Monday, October 22, 2012

Spinach-Mushroom Puffs

As you all know, I'm a sucker for easy make-ahead appetizers. This one is no exception.

Last weekend I catered a 60th wedding anniversary for some extended family. There were about 35 people in attendance, and all of them big eaters. I had to make enough food for about 50.

Here's what I made for the party:

Fruit plate with my mom's famous marshmallow dip
Veggie platter with balsamic dip
3 lbs Fried gnocchi (a la Nigella Lawson) with pesto
Crab toasts (triple batch)
10 lbs pork and beef tenderloin
Wonton tacos (double batch)
Smoked salmon platter
Mushroom puffs (double batch)

The mushroom puffs, while great on their own, showed some serious potential. This recipe makes a lot of puffs, but the point is that you freeze them and eat them 4 or 5 at a time. Trust me, you'll want a lot of these babies.

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

1 package frozen puff pastry sheets
1 8-oz can mushrooms, drained
1 8-oz can spinach (or 1 package thawed frozen spinach), drained
1 8-oz package cream cheese (can be light)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
Black pepper

1. Mix together the cream cheese, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan, mushrooms and spinach (make sure they're dry!).

2. Thaw the puff pastry overnight in the fridge or for a couple hours on the counter. When it's pliable, roll it out with some flour so that it's almost doubled in size.
3.  Cut the puff pastry in half lengthwise. Dollop the cheese mixture onto the puff pastry and spread it in an even layer across the sheet.

4. Paint the edges of the pastry with a beaten egg. Fold the pastry over lengthwise, across the mixture, and seal the edges with a fork.

5. Brush more egg on top of the pastry and sprinkle with pepper. Cut the pastry log in half, then in half again. From there, you can cut the quarters into thirds or halves, depending on how big you want the puffs (I opted for thirds, and that will make quite a few puffs).

6. Freeze the puffs until you're ready to use them. Bake them at 425 for 20 minutes or until toasty.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Venetian Artichoke Pesto

A lot of my food inspiration comes from the places I've been — namely, Italy. Spending four glorious months there changed my life intellectually, spiritually, and of course, gastronomically.

Early on in our study abroad experience, Justin and I made the trip to Venice. You can't go to Italy for a length of time and not see Venice. It's hauntingly beautiful, full of strange and wonderful nooks and crannies and crooked cobbled streets. The canals are beautiful, of course, but what struck us the most was the fog that settled over the ancient port town like a veil.

Yep, we fed the pigeons. They are terrifyingly unafraid of humans.

One of the single best things I ate in Italy was an artichoke pesto penne that we had in the old Jewish ghetto in Venice.

This was a close second to an otherworldly eggplant parmesan that I had a tiny waterside restaurant called Timon — but I'm still trying to figure out that recipe. So you'll have to make do with artichoke pesto. For now.

This recipe is the closest I could get to the pasta I had in Venice. Smooth, creamy, and somehow still bright and light. The best thing is, this recipe is super duper easy — no peeling or trimming artichokes. Yup, we're using the canned version.

1 can artichoke hearts, drained
zest & juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3-4 tsp water
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2-1 cup chicken broth
1 lb pasta (penne, rigatoni, whatever you like!)

1. Drain the artichokes. Put all the ingredients EXCEPT the chicken broth and pasta into a blender, and give it a whir until smooth. If you need to thin it out a little, add a little bit of water in intervals until it blends.
2. Boil pasta in heavily salted water. Drain. Toss with pesto. Thin out the pasta/pesto combination with a little bit of chicken broth, until it's the consistency you like.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Make