopped bell pepper and olives until it looks balanced, throw in the cheese and add just enough dressing to hold it all together.  Here's the video, in case you'd like a visual:

You can bake the shells a couple of days in advance and also make the filling a couple of days in advance, but don’t fill them until the day you’re going to serve them, or they’ll get soggy.  Also, if you’re going to take them to a party or someplace where you’re unsure of the oven availability, you can bake the shells a full 10 minutes, then fill them, keep them cold and transport them wherever you’re headed.  Microwave them when you’re ready to serve, just until the cheese melts and everything is bubbly.

I hope you will enjoy all of these.  What are your favorite appetizers for the holiday season?

 Here's the recipe for the Taco Bites:

Taco Bites

1 pkg - Won Ton Skins (or egg roll wrappers cut into ¼’s)
1 lb sausage, any kind you like (I like Italian)
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
7 or 8 oz olives, sliced
2 cups shredded cheddar and jack cheese
1 cup ranch dressing (I never use the whole cup, I just use enough to hold everything together)

Preheat oven to 375.  Spray mini muffin pan with olive oil spray or brush with olive oil.  Line mini-muffin cups with won ton wrappers (you can also use egg roll wrappers cut into quarters), then spray or brush with olive oil.  Bake 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Brown sausage in a skillet, drain on paper towels.  In a bowl combine brown sausage, olives, peppers and cheese.  Add ranch dressing until it all holds together.

Fill baked won ton wrappers with filling and place on a cookie sheet or in a baking pan.  Bake another 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and everything is bubbly.  Serve hot. 


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Egg-in-a-Hole Grilled Cheese with Bacon

I first experience egg-in-a-hole when by best friend made it for me for breakfast one day while I was visiting her in Vegas.  I don't know how it is that I had never had it before, but I fell in love with it on the spot.  For some reason though, I never really made it myself until recently.  Then, when I was snowed in this weekend, I came up with this Egg-in-a-Hole Grilled Cheese with Bacon and my-oh-my was it good!

I had just made the egg bread I posted last week and I knew it would be perfect for this sammy so I went for it.  It was lovely.  The bread grilled up with a delightfully delicate crunch while still maintaining it's spongy crumb.  The cheese adds it's ooey-gooey-melty goodness and the pepper bacon added a nice chew to the texture while also adding a lovely smokiness and a slightly peppery bite.

I made these for my husband and I for lunch, so I started out with 4 slices of bread, cutting a hole in 2 of the slices...

I placed one regular slice and one slice with the hole cut out of it in my preheated, buttered, cast iron skillet...

Then I cracked an egg right into the hole and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Once both slices are nicely browned, turn them over and place a couple slices of cheese on the non-holey (non holey????) slice.

...and cover with the cheesy slice.  Let it grill just a little bit longer to ensure the cheese gets fully melted.  At this point, you can grill the holes you cut out of the bread.  

Remove from the pan and serve hot!  Repeat with the second sandwich (or you could use a two-burner griddle and make both sammies simultaneously).

Voila!  A lovely Egg-in-a-Hole Grilled Cheese with Bacon Sandwich.  YUM!

Enjoy - Ciao!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Egg Bread

Well, it has been cold and snowy here in the foothills of the cascade mountains.  Here at our house, we had a foot of snow dumped on us Friday!  In an effort to help keep us warm (and knowing we wouldn't be going to the store any time soon), I made Egg Bread for us to enjoy this weekend.  I took a little help from my bread machine and I followed a recipe from Best Bread Machine Recipes.

I've never really liked the loaf size of the bread pan on my machine, nor do I care for the large hole that always results in the baked loaf, so I like to use the machine to handle the mixing and raising, then transfer the loaf to my own pan (or free-form it), so that's what I did with this loaf.

My husband couldn't wait to dig in, so he kindly took these last two photos for me (isn't he great?)! This recipe resulted in the perfect bread for sandwiches - cold or grilled, toast and I'm pretty sure it would make absolutely delicious French Toast.  The crumb is spongy, tight and resilient, the crust is crisp and delicate and the egg lends it a lovely, dare-I-say creaminess, that just about melts in your mouth.  If you're looking for the perfect every day loaf for lunches, breakfast, and enjoying with a nice slathering of butter - this is it!

