Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

It’s a brand new year with an even tighter budget. Eeek! Since Larry and I are not into living a life of deprivation we decided to explore what we absolutely had to have besides our basic needs. Eating, cooking and entertaining were our top priorities. It’s not unusual for us to entertain friends over a home cooked meal at least three-four times a month. So how were we going to accomplish this within our budget? We decided to have two ways of entertaining. One would be to have simple suppers with a one dish entree. No frills such as dessert or appetizer, just a spontaneous invite to join us for our normal weekday meal.

We also wanted to continue having themed based dinner parties serving a complete meal of appetizer,main course,side dish and dessert. We decided to set a budget of $20 for each dinner. How would we be able to accomplish this? Here’s what we came up with. First we would ask our guests to contribute to the meal by bringing a beverage of choice and an appetizer, salad or dessert. We would cook the main dish and whatever else needed. In addition we would limit the number of guests to a maximum of four.

It would be a win-win situation for all of us. Our guest would be spending less than they would in a restaurant and they would also have the opportunity to learn how to make a new dish with the recipes I provided.

I decided upon a Cuban menu this month since a bunch of us were going to a local club to learn a new (for us) kind of Cuban dance called Son. Here’s what we made.

Cuban dinner for Six

Appetizer:  Yucca fritas ( fried yucca) with mojo criolla sauce

Yucca fritas
2 large yucca roots
1/4 cup cooking oil
Cut yucca into 4 inch lengths. Leave peels on yucca. Steam them until knife cuts into them and they are soft ( not mushy) like potatoes. Cool and strip peels off. Cut into french fry size wedges. Fry in hot oil until brown on all sides and sprinkle with salt.

Mojo Criolla sauce

6-7 cloves garlic- crushed
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin powder
1 Tablsp. white vinegar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Crush and pulverize garlic cloves with salt and pepper. Add cumin powder. Combine garlic mixture, vinegar, orange,lime juice and olive oil in blender and blend until frothy. Add chopped cilantro and adjust with more salt as needed.

Salad: Orange avocado salad with lime cumin vinaigrette

Orange avocado salad with lime cumin vinaigrette

3 cups mixed salad greens
1-avocado sliced or chunked
3 oranges- peels cut off and cut into 1 inch chunks
1/4-1/2 cup sliced red onions

Toss ingredients above gently with vinaigrette.

Lime cumin vinaigrette * from Deborah Madison- Vegetarian cooking for Everyone

1 garlic clove
grated rind of 2 limes
3 Tablsp. lime juice
2 Tablsp.chopped shallots
1/2 jalapeno chili- seeded and minced
1/2 tsp.cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tablsp. chopped cilantro
Mash and pulverize garlic with salt. Combine with lime rind,juice, shallots and chili.
Toast cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant. Cool and then grind into a fine powder. Add to lime mixture. Whisk in mustard and oil. Taste and adjust with more salt if needed. Let rest for 15 minutes and add cilantro just serving.

Entree:  Arroz con pollo ( rice with chicken)

Arroz con Pollo

4 chicken thighs
4 chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic- minced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp.dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
2 Tablsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tablsp. olive oil
2 cups onion- chopped
4 cloves garlic- minced
1 red bell pepper- -sliced
3-4 ripe Roma tomatoes- chopped
12 oz. of beer
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups short grain white rice
3/4 cup of fresh or frozen peas
Cut each chicken breast into 2 half pieces. Marinate the chicken breasts and thighs with the garlic, salt, pepper, oregano,cumin,coriander and red wine vinegar for 6-24 hours. Refrigerate.

In a large oven proof pan, fry chicken pieces over medium high heat in oil until browned on all sides. They should not be cooked through. Set aside chicken when browned and saute the onion and garlic with the oil from fried chicken. Saute onions until soft and yellow. Add bell pepper slices and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook at medium flame until the tomatoes are soft and juices have been released. Add beer and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add rice and mix thoroughly. Turn off heat and place chicken pieces decoratively over rice. Place a foil over the pan and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Take foil off and sprinkle peas over rice and chicken and bake for 10 minutes longer.
Rice will be soft and almost soupy. I like the rice to be soft and almost risotto like in texture. If you want it to be drier, bake it a bit longer uncovered.

Dessert:  Fresh pineapple and mango sorbet

Fresh pineapple slices with mango sorbet and guava halves*

Cut pineapple into small wedges and serve with scoops of store bought mango sorbet.
*If you are able to find fresh guava, include on plate.

Total cost for arroz con pollo and fried yucca with mojo sauce and ingredients: $18
It really amounted to less since I bought two whole chickens and was able to use the drumsticks and wings for another meal.

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Fall is officially here. The days are shorter with less sunlight but my tomatoes are still hanging on. In fact the Sun Gold and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes are STILL going strong and sweet. Of the four types of tomatoes I planted this year, only one type beside the cherry tomatoes produced really sweet tasty fruit. Those were my Marzanos which are still producing one to two-inch flavorful babies. The Romas were a disappointment. They were mild and somewhat mushy in texture.

