Tag Archives: Party Food

{ 7 Layer Mexican Dip }

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I am notorious for double-dipping.

I like a high dip-to-chip ratio that can only be achieved with multiple dips, and so I double dip shamelessly for my own snacking pleasure. I just can’t help myself.

However, as you can imagine, my off-putting habit has caused a great deal of tension on several dates and social gatherings, and so I have decided to solve the problem once and for all by making individualized 7 layer Mexican dip cups.  This way I can go in for any number of dips without being ostracized. It’s a win-win for all persons involved.

I first made these appetizers for my Cinco de Mayo party last spring, but I have continued to make them on a regular basis since then. I find that they are a great item to have in the fridge for a quick meal (very high in protein with the beans and avocado) and they help enforce portion control when snacking late at night! They are also more visually appealing to serve at parties than your average 7 layer dip, which starts to look like shit after a few short minutes (especially if I’m there double dipping!!).

Its a fun, new spin on an old classic recipe but I highly recommend using my flavorful recipe for the black bean puree!

{ Ingredients }

  • 2 cans refried black beans (I love the Trader Joes’ brand)
  • 1 Tbsp minced jalapeños
  • 1 Tbsp Taco seasoning (I used Old El Paso)
  • Dash of cumin, to taste
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa (I use Herdez or Spikes’)
  • Cubed avocado or guacamole
  • Monterey Jack cheese
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Black olives, sliced
  • Scallions, sliced for garnish

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{ Directions }

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the refried beans, minced jalapeño, salt, taco seasoning, and cumin. Blend until well combined, adding a few drops of water if necessary to thin out the mixture. You don’t want the mixture to be runny, but you want it soft enough to transfer onto the chip.

Spread the bean mixture in the bottom of the cup, about 1″ thick.

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Top the beans with a 1/4″ layer of sour cream, followed by a 1/2″ layer of salsa.

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Add the chopped avocado pieces, or a layer of guacamole and then sprinkle the shredded lettuce and cheese. Garnish with the black olives and some freshly chopped scallions, and watch them get gobbled up by your guests with out any double-dipping anxieties.

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{ Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake with Ganache }

Certain things are just meant to go together: biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, rum and coke, and last but not least, chocolate and peanut butter! Independently, these items are all delicious, but put them together, and they are like an orgasm for the tastebuds. So when I came across this recipe for a Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake with Ganache on Pinterest the other day, I knew it would be divine. It’s just kind of hard to justify a three layer cake for one person with no real special occasion. But I wasn’t about to just “Pin” this recipe and forget about it. No, I was determined to make this cake ASAP. And so I began scrolling through my Facebook calendar in search of upcoming birthdays #Diary of a fat girl.

My Uncle’s 50th Birthday was the perfect excuse, and given his borderline unhealthy obsession with peanut butter, the dessert couldn’t be more perfect for him.

This  was my first time ever making a layer cake, and I am proud to say that it was much easier undertaking than I had initially anticipated. So do not be nervous if you are a layer-cake virgin too! Just do NOT rush the cooling/assembly process and you will be fine.

NOTE: This will make a lot of cake. This cake is very rich. Be prepared to share with lots of friends, family, and neighbors! 

*Recipe Originally from The Pixelated Crumb

{ Ingredients }

For the Chocolate Cake Layers:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I ONLY use Madagascar vanilla, makes a huge difference)
  • 2 eggs

For the Peanut Butter Frosting: (I found that I had to double this recipe to frost the entire cake, so you may want to double it as well!)

  • 10 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups of confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2/3 cup of smooth peanut butter (preferably, a commercial brand so that the oil doesn’t separate out)

For the Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

{ To Make the Chocolate Cake Layers }

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare three 9″ round cake pans by buttering the bottoms and sides. Line the bottom of each pan with a sheet of parchment paper and then butter the surface of the paper. (I traced the cake pan on the paper and cut it out to get a good fit….this really helps the cake pop of the pan nicely.)

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and the sour cream and whisk to blend.