Egg Bread*

3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 egg
2 tbls butter, melted
3 cups bread flour
2 tbls sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp active dry yeast

If you are using a bread machine, follow the manufacturer's instructions for making bread.  If you are making this bread by hand:

Heat milk and butter until butter is melted and milk scalds.  Add water.  Check the temperature - ideally it should be 80-90 degrees for dissolving the yeast.  I usually shoot for baby-bottle temperature - you should be able to touch it without getting burned and it should just about match your body temperature if you test it on your wrist.  Sprinkle on the yeast and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  Stir to combine.  Beat the egg lightly, then add it to the milk, butter & yeast mixture.  Stir in the sugar and salt as well.  At this point, you can continue by hand or switch to an electric mixer with a dough hook attachment.  Gradually add the flour, one cup at a time, until it is fully incorporated and forms a soft ball of dough.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and set it in a warm place to rise until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Lightly knead the risen dough and form it into a log, about the size of your loaf pan.  Spray the pan with non-stick spray (or coat it with butter) and place the formed loaf in the pan.  Split the top with a sharp knife and allow it to rise for about another 30-45 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes (it took exactly 35 minutes in my convection oven).  The finished loaf should be golden brown on top, bottom and sides and should sound hollow when you tap it.  Remove it from the pan and allow it to cool for as long as you can stand it until you have to break down and have some!

*this recipe is for a 1 1/2 pound loaf, the book also has a recipe for a 2 pound loaf

Enjoy - Ciao!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cookie of the Month: Chocolate Monster Cookies

How cute are these Chocolate Monster Cookies?  It's cookie of the month time again and I just couldn't resist making these when I found them on Pinterest!

I started with the concept from these halloween double chocolate monster cookies that I found on Pinterest.  I wasn't wild about the recipe - I really wanted something closer to my tried and true Chocolate Chip recipe, but I didn't have time for experimentation, so I searched recipes for something I felt confident would work, so I used this Chocolate Chocolate Chip recipe I found on All Recipes and tweaked it to match the image.

As per my usual m.o., I switched up the order and method used too.  Melting the butter (as is almost always my custom these days), stirring in the cocoa powder after incorporating the sugar and adding the baking soda, salt and vanilla before adding the flower.  I used dark chocolate cocoa powder and skipped the chocolate chips altogether, using just Reese's Pieces and candy eyes instead.

The end result was a lovely, dark chocolate cookie with the chocolate chip cookie texture I love.  Chewey on the inside, slightly crisp on the outside.  My husband and I really wished I had included nuts too, but I wanted to be sure to make cookies that would appeal to a wide range of tastes - but nuts would add a nice crunch, balance the sweetness and, I'm sure, do nothing but add to the monster appearance of the finished product.  Why not whip up a batch with your little monsters this Halloween season?

Chocolate Monster Cookies

1 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
2 eggs
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups Reese's Pieces
1 pkg candy eyes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Stir sugar into melted butter and mix until completely emulsified.  Add cocoa powder, stirring in to mix well.  Allow mixture to cool.  Add eggs and mix well.  Stir in baking soda, salt and vanilla.  Add powder to mixture and top with Reese's Pieces, stir in until just incorporated.  Chill dough for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  While oven is preheating, scoop cookies onto silicone or parchment lined baking sheets (or sheets sprayed with non-stick coating).  Add 2 candy eyes to each ball of dough, pressing down lightly.

Bake 8-10 minutes, or until set.  Allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes, remove to wire rack to finish cooling.  Makes 3 dozen plus.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Fix: White Chicken Chili

I can't believe I didn't post this recipe years ago, it's one of our absolute favorite, go-to soups.  I've made it twice this week alone.  It's ideal for a quick dinner one a week night and it's equally great for casual entertaining.

This White Chicken Chili has a slight kick to it and is full of the flavors I love - I include plenty of smokey cumin, coriander, chili powder and lime - just to name a few.

The thing about soups that make them perfect for week night meals is that you can make almost any type of soup in about 30 minutes (French Onion soup and Baked Potato soup are the two exceptions that spring to mind at the moment).  You just throw your base ingredients into the pot and you slice, dice or chop them up, saute them and add stock.  You can easily scale a recipe up or down - have a couple extra guest for dinner? Just add a couple more cups of stock.  Dinner for 2 tonight, use only 4 cups stock.  Voila - what could be easier?  Or more satisfying?

I made a video of this recipe too, here it is:

...and here's the recipe.

White Chicken Chili

1 lb chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion, chopped (or 1 tbls minced onion)
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 can green chiles, drained
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
6-8 Cups chicken stock
Juice of 1 lime (add the zest too, if you like)
1 tbls Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or one small clove garlic, minced)
1/4 tsp coriander, ground
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat olive oil in a large soup pot or 3 qt dutch oven.  Add chicken and top chicken with the spices. Stir to coat chicken, then let chicken cook until lightly browned on one side.  Add onions (if you decide to use fresh garlic, add it now too), stir and cook until chicken is lightly browned on 2nd side and onions are translucent.  Add peppers and green chiles, stir in and cook for a couple more minutes. Stir in beans and stock.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Top soup with tortilla chips, cheese, sour cream and green onions and enjoy.