The plant itself is mondo healthy with massive bushy leaves surrounding prodigious amounts of fruit. I keep finding clusters of beautiful red ripe tomatoes amidst these leaves. I can’t stop hunting and picking them. I feel like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. So what can I do with these less than tasty beauties? I hate to waste what Mother Nature offers me plus I like getting boosts of lycopenes from the tomatoes into my body. I’m into doing everything possible to eat foods that will boost my immune system.

So here’s a couple of remedies for helping bland tomatoes taste better. Like most of my non-baking recipes, measurements are somewhat flexible. If you add more tomatoes and less chicken stock you have a denser soup. Since these Romas were not very sweet I added a few ingredients to boost and adjust flavors. A sprinkling of sugar and a handful of squishy overripe cherry tomatoes helped sweeten the tomatoes to be roasted. The end result was a concentrated rich spread which I served with focaccia bread. I added a couple of thinly sliced carrots to mellow out the acidity in the soup. I also used more tomatoes than stock which resulted in a dense and rich soup punctuated with bites of sweet corn, herby flecks of cilantro and a bright splash of lime juice. It was a mighty nice lunch.

Roasted tomatoes

4 cups tomatoes- cut in half
A light sprinkle of kosher salt -approx. 1/2 to 1 tsp.
Sugar- about 1 tsp for about 4 cups
3-5 sliced garlic
2-3 Tablsp. olive oil
several sprigs of fresh oregano or basil

Toss and roast in large pan at 300 degrees for 4 hours or until there is no more liquid in pan. Can be used for a light pasta sauce with onions and pancetta, in soups, topping for crostini or spread between foccacia with roasted veggies( eggplant, zucchini /goat cheese, pesto.

MexiCali Rose Tomato soup

1 chopped onion
4-5 smashed chopped garlic
2-3 Tablsp. olive oil
1 heaping tsp. cumin powder
1 heaping tsp. coriander powder
1 Tablsp. smoked or regular paprika
1 tsp.oregano leaves
4-6 cups of roughly cut up fresh tomatoes
1 tsp.chopped jalapeno pepper ( take out seeds and connective membrane)
2 large carrots thinly sliced
3-4 cups chicken stock
1 cup diced potatoes
1 cup corn- fresh or frozen
Handful of chopped cilantro stems
fresh lime wedges

Saute onions and garlic in oil till soft. Add cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano and saute over medium heat for 1-2 minutes till aromatic. Add tomatoes and jalapeno pepper. Cook at medium heat till soft. Add carrots,potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to boil, simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add cilantro and corn. Simmer for 5-10 minutes longer. Add salt to taste. Serve with wedges of fresh lime.

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Croque monsieur

Celebrating Spring

Spring is in the air, Ah… Choo! Green sprouts and buds are appearing everywhere. Birds are chirping, the sun is out. Yahoo! I feel like celebrating this greening, this rebirth by eating one of mother earth’s gifts. Ta Da! The asparagus!

The asparagus is such an elegant vegetable. Proud, erect, regal in its bearing, I always feel a sense of honor eating it. Its flavor is delicate but distinctively sweet and lightly grassy. It can be steamed, roasted, grilled, stir-fried or baked. I love to roast them for a very short time in a hot oven with a light drizzle of soy sauce, lemon juice, sesame oil and a sprinkle of sesame seed. Sometimes I steam them until they are just al-dente and serve them with plain old mayonnaise for dipping. Other times I serve them as a light and elegant appetizer for a special meal. I change the flavor of the dipping or hollandaise sauce to fit the theme of what I’m serving.

Green and grand atop a Croque Monsieur, it makes an impressive brunch entree. A croque monsieur is basically a French style grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Over the years many cooks have fancied up this sandwich by dipping it in an egg milk batter and frying it. Others have incorporated béchamel sauce in it. My favorite version is from Tartine, in San Francisco. They serve it open faced with a draping of rich béchamel sauce and asparagus. Using their house baked bread; it is simply sublime in its richness. Here’s my version of Tartine’s croque monsieur.

Croque Monsieur
Serves: 4 (two slices each)

8 slices of sourdough bread or levain bread sliced ½ inch thick
¼ cup olive oil
16- medium sized asparagus
8 –pieces of thinly sliced cooked ham
3 cups grated Gruyere cheese

Cheese Béchamel sauce*
2 cups whole milk
¼ cup diced onions
3-Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 –teaspoon lemon thyme
1 –bay leaf
3 ½- Tablespoons butter
3 ½- Tablespoons flour
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
3- Tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼- teaspoon white pepper
½- teaspoon salt
½- teaspoon grated nutmeg

Add onion, parsley, thyme and bay leaf to milk. At medium heat, bring milk almost to a boil, turn off fire and let herbs steep in milk for 15 minutes. In a separate pot, make a roux by melting butter and adding flour together over medium heat. Whisk the flour and butter together and let it bubble gently for 2 minutes. Drain onion mixture from milk. Add the drained milk to this roux and whisk until smooth. Bring to boil, then turn down to low heat and cook for another 10 minutes, whisking occasionally to keep sauce smooth. Add 1 cup grated Gruyere, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard. Whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside. Blanch or nuke asparagus for 1 minute and set aside.
Brush bread on both sides with olive oil and toast in a 450-degree oven till one side is crisp. This should take approximately 5-10 minutes. Turn bread over and spread 1 Tablespoon of béchamel sauce over the surface. Lay a slice of ham, then 2 asparagus spears across the length of the bread. Spread 1 ½ Tablespoons of béchamel sauce over asparagus and ham and sprinkle approximately 2-3 Tablespoons of grated Gruyere over ham and asparagus. Bake in oven till melted and brown. This takes approximately 10-15 minutes. Enjoy !

I have served this for an elegant brunch, dinner as well as appetizer when cut into fourths.

*Béchamel sauce recipe adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

Here’s an additional topping for non-meat eaters or mushroom lovers.

Wild mushroom topping

1/4 cup butter
2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/3 lb. shitake mushrooms sliced 1/2″ thick
1/3 lb. cremini mushrooms sliced 1/2″thick
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced lemon thyme- fresh or dried
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons sherry
3 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Melt butter with olive oil. Saute over medium high heat, the mushrooms until they start to give up their liquids. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and continue to saute until they is almost no liquid in pan. Add sherry and saute over high heat for 3 minutes.
Add parsley and toss over medium heat for 2 minutes.

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I’m Back !!! I’ve officially retired from teaching in the classroom. After twenty years teaching kids with learning needs it was time to strike out and spend more time on following my other bliss, writing, cooking, creating new recipes. So many projects, so little time and as I entered my 65th year of life I wanted to make sure I got a couple of these projects done before……… So first on the list was to make a list, prioritize and set goals. Got my private practice as a Learning specialist started. Next was to self publish my book “Tasting Life” a collection of food stories, poems and recipes.** Shameless promoting but that’s what old ladies can get away with these days. Got that done. Now finally, I have the time to work on completing my cookbook and attending to my neglected blog.

In preparation for retirement Larry and I talked about what I wanted to gain from this decision. One major thing was to get healthier, lose weight, exercise more and have the time to complete my writing projects. As my income would be greatly reduced, we planned how we could live on a smaller budget yet still continue to cook and eat delicious meals as well as entertain our friends. We both agreed that we didn’t want to feel deprived when it came to eating. So we started cooking differently and found that we were able save money, eat more healthfully and continue to enjoy delicious meals. I found to my delight that not only was I losing weight but also I was wasting less food in the process. So here’s one thing I’ve learned so far.

Budget and health tip number one. Eat less meat. As a child in a Chinese household, meat was never the main item on the table but was used to accompany vegetables in stir fries. If we did have a roasted chicken, pork or beef we only ate a few pieces alongside the variety of other dishes with vegetables on the table. Back then I was much slimmer and healthier. Over the years after leaving my mother’s kitchen I ate more meat, less vegetables and subsequently gained more weight. Now I’m back to cooking in the style of my mother and I’m finally losing weight and feeling way healthier. Last week I bought a whole roasted chicken from Costco for $4.99. I used just one breast from this roast and made this Southeast Asian chopped salad. Now I’ve got enough leftover meat and bones to make a chicken pot pie for four people, chicken hash for two and enough for curried chicken salad for both of us for lunch. Hmmm, maybe I’ll make some empanadas instead……..

South East Asian chopped chicken salad- 2 large servings

3 cups- sliced romaine lettuce ( 1 inch strips)
handful of arugula
1/2 cup – red onion – sliced thinly
1- medium carrot- cut into julienne slices
3/4 cup cubed cucumbers
1 1/2-2 cups fresh mango*- cut up into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup – chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp.- black pepper
3 Tablespoons FRESH lime juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup-roasted chicken- cubed into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped or crushed roasted (unsalted) peanuts

1. In a large salad bowl, toss lettuce,arugula, onion, carrots and cucumbers together.
2. Peel mango with vegetable peeler. Cut sides and then cube. Cut off any extra meat off seed and use as well.
2. Add the cut up mango pieces with cilantro to salad .
3. Sprinkle lime juice and black pepper over the mango pieces.
3. Sprinkle soy sauce, fish sauce over mango, salad and toss together.
4. Add chicken, peanuts and toss again.

* I prefer to use the Hayden or Tommy Atkins mangoes. They are firmer than the Manilla type of mangoes and have more meat.
** “Tasting Life” will be available through Amazon in late September.

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