Gradually beat in the water. Mix in the vanilla and the vinegar.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat until will blended. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans, filling them up only half way.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for at least 20 minutes on a drying rack. Then run a knife around the outer edge of the pan, and invert onto plate to remove the cake. Peel back the parchment paper and allow to cool completely. (If you are making the cake layers in advance, you can wrap them in parchment paper and store them in the freezer for a couple of days!)

{ To Make the Peanut Butter Frosting }

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, scarping town the sides of the bowl after each addition. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).

Add the peanut butter and beat until well blended.

{ To Make the Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache }

NOTE: Make this after you have already assembled and frosted your cake, because the ganache is used immediately!

In the top of a double boiler system, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use immediately, while the mixture is still warm.

{ To Assemble the Layer Cake }

Image taken from The Pixelated Crumb

Place one layer on a cake stand and spread 1/3 of the frosting evenly on the top of the cake. Repeat with the next layer.

Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting (unless you doubled the frosting recipe like I did, in which case, you will probably have some left over!).

Refrigerate the frosted cake for at least 1 hour to set the frosting.

To decorate with the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Ganache, simply pour the warm glaze over the top of the cake and help spread it evenly so that the mixture runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. I used a spoon to help guide the chocolate down!

Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes so that the glaze has time to set completely.

Remove 1 hour before serving to bring to room temperature!

 

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{ Panettone Bread Pudding with Amaretto Sauce }

If I were to make a list for the culinary wonder’s of the world, Panettone bread would certainly be somewhere near the top. A sweet bread, dotted with soft raisins and candied citrus fruit peels, Panettone is best-known for it’s uncanny ability to stay fresh over great lengths of time. I always receive at least one during the Christmas holidays, but usually I don’t around to eating it before anytime before Easter. I often joke that in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, only three things would survive: Twinkies, roaches, and few ribbon-wrapped panettone loaves. Hence, hell on Earth.

Although there is no hope for making Twinkies more palatable, panettone can actually be quite delicious when used in other recipes. It makes a great base for stuffing, a flavorful bread for French toast, and of course, a delicious bread pudding! The fruity flavors of the bread naturally infuse whatever dish you are making, so you don’t have to do as much work seasoning the food. I recently decided to try this bread pudding recipe from Giada de Laurentiis because I saw that it came with a warm Amaretto sauce drizzle. It sounded over the top on Food Network, and it certainly did not disappoint!

I used about 1 1/2 pounds of cubed panettone bread, and made two bread puddings from it. I also doubled the Giada’s recipe for the Amaretto drizzle because it sounded like the best part of the dessert, and I wanted to make sure that there was enough to soak up each bite. I will post the recipe with my modifications below, but you can also view the original by clicking HERE!

Now if only a doctor could put the secret ingredient from Twinkies and panettone into my moisturizer, it might help extend the shelf-life of my face!

{ Ingredients }

For the Bread Pudding:

  • 1 ½  pounds of panettone bread, crusts trimmed, and cubed into 1″ pieces
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups of whipping cream
  • 2 ½  cups of whole milk
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar

For the Amaretto Sauce:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup amaretto liqueur
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

{ To Make the Amaretto Sauce } Bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. In a small bowl mix the amaretto and cornstarch to combine and then whisk the into the cream mixture.

Simmer over a medium-low heat until the sauce thickens (stirring constantly), for about 2 minutes. Set aside and keep warm, if serving the same day.

NOTE: The sauce can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just warm over low heat before serving.

{ To Make the Bread Pudding } Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ baking sheet. Arrange the cubed panettone in the dish.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, milk, and sugar to combine.

Pour this custard mixture over the panettone cubes, using the back of a wooden spoon to press the cubes into the liquid. It is important that they are very well submerged. Allow the bread to soak for 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Bake until the pudding puffs and it set in the center, about 45 minutes (depending on the size of the dish that you chose to use). Allow to cool slightly.

Spoon the bread pudding onto a plate and drizzle with warm amaretto sauce. Enjoy!

