Tag Archives: appetizers

Last Minute Budget Holiday Gift Ideas

20 Dec

Howdy!

It never fails: Five days until Christmas and one of two things always happened to me; I either ran out of money, time or both. I always forgot to give a gift to my dog walker, the neighbor who took in my mail if I forgot to, or to that customer that always remembered my birthday.  So, I  would always reach into my bag of tricks and produce a hand-made gift that always seemed to mean more to the recipient than anything I could buy. You can do the same thing without spending too much time, money or both!

1) Do you have a signature dish? Do you have a killer lasagna recipe? Do people salivate at the mere thought of your spinach dip?  Give a coupon that promises you will make the dish for them at a later time.

2) Another variation on this theme is to make your famous ( or infamous) BBQ sauce, Sugar cookies or other treats and creatively package them as gifts.

3) Instead of giving gift cards, give gift certificates toward your recipient’s favorite restaurant. Times are tough, and people are foregoing eating out in order to save money. They will appreciate the chance to get out of the house.

4) If your friend or family member loves  a good Bloody Mary, make your own mix. Package the mix in a mason jar and present it along with a small bottle of vodka for a homemade Bloody Mary kit. Here is a great recipe that I’ve had success with. I developed this recipe some 15 years ago when I worked at a funky little bistro in Federal Hill.

Bloody Mary Mix

1 32 oz. bottle of tomato juice

Juice of two limes

2 tsp celery salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

2 tbl. prepared horseradish

1 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay (optional)

Mix together and package in either 12 oz. or 16 oz. mason jars and decorate with ribbon. Makes just about 3 – 12 0z. jars or 2 –  16 oz.

Here’s an easy sweet treat you can make for friends and family and the kids can help with this. I have loved chocolate covered pretzels since I was a kid and are cheaper to make than to buy. The sweet and salty treats can be made ahead and dressed up with colorful ribbons

Chocolate covered pretzel rods

I box pretzel rods

1 1/2 lbs.  good quality semi-sweet chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream

2  to 3 cups of crushed candies such as peppermints, heath bars, mini peanut butter chips or  chopped nuts of your choice ( peanuts, pecans, walnuts).

Put together a double boiler by using a medium-sized pot and adding about 3 inches of water.  Using a metal mixing bowl; place the bowl inside the pot, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Set aside.

Chop up candies and/or nuts and place on separate plates. Take a sheet pan and cover  the bottom of the tray with either with parchment paper, foil or plastic wrap and set aside. Sort through the pretzel rods and remove the broken ones.

Chop up chocolate into uniform pieces and place in metal mixing bowl.  Add  the cream to the chocolate. place bowl back on the pot and turn on heat to medium and simmer. Stir chocolate mixture until chocolate and cream are melted .Turn heat to low.

Arrange an assembly line  as follows  pretzels, chocolate, candies or nuts and covered sheet pan.  Dip a pretzel into the warm chocolate and using a fork, coat completely. Remove coated pretzel with a fork and allow excess chocolate to drop off. When the dripping stops, roll pretzel in the candy or nuts and place on the covered sheet pan. Repeat until all of the pretzels are covered. Refrigerate until the coating sets.

Wrap 5 or 6 rods with  colorful plastic wrap and a decorative ribbon.

The point is to give from the heart, not from the wallet. Your homemade gifts will be greatly appreciated.

I will post more ideas tomorrow!

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Vegan Sweet Potato Bisque

12 Nov

The  cooler weather is settling in on the eastern seaboard. The leaves are turning vivid colors of yellow, orange and red and the nights are getting crisp. My brain is still fried from our super-hot summer, but I am finally open to the change of seasons. After all, it is mid-fall and it is the perfect season for my silky-smooth vegan Sweet Potato Bisque.

Bisque you say, Culinary Chick? I thought that bisque was traditionally made from seafood!

You are correct!  Traditionally a bisque is made from seafood, utilizing the trimmings  from shellfish.  The French didn’t waste anything, and came up with a technique which extracted every ounce of flavor by  sauteing the trimmings and mirepoix , simmering them in stock, adding various flavorings,  passing them through a fine sieve and finally adding a bit of cream to add a rich and silky finish to the soup. I utilized the same techniques here to achieve the desired texture: I wanted the soup to glide over the tongue and not be encumbered by bits of vegetables. It’s a bit of work, but well worth the effort!

