Warm Weather Appetizers ~ Chicken Lau Lau on Purple Sweet Potatoes with Taro Chips

The weather is warming up, and that gets me into the mood for something tropical! I decided to cook a traditional Hawaiian dish called lau lau, which means “leaf leaf” in Hawaiian since it uses two different kinds of leaves. I recently learned how to make the classic dish from a native Hawaiian lady, and this is my spin on the tradition. 🙂

I served some of the shredded lau lau as an appetizer on rectangles of purple sweet potato with taro chips to garnish. I love how the colors of the potato and taro compliment one another, and I also think using both the leaf and the root of the taro plant balances the dish nicely.

We enjoyed the remaining lau lau as a main course for a few days (with the extra bits of baked sweet potato!) It is a bit of a project to make this dish, so I recommend making a lot for leftovers. Or, this is a great dish to serve a big crowd. Perfect for a summer backyard luau!

Chicken Lau Lau on Purple Sweet Potatoes with Taro Chips

9 chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed of excess fat

About 18 fresh taro leaves

About 18 ti leaves or 2 large banana leaves

Hawaiian sea salt

2 large purple sweet potatoes (I used Okinawan sweet potatoes)

Olive oil

Taro chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Set aside either a large pot with a lid, or a large casserole dish with two layers of aluminum foil to cover.

Salt the chicken liberally, and rub the salt into the meat with your fingers.

Remove the tough stems from the taro leaves. If using ti leaves, remove the tough stems. If using banana leaves, cut into manageable pieces, approximately 8 or 9 inches in length.

Nestle 2 taro leaves together. Place 1 chicken thigh in the middle of the leaves. Wrap it into a bundle so the chicken is completely covered by the leaves.

Then wrap the taro bundle in the ti or banana leaves so it is completely covered. Either tie the bundles with kitchen twine (or traditionally, the stem of the ti leaf) or make sure the last fold is on the bottom so they stay closed while cooking.

Place the bundles in the prepared pot or dish. Bake for approximately 3 1/2 hours, or until the chicken falls off the bone and shreds easily.

The ti and banana leaves are not edible, so remove before serving.

Shred two or three bundles of chicken for the appetizers. Reserve the remaining lau lau for an easy weeknight main course.

Turn up your oven to 400 F.

Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut 2 large purple sweet potatoes into approximately 1/3-inch slices. Then cut the slices into rectangles.

Toss the rectangles (and the extra bits) in olive oil so every side is well coated. Sprinkle with sea salt, and toss to evenly coat. Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheets in a single layer.

Bake for about 10 minutes, turn the potatoes over, and continue to bake until fork tender.

To serve, top the potato squares with some shredded lau lau chicken. Top each with a piece of taro chip for garnish.

Easter Eggs ~ Pickled Rainbow Deviled Eggs

Happy Easter!

My mom makes pickled eggs with beets for Easter, just the way my grandma used to do. I think it’s an old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that made its way into our family traditions! I decided to expand on that tradition this year by dying my eggs pink, but also yellow, orange, blue, and purple. Amazingly, all of the colors are totally natural! I was really delighted with all of the bright colors. 🙂

After I dyed the eggs, I made them into deviled eggs. Use your favorite deviled egg recipe. I like to use Greek yogurt in mine, so they had a bit of a tang between the pickling and the filling. They will be a perfect Easter afternoon snack (if they make it that long! 😉 )

Pickled Rainbow Deviled Eggs

If you make all 5 colors, you will end up with 15 whole eggs or 30 deviled egg halves

Inspired by Food52

For the pickled eggs:

3/4 cup white wine vinegar

3/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

(Each coloring below is for 1 batch of the basic pickling blend above. To make all 5 colors, make the basic pickling blend in 5 separate batches.)

For pink:

1 small beet, roasted and peeled, cut into large pieces

For yellow:

1/2 tablespoon ground dried turmeric

For orange:

1/2 tablespoon ground dried turmeric

1 small piece (the equivalent of approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons) of roasted and peeled beet

For blue:

1/4 small red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For purple:

1/4 small red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda

Set aside 5 glass containers that are each big enough for 3 eggs and one colored batch of the pickling mixture. Divide the eggs evenly so every container has 3.

In a small saucepan, bring one batch of vinegar, water, and salt to a simmer. Whisk to make sure the salt fully dissolves. Turn off the heat and add the coloring of your choice.

Pour the colored pickling blend over the top of 3 eggs, and make sure they are fully submerged. Repeat with the remaining 4 colors.

Refrigerate until the eggs are the color you desire. I left mine in the pickling blend for a few hours, stirring every once in awhile to make sure they colored evenly. They will also get more pickled with time. (I found that the pink, orange, and yellow took less time to reach the color I desired than the blue and purple. I left the eggs in the pickling blend longer for the latter two.)

For the deviled eggs:

Prepared pickled eggs

5 ounces nonfat plain Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Salt to taste

Cut each egg in half and remove the yolks.

In a medium bowl, mash the yolks with a fork. Add the yogurt, mustard, mayonnaise, and salt, and mix until the filling is well incorporated and smooth.