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{ Brushetta with Prosciutto, Ricotta, Apples, & Olives }

Before almost every meal at my house, I find that there are a few moments where everyone gathers around the kitchen center island, anxiously waiting for dinner to finish cooking. The table has already been set, but the meat may need to rest another minute before carving, or the sauce may have to reduce a bit more before serving. It is during this time that I like to “pre-game” for dinner (confessions of a fat girl) with an appetizer–and bruschetta is always at the top of my list! I steal a few slices of baguette from the bread basket, toast ‘em in the oven or on the grill, and then top them off with any and every thing that I can find in the fridge.

This week, my little sister Ella, turned me onto a new layering of ingredients and flavors, which included; sliced granny smith apples, creamy ricotta cheese, chopped kalamata olives, and thinly sliced prosciutto.  Not going to lie, I had some reservations about these particular food combinations at first, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the sweet and salty contrast of the prosciutto and ricotta. The slightly tart bite of apple also added another unexpected dimension to the plate, and was a refreshing palate cleanser in-between toasts.

If I were to serve this at a party (which I certainly will in the future!), I would allow the guests to create their own toasts by serving the ingredients separately, this way everyone can have exactly the toppings they want. The dish is so simple and relatively inexpensive (cost of ingredients averaging $10 for 6 servings), but it very important that you use quality ingredients–high grade (or homemade) ricotta is a  MUST! (I suggest Wegman’s brand for $3.00). I also suggest that you season the ricotta with a nice drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper before serving it…it adds more umph–and looks pretty!

{ Ingredients }

  • 1 baguette, sliced on diagonal, 1″ thickness
  • 2 cups high quality (or homemade) ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 granny smith apples, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 ounces of thinly sliced prosciutto

{ To Make the Bruschetta Toasts } Use a silicon brush to coat the sliced baguettes with extra virgin olive oil. Place them on the grill, turning until well toasted on each side (about 3 minutes per side). NOTE: You can also toast the bread in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees, which takes about 5 minutes.

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{ Pecan Tassies }

As I have mentioned several times on blog, I am not particularly keen on sweets. Given the option, I would always prefer to gorge more “real” food, rather that save myself for a dessert. This being said, I am a major proponent of one-bite desserts that let you have a little taste without a full dessert commitment. Something small that you can just pop in your mouth and be done with in seconds (not an obnoxious slice of cake that you have to try to pawn off to everyone around you, before finally stashing it under a pile of napkins in the hostess’s garbage can….hey, we’ve all done it).

These pecan tassies are a perfect dessert for holiday meals, because you can always find room for at least one, no matter how much you have already eaten.  My mom makes this recipe every year, and finds that they are always well received at the annual cookie exchange (a nice switch-up from the santa sugar cookie cutouts!).

This recipe is low cost, straight forward, and delicious. Try it out this Christmas!

{ Ingredients }

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur is best)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (Madagascar is best!)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • dash of salt

{ To Make the Dough Cups } Using an electric hand mixer on medium speed, cream together the 2 sticks of butter and the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Then mix in the flour, until well combined.

Using your hands, roll the dough into about 48 small balls. Place the balls into a small, lightly greased muffin pan. Create small wells in the dough, using the pressure of your thumb (remember, the well must be large enough to contain the pecan filling).

{ To Make the Pecan Filling } Combine the brown sugar, melted butter, honey, vanilla extract, salt and eggs. Stir until well combined. Add the chopped pecans and mix to coat.

{ To Assemble the Tassies } Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spoon the pecan filling into the wells of the dough cups, until all of the filling has been used up.

Bake the tastes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat 250 for the final 10 minutes of baking.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving!

 

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{ Truffle-Infused Deviled Eggs }

Deviled eggs at a potluck are as predictable as the sun rising in the East–someone is bringing them! And the the rest of the dinner party will inevitably pass some sort of judgement on that person (along with the person that brings box-made brownies for dessert, of course). One guest will remark how outdated deviled eggs are (like shag carpets and green bean casseroles), another will comment on the lack of creativity and/or effort. But wouldn’t you know that at the end of the night, not one of those bad boys is left on the buffet table. People can hate on the notion of deviled eggs all they want, but everyone’s got a secret soft spot for that fluffy, mayo-whipped, goodness. And what else are you supposed to do with all those hard boiled eggs after Easter!?!

