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Summer Entertaining: Guiltless Tapas

Summer Entertaining - Guiltless Tapas

Clockwise from top left: Caprese salad, spicy garlic shrimp, turkey bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, walnut cranberry date balls

Last month, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I made a tapas spread fit for a king…or in this case, my husband. One of our early dating rituals was frequenting restaurants that served sangria and tapas. Nothing is better than sitting outside at a cafe in the summer, sipping sangria and grazing on tapas. Nothing. Except if your dog is haunting you for a nibble…but I digress.

Are these recipes completely guiltless? Well, not really. But, wherever I could, I used lower calorie options, like substituting turkey bacon for regular bacon. You get my drift. But you’ll also see no bread or wheat, so these are all gluten-free.

The great thing about these recipes too is that I made everything in just over an hour.  Plus, if you’re entertaining friends and family, you can keep the dishes coming as you finish. So, to start this meal, I started with something easy– a caprese salad.

Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 beefsteak tomatoes
  • buffalo mozzarella
  • fresh basil
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

Directions

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices and arrange on a serving plate. Cut similar-sized slices of the buffalo mozzarella and place them on top of the tomato slices. Next, chop up the fresh basil and sprinkle over the tomatoes and cheese. Lightly drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad and serve.

Walnut Cranberry Date Balls

Next, I served up these walnut, dried cranberry & date balls. I know the picture above looks like raw meatballs, but I’m telling you, these are soooo delicious that you’ll want to devour the plate. Also, these are a good snacking option if you’ve been working out as they also have protein powder.

Walnut Cranberry Date Balls

Adapted from the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup pitted whole dates
  • ¾ cup walnuts (unsalted)
  • 1 scoop of protein powder (optional)

Directions

Place walnuts in a food processor and chop until the nuts are finely ground. Remove nuts into a bowl. Next, place the remaining ingredients (dried cranberries, dates and protein powder) into the food processor and mix until a paste forms. In the bowl, combine the cranberry-date paste with the chopped walnuts. Place bowl in refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill. Once the mixture is chilled, roll the paste into 1-inch snack balls and serve. These can also be made ahead.

 

Keep those dates handy, as you’ll be using them for this traditional Spanish tapas recipe, Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo. Yum….

Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo

Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

 Ingredients

  • 1 small Spanish chorizo sausage (about 2 ounces), casing removed
  • dates, pitted
  • 12 slices of turkey bacon, halved crosswise
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • toothpicks

Directions

Slice chorizo into small, matchstick-sized pieces. Tuck each chorizo stick into a date and pinch the date shut. Wrap a turkey bacon strip around the date and secure with a toothpick. Next, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Place the wrapped dates in the pan and sauté for about 10 minutes or until all sides of the turkey bacon have thoroughly cooked. Serve immediately.

 

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

Ingredients

 

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle chile pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined medium shrimp
  • Sea Salt

 

In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add garlic, chile pepper and parsley and saute for about 30 seconds. Next, add the shrimp and adobo sauce. If you prefer more heat, add more adobo sauce. Sauté until the shrimp turn pink and curl. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

 

Summer Sangria RecipeAnd where would a tapas meal be without sangria? You can make this recipe the night before since it will need to chill for at least 4 hours. Traditional sangria recipes call for wine and liquor, but to cut the calories a bit, this recipe also uses seltzer, which gives it some fizz.

Summer Sangria

Adapted from Tropical Sangria recipe in Cosmopolitan magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 (750-ml) bottle full-bodied red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
  • 1 orange (unpeeled), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 (8-oz) can pineapple chunks packed in 100% juice, with juice
  • 2 cups naturally flavored lime or lemon-lime seltzer or club soda

Summer Sangria ingredients

 Directions

Combine all of the ingredients (except the seltzer) in a large pitcher and stir. Chill for at least 4 hours (or overnight) in a refrigerator. Before serving, add chilled seltzer to the pitcher and stir.

 

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Key Lime Pie Squares

Lately, I’ve been mysteriously craving Key lime pie. Maybe it’s the recent Florida-like summer storms that remind me of tropical fruit, like limes, which inevitably leads my mind to thoughts of Key lime pie. Or maybe it doesn’t take much to get me thinking about Key lime pie!

The taste of limes is one of my favorite summertime flavors. Their taste quenches your thirst and eases the heat. Makes sense then that they’re used in margaritas! Whatever it is, I decided to embrace it yesterday and make Key lime pie squares.

Key lime pies also remind me of living in Florida when I was a kid.  It’s such a quintessential Florida dessert. So while I was baking the squares I couldn’t for the life of me get Kenny G’s “Songbird” out of my head—ugh! Let me explain…That song played on constant rotation at every South Florida shopping mall and Publix supermarket from 1986 to 1990. It was also heavily used on The Weather Channel’s Local Forecast, which my mother would keep on for hours for “ambient” noise. At least Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” was only on major airplay for about a year.

