Appetizer · Mediterranean · Side dish · Spanish

Easy Romesco Sauce

For those of you that don’t know, Romesco is a rich, multi-purpose sauce made of roasted red peppers & tomatoes that goes amazingly well with fish, vegetables, and spread on a great quality bread. It is traditionally thickened with almonds and bread, and the result is a garlicky, smoky masterpiece that you will find pairs with everything, especially eggs.

To make this traditionally, you would roast and char the tomatoes & peppers, however, what follows is a quick and easy cheat, where I let others do the work for me. Also, I skip thickening it with bread so those in my family avoiding gluten can eat without thought. Regardless of how you make it, make sure to give the sauce time to rest before serving.

It’s okay to cheat. I promise.

You will need:

  • 1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • roma tomatoes
  • 1 cup almonds, roasted*
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar

Steps:

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange almonds on baking sheet and lightly roast for 6-8 minutes. *If you are busy, you can skip roasting the almonds, although roasting them brings out their flavor more.
  2. In a food processor, chop almonds until they are fine. Then, blend garlic, almonds and tomatoes until it is a paste
  3. Add in red peppers, parsley, paprika, salt & pepper. Add in vinegar, then olive oil, a little at a time until smooth and the desired consistency. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and allow to fall to room temperature when serving.
Store in the fridge. Anyone else keep their fresh herbs in a glass of water in the fridge?

Serving ideas: This is great with fish, eggs, steak, and grilled vegetables such as eggplant. Personally, I love it smeared on a crusty baguette or ciabatta with a little olive oil. Often, we use it at breakfast. A common breakfast I make in the morning is chicken sausage (usually sundried tomato) with some tomato and sweet potato topped with romesco. This is great for those who are watching their intake of carbs or fat, or looking for a healthy start to the day.

Appetizer · Side dish

Greek Salad

This is adapted from an Anne Willen recipe I found over twenty years ago. It is a constant favorite through summer, and we tend to make it on a weekly basis. It requires fresh herbs, and a lot of fresh vegetables. This makes a large portion – perfect for a cookout. Feeds around 10-12 people.

You will need:

  • 2 peeled, seeded and chopped cucumbers
  • 1 -2 lbs of tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 sweet peppers, deveined, deseeded, chopped
  • 3/4 cup pitted olives (kalamata is preferred)
  • 3 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • Fresh mint (around 4-5 sprigs)
  • Fresh oregano (around 4 sprigs)
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley (around 4-5 sprigs)
  • 6 oz good quality feta

Steps:

  1. Prep and cut vegetables and place them in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, whisk red wine vinegar & olive oil until it is emulsified. Whisk in a little salt, pepper, and fresh herbs. Pour over the salad.
  3. Crumble good quality feta and blend in with the salad.
  4. Serve chilled.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Pisto Manchego

Pisto Manchego is a typical ratatouille found in Spain. Like Caponata, it is meant to be spread onto bread. Often, it is served with egg, almost like a shakshuka.

You will need:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion whole
  • 5 cloves of garlic with skin on
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4-5 tomatoes
  • 1  tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine*
  • Salt and black pepper

Steps:

  1. Grill/roast the all the vegetables under the broiler until charred. This can take from 20-25 minutes. You will need to check frequently, and rotate the veggies.
  2. While they cool, you can remove the charred skin off the vegetables. Core and seed the peppers and cut into bite-sized pieces. Halve the eggplant and cut into bite-size pieces. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Chop the zucchini and tomatoes.
  3. Preferably in a cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, red pepper, oregano and cumin. Saute for 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine. Add the remaining vegetables.
  4. Cook – Bring to a boil then simmer until the vegetables are all tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with additional salt and black pepper.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Eggplant Fritters with Honey (Berenjenas con miel)

This recipe is typical of Southern Spain. It is best served fresh and hot. It serves 4 people for a Tapas/Appetizer portion. This would be delicious served with a white wine with some minerality such as pinot grigio or an albariño.

This is great during the summer, and is meant to be eaten immediately. However, you do need to have the eggplants soaking for an hour before you intend to fry them up and serve.

You will need:

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch discs
  • Flour
  • Honey
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Step one:

Peel the eggplant and cut it into circular slices about 1/3 inch thick. Put them in a bowl, add enough milk to cover, and put a small plate on top to hold them down. Let soak for 1 to 2 hours; drain. The purpose of the milk is to draw out any bitterness.

Step two:

Cover a plate with plenty of flour mixed with a sprinkling of salt. Working in batches, turn the eggplant slices in this so that they are entirely covered with flour, then shake them to remove the excess. Deep-fry in sizzling but not too hot oil, turning the slices over as soon as the first side is brown. Drain on paper towels.

Serve hot with a drizzle of honey.

Appetizer · Central American · Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

How to Eat Your Vegetables

I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.

I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?

When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.

While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.

Quick and Easy:

  1. Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
  2. Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
  3. Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
  4. Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
  5. Curtido This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
  6. Grilled zucchini & summer squash – if you have time for the grill, this is fast and easy to put together.