Anyways, with the holiday seasons now in full swing, I thought it would be an appropriate time to give my readers a more “modern” and “contemporary” deviled egg recipe that they can surprise guests with at their impending potluck dinner parties. Owning a cool deviled egg tray from the 1970′s gets you a bonus point, pipping the yolk into the eggs earns you a little more, but putting truffle oil into your egg mixture will really wow your guests.

I like to dust the tops of my eggs with a little paprika, minced truffles, parsley, and capers (not all on one course, but in alternation!)

{ Ingredients }

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped black truffle peelings
  • Chopped parsley, capers, and paprika for garnish

{ To Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs } Place the eggs in a large pot and cover with room temperature water. Bring the pot of water to a boil, and then remove from heat. Cover the pot with lid and allow to sit for 12-13 minutes.

Remove the eggs from the pot and place into a prepared ice bath with cold water (this prevents them from cooking further!).

{ To Make the Deviled Eggs } Peel the eggs under cold running water (this helps to remove the shells easier), and cut in half lengthwise.

Remove the yolks with a spoon, placing them into a large mixing bowl.

Add the mayonnaise, truffle oil, dijon mustard, cayenne pepper, and truffle peelings, and combine with an electric mixer on medium speed.

Continue whipping until the mixture is light and fluffy. Taste the mixture and add more truffle oil if desired.

Put the egg yolk mixture into a plastic pipping bag and pipe the filling into the egg white halves. Top with the garnish of your choice and serve!

If you really want to impress your guests and challenge your culinary skills, then try making these heart shaped deviled eggs (click here for full instructions). I haven’t yet attempted it myself, but I plan to this Easter!

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{ Strawberry Shortcakes }

Strawberry Piking at Del Val Farm

I am fully aware that it is no longer strawberry-picking season (which seriously dates this blog post and/or showcases my aptitude for procrastination), but this recipe makes for a fabulous summer dessert and I figure that its only August, so better late than never! Anyways, the second largest BBQ celebration of the season (Labor Day) is just around the corner, and I know a lot of you are going to parties that will entail you to bring something…a dessert, perhaps?!

Rather than going the Betty Crocker brownie route or bringing the horrendously outdated and predictable pineapple upside-down cake, why not surprise everyone with these light and delicious strawberry shortcakes? I promise you that people WILL be relieved to see a desert that boasts fresh fruit, rather than miniature gems of unnaturally bright maraschino cherries. And I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t like shortcake. I’ve met people who love it and people who are indifferent to it, but its almost too cheerful of a desert to really hate. I mean its fresh fruit and whipped cream on a vanilla scented biscuit that’s composed of butter and sugar…what is there to dislike?

This recipe is very simple and especially perfect for a party because it can be made ahead of time. I usually make the shortcakes a day prior to serving them, using an airtight container for storage, and I also like to marinate the sliced strawberries in powdered sugar overnight so that they produce a naturally sweet syrup!

Depending on the number of people that you are serving, you can either allow guests to assemble their own shortcakes (using canned whipped cream or Cool Whip as a shortcut), or you can go for aesthetics, make homemade whipped cream, and put together the shortcakes for them with a lovely presentation. If you chose to go the latter route, then blackberries, raspberries, and mint leaves make for great plate garnishes (as well as a generous dusting of powdered sugar!).

Ingredients }

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 pints of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream

To Make Shortcakes } Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking sheet (or line it with parchment paper as I do) and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to mix.

Add the butter cubes into the flour mixture, using your finger tips to crumble the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. (You can also cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender, but I don’t have one yet :( )

Add the cream and stir to mix until the dough begins to come together. Be careful not to overwork the dough though, or the shortcakes will be tough!