A lot of the key lime pie recipes I found online were pretty similar. However, I loved how the recipe on Sally’s’ Baking Addiction used cream cheese to give it more of a cheesecake consistency. I cannot begin to tell you how out of this world these key lime pie squares taste! Also, instead of a graham cracker crust, gingersnaps are used instead, which gives this dessert a layered flavor.

Photo by Shaw Girl, via Flickr

One note—you need to use key lime juice, like Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice (above), for this recipe. Regular lime juice will not work. I found key lime juice in the baking aisle at my supermarket. Fun fact–in 1965 a Florida State Representative introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied on anyone advertising Key lime pie not made with Key limes. Sadly, this did not pass.

Key Lime Pie Squares

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe

Serves 12

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups finely crushed crunchy gingersnap cookies
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Filling

  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (not fat-free)
  • ½ cup key lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest (1 lime)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8×8 glass dish with aluminum foil, making sure to leave some foil hanging over the edges. This will make it easier to remove the squares from the dish later. Lightly spray foil with cooking spray.

In a food processor, grind the gingersnaps to the point that they have the consistency of sand. Then, pour the gingersnap crumbs into a medium-size bowl and mix with the melted putter. Pour gingersnap and butter mixture into the prepared glass dish, pressing the mixture down firmly. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer beat the cream cheese until it is smooth and malleable. Beat in the egg yolks until thoroughly mixed. Then add the sweetened condensed milk, key lime juice and lime zest. Mix until blended and then pour into the crust.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges near the foil turn slightly brown. Cool the dish on a wire rack until the dish is room temperature. Then, chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Once chilled, pull up the edges of the foil and carefully remove the key lime pie from the dish to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Enjoy and soak in the taste of summer. Word to your mother.

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Dinner Tonight: Fish and Veggies in Parchment

Over the last two months, in an effort to eat healthier, I’ve been adopting some clean eating habits. It all started when a friend recommended Tosca Reno’s book, The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged. Not only am I feeling great, but the small changes I made are starting to show up on the scale too (woo-hoo!). Honestly, it’s just common sense stuff – it’s what we all know we’re supposed to do to stay healthy. Things like avoiding processed foods, eating more veggies and drinking water.

One of the first things I did was swap out my breakfast routine of cereal or a bagel with cream cheese for oatmeal with raisins. Next, I eliminated diet soda and started drinking unsweetened iced tea or water instead.

Now that my husband is on the bandwagon too, we both agreed that we should eat more fish. So this weekend, I made this fish recipe from Bon Appetit. Neither my husband nor I are big squash fans, so I used green and orange bell pepper instead. This recipe is soooo light and fresh.

Fish and Veggies in Parchment

Adapted from Fish Fillets with Tomatoes, Squash and Basil in Bon Appetit, June 2012

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup very thinly sliced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup very thinly sliced orange bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided, plus 1/4-cup basil leaves
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
  • (4) 6-ounce skinless white flaky fish fillets (such as Atlantic cod or halibut)

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Tear 4 pieces of parchment, about 14” x 12” and lay them flat on your work surface. Next, spoon a thin layer of the bell peppers in the center of each piece of parchment, dividing evenly. Do the same with the shallots and basil. Then, make a circle around the veggies with the cherry tomatoes. Drizzle each veggie mixture with a tablespoon of the white wine and a 1/2-tablespoon of olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Then, place 1 fish fillet on top of each veggie mixture. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle a ½-tablespoon of olive oil over each fish fillet.

Fold each parchment packet and tuck the ends under. Make sure each packet is sealed securely. Place each packet on a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake fish until just cooked through, about 10-20 minutes, depending the on the fillet thickness. You should be able to easily poke a toothpick through the parchment and remove it clean. Carefully open the packets and garnish with fresh basil.

Serve with brown rice or quinoa and a leafy dinner salad and you’ve got yourself a great meal!

P.S. I dare you to NOT sing this song while making this dish! I’m in no way recommending going to McDonald’s, but man I like this song.

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Fall Foliage Hike and Pre-Sandy Baking

This weekend, my husband and I decided we better get a fall foliage hike in before that psycho superstorm, Sandy, hit our area. And I am so glad we did – especially since we’ve been cooped up in the apartment ever since!

The original idea was to drive up to Sleepy Hollow, NY and walk around since it’s so festive and Halloween-y. But, our dog, Jackie, looked at us so forlornly, we couldn’t possibly leave her at home (we are so doggie-whipped). So, Plan B— we drove to Dobbs Ferry, NY and packed up a picnic for a visit to the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park. Although it was a little overcast, it was such a beautiful day. We dined on an assortment of cheeses, meats and crackers.…a little red wine…possibly a little dog drool.