Scoop the filling into a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe the filling into each egg white.

Retro Boder’s Night ~ Coquilles St.-Jacques

There was one nice restaurant in the town where I grew up called Boder’s on the River. It was the place to go for any special occasion or event. I think the last time I was there was for my high school graduation dinner! They had a long history starting in 1929 until they closed in 2001. Amazingly, the restaurant was maintained over all of those years by several generations of the same family.

The classic restaurant came to my mind recently, and I thought it would be fun to have a retro Boder’s night dinner! I cooked a few of the dishes that used to be on the menu over the years. The dinner started with coquilles St.-Jacques for the appetizer. Then the main course was a crab-stuffed sole, and the grand finale was the famous schaum torte dessert.

It was a fun celebration dinner, and a lovely way to make an ordinary night special!

Coquilles St.-Jacques

Makes 6 small appetizers

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 medium shallot, minced

Approximately 4 ounces white mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Chardonnay)

6 large dry-packed sea scallops, the tough muscle on the side of each removed

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup skim milk

Pinch of cayenne

1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated

Salt, to taste

Gruyère cheese, finely grated

Paprika, to taste

Preheat broiler. Set aside either 6 scallop shells or 6 shallow ramekins. If using scallop shells rather than ramekins, crumple some aluminum foil on top of a sheet pan to keep the shells level when broiling.

Over medium heat, in a medium sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the shallots, and sauté until they are translucent. Then add the mushrooms and cook until they release most of their moisture. Add the wine, and bring to a simmer. Add the scallops, and gently poach on both sides until they are just cooked through.

Remove the scallops, and set aside on a plate. Strain the remaining ingredients, reserving both the liquid and the solids.

In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms and shallots until they are the consistency of small pebbles. Set aside.

Wipe out the pan to make sure there are no bits of mushroom or shallot left that may burn.

In the same pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Once the bubbles subside, whisk in the flour to make a roux. Once the roux is golden, whisk in the milk, the strained liquid, and any liquid that may have accumulated under the scallops. While continuing to whisk, let the mixture cook until it is thickened.

Strain the mixture to ensure there are no lumps.

Off the heat, whisk the cayenne, tarragon, and lemon zest into the wine/milk mixture. Add salt to taste, (but keep in mind the scallops are naturally salty and the cheese added at the end will also be salty.)

Divide the mushrooms between either scallop shells or ramekins, and spread onto the bottom of each. On top of the mushrooms, add one scallop to each shell or ramekin. Top each scallop with the sauce. Grate a little cheese over the top of each.

Broil until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Watch very closely, because they can get too dark quickly. Remove from the broiler.

To finish, sprinkle the scallops lightly with paprika.

Iced Under ~ Lobster Fra Diavolo in Angel Hair Pasta Cups

I just finished a wonderful cozy mystery set in the midst of a frigid New England winter called Iced Under. It is part of a delightful Maine Clambake series from Barbara Ross. I think this latest installment was my favorite of them all! I love how it combines a family mystery with some real New England history. I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a cozy winter book. 🙂

In the back of each Maine Clambake mystery, there is a recipe for a lobster dish. This one happened to have a lobster fra diavolo recipe, which combines lobster and other shellfish with a spicy tomato sauce and pasta. I decided to transform the dish from a main course into hors d’oeuvres that can be eaten in one bite. It’s a perfect snack to enjoy while you read!Lobster Fra Diavolo in Angel Hair Pasta Cups

Makes about 24 hors d’oeuvres

For the cups:

Approximately 4 ounces whole-wheat angel hair pasta, broken in half

1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 egg, beaten

For the filling:

1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil

1 small shallot, minced

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup crushed canned tomatoes (I used San Marzano)

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Approximately 8 ounces precooked lobster meat, cut into a small dice

About 1 tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

About 1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

For the cups:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Aim for a softer texture rather than a firmer texture, since they will dry out slightly in the oven.

Drain the pasta. Toss with cheese and egg until all of the strands of pasta are well coated. Divide the pasta between 24 mini muffin cups. Arrange the pasta strands in the muffin cups so they cover the bottom of each and form cuplike shapes.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the egg is set.

Cool slightly, and then remove the pasta cups carefully from the pan.

These can be made the day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. Gently warm the cups for a few seconds in the microwave before filling and serving.

For the filling:

Preheat a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the oil, and allow it get hot and shimmering. Then add the shallot, and cook until translucent. Next, add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and oregano. Cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, and bring to a boil. Scrape any fond from the bottom of the pan. Then add the tomatoes. Cook until the mixture reduces and thickens to your liking. Season with salt and black pepper.

Add the lobster meat to the tomato mixture, and cook until it is just heated through.

Turn off the heat, and stir in the parsley and basil.

Spoon a little of the lobster/tomato mixture into each pasta cup. Serve immediately.