Move the dough onto a lightly floured surface and work into a round shape. Roll the dough to a thickness of 1/2 – 3/4 inch. Then use a round cookie cutter (I used 3″ in diameter) to cut out small biscuit shapes. Remove the disks and place on prepared baking sheet, baking for 12-15 minutes (or until the tops are a golden brown). Place on baking rack to cool completely.

Shortcakes, before they're baked

Shortcakes, after they're baked!

To Make Homemade Whipped Cream } In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream using a whisk attachment, until soft peaks form. Gradually, add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Do not over beat though, or the mixture will become grainy. Refrigerate up to 6 hours, until ready to use!


{ To Make Strawberry Topping } Place the hulled and stemmed strawberries into a large glass bowl and top with a generous dusting of powdered sugar, mixing to combine (Remember: The more sugar, the more syrup!). Allow to sit for at least a few hours or overnight.

{ To Assemble Shortcakes } Cut the shortcakes in half using a serrated knife. Using an ice cream scooper, put a generous dollop of strawberries with their syrup onto the bottom cake. Using another ice cream scooper, put a heap of whipped cream onto of the strawberries. Gently press the top piece of shortcake back on top of the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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{ Jalapeno Cheddar Mini-burgers and Chipotle Aioli }

Jalapeno Cheddar Mini-Burgers

Words of wisdom from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle:

Burger Shack Employee- “Just thinking about those tender little White Castle burgers, with those little itty bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals every time you bite into one…”

Harold- “I want that. I want that feeling. We gotta go to White Castle. I am so hungry. I’m gonna eat, like, 20 of those little burgers, man.”

Kumar- “Dude, I will see your 20 burgers and raise you 5 orders of fries.”

Fact: Everyone loves and craves a thick juicy hamburger from time to time. Vegetarians, don’t even kid yourselves, I know you do too. You just have more self-control than the rest of us and I’m still in the process of trying to decide whether I find that admirable or insane. Anyways, with the economy down the past couple of years, Americans are beginning to downsize the many aspects of their lives. Toll Brothers is building smaller homes, people are starting drive smaller cars (they finally realized that gas prices will never be below $2 again…goodbye H2), and the biggest names in burgers are producing mini-burgers faster than you can say recession.

White Castle first introduced the mini-burger concept back in 1921, dubbing their creation the “Slyder.” Today, many people refer to all small burgers as “sliders,” but this is just incorrect. Society is so focused on being politically correct, but lets get our culinary terms straight too while we are at it! You see, in order for a miniature burger to be a true slider, it must be a very thin slip of beef cooked atop onions and garnished with pickles. The steam from the onions does as much cooking as the griddle, and the burger buns absorb their pungent aroma. This is the method of preparation still used at White Castle today—that’s if you can manage to find a White Castle, of course. I think Harold and Kumar prove that it can be a rather long and difficult journey!

On the other hand, mini-burgers (a reduction of the same old thing we know and love), are popping up everywhere and they are absolutely irresistible. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of getting to eat multiple burgers (with less guilt might I add), or the ability to try out several different topping combinations, or maybe things really are better fun-sized (except women of course—coming from one that’s 5’ 9”). Whatever the reason, mini-burgers have created a loyal, almost cult-like, following all across America and I consider myself to be a “patty purveyor,” always looking for the latest and greatest in burgers. (So far my favorite mini-burgers are; (1) STK’s made with Japanese Wagyu Beef, secret sauce, truffle mushrooms, and sesame bun, and (2) Sugarcane’s made with Kobe beef, tonkatsu sauce, and fried quail egg).

I knew that I wanted mini-burgers for my birthday, so I decided try my hand at making my own! I made Jalapeno Cheddar Burgers and Mushroom Swiss burgers. Just fold the desired amount of your toppings into some ground sirloin beef, season with salt and pepper, and mold into 3 ounce patties with your hands. Then simply grill to desired cooking temperature! I purchased whole wheat slider buns from Wegmans, and made this Spicy Chipotle Aioli as a condiment. The aioli turned out awesome and I have since been eating it with chicken and using it as spread for sandwiches. It will hold for quite some time in your refrigerator, so don’t hesitate to make a lot.

