Pumpkin Season! ~ Pimento Cheese Pumpkins

Every October I love to try a bunch of different pumpkin recipes, both savory and sweet. Since pumpkins are not only delicious but also so festive, I even love to make dishes that look like pumpkins, whether or not they have any actual pumpkin in the recipe. This pimento cheese ball is one of those recipes. It is dressed up in a pumpkin costume for the season! 😉

Pimento cheese is a Southern classic, which you can serve with crackers, crudités, or bread. For my version, I made wonton crackers in different autumn shapes. The super simple recipe for the crackers can be found here.

Pimento Cheese Pumpkins

Makes 2 small cheese balls

Approximately 2 cups cheddar cheese crackers (I used Annie’s Cheddar Squares)

2 ounces extra sharp cheddar, coarsely grated

1/2 cup reduced-fat cream cheese

1 teaspoon mayonnaise

2 tablespoons jarred pimentos, drained of excess liquid

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

Pinch of cayenne

2 2-inch long pretzel sticks.

Place the crackers in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Smash the crackers with a rolling pin until the crumbs are fine. For an even finer crumb, process the crackers in a food processor for a couple of minutes. Set the crumbs aside in a shallow bowl.

In the bowl of a food processor, add the remaining ingredients, except for the pretzels. Process until smooth.

Cover the cheese in cling wrap and refrigerate overnight.

After the cheese is chilled, divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll the chilled cheese in your hands to make a ball. Roll the ball in the cracker crumbs until evenly coated. With the back of a butter knife, indent the sides of the ball to look like the grooves on the side of a pumpkin. Top with a pretzel to make the “stem.” Repeat with the remaining piece of pimento cheese.

Wedding Anniversary Hors d’Oeuvres ~ Crab Imperial Bites

For our second special anniversary dish, I made crab imperial bites. Crab imperial is a type of crab casserole or dip from Maryland, and it is usually served in a ramekin or baking dish. I made my version into bite-sized hors d’oeuvres with our favorite local Dungeness crab for a West Coast twist. 🙂

Crab Imperial Bites

Makes about 18 hors d’oeuvres

18 wonton wrappers

High heat cooking spray

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs, plus more for the top

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

Pinch of cayenne

Salt to taste (if needed)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked through to make sure there are no hidden bits of shell.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Cut the wonton wrappers into circles that will fit into the holes of a mini muffin pan. I used a circular cookie cutter for this, but kitchen scissors also work. Spray the wrappers with a light coating of cooking spray on both sides, and rub the oil with your fingers to ensure an even coating. Form the wrappers into cup shapes in the mini muffin pan.

Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the wonton wrappers are golden and crunchy.

Set aside.

Turn up your oven to 400 F.

In a medium bowl, mix the remaining ingredients except for the crab. Add the crab, and mix well, but try to keep the bigger pieces of crab intact.

Place the filling into the prepared wonton shells.

Top the bites with more panko. Spray the top of the breadcrumbs with a light coating of cooking spray.

Bake until heated through, about 4 minutes. Then turn on the broiler, and broil until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t get too brown.

One more tropical celebration of summer! ~ Luau Meatballs

I made one more tropical recipe to celebrate this beautiful summer! I am soaking up the sunshine and warm weather while we still have it. It has been an especially lovely summer here in Seattle.

The pineapple cocktail sticks are from Two’s Company. They were too cute to pass up when I saw them at the store. 🙂 I wanted to use them before the summer’s end. These cocktail sticks were actually the inspiration behind this pineapple recipe!

The adorable summer pineapple printable banner is from My Sister’s Suitcase. It is free to print for your personal use. 🙂 I hope you’ll go over to their website to check out all of the fun things they have posted.

Luau Meatballs

2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons minced shallot

2 green onions, minced

3 tablespoons minced cilantro

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 pound ground pork tenderloin

1 cup fresh pineapple juice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

12 fresh pineapple pieces, for garnishing

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the panko, shallot, green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and salt. Add the pork and mix well. Form the mixture into about 12 meatballs. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the meatballs for about 12 minutes, or until they are just cooked through. Be careful not to over bake or your meatballs will be dry.