Vegetable Spreads:

  1. Caponata – this is best made ahead and chilled. This is salty, sour, sweet, and decadent, all at the same time.
  2. Pisto Manchego – like Caponata, this is great spread onto a bread. Has roasted flavors & cumin notes.
  3. Roasted Red pepper Dip – this is great with pita and one I used to always bring to the break room.
  4. Romesco – this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.

Takes a little time, but worth it:

  1. Greek salad – this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
  2. Ciambottathis is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
  3. Eggplants and honey – you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
  4. Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.

In the winter:

  1. Maple sweet potatoes – this is so delicious in the dead of winter.
  2. Roasted potatoes, brusell sprouts and asparagus I often make this in fall in a large baking sheet.

Appetizer · Italian · Mediterranean

Caponata

Caponata is an awesome summer dish native to Sicily and Southern Italy. It is a prime example of something that does not look very appealing, but tastes like gold. Ideally, you make a large batch and then keep in the fridge, to chill. It is far better chilled on a hot summer day. Spread it on your bread while you socialize with family and friends and wait for dinner. Although recipes vary, as all good ones do, I love it with a lot of capers.

This is a recipe that I have enjoyed over the years, but didn’t have family knowledge to know exactly how to make. Years ago, I tried out a few, and found this one was close to what I was looking for.

  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant (1 large), roasted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  •  Salt to taste
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, (preferably romas), or 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (in puree)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons plus a pinch of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (more to taste)
  •  freshly ground pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Roast the eggplant in the oven, allow to cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, until just about tender, about 8 minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, which is fine. Season to taste.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and they smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar, and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet, and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016445-caponata

Appetizer · Holiday · Recipes

Holiday Treat: White chocolate peppermint popcorn

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This is another great holiday treat that is very simple to make. This does not seem like much, but it is irresistible. Whenever I set this out, people cannot stop eating it:)

All you need:

  • Air popped popcorn (ten cups)
  • 12 oz white chocolate, melted
  • crushed peppermints, a few handfuls

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Step one: Pop the popcorn in a very large bowl. Crush peppermints in a ziploc bag.

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Step two: melt the white chocolate. Melting white chocolate can be very problematic, especially in the microwave. If that is your only option, Sally’s Baking Addiction has good advice on how to do it.I recommend a double boiler, or you can rig one with a sauce pan and a pyrex bowl, like this:

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Step three: Drizzle the melted white chocolate and blend with the popcorn. It will be a gooey mess. Toss in the crushed mint.  Store in an airtight container.

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Delicious and addicting

Appetizer · Recipes

Buffalo Chicken Dip

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Many people have their version of Buffalo chicken dip, but this is my favorite – stolen from my friend Hector:)

You will need:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 16 oz.  Philadelphia cream cheese – full fat, softened
  • 1 cup ranch dressing
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup Frank’s Red Hot original or Buffalo
  • 2 (12.5 oz) cans of drained white chicken breast or rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
  • 1-2 dollops of sour cream (not too much or it will ruin the flavor)

HEAT oven to 350°F. Blend cream cheese, garlic, and salad dressing until smooth. Mix hot sauce, cheese and chicken. Pour into a baking dish (8×8).

BAKE 20 minutes or until mixture is heated through and bubbling. After it has cooled down, blend the ingredients.

Appetizer · Recipes

Buffalo Chicken Taquitos

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This is a recipe I modified from: http://stayforsupper.com/2012/08/21/buffalo-chicken-taquitos/ and it has become a mainstay when we host parties.

Serve with blue cheese dip and/or celery sticks. You can also cut the hot sauce with regular buffalo sauce to diminish the heat.

Serves: If you wrap the taquitos tightly, it will yield about 18. 

You will need:

  • tortillas – I prefer El Banderito – some brands aren’t that good for rolling (i.e. mission)
  • 4 cups shredded chicken – you can cook it yourself, or use a rotisserie
  • 2 cups mozzarella or cotija
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup franks hot sauce
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • sea salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp cumin

Step one:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a small sauce pot over medium low heat, melt the butter.
  3. Add garlic and cumin to the melted butter, and stir.
  4. Add the cream cheese and stir until it is melted completely and combined with butter and spices.
  5. Whisk in hot sauce and milk and simmer for 5 – 8 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add shredded chicken to the mixture and blend.

Step two:

  1. Lay out a tortilla; I use maybe 2 tbs chicken and a sprinkle of mozzarella.           IMG_0208          IMG_0210-0
  2. Tightly roll up the taquito and place on a greased baking sheet; repeat until chicken is gone. I use a pastry brush and water to seal the tortilla well.                                                                                    IMG_0212
  3. Brush the taquitos with a little vegetable oil on all sides.                                            IMG_0213
  4. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes; rotate them every 5 minutes, until golden brown

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Serve and Enjoy:)

Appetizer · Holiday · Recipes

Pumpkin Dip


I plan to set this out for friends and family as we get ready to trick or treat tonight, but this is a nice treat to bring to a party or in to work to share:)

Serve with: Ginger snaps, apples

You will need:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1-2 cups of confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger

Step one: blend sugar, cream cheese and vanilla together

Step two: add in pumpkin and spices. Blend until smooth

Step three: chill for three hours and then serve. enjoy:)