{ Ingredients for Chipotle Aioli }

 

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

{ To Make Chipotle AioliCombine all ingredients in a food processor and puree. Adjust levels of adobo sauce, salt, and pepper to taste preference.

Spicy Chipotle Aioli

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Greek Orzo Pasta Salad *****

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Feta, and Kalamata Olives

January 2nd of 2010 is a day that I remember vividly. I was on a train hysterically bawling my eyes out, hard-core fighting with my ex-boyfriend via text messaging (the most popular way for young couples to fight these days!). The whole train was starring at me and I couldn’t pull myself together to quit sobbing, so they endured the sound track of my agonizing heartache for the entire ride from New York to Philly (I personally apologize to every passenger). It was a pretty rough start to what turned out to be a rather rough year, but this year started out completely different and so I’m feeling great about 2011!! I rang in this New Year eating and drinking with the most hospitable and hilarious Greek family that I have ever met…we could title the evening as: “my big fat Greek dinner!”

You see, I’ve been third wheeling it with Ariana and her boyfriend, Harry, the past couple of days, and so when they headed up to Boca Raton for Harry’s family dinner, naturally, I followed! He had given us the disclaimer on each family member before we went and tried to prepare us for what to expect that evening, but I had no idea just how much of a treat I was in for! The three of us show up around 4 O’Clock and it’s just us and his immediate family and grandmother, Yaya (pronounced, Yah-Yah). I recalled from his pep talk earlier that Yaya doesn’t speak English…or so he thought. Turns out that you can learn a lot about your family by watching them interact with non-family members (such as their ability to speak another language…fluently!). Yaya follows Ariana and I outside and strikes up a conversation speaking perfect English to everyone’s amazement. I guess Yaya has selective English, and only “no speak English good” when she wants to. Hey, with age comes wisdom.

Very quickly though people start trickling through the door, and I found myself standing up to greet someone new on 5 minute intervals. This continued for about an hour until the entire family and their plus one date (because everyone brought a friend) was gathered around the table outside. It got so crowded that Harry suggested making a “kid’s table” for anyone under the age of 25. This quickly turned into the drunken table enveloped by a cloud of cigarette smoke—bringing new meaning to the definition of “kids table.” We snacked on fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, salami, cheese, and salmon bites while throwing back beers and red wine over great conversation.

Finally, around 8 O’Clock dinner was served, and what a glorious spread of food it was! There was filet mignon, skirt steak, moussaka, mixed green salad, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, twice-baked potatoes, sautéed veggies, and last but not least, my orzo pasta salad! My mother always taught me that you never show up to a dinner party empty handed and so I thought I would contribute a side dish. Given the Greek crowd, I assumed my orzo salad with feta, tomato, and kalamata olives would be a hit….and it was! Even Yaya loved it—she couldn’t believe that a non-Greek made it! (that obviously made my night!) Although I was proud of my pasta salad and everyone seemed to enjoy it, it was clearly outshined by the rest of the food, and rightfully so! I felt so spoiled to have a delicious home cooked Greek dinner. The moussaka was hands down my favorite part of the meal. Greek moussaka is minced meat layered with eggplant and then baked with a cream sauce on top, and this was the best that I have ever tasted. I couldn’t get enough of it! I never in a million years imagined that there could be leftovers at a dinner party with about 20 guests, but we found ourselves having fourth meal around 2 O’Clock in the morning after a night at the Hard Rock and that moussaka was even better the second time around! The cream sauce was light and fluffy and tasted almost like whipped potato on top. Every forkful was divine. I also loved the stuffed grape leaves, which were served hot with gravy. I had never had warmed stuffed grape leaves before, but I loved it and don’t think I’ll enjoy them cold ever again!