In a medium saucepan, bring the pineapple juice to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and cornstarch to make a slurry. Whisk the slurry into the simmering pineapple juice. Cook until thickened.

Dip each meatball in the pineapple sauce. Top with a piece of pineapple. Serve on a cocktail stick with extra sauce for dipping.

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.

Beachside Snack ~ Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas with Hawaiian Sea Salt

I recently picked up a few bags of crunchy roasted chickpeas at the grocery store, and I discovered a delightful snack! I wondered if I could make them in my own kitchen with canned chickpeas, since the canned variety is much easier for me to find at my local store. Happily the answer is yes! Now they are one of my new favorite summertime snacks, perfect for the beach. They are so simple, but so amazingly crunchy and delicious. They are easy to pack in your beach bag, or you can dress them up for a summer party with cute paper cones made of scrapbook paper.

I have tried several variations of this snack. They are wonderful simply seasoned with salt, but for extra flavor, add a dash of pimentón and cumin with just a hint of cayenne. The sky is the limit on the flavors you can create.

Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas with Hawaiian Sea Salt

1 15-ounce can of chickpeas with no salt added (I used Eden Organic Garbanzo Beans)

Approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt, ground, to taste

Spices such as pimentón, cumin, or cayenne, to taste (optional)

Make sure your oven rack is in the middle. Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Then spin them in a salad spinner to get off the excess moisture. Gently roll the chickpeas between two layers of paper towels to make sure they are very dry.

In a medium bowl, toss the chickpeas with the oil, salt, and spices (if using), until evenly coated.

Spread the chickpeas onto a rimmed baking sheet, making sure they are in a single layer.

Bake for 35 minutes, tossing once midway through. Then turn off the oven, but leave the chickpeas in for another hour until they are dry and crunchy.

Cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Easter Eggs ~ Pickled Rainbow Deviled Eggs

Happy Easter!

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

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 between the pickling and the filling, they have a bit of a tang. These deviled eggs are perfect for an Easter afternoon snack—if they make it that long. 😉

Pickled Rainbow Deviled Eggs

(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 (for all 5 colors, use 15 whole eggs)

(Each coloring recipe 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 red beet, roasted, peeled, and 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) roasted and peeled red 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

Divide the eggs into five glass containers that are big enough for three eggs and one batch of the pickling liquid.

In a small saucepan, bring one batch of vinegar, water, and salt to a simmer. Whisk the mixture to ensure the salt fully dissolves. Then, turn off the heat and add the coloring of your choice.

Pour the colored pickling blend over the top of three eggs, making sure they are fully submerged. Repeat with the remaining four colors.

Refrigerate the submerged eggs until they are the color you desire. I left mine in the pickling blend for a few hours, stirring every hour or so, to ensure they colored evenly. (I found that the pink, orange, and yellow took less time to reach the color I wanted than the blue and purple, so I left the latter colored eggs in the pickling blend longer.) The eggs will also become more pickled with time.

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

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, and then, pipe the filling into each egg white half.

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.

Cozy Autumn Treat ~ Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins

Pumpkin Spiced Latte MuffinsNothing says autumn in Seattle more to me than a warm pumpkin spice latte. I got my first cup of the season and sipped it by the lake under the colorful autumn leaves. Ahh…

To recreate the flavors at home, I made a batch of pumpkin spice latte muffins. 🙂 They are filled with a good bit of pumpkin puree, warm spices, and a generous amount of espresso. A perfect breakfast treat to start any autumn day.

The cute (and free!) printables are from a website called Weigh to Maintain. They were actually meant for another purpose, but I thought they were a perfect way to dress up these little muffins.Pumpkin Spiced Latte MuffinsPumpkin Spice Latte Muffins

Makes about 16 muffins

1 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

5 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Pinch of kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup light olive oil

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

2/3 cup skim milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients, from the flour through the salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk all of the wet ingredients, from the eggs to the vanilla.

