Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Artichoke Dip with Cheddar Cheese

Artichoke Dip with Cheddar Dip in White Ramekin, Overhead View

This Make Ahead, No-Bake Dip is Perfect for Parties

Having people over?  Whether you’ve invited just a couple of friends for a quiet evening, or your entire address book for the annual Super Bowl bash, you probably don’t want to stress over last-minute dishes.  So I’ll bet you’re in the market for a crowd-pleasing dish that won’t take too much work on your part — and one that you can make ahead of time.

May I introduce you to this tangy Artichoke Dip with Cheddar Cheese?  It’s a no-bake dish (unlike many of the artichoke dips out there), so you won’t need to be fussing over it just as your doorbell starts ringing.  And it improves in flavor if you make it a few hours ahead (or even the day before your event). 

Set it out with some chips, crackers, or raw veggie crudités, and let people serve themselves.  Your guests will rave about it — and assume you went to a lot of trouble to make it. 

In truth, this dip takes mere minutes to whip up, but they don’t have to know that.  What happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen, right?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spicy Party Nuts

Spiced Roasted Pecans in Ramekin with Cocktail in Background

Nothing Livens Up a Super Bowl Bash like These Roasted Pecans     

Planning a party?  Then you’re probably looking for flavorful finger food — you know, munchies and small appetizers.  These Spicy Party nuts fill the bill admirably. 

Most people like nuts — and they like them even better when you add some spice to the mix.  This is a flexible recipe.  Although I’m using pecans in this batch, you can include almost any nut you fancy.  In fact, this dish might be even better if you use a mixed assortment — it’s a great way to use up any leftover, half-empty bags of nuts you may have on hand from your December baking.

With Super Bowl Sunday coming up — a party opportunity rivaled only by New Year’s Eve — you’ve got the perfect excuse to make these great Spicy Party Nuts.  And the perfect excuse to eat them.  If your team wins, celebrate with an extra helping.  And if they lose?  Well, these tasty treats will help take your mind off those bums!  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup in Chinese Bowl, Fortune Cookies in Background

This Healthy and Comforting Dish Delivers Big Flavor

You probably know Hot and Sour soup.  This stock-based medley of mushrooms, protein (often pork, chicken, or tofu), and tangy flavorings is a staple at Chinese restaurants.  With spicy high notes that contrast pleasingly with sour bass notes, Hot and Sour plays a symphony on your tongue. 

It’s one of my favorite soups, so I used to order it almost every time we went out for Chinese food.  It took me a while to realize that I could prepare it at home.  Once I really looked at recipes, though, I finally discovered how easy it is to make Hot and Sour Soup.  It does require some special ingredients, but many supermarkets (and all Asian markets) carry them.  And because you can make the soup the way you like it, your version is bound to be more pleasing than any restaurant’s.

So I hope that, like me, you’ll find this recipe a win-win:  You’ll add a great soup to your cooking repertoire.  And next time you visit a Chinese restaurant, you’ll feel free to explore some of those other soups on the menu.  You know, the one’s you’ve always ignored because you just had to have Hot and Sour!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Singapore Noodles

Singapore Noodles in Bowl with Chopsticks

This Restaurant Favorite is Easy to Make

You’ll find Singapore Noodles at Chinese restaurants around the world.  This dish offers a spicy blend of noodles and curry, along with veggies and often shrimp, pork, and chicken.  I can never resist ordering it when I see it on a menu.

If you’re like many of us in the US, though, you’d never dream of making Singapore Noodles (or any other Chinese dish) at home.  The ingredients may seem unfamiliar, and some of the cooking techniques can be terra incognita.  But there’s really no mystery to it — after all, millions of Chinese folks cook at home every day!  

Chinese New Year is just a few weeks away.  (It begins on Sunday, February 10.  We’ll be entering the year of the snake).  So isn’t it time to learn a dish or two, and celebrate in style? 

Almost everyone likes Singapore Noodles — we’re talking pasta, after all.  And it’s a fairly easy dish to make (less complicated than spaghetti and meat balls).  Best of all, the ingredients will already be familiar to you. 

Chinese lore says having a snake in the house is a good omen — it means your family will never starve.  I’m not sure about that, but I do know this:  Learn to make Singapore Noodles, and you’ll never need to eat from those little white cartons again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli in white ramekin with napkin and spoon

This Pasta and Bean Soup is Italian Comfort Food

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans) can be found throughout Italy.  It’s a dish that everyone eats — and one that most everyone thinks of with nostalgia.  Comfort food at its finest.  And with the cold winter weather we’re having here in the Northern Hemisphere, we all need some comfort!