The best part of the evening was dessert though, and for reasons that I shall now explain. You see, it is Greek tradition to bake a new year’s cake with a coin inside. The person that then receives the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have very good luck for the entire year! (I’m sure you already see where I’m going with this, but don’t beat me to the good part yet!). So as they are slicing the cake, they are announcing who each piece is for and all of the dinner guest’s names have been called expect for mine, when Harry’s mom says “and this one is for Ariana’s friend….what is her name again?!” Sure enough, I got the coin! I felt kind of bad taking the good luck from a family who didn’t even know my name, but I sure as hell could use some luck so I wasn’t about to give it up! And that is why I am so pumped for 2011, because I found a foil-wrapped dime in my cake! You better believe that anything good that happens this year will be attributed to that coin.

Here is the recipe for my Greek orzo pasta salad, which is adapted from one that I found in a Bon Appetite magazine a few years back (instead of using marjoram, I use a variety of different herbs). This pasta salad is great for dinner parties, tailgates, and picnics because it makes a lot and everyone only takes a little bit!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of orzo
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonated basil leaves
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ cups crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 24 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
  • (optional) 1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves, chiffonated

Directions:

Cook out the orzo in boiling and salted water. Drain. Rinse with cold water and then set aside in mixing bowl.

Whisk together the Dijon mustard, olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Toss the halved tomatoes with about 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and coat the orzo with the remainder. Allow the tomatoes to soak in the vinaigrette for at least an hour so that the flavors develop and then add to the pasta. Add the olives, feta, green onions, basil and mint. Toss to coat and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve or refrigerate.

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{ Kendall’s Simple Baked Brie en Croute }

Baked Brie en Croute with Almonds and Raspberry Preserves

Baked brie is a great and easy appetizer to bring to any holiday party. I showed my roommate Ariana how to prepare it for our potluck Thanksgiving dinner, and since then I have received a lot of requests among my friends for the recipe (Ariana did a great job making it!). Instead of sending each of them an individual message, I have decided to just post it on my blog for all to view and enjoy!! Unfortunately, now I think everyone is going to offer to bring baked brie to my next potluck…but brie is delicious so I would be okay with that.

You can make this dish using either philo-dough or puff pastry. Philo-dough is flakier and a little bit more difficult to assemble because it is done in thin sheets one at a time. Therefore, I encourage using puff pastry dough if it is your first time making this dish! Also, feel free to substitute different nuts and flavors of fruit preserves, such as walnuts and/or Black Current preserves. Get creative!

{ Ingredients

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, pre-packaged (or philo-dough)
  • 2-3 tablespoons melted butter (or 1 egg beaten if using philo-dough)
  • 1 8 oz brie wheel
  • Apricot, Raspberry, or Strawberry preserves
  • ½ cup sliced almonds

{ To Make using Puff Pastry }

Preheat oven to 375.

Defrost puff pastry for about 15-20 minutes and then unfold. Place the wheel of brie in the middle of the pastry dough and top brie generously with fruit preserves and then nuts. Fold the puff pastry dough up over the toppings and wheel of the brie, gathering up the edges in center and gently squeezing together the excess dough at the top. Brush the sides and top of the puff pastry dough with the beaten egg using a silicon brush. Place the brie on a cookie sheet lined with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until pastry dough is golden brown.

Allow to sit for 2-3 minutes and then serve with crackers and fresh fruit.

{ To Make using Philo-Dough }

Preheat oven to 375.

Defrost philo-dough for about 15-20 minutes and then unfold. Place the wheel of brie in the middle of the dough and top brie generously with fruit preserves and then nuts.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Fold the philo-dough up over the toppings and wheel of the brie one thin layer at a time. In between layers, brush butter onto dough (almost as an adhesive) using a silicon brush. Continue in layers until the brie is well covered, gathering up the edges in center and gently squeezing together the excess dough at the top. Brush the sides and top of the dough with butter one last time and then place the brie on a cookie sheet lined with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until pastry dough is golden brown.

Allow to sit for 2-3 minutes and then serve with crackers and fresh fruit.

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