Old Croton Trail, near Dobbs Ferry, NY

To work off some of that good food, we hiked along the Old Croton Trail that runs for 26-miles along the Hudson River and Metro North’s Hudson line. We only hiked a small portion of it, but the trail is perfect for jogging and biking.

Our weekend was like something out of the first verse of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” substituting our little car for the bus!

 “Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday, from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I’m taking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I’m in a New York state of mind.”

Also on my to-do list this weekend was to bake pumpkin muffins in preparation for the hurricane. Oh, these are so good– both sweet and savory! This recipe is one of my go-to fall recipes.

Pumpkin Muffins

Adapted from recipe in Cooking Light’s November, 2006 issue

Yields 16-18 muffins

Ingredients

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ground ginger and salt. Mix with a whisk. Stir in raisins and then create a well in the center of the flour mixture

In a medium bowl, combine canned pumpkin, buttermilk, olive oil, molasses, vanilla extract and eggs. Mix well. Add pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just moist.

Spray 2 muffin tins thoroughly with cooking spray. Gently spoon batter into muffin tins. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately remove muffins from tins and cool on a wire rack.

I had some canned pumpkin left over and I didn’t want to waste it. Then inspiration stuck— my sister had mentioned recently that pumpkin coffee creamer is all over PinterestThis low-fat version is adapted from The Jammie Girl.

All you have to do is combine all of the ingredients above in a jar— I upcycled a Classico tomato sauce jar. Then, shake the jar to mix the contents and heat, uncovered, in a microwave for 2 minutes. Let cool until mixture is room temperature, shaking occasionally. Then, cover with a lid and store creamer in the refrigerator.

So between the muffins, coffee creamer and something a little more alcoholic (hello Dark ‘n Stormies!), we were prepared, like Boy Scouts, for the storm.

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Apple Cinnamon Hot Toddy

Almost all week last week, I was home sick with bronchitis – welcome to fall! So, while I was laid up in bed, I caught up on some of my blog reading. I was starting to get tired of drinking only hot tea and ginger ale, and a sweet hot toddy recipe from A Beautiful Mess caught my eye. I had to try it.

The last time I tried to make a hot toddy, I don’t know what I did, but it ended up tasting like gasoline. I’m sure it was cheap whiskey or something, because, this time, it tasted so divine!

Since it was kind of cool out last night, I was more in the mood for an apple cinnamon-flavored hot toddy. It soothed my throat and helped me chill out.

Apple Cinnamon Hot Toddy Recipe

Adapted from Sweet Hot Toddy recipe from A Beautiful Mess

Serves 1

Ingredients

  •  1-2 Apple cinnamon herbal tea bags
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 oz bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)

Directions

Boil water in a kettle or in the microwave. Once it’s boiling,  pour water into a teapot or mug with 1-2 apple cinnamon herbal tea bags, depending on how much tea flavor you want. Steep for about 3 minutes.

In a mug, squeeze the lemon juice from lemon. Then add honey and bourbon.

Pour hot tea into mug, stir, and relax!

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Dinner Tonight: Cajun Shrimp, Corn & Potatoes

Lately, I’ve been craving some Cajun food with a little bit of heat. Since corn season is winding down, figured I needed to make this Cajun dish ASAP!  This is one of my favorite go-to recipes and it really takes no time at all to cook. Also, I never need an excuse to bring a little New Orleans into our home!

Cajun Shrimp, Corn & Potatoes

Based on Shrimp Boil with Spicy Horseradish Sauce, Gourmet, August 2008

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 5 tablespoons Creole or Cajun seasoning (I used Emeril’s Bayou Blast)
  • 2 -1/2 teaspoons cayenne, divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 8 small boiling potatoes (about 2 inches)
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and halved
  • 1-1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 -1/2 tablespoons bottled horseradish

 

Look at that yummy corn!

In a large pot, squeeze lemon juice from lemon into about 4 quarts of water. Then, add lemon quarters, Creole seasoning, 2 teaspoons of cayenne, bay leaves, garlic and potatoes to the pot. If salt isn’t the first ingredient in the Creole seasoning, add 2 teaspoons of salt.

Bring pot to a boil and them simmer partially covered for 12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add corn to the pot, cooking partially covered for 4 minutes. Then add the shrimp and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turns opaque.

Separately, combine ketchup, mayonnaise, horseradish and ½ teaspoon of cayenne in a small bowl. Add more cayenne to taste if you want to pump up the heat.

Drain potatoes, corn and shrimp into a colander. Then, serve with the spicy horseradish as a dipping sauce.

Enjoy!

 Weight Watchers PointsPlus value: 12

 

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Dinner Tonight: 15-Minute Pesto Recipe

One of my favorite smells in the world is the sweet aroma of fresh basil. I was recently watering the basil plant on my kitchen windowsill, hoping I didn’t kill this one, since I seem to be a serial basil-killer, and thought, I need to make some pesto before this plant ends up in the trash. I did not inherit my parents’ green thumb, so I wanted to get some mileage out of this plant. Plus, pesto is such a perfect summer meal – light and fresh.