Then add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, and whisk until just combined. Take care not to mix the batter too much at this point.

Fill your paper liners about 3/4 full. Bake the muffins for about 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean.Pumpkin Spiced Latte Muffins

Savoring the end of summer ~ Corn Dog Muffins

Corn Dog MuffinsI hope you have enjoyed your summer so far! For me, it has been a summer filled with time at the beach, several good books, and visits to local festivals. But summer isn’t over yet. 🙂 I am trying to savor the last of the warm weather before it’s time to enjoy autumn’s pleasures!

Before August comes to a close, I wanted to share one more summery recipe. These little corn dog mini muffins were inspired by the fun food I see at festivals and carnivals. Dip these little muffins into ketchup for the full corn dog experience.

The sweet little summer printables on top of my muffins are from a blog called Glued To My Crafts. So adorable! They are free to print for personal use, so maybe you can incorporate them into your end-of-summer celebrations. 🙂

Corn Dog Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup finely ground cornmeal

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1 1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

3 tablespoons light olive oil

1 large egg

3 vegetarian frankfurters cut into approximately 1/4-inch pieces (I used frankfurters from Field Roast)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners. Spray the inside of the liners with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (from the flour to the salt.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (from the buttermilk to the egg.)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk until just combined. Add the chopped frankfurters, and stir until they are coated in batter.

Fill the muffin liners about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake for about 13 minutes, or until the muffins spring back to the touch.Corn Dog Muffins

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

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.

National Candy Corn Day ~ Candy Corn Fruit Parfait

Candy Corn Fruit ParfaitThe Halloween countdown is on, and it also happens to be National Candy Corn Day today! 🙂 Here’s a sweet little idea to celebrate – Layer pineapple and oranges with vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt on top.

I hope you have a fun and safe kickoff to the Halloween weekend!

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

It’s Oktoberfest! ~ Beer, Sauerkraut, and Cheese Muffins

Oktoberfest MuffinsHappy Oktoberfest!

Even though I am typically a wine kind of girl, when Oktoberfest rolls around, I love to try the autumn beer at the market. Many of our local breweries make special beer just for the season. I picked up one from Pyramid Brewery, and instead of just drinking it, I decided to use it in some muffins. 🙂 Then I took these muffins one step further…I wanted to add one more Oktoberfest flavor, so I added a little sauerkraut! I know it sounds a little odd, but it actually added a lot of moisture and flavor to the muffins without making them taste like pickles. These go well with chili, or they are great just as a snack (with a little beer of course! 😉 )

Oktoberfest MuffinsBeer, Sauerkraut, and Cheese Muffins

Makes 12

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, minced

3 cups ivory whole-wheat flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup sauerkraut, squeezed to remove excess brine and finely chopped

12 ounces Oktoberfest beer

1/4 cup skim milk

Cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 375.

Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the oil and onion, and cook until the onion is slightly caramelized. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the caramelized onions, cheese, sauerkraut, beer, and milk. You may need to work it with your hands to make sure everything is well combined because the batter is very thick.

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Divide the batter evenly into 12 muffins.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until cooked through but still moist.

The cute little flags came from PreppingParties.com. I actually used the artwork for the party banner, but printed it very small to make muffin flags instead. There are a lot of other sweet Oktoberfest printables in the same place that you might want to check out this season. 🙂

Prost!Oktoberfest Muffins

 

Happy Fourth of July ~ Part 3 ~ Strawberry Cheesecake Tart (Updated!)

Cheesecake TartThe grand finale of our Fourth of July dinner was my hubby’s favorite cheesecake tart! It was a special request. 😉

Since I am always trying to improve and learn, I made a couple of small tweaks to the original recipe. Opting for an all natural ingredient, I exchanged the nonfat sour cream with nonfat Greek yogurt. I also omitted the sugar in the crust since I try to cut back on sugar where I can, and the graham crackers are sweet enough on their own.