More Elegant Bites for Valentine’s Day ~ Lobster Thermidor Tartlets

We paired our lobster Newburg canapés with lobster thermidor tartlets. And we paired them both with a little wine of course! It was Valentine’s Day after all. 😉

You can buy premade tartlet shells or make your own with store-bought phyllo dough. I made my own, but only because my local stores didn’t have the shells. I think there was a run on them for Valentine’s Day! 😉 The filling for this appetizer can be made ahead and reheated in a warm pan. I love recipes I can make ahead. Then I can focus on the celebration instead of being back in the kitchen. This recipe also works really well with shrimp. This month, my Valentine tasted three batches with shrimp while I was testing the recipe before we enjoyed the lobster version on the big day, (but I don’t think he minded. 😉 )

Lobster Thermidor Tartlets

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 small raw lobster tails, split in half lengthwise and deveined

About 4 ounces white mushrooms, finely diced

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon brandy

1 cup skim milk

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

White pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Mini phyllo tartlet shells

Parmesan and/or Gruyère cheese

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the lobster tails, including the shells, and cook until the shells are red. They do not need to be completely cooked through at this point.

Pull out the lobster and set aside on a plate to cool.

In the same pan, add the mushrooms and shallot, and cook until they soften and brown slightly.

Remove the mushrooms and shallot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Wipe out the pan to make sure you don’t have any bits of shallot or mushroom left that may burn. Over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the bubbles subside. Sprinkle the flour in the pan, and whisk to make a roux. Cook until the roux turns golden. While continuing to whisk, add the sherry, brandy, and milk, and cook until the mixture is thickened. Add the paprika, mustard, and pepper, and whisk to combine.

Strain the mixture for any lumps. Return the sauce to the pan off the heat.

Take the lobster meat out of the shells and cut into a small dice.

Add the lobster meat, mushrooms, and shallots back to the pan with the sauce. Mix until everything is well coated. Over low heat, cook until the lobster meat is just cooked through. Season with salt if needed, (but remember there will be salty cheese added as a final edition, so be careful not to over salt.)

Spoon the mixture into the tartlet shells. Grate a little cheese over the top of each tartlet. With a kitchen torch, melt the cheese. Add a little more grated cheese on top for a pretty presentation.

Serve immediately.

Elegant Bites for Valentine’s Day ~ Lobster Newburg Canapés

This year, rather than an elaborate Valentine dinner, I focused on hors d’oeuvres I could enjoy with my hubby later in the evening. 🙂 I made lobster Newburg canapés and lobster thermidor tartlets, two classic lobster dishes converted into small bites. I have to say, both went quite nicely with a glass of wine by the fire!

I’ll start with the canapés. I love that the topping can be made ahead and reheated in a warm pan, and the lobster can totally be substituted for shrimp for a more modest dish. I made a couple batches with shrimp as I was testing the recipe this month, and my taste tester (AKA, my hubby) loved it! The lobster was perfect for our special Valentine’s Day celebration, though. I think this is a recipe I will go back to again and again. It is fancy enough for a special occasion, but simple enough to make on a weeknight.

Lobster Newburg Canapés

Sliced artisan bread, cut into approximately 1 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter

Extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small raw lobster tails, split in half lengthwise and deveined

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon brandy

1 cup skim milk

Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Ground white pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Preheat broiler. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Brush the tops of the bread with a little olive oil. Arrange the bread with the oil side facing up on the prepared sheet pan. Broil for a minute or two until the bread is golden on top. Watch them closely, because they can burn very quickly. Set aside.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the lobster tails, including the shells, and cook until the shells are red. They do not need to be completely cooked through at this point. Set aside to cool.

Continuing to cook over medium heat, sprinkle the flour in the pan, and whisk to combine with the remaining butter. Cook until the roux is golden brown. While whisking, add the sherry, brandy, and milk. Continue to whisk until the mixture is thickened. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper, and whisk until well combined.

Strain the mixture for any lumps. Return the sauce to the pan off the heat.

Take the lobster meat out of the shells, and cut into a small dice.

Add the lobster meat back to the pan with the sauce. Mix until the lobster is well coated. Over low heat, cook until the meat is just cooked through. Season with salt if needed.

Spoon a small amount of the lobster mixture onto the toast rounds. Serve immediately.

It’s 2017! ~ Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger Limes

Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger LimesHappy New Year!! I hope this year is filled with many good things for you. 🙂

I made these little appetizers to help ring in 2017. They are fresh and flavorful with the unique addition of finger limes. The little vesicles of the finger limes pop in your mouth with a burst of freshness. It is almost like citrus caviar! Or nature’s Pop Rocks. 😉 If you ever see finger limes, I would highly recommend trying them. I think you’ll find them delightful!

Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger Limes

Makes 30 appetizers

1/2 block (4 ounces) reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 large ripe avocado

Handful of fresh cilantro, big stems removed

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Approximately 3 English cucumbers

30 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Approximately 1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil

Approximately 6 finger limes

In the bowl of a food processor, add the cream cheese, avocado, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Process until fully combined and smooth.

With a large peeler, peel strips of cucumber lengthwise. Stop when you reach the seedy centers. Neaten the ends of the strips with a knife. Gently pat the strips dry with a paper towel. Set aside.

Preheat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Season the shrimp on both sides with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, add the oil. Wait until the oil is hot and shimming, and then add the shrimp. Sauté on both sides until the shrimp are just cooked through. Transfer to a plate, and let cool.

Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture onto one side of each strip of cucumber. The spread should cover the whole length of cucumber. Place one shrimp on the end of each strip of cucumber. Make sure the tail is sticking up over the side. Roll the cucumber strip. Repeat until you have 30 appetizers.

To finish, squeeze a little finger lime over the top of each appetizer.

Serve immediately. They are best when they are freshly made.Cucumber Rolls with Shrimp and Finger LimesPS. Finger limes are also fun to add to your midnight sparkling wine! The little juice vesicles float up and down in the bubbles and give the drink a nice little pop of acidity.Sparkling wine with finger limes

A Lowcountry Wedding ~ Pickled Shrimp

Pickled ShrimpI just finished a delightful summer book called A Lowcountry Wedding by Mary Alice Monroe. It was the fourth book in a series I have enjoyed over the past couple of summers, and the finale was just as entertaining and satisfying as the first three novels! As in the first three, the story is set on picturesque Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina. There the characters I have come to know and love continue their journey, (and as the title implies, it’s time for a wedding or two!) If you are looking for your next book to read by the beach, I would highly recommend this one. 🙂

Inspired by the story, I made a Southern celebration dinner! I made three of the recipes included in the back of the novel. We had pickled shrimp as an appetizer, and a chicken and shrimp gumbo for the main course. I paired dinner with a cocktail called A Lowcountry Wedding, which combined sparkling wine with peach moonshine made by Firefly Distillery in South Carolina. All three recipes were quite delicious, but I think my favorite was the pickled shrimp. It is a light and easy appetizer that is perfect for summer entertaining. I’ll definitely keep this recipe on hand for future cocktail parties and celebrations.

Pickled ShrimpPickled Shrimp

Based on a recipe from A Lowcountry Wedding

1 1/2 quarts water

2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

1 1/2 pounds large, wild-caught shrimp, peeled, deveined

4 tender inner stalks of celery, cut into thin 2-inch strips

1/2 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, thinly sliced

2 ounces jarred sliced pimento, drained

1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced, plus a couple of sprigs for garnish

3/4 cup light olive oil

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring the water and the Old Bay to a boil. Stir in the shrimp, cover, and remove from the heat. Let the covered pot sit for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked through. Drain the shrimp, but do not rinse.

In a large bowl, mix the shrimp, celery, onion, pimento, capers, and minced dill. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Pour the oil mixture over the shrimp mixture and toss to coat.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, drain the excess liquid and garnish with sprigs of dill.Lowcountry Wedding

Easter Brunch Addition ~ Quail Scotch Eggs with Smoked Halibut Mashed Potatoes

Scotch Quail Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed PotatoesWhat’s better for Easter brunch than Scotch eggs? Two different kinds of Scotch eggs! 😉Scotch Quail Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed PotatoesIn addition to crab Scotch eggs, I made one more version with cute little quail eggs encased in smoked halibut mashed potatoes. It was a festive little dish that was a perfect accompaniment to our Easter brunch.Scotch Quail Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed PotatoesQuail Scotch Eggs with Smoked Halibut Mashed Potatoes

Inspired by a recipe from BBC Good Food

1 large russet potato

Skim milk, to taste

Smoked halibut, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

10 quail eggs

1 cup (approximately) all-purpose flour

2 beaten eggs

1 cup (approximately) panko

Peel and coarsely chop the potato. Add to a medium saucepan. Fill the pan with cold water so the potatoes are covered. Bring the water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they are tender. Drain the water. Mash the potatoes, adding the milk a little at a time to thin them out into a thick and creamy texture that will hold up around the eggs. Flake the smoked fish with your fingers and add it to the potatoes. Mix well. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, fill a medium saucepan with water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, adjust the heat so the water stays at a gentle boil. Add the quail eggs. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs immediately after 3 minutes and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Carefully remove the shells.

Gently press and shape a couple of tablespoons of the fish and potato mixture around each egg. The result should be in the shape of an egg.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Add the flour, beaten eggs, and panko to three separate shallow bowls.

Roll the potato-covered eggs in the flour, making sure they are completely coated. Gently knock off the excess flour. Then roll the eggs into the beaten egg until they are fully coated. Let the excess beaten egg drip off. Finally, roll the eggs in the panko. Press gently to make sure the crumbs stick.

Lay the panko-covered eggs slightly apart on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops of the eggs lightly with cooking spray to help them brown. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

PS. I made mine with smoked halibut, but I think hot smoked salmon would also be delicious.