I first attempted pesto about 3 years ago, but after my lovely husband insisted on “helping” by jamming a wooden spoon into the blender–thus destroying both the pesto and the blender–I haven’t tried it since.

We were at Masina, in Weehawken, NJ, this weekend for dinner and ordered a very flavorful ricotta and pesto crostini. That got my mouth watering and my mind racing. It might be time to revisit pesto. That, and now that we’re all stocked up with new kitchen appliances– including a fancy Cuisinart — I just had to give this Italian staple another try.

Most of the recipes I found online were pretty much the same. This pesto recipe is based on one I found in Bon Appetit. But, but after reading a number of reviews, I made some modifications. See below and enjoy!

15-Minute Pesto

based on Classic Pesto recipe in Bon Appetit, August 2004

Yields about 1 cup of pesto

Serves 4

  • 5 cups fresh basil leaves (about 4 large bunches)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can find)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon course sea salt
  • 8 oz. uncooked pasta

Boil water for pasta and prepare pasta according to directions on the box. While water is boiling, pick basil leaves and wash thoroughly. Place basil in a salad spinner and spin out all the excess water. Try to get the basil as dry as possible — you may want to blot the basil leaves with a paper towel.

In a food processor or blender, add the first 4 ingredients and blend until a paste forms. Add more olive oil as needed.

Then add the cheese and blend some more. Add salt to taste.

And that’s it! Top a ¼ cup of pesto over pasta and serve with a salad or veggies and you are good to go. A quick and easy meal to make after work.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus Value: 11

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If I Were the Mad Hatter

English: Illustration of "A Mad Tea Party...

As a kid, I loved reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. At the time I didn’t know it was a political satire but I loved reading the story and looking at the pretty Victorian illustrations.  It helped too that Disney’s Alice in Wonderland was one of the first movies I ever saw and become one of my favorite Disney movies.

Of course one of the best-known chapters is the tea party scene with Alice, the Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse. It’s pure silliness with unanswerable riddles (“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”) and ditties like this:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!

How I wonder what you’re at!

[…]

Up above the world you fly,

Like a tea-tray in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle—“

 

 

So what if I were to host my own Mad Hatter-themed tea party, minus the nonsense and musical chairs? Where to begin?

Curiouser and Curiouser

If there’s time, I would start collecting mis-matched teacups and saucers from garage sales and flea markets. But, if timing is an issue, there is a treasure trove of handmade or vintage items you can find on Etsy, from invitations to tea sets.

Invitations by PiccadillyStation

Drink Me tags or labels by anistadesigns

Pretty retro pastel bunting by MerryGoRoundHANDMADE

Vintage cupcake stand by NancysTeaShop

Vintage pink English china cup, saucer and plate, from NancysTeaShop

Vintage white ironstone tea set from TheOldRedHen

 

Drink Me

Since this is grown-up tea party, I’d also serve a festive libation along with tea. How about a Tea Tini? For the iced tea, I’d steep a flavored tea, like red zinger and chill in the fridge before serving the drinks

 

Tea Tini 

from About.com Cocktails

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 oz vodka
  • 1 oz sweet iced tea –
  • 1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • lemon wedge for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with sugar.

Garnish with the lemon wedge.

Eat Me

When it comes to tea parties, the first thing that comes to mind after tea, is little tea sandwiches!

 

Tea Sandwiches

From Sandra Lee on Food Network

Ingredients

  • 24 bread slices (recommended: white, rye, whole grain,pumpernickel, or a combination)
  • 1 cup guacamole
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1/4 cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
  • Special Equipment: 3-inch round cookie cutter

Directions

Using a round cookie cutter, cut out the center of the bread, removing the crusts.

 Guacamole Chicken Tea Sandwiches:

Take a piece of the bread and, using a butter knife, spread 1 side of it with guacamole. Spread 1 side of another piece of bread with mayonnaise. Top guacamole with chicken and then the mayonnaise-smeared bread.

Chive Cream Cheese and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches:

Mix chives into the softened cream cheese. Spread 1 side of 1 slice of bread with the chive cream cheese. Top with a few slices of cucumber and then with another slice of bread.

Prosciutto Melon Tea Sandwiches:

Place prosciutto on 1 slice of bread. Top with some melon and another slice of bread.

 

Some sweet ideas:

 

And that, my friends, are just a couple of ideas for your Mad Hatter Tea Party. So what are you waiting for? Don’t be late – you have a very important date!

 

P.S – You should pop over to Black Cat Original’s blog. She’s hosting this High Tea Linky Party.

 

blackcatoriginals

 

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