Pasta e Fagioli is usually served as a soup (a few versions are more like a very thick stew), and every region has its own recipe.  Heck, I think every family has its own recipe.  I recently started looking at all the Pasta e Fagioli recipes in my cookbooks and stopped when I reached the 30th different version — and I wasn’t even halfway through my cookbook collection!  So even though the basic procedures and ingredients for making this dish are pretty similar, there are countless variations.

The traditional recipe involves soaking and then cooking dried beans, a procedure that takes some time (we’re talking hours, though the active time is minimal).  And my recipe does specify dried beans.  But there’s a shortcut you can take (detailed in the Notes), which means you can actually put together a credible version of this dish in about 40 minutes.  Add a salad and you have a complete and nutritious meal.

Pasta e Fagioli.  It’s Italian for good stuff!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Braised Fennel

Braised Fennel in Oblong Ramekin, Overhead View

This Easy, Make-Ahead Dish Delivers Fen-tastic Flavor                   

Every January, I’m eager to eat my vegetables.  After an extended holiday blowout — which always seems to begin around Halloween and continue through New Year’s Day — I’m ready to seek out food that’s lighter and healthier.  Time to cut down on the sweets, and begin eating cleaner.

Fennel fits the bill wonderfully:  It’s nutritious and low in calories, but it also offers flavor that won’t quit.  It’s often served raw in salads.  When cooked, though, it turns into another veggie entirely.  In fact, the flavor mellows and becomes almost sweet. 

As noted last week in our post on Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans, fennel can be the star of the show. But it also makes an excellent side dish. Braised fennel is a perfect accompaniment to roast pork or poultry, and it pairs well with almost any fish you can imagine. And although it’s terrific hot from the oven, it’s just as good — maybe even better! — when served at room temperature. So it’s a perfect make-ahead dish for a big dinner.

Everyone at your table (kids included) will lap this up. Don’t you love January?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans


Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans in Bowl, Overhead View

Serve this Hearty Soup as a Starter or a Main Course

You’ve probably seen fennel in the produce department at your local supermarket.  It’s a bulbous plant with stalks maybe a foot long, and topped with feathery green foliage.  Here in the US, not many cooks use it.  Too bad, because fennel has a great, distinctive flavor that combines well with other ingredients.

If fennel is new to you — or you haven’t used it for a while — why not try some in this terrific soup?  January is the time of the year when many of us determine to eat healthier, and there’s nothing healthier than eating your veggies.  And the more veggies you know how to use, the more likely you are to eat them.

That’s logic, isn’t it?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Easy Homemade Butter

Homemade Butter and Butter Knife on Black Acrylic

The Best Thing for Your Morning Toast since Sliced Bread

Everyone knows butter.  It’s that great tasting stuff we spread on toast and dinner rolls.  Or whip into mashed potatoes to make them particularly scrumptious.  Or beat into icing to top the perfect cake.

But make your own?  Come on, you must be kidding.  Everyone knows you buy it at the supermarket, where you find it packed in neat rectangular boxes.  The ones that contain 4 quarter-pound sticks wrapped in waxed paper or foil.  Or if you want to go upscale, you buy those ½ pound slabs of European (or “European-style”) butter that cost twice as much as the standard supermarket stuff, in return for better flavor.

Anyway, don’t you need a churn to make butter?  You know, liked they used in Little House on the Prairie?  Who has one of those?

Well, good news.  You don’t need a churn.  If you have a mixer (or blender or food processor), you can make your own butter in no more than 20 minutes.  It’s quick and easy!  And when it comes to flavor, homemade crushes even the best and fanciest store-bought premium butters.

Best of all?  You don’t even need your own cow.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Bloody Mary Cocktail

Bloody Mary Cocktail in Rocks Glass with Celery Garnish

This Spicy Favorite Owns Sunday Morning

If you’ve ever gone out for brunch on a weekend, chances are you’ve seen a Bloody Mary (or several) being consumed.  This piquant mix of tomato juice and vodka is a forenoon favorite in the US — and throughout much of the world.

And why not?  The Bloody Mary delivers a bit of a kick, but all that tomato juice gives you maximum beverage volume with minimal alcohol.  Plus, the drink holds its own against the assertive flavors of common brunch fare like bacon, sausage, and eggs.  In fact, its taste is so robust that people rarely want more than one.  So you won’t get blotto at breakfast. 

The Bloody Mary is an easy drink to make at home when you host a big brunch.  It also practically cries out for customization:  You can spice it up or down to suit your own preference. 

Once you’ve developed the perfect recipe, you may find yourself inviting people over for brunch more often.  Just so you can bask in their satisfied smiles as they sip your expert concoction.