PPS. Here’s sending you one final happy Easter wish!!Quail Scotch Egg with Smoked Halibut Mashed Potatoes

The Oscars ~ Steak Oscar Canapés

Steak Oscar CanapésToday is Oscar Sunday! What would I like to nibble on while I watch the show? Steak Oscar, of course! 😉 I couldn’t think of anything more perfect!Steak Oscar CanapésSteak Oscar is typically an entrée consisting of a beef tenderloin steak, crab, asparagus, and Béarnaise sauce. I made mine into bite-sized canapés that would be perfect to pass around an Oscar party. I topped a small rectangle of toasted bread with a Béarnaise-inspired sour cream sauce, small slices of beef tenderloin, a little bit of Dungeness crab, and an asparagus tip. Serve on a pretty platter, and it is ready for the red carpet! 😉Steak Oscar CanapésSteak Oscar Canapés

High heat cooking oil, such as safflower

1 small shallot, minced

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 tablespoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced

4 slices artisan bread, crusts removed (I used The Essential Baking Company’s sliced Columbia)

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

6 ounces beef tenderloin

1 bunch asparagus

2 ounces fresh lump Dungeness crab meat

To begin, make the Béarnaise sour cream sauce. Heat a small pan with a lid over medium heat. Add the high heat cooking oil and the shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Sweat the shallots with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until they are softened but not caramelized. Let cool.

In the meantime, mix together the sour cream, mustard, vinegar, and tarragon in a small bowl. When the shallots are cool, mix them into the sour cream mixture. Season to taste. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the bread into small rectangles. Place the rectangles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the bread with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until warm and slightly crisp on the outside, about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat a small skillet over high heat. Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Add high heat cooking oil to the hot pan, and when the oil is hot and shimmering, add the steak. Sear on both sides, until caramelized and cooked to your liking. Once cooked, set aside on a cutting board, tented with foil, and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Cut against the grain into thin slices.

In a medium skillet with a lid, add the asparagus and a splash of water. Season with salt and pepper. Steam with the lid on until the asparagus is tender crisp. Cut off the tips, and reserve the remaining asparagus as a side dish for another night.Steak Oscar CanapésTo assemble:

Spread a small amount of the Béarnaise sour cream sauce on each piece of toasted bread. Top with a small slice of beef, a tiny mound of crab, and the tip of an asparagus spear.

Serve immediately.Steak Oscar Canapés

Happy New Year ~ Cucumber Cups with Crudités and Dip

Cucumber Cups with Crudités and DipHappy New Year! I hope you had a fun and festive celebration to ring in the New Year, whether it was big or small. 🙂

In addition to the beef Wellington canapés, I also made these cute little cucumber cups yesterday. This is a way to dress up plain vegetables so they are ready for a party! 🙂Cucumber Cups with Crudités and DipCucumber Cups with Crudités and Dip

2 large English cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds

Bottled ranch dressing (or any dip of your choice)

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks

2 medium celery stalks, cut into thin sticks

With a small melon baller, scoop out most of the seeds from the cucumbers. Make sure not to scoop all the way to the bottom so the dressing can be contained in the cup.

Add about a ½ teaspoon of dressing to the bottom of each cup. It won’t look like a lot, but when the carrots and celery are added, the dressing will rise up the sides a little.

Add as many of the carrots and celery sticks as you like to each cup.

PS. The appetizer in the background was another fun way to dress up carrots for the party. 🙂 I simply peeled a large carrot lengthwise so I ended up with long strips. Then I piped a small bit of store-bought hummus along each strip and rolled them up. The hummus acted as the glue. The finishing touch was a little more hummus piped inside the middle, and a thin round slice of carrot on the bottom as the base.Cucumber Cups with Crudités and Dip

New Year’s Eve Party! ~ Beef Wellington Canapés

Beef Wellington CanapésAs 2015 is coming to a close, I made these mini beef Wellington canapés as my last hurrah of the year. 🙂 These little Wellingtons had all of the flavors of their full-sized counterpart – puff pastry, mushrooms, beef tenderloin, and prosciutto. They were fun and festive, and oh so cute!Beef Wellington CanapésBeef Wellington Canapés

6 ounces crimini mushrooms

1 sprig thyme

1 splash dry white wine

1 sheet puff pastry, refrigerated

1 egg, beaten

4 ounces beef tenderloin

Approximately 5 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms until they are approximately the size of coarse breadcrumbs. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, cook the mushrooms (without oil) with the sprig of thyme until the mushrooms are dry. Add a splash of white wine, and cook until the pan is dry once again. Remove the thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry on a floured work surface until it is about double in height and width. With a pizza wheel or pasta roller, cut the pastry into small squares. Place the squares on the prepared sheet pan. Cover the pastry with another piece of parchment, and cover the sheet pan with another sheet pan so they are nesting. This will ensure that your puff pastry won’t puff too much. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the top pan and top parchment paper. Let the pastry cool enough so you can handle it, and then lightly brush the beaten egg on each piece. Bake for 3 minutes more, or until shiny and golden.

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Sear until the meat is done to your liking. After it has rested for 5 minutes, slice as thinly as possible.

To assemble, scoop a small spoonful of the mushroom mixture on the top of each piece of puff pastry. Top with a thin slice of steak. Roll a small piece of prosciutto into a tiny tube, and place it on top of the steak. Serve immediately.Beef Wellington Canapés

Healthy Holiday Hors d’Oeuvre ~ Cauliflower Flatbread

Cauliflower FlatbreadCauliflower is usually a part of my holiday table, whether the occasion is Thanksgiving or Easter. It is so versatile that it can be made into anything from a mash that rivals mashed potatoes (like I made last St. Patrick’s Day) to an appetizer that is very much like a flatbread! It really is a pretty amazing vegetable for which I am thankful today. 🙂

This unique spin on flatbread can be used in any way traditional flatbread is served — with an olive tapenade, with melted cheese, or even with your favorite pizza toppings. I’d recommend it as an appetizer that is out of the ordinary to start off your Thanksgiving meal!

Cauliflower Flatbread

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, cut into approximately 1/2 inch pieces

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into approximately 1 inch pieces

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grate the cheese until it is the size of tiny pebbles. Transfer the cheese to a large bowl. In the same processor, (no need to clean the bowl), process the cauliflower in two batches until you have fine pieces that look a little like rice. Transfer the cauliflower to a clean dishtowel. Squeeze as much excess moisture as you can out of the cauliflower. Discard the liquid. Add the cauliflower to the bowl with the cheese. Then add the eggs, oregano, salt, and pepper to the bowl. Combine until all of the ingredients are well incorporated.

On the prepared baking sheet, spread the mixture into a thin layer, about 1/8 inch thick. Bake for about 45 minutes, turning the pan half way through, until the cauliflower is golden and crisp on the edges.

Cut with a pizza wheel and serve immediately.

Everything Pumpkin! ~ Pumpkin Deviled Eggs

Pumpkin Deviled EggsI absolutely love anything and everything pumpkin at this time of the year! (Almost as much as these little squirrels. 😉 ) I love pumpkin muffins, pumpkin custard, pumpkin curry, and now, pumpkin deviled eggs! Mind you, they aren’t pumpkin flavored eggs. That might be a little too much, even for me. 😉 They would be perfect for Halloween or even Thanksgiving.Pumpkin Deviled EggsYou can use your favorite classic deviled egg recipe, or use my lightened version below. The extra paprika mixed in is what gives them their pumpkin color.Pumpkin Deviled EggsPumpkin Deviled Eggs

8 hard boiled eggs, cooled, sliced in half, yolks removed, 1/2 of the yolks reserved

3 tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon paprika, plus more for garnish

Salt to taste

1 or 2 fresh chives, cut into one-inch lengths

In a small bowl, stir together the yolks, yogurt, mustard, mayonnaise, paprika, and salt until smooth. With a small spoon, fill the holes in the egg whites with the yolk mixture. (FYI, you will have more whites than yolk mixture if you mound the filling as I did. But no worries, whites are a great snack!) Smooth the mixture with your finger. With the back of a butter knife, make 4 small little lines in each yolk filling to imitate the lines of a pumpkin. Place the cut chives into the yolks to make a “stem.” Sprinkle extra paprika over the top as a garnish.Pumpkin Deviled Eggs

British Wedding Anniversary Dinner ~ Soup ~ Rocket and Courgette Soup (Arugula and Zucchini Soup)

Rocket and Courgette SoupThis week marks our 15th wedding anniversary, and since it’s a big year, we wanted to celebrate in a big way! We had an extravagant British-themed dinner that took me several days to complete, but it was a fun project that was well worth the effort. I wanted to tie this anniversary back to our engagement anniversary/Valentine’s Day celebration when we enjoyed a Downton Abbey themed dinner. Given that the traditional gift for the 15th wedding anniversary is crystal, I thought another classic British meal with all the trimmings would also give us a great excuse to get out the crystal pieces we were given as wedding gifts but don’t use as often as we could. This crystal-studded celebration dinner was my anniversary gift to my hubby. 🙂

We started with a simple summery soup called rocket and courgette soup in the UK, but here in the States, we would call it arugula and zucchini soup. 🙂 I based the dish on a recipe from BBC Good Food, and then added a couple touches of my own.Rocket and Courgette SoupRocket and Courgette Soup

Based on a recipe from BBC Good Food

1 teaspoon high heat oil, such as safflower

1 onion, finely chopped

1 medium russet potato, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

4 courgettes (zucchini), roughly chopped

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

About 3 1/5 ounces, or 2 large handfuls, rocket (arugula)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat a large sauté pan. Add oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion and potato. Cook until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add the courgettes and stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan to release the brown bits. Bring to a boil. Cook until the courgettes are tender. Next, add the rocket, and cook until wilted, about 30 seconds. In small batches, blend the soup in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Stay tuned for the main course…A trio of mini British meat pies!Rocket and Courgette Soup

Happy Fourth of July ~ Part 1 ~ Homemade Dill Pickles

Dill PicklesI hope you had a lovely Fourth of July weekend!

To celebrate the occasion this year, I made fresh dill pickles from the farmers’ market, trout burgers with a tarragon mayonnaise, and my hubby’s favorite summer strawberry cheesecake tart. I’ll share all three recipes since we really enjoyed them all, starting with the pickles. 🙂

I stumbled upon a farmers’ market last week where I saw some beautiful Kirby cucumbers that I couldn’t resist, along with a big bunch of fresh dill. (I must admit, I’m one of those people who gets much more excited about beautiful cucumbers and herbs than I do about beautiful shoes and purses. 😉 ) For a couple of dollars, I knew I could make something fresh and delicious with my discoveries.

I used a dill pickle recipe from Food and Wine magazine with only a few small changes. I reduced the amount of sugar by half and added some whole peppercorns for added seasoning. I also omitted the dill seeds and used more fresh dill than the recipe called for (since I had a huge bunch). These pickles were so flavorful and delicious! I have a feeling I’ll be making this recipe again and again. Maybe I’ll try radishes or green beans next time? I can see what my local farmers’ market has to play with next week!

Dill Pickles

Based on a recipe from Food and Wine magazine

1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

2 cups hot water

2 pounds Kirby cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise or sliced 1/2 inch thick

1 1/2 cups fresh dill, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

In a large, heatproof measuring cup, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns with the hot water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Let the brine cool.

In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers with the dill and garlic. Pour the brine over the cucumbers and turn to coat. Place a small plate over the cucumbers to keep them submerged, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the pickles overnight, stirring once or twice. Serve cold.

The dill pickles can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Stay tuned for the trout burger recipe next! 🙂

Dill Pickles

One more culinary stop in Asia ~ Vietnamese Baby Clams with Sesame Rice Crackers

Baby Clams with Rice CrackersAfter my virtual stop in South Korea to try their famous bibimbap, I decided to try a Vietnamese dish on my next stop. After all, it’s only a 4 ½ hour plane ride from Seoul to Da Nang, so I’ll make a quick culinary visit, just long enough for an appetizer in Vietnam. 😉

This is a dish I order over and over again at one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants, so I decided to figure out how to make it at home! Turns out, it is really easy! It just requires two special ingredients from the Asian grocery store. The first is a Vietnamese herb that is sort of like mint or cilantro called rau ram. The pretty little leaves are a little peppery and delicious. I also used black sesame rice crackers on the side to scoop up the clams. They puff up when they are cooked, which is so much fun to watch!

Baby Clams with Rice Crackers

Inspired by a recipe from Danang Cuisine

1 tablespoon safflower oil (or other high heat cooking oil)

2 small shallots, finely sliced

1 teaspoon lemongrass, minced

1 teaspoon fresh chili pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced (I like jalapeño or serrano)

1 garlic clove, minced

5 oz canned baby clams or chopped clams, drained and rinsed (Just try to find an all-natural brand, without any added preservatives)

4 tablespoons (approximately) of rau ram, roughly chopped (Fresh basil also works if you can’t find rau ram)

1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1-2 sesame rice crackers

Preheat a wok or nonstick pan. Add oil. When the oil is shimmering and hot, add the shallots, and cook until caramelized. Add the lemongrass and chili pepper, and cook until fragrant. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the clams. Toss until warmed through. Turn off the heat and add rau ram, fish sauce, soy sauce, and black pepper. Toss and serve.

Take one rice cracker and microwave for one minute until puffy. Break into pieces. Serve as a “spoon” with the clams.

Baby Clams with Rice Crackers

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, First Course ~ Cream of Watercress Soup

Cream of Watercress SoupHappy Valentine’s Day!

My hubby and I enjoyed another themed dinner at home for Valentine’s Day, which is the way we like to celebrate this holiday every year. 🙂 We love to try new things together in the kitchen, and we have had a lot of fun over the years making new and different recipes – Most recently, for Valentine’s Day two years ago we made two kinds of ravioli (beet and lobster), and last year we made sushi with miso soup. This year we decided to try a Downton Abbey theme! I made three vintage British dishes the characters might have enjoyed at one of their elaborate dinner parties on the show.

I learned that for a grand dinner, there could be as many as nine courses. Since I was playing the part of both Mrs. Patmore while cooking the dinner, and Lady Grantham while enjoying the dinner, I limited our meal to three courses. 😉 Our first course was a cream of watercress soup based on a recipe I found in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes. I replaced the butter with safflower oil, and replaced the cream with 2% milk, but otherwise followed the recipe rather closely. I ended up using three bunches of watercress. Remember to save a few sprigs to garnish the plate. 🙂 Also, this can be made a day or two ahead of time, which is always a plus.

Cream of Watercress SoupCream of Watercress Soup

Based on a recipe from A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey

Serves 4

1 tablespoon light high heat oil, such as safflower oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 large leek (white part only), washed and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper

3 cups hot chicken stock

9 cups watercress, de-stalked and chopped

A large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

⅔ cup 2% milk

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, then add the onion, leek and potato and stir to coat them in the oil. Season with salt and pepper and let the vegetables sweat with the lid on over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are tender, add the hot stock. Bring back to the boil, then add the watercress and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Take the pan off the heat and liquidise the soup. Stir in the milk and pour into bowls to serve.

Cream of Watercress SoupWe paired our dinner with the perfect wine: Downton Abbey Bordeaux Claret 2012. I learned that great English houses of the Downton era enjoyed many French wines and foods, so this was similar to the wine the characters on the show may have paired with their fine meals.

Stay tuned for episode 2 of our Downton Abbey dinner – The main course!

Cream of Watercress Soup

Wedding Anniversary, Part 1 ~ Martini of Spicy Tuna Poke and Dragon Fruit Lychee Sparkling Wine Cocktails

Ahi Poke Martini

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this year with a special Hawaiian-style dinner. We love to explore foods from all around the world. For Valentine’s Day (also our engagement anniversary), we made a sushi dinner, so we decided to go with a twist on that theme for our wedding anniversary by making a few Japanese-influenced dishes from Hawaii. It was a summery meal from the land of endless summers!

The weather was not very Hawaiian-like for our celebration, though. Ha! (But it was very Seattle-like!) It was a little drizzly, and cooler than it usually is around our anniversary. We decided to use that opportunity to set the dinner table in a new place…We kicked open the French doors in the guest room, and ate inside overlooking a sea of candles and tiki torches. 🙂 Luckily it wasn’t too rainy, so the candles stayed lit. It was really beautiful!

I also found some sweet little printable paper orchids on Elli.com. They were free, very easy to assemble, and I think they added a fun tropical touch to our table.

Ahi Poke Martini

I based two of our dishes on recipes from a cookbook called Roy’s Fish and Seafood: Recipes from the Pacific Rim. Chef Roy Yamaguchi has several restaurants in Hawaii and the mainland, and this book is a nice collection of a few of his Hawaiian seafood recipes. It was hard to choose what I wanted to make! I may continue to explore the recipes throughout our anniversary month. 🙂

We started our meal with a classic ahi poke, one of our favorite Hawaiian dishes. 🙂 I loved the cookbook’s idea to serve it in layers in a martini glass, and then garnish with micro-greens, fish eggs, and thin strips of nori seaweed. I dressed the ahi much more lightly than the recipe called for. I used salmon roe instead of tobiko, because it’s local and also natural. I also doubled the avocado, since we love avocado. 🙂

Martini of Spicy Tuna Poke

Based on a recipe from Roy’s Fish and Seafood cookbook

Serves 2 as an appetizer

6 oz center-cut ahi tuna, cut into ½ inch dice

¼ cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons sriracha

½ teaspoon fish sauce

A few micro-greens

¼ sheet nori, cut with scissors into thin strips

1 tablespoon salmon roe

1 avocado, cut into ½ inch dice

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayonnaise, sriracha, and fish sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Add as much or as little of the mixture to the ahi as you like. Stir to combine, and set aside.

Combine the avocado with the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Chill 2 martini glasses. Layer a few pieces of avocado in the bottom of the glass, then add a layer of ahi, another of avocado, and finish with a layer of ahi. Top with micro-greens, roe, and nori strips.

We also made fun dragon fruit and lychee sparkling wine cocktails to go with our first course. The dragon fruit added pretty little seeds and a very mild flavor, and the lychee gave the cocktail a nice sweetness. In a blender, I added a couple of slices of dragon fruit with about a ½ cup of lychee juice. Then I strained the mix, added a little to each champagne glass, and topped the juice with sparkling wine.

Stay tuned for the main course in my next entry!

Ahi Poke Martini

Dos de Junio ~ Elote from Elote Cafe

Happy Dos de Junio! OK, it isn’t really a Mexican holiday today. But it is a gorgeous Monday, the sun is shining, and I think there is a reason to celebrate every day. 🙂 I didn’t make a Mexican dish this year for Cinco de Mayo, so I made up for that today. This recipe for Elote has been on my list to try for quite some time, and now that corn is starting to come into the markets, today seemed like a perfect time to make it.

I had this dish in Arizona at a place called Elote Café. If you are ever in the Sedona area, I would highly recommend checking them out! It is such a popular place that people will wait in a long line outside just to experience the food. Get there early is all I have to say! 🙂

This recipe is based on the signature dish at Elote Café with a couple of small changes to make it a bit healthier. I used reduced fat mayonnaise instead of the full fat version. I also didn’t use the entire amount of the mayonnaise mixture on the corn. I just added a little at a time and tasted as I went until I was happy with the flavor. I had a couple tablespoons left of the sauce in the end. I also grilled the corn inside on a grill pan, since I don’t have an outdoor grill. It worked just fine!  Just make sure you have a fan on, since the husks get a little smoky.

Elote

Based on a recipe from Elote Café

2 ears corn, husks intact

1/4 cup light mayonnaise

1/4 tablespoon Cholula brand hot sauce

1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Pinch of kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon chicken stock

1 tablespoon Cotija cheese, crumbled for garnish

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Tortilla chips, for serving

Over a medium-high grill or on a grill pan over high heat, roast the corn until the husks are well charred, about 5 minutes. Turn occasionally so as not to burn the side contacting the direct heat.

Set the roasted ears aside until cool enough to handle, then shuck them.

Cut the kernels off the cob.

When ready to eat, mix the mayonnaise and all the other ingredients through chicken stock in a sauté pan over medium heat.

Add the corn kernels and warm through.

Pour into a bowl and garnish with the cheese, and cilantro.

Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

When I was in Arizona, I also picked up a bottle of local wine by Page Springs Cellars called Mule’s Mistake. It doesn’t sound like a fancy wine, but it is actually quite lovely! It reminds me a little of Oregon Pinot Noirs that we love so much.