You can make a few small cheesecakes, or one big one! For the tiny ones, I piped seedless strawberry jam to make the stripes, and placed a few little blueberries in the corner for the stars. So cute! I got the idea from MyRecipes.com. 🙂 For the big one, I topped it with fresh summer strawberries arranged in a pretty pattern. I also added a few blueberries this time around to make it a little more patriotic.

Cheesecake TartStrawberry Cheesecake Tart

Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart

6 full graham cracker sheets

1/3 cup almonds

4 tablespoons unsalted melted butter, or just enough until the crust is moistened

2 8-oz bars of Neufchatel cream cheese

1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Pint of fresh strawberries, or blueberries, or whatever you’d like to use for your topping

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, grind the graham crackers and almonds until they are finely ground. Add the butter slowly, and process until moistened. (You may not need the full 4 tablespoons.) Transfer to a 9-inch tart pan or three 3-inch tart pans. Press the mixture firmly into the pan(s) and up the sides. Freeze for 15 minutes.

If you have a second food processor bowl, I’d recommend using it now. Otherwise, just clean your bowl and blade very well. Then process the cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, egg, vanilla, and salt until the mixture is smooth.

Place your tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and fill with the cheesecake mixture.

Bake until filling is set, about 30 to 35 minutes for the large tart. For the smaller tarts, check the progress at about 20 minutes to ensure you don’t overbake.

Cool completely and decorate as you wish!

Cheesecake Tarts

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

Easter Treats ~ Simnel Cupcakes

Simnel CupcakesHappy Easter!

To celebrate the holiday this year, I made a batch of simnel cupcakes. 🙂

Simnel cake is a British confection eaten around Easter time. It is a type of fruit cake with some warm holiday spices mixed in, but I think the most interesting part about this dish is the decoration. These cakes are decorated with a ring of 11 small balls of marzipan symbolizing 11 Apostles, with the exception of Judas. I love dishes such as this one that combine culture, history, and deliciousness! 😉

Simnel CupcakesI only decorated a few of the cupcakes, and I froze the rest of them without any decoration to keep them fresh for later. (By the way, microwave one frozen cupcake for 30 seconds, and it tastes like it came right out of the oven. I like to eat them plain as a snack.) I ended up using one small 150 gram package of marzipan because I only decorated a few of the cakes. This amount will be enough to decorate about 8 cupcakes, depending on how thin you roll it. If you would like to decorate the whole batch, you will probably need three packages to be on the safe side. Marzipan keeps well in the refrigerator for later if you don’t use all of it. I also only used about ¼ cup of apricot jam. Again, if you plan to decorate all of your cupcakes, you will probably need more.

Simnel CupcakesSimnel Cupcakes

Makes 20

¾ cup light olive oil

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt

6 tablespoons skim milk

½ cup fine or caster sugar

3 eggs

2 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 ¼ teaspoons mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ½ cups mixed dry fruit (finely chopped apricots, currants, etc.)

Marzipan (one 150 g package will cover and decorate about 8 cupcakes)

Powdered sugar, for dusting work surface

Apricot jam (¼ cup will be enough for about 8 cupcakes)

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cupcake tins with 20 paper liners.

Combine oil, yogurt, milk, sugar, and eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined. Add the fruit, and mix until evenly distributed.

Fill each baking cup about ½ full. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

In the meantime heat jam until it is more viscous, and sieve it through a fine mesh strainer. Reserve the smooth portion of the jam, and discard the solids.

On a clean and smooth surface, sprinkle some powdered sugar to keep the marzipan from sticking. Roll out the marzipan with a rolling pin until it is very thin. Cut out rounds with a round cookie cutter that is approximately the size of the top of a cupcake. With remaining bits of marzipan, make small, evenly sized balls.

When the cupcakes are cooked and cooled, brush a small amount of the jam over the top of each one that you would like to decorate. Place a round of marzipan over the jam, and press gently to adhere to the cake. Lightly brush the top of the marzipan with jam, and also lightly coat 11 little balls with jam. Stick the balls in a circle on top of each cupcake.

Simnel Cupcakes