Vegan Sweet Potato Soup

4 tbl. olive oil

2 cups peeled and diced onion or leeks*

1 ½ cups peeled and diced Fuji, Gala, Jazz , Golden delicious or Honey Crisp apples

1 Tbl. fresh grated ginger

2-2½ lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced ( about 3 or 4 medium to large )

2- 2 ½ cups carrot juice ( available in produce isle; I used Bolthouse Farms)

3 ½ cups vegetable broth ( make your own or use Swanson Vegetarian Vegetable Broth)

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. curry powder

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 cups unsweetened almond milk (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed stockpot over meduim heat,  heat up the olive oil. Add the onions and apples and saute, stirring occasionally until onions are transparent and apples begin to soften, about seven to eight minutes. Do not brown; if starting to brown, turn down heat and add a bit of the broth.  Add ginger and saute until fragrant; about two minutes. Place the peeled and diced sweet potatoes in the pot and add the broth and  carrot juice. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low. Add cinnamon,  nutmeg, curry powder, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered or until potatoes are soft. Turn heat off and let stand for 20 minutes.

In small batches, process the vegetables and broth in either a blender or food processor until smooth. Place pureed soup through a fine-mesh strainer and force through with a ladle or spoon until all the liquid is extracted. Discard the pulp** and repeat until all the soup is strained. Return to pot and add almond milk and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve warm with crusty bread and salad as a lunch or a light dinner. Serves 6 to 8.

* If using leeks, cut off the green stalks and root end, saving the white part. Split the leek in half lengthwise,  dice and float the leeks in cold water. Allow the leeks to soak for 20 minutes, occasionally agitating to water to loosen the grit . Remove the leeks from the water with a slotted spoon and discard the water. Run the leeks  in cold water in a colander  for a minute and drain. Proceed with the recipe.

**I saved the pulp and gave it to my doggie in her meal. She loved it.

All Purpose BBQ Spice Rub

22 May

Well I worked on it, and worked, and worked, and then…Eureka! I finally came up with the proportions for my all-purpose BBQ spice rub. I have used it on ribs, turkey wings ( yes, people: a recipe will follow for this) and chicken breasts and thighs with a great deal of success. You can double or triple this recipe for large batches of ribs for a cookout or tailgating ( I wish someone would invite me to a tailgate party!).

You will need:

bowl for mixing spice

Ziploc bag, airtight container or shaker for storage

Ingredients

2 Tbl. brown sugar

1 Tbl. white sugar

1 Tbl. onion powder

1 Tbl. garlic powder

1 Tbl. smoked paprika

1 Tbl. seasoned salt

1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. Jamaican allspice

Mix together and store in a dark place until ready to use.

National Pie Day!!

24 Jan

Hey Guys and Gals,

Did you know that February 23 is National Pie Day?  Like Spongebob says, everybody likes pie.  Pies have been around for ages and originated as a container to hold fillings from meats, fruit and even live animals.  Today, pie is all encompassing; if you can encase it dough and bake it in a pan, it can be called a pie, or not ( shepard’s pie and tamale pie come to mind with a topping that acts as a crust)  Well, I say we chuck our diets and have a pie orgy.

Let’s see; I’ll start with a slab of Quiche Lorraine for breakfast,  Spinach Pie for lunch, and Chicken pot pie for dinner and was it down with a wedge of apple pie for dinner. Mmmm, heaven!  Now who can say no to Pie? I thought so.

The stuff of dreams!

(Thanks to Parrotnation.wordpress.com for this bodacious picture)

CC

Restaurant Week tips

21 Jan

Baltimore is currently celebrating its version of Restaurant Week from January 22, 2010 to February 7, 2010. Many restaurants are offering specials on menu items or prix-fixe offerings at reduced prices. If you have the time and money, this is the perfect time to try a new place out. Here are a few tips to remember when going out.

1). Make a reservation and arrive early– Most of these places are busy and making a reservation and arriving at least 15 minutes prior will ensure a pleasant dining experience.

2). Try something new– Now is not the time to order chicken. If scallops are available and you’ve never had them, try them. Don’t forget that glass of wine; ask the server for suggestions and he may find you a gem.

3). Try lunch as an alternative to dinner-Lunch is a great time to try something new. Portions are usually smaller and are great for the health conscious.

4). Be kind to your server– These people work hard, often with no benefits or other compensation. Tip them accordingly ( 15% good service, 18% great service, 20% for exceptional service). Remember that the discounted meal you enjoy during Restaurant Week would normally cost at least twice that amount other times.

5). If you like a place, go back– Restaurants are a business, and use this time to promote their businesses. If you enjoy a place, show them by giving them your return business.  Your dollars pay the salaries of cooks, dishwasher, porters and many vendors who supply everything from forks to the olives in your martini. This helps our economy and save jobs.

6). Say Thank You– You have no idea what this  simple gesture does for your server, especially if they are busy.

Many participating restaurants are offering a three-course lunch from $20.10 and three-course dinners from $35.10 ( excluding tax and gratuity).

Mangia Mangia!!

Chicken Enchiladas: It’s what for dinner!

7 Jan
Chicken Enchiladas

Mmmm! Ole`

Recently I lamented about  my lack of finding something good to eat. I just wasn’t feeling it, guys.  Usually when I feel this way, I sit in front of my pantry and work through my block. I had an idea, but I needed to do a bit of research, so I asked a few friends and read a bunch of recipes. This is what I came up with based on what I had available to me, and a taste for something spicy, cheesy and warm on a frigid night.

Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 4 to 8 people
( 1 – 2 enchiladas per person)

3 cups cooked chicken, Or
3  boneless, skinless chicken breasts with 1 cup water
Eight 6-inch corn tortillas ( warmed)
1 cup refried beans, optional
¼ cup taco sauce
1 cup pasta sauce
½ cup diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup Goya Sofrito*
¼ cup banana peppers, diced**
½ cup banana pepper juice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
1/2  tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
2 tbl. chopped fresh cilantro
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper

Garnishes: Thinly-sliced red onion, green onions, chopped green or black olives, sour cream, additional shredded cheese.

If using cooked chicken, clean chicken from all bones and skin. Measure 3 cups and skip to preparing sauce.

Prepare chicken: Heat oven to 325
In an oven-proof pan ( glass, metal, iron) , place chicken breasts and the cup of water; covered,  in an oven and cook breasts until done, about 3-40 minutes. Remove from oven, place chicken on plate to cool and discard liquid, or freeze for sauces later. When chicken is cold, shred breasts, by either pulling apart into tiny bite-size pieces, or pull apart using the tines of two forks.

While chicken is cooling, Prepare Sauce: Combine taco sauce, sofrito, pasta sauce, banana peppers and the juice. Whisk until combined and add ½ tablespoon of the cilantro to the sauce. Set aside.

Make filling: Mix cumin, chili powder, ¼ cup of sauce, ½ cup of the shredded cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses and toss with the cooled, shredded chicken.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking pan with cooking spray, and place ¼ cup of the prepared sauce in bottom of pan and coat.

Assemble enchiladas: Spoon 1 tablespoon refried beans on the warmed tortilla. Place a bit of the chicken filling in the tortilla and roll. Place filled tortilla seam side down in baking dish. Repeat and place filled tortilla next to one another. Take remaining sauce and pour evenly over the enchiladas. Top with remaining shredded cheese and cilantro. Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.

Top with garnishes of your choice and serve one with a side salad as a light lunch, or two for a filling and hearty meal.

*Goya Sofrito is a sauce base containing tomatoes, garlic, peppers, onions and spices. It is available in most markets in the international isle.

** I had sliced banana peppers in the jar, so I used that. If you want to use fresh peppers, do so and add the juice of a  fresh lime.

There are various ways to warm the tortillas. You can either saute them in a bit of olive oil for 1-2 minutes on each side until pliable. Drain on paper towels.

(2) You can wrap them in foil and warm them in the oven for 10 minutes or so.

(3) You can turn the gas burner on you stove and place the tortilla, one at a time on the burner and turn over the open flame 2 seconds on each side until soft.

You must warm the tortillas. There is no way around it. But don’t be a lazy ass and throw them in the microwave! It will make the tortillas tough.

Culinary Chick

Bread, can we still be friends?

7 Jun

Dear Bread,

How have you been? I’m hoping you  are well.  I know I’ve been distant lately, and after reading this letter, I hope you understand why.  I hope it won’t upset you, I’ve realized over our break these past two week s that I can no longer see you.

Our relationship over the 15 months or so have frankly been rough for me; you were there, so you already know what I’m talking about.  I’ve tried you whole-grain and no-grain, french and Italian-style, tandoori and tortilla, and even pitas and it’s all come down to the same sad conclusion: I cannot digest you, and you know it.

Is this some post-Atkins craze excuse? No, and you know this. You know I defended you against all these low-carb freaks that insisted I use lettuce instead of you to make wraps, while all the while those fake protests against eating french fries dissipated into the ether as plate after Atkins-friendly plate came back void of all french fries I placed next to those sandwiches.  I just smirked to myself and knew that like all diet crazes, that this too shall pass.

Had I known that my enjoyment of you would turn into a Faustian nightmare, I would’ve made the transition earlier.

Am I allergic to gluten? No, I don’t have Celiac disease. What is or has happened to us is simple. I eat too much of you; and, let’s just say I , oh fuck it: Bread, I can’t poop after eating you!

There, I’ve said it.

I just can’t go to the bathroom after eating you in any form. And frankly, I’d rather poop than have a sandwich. I just want to know if we can still be friends. Well, can we?

I want to know if I can still touch you ( through the plastic wrapper, of course). Do I have permission smell the  heady aroma of a properly baked loaf of rye as it comes out the oven. Can I  vicariously enjoy the sweet, earthy scent of cinnamon when you appear as raisin bread. Or, when you show up as one of those artisinal types, can I still marvel at the visual richness of your crumb or smile when I see you as a chewy, crater filled ciabatta?

Will you let me love you from afar? I hope so, because this is the only way we can continue.  I hope you understand. Can we still be friends? Let me know.

xxoo,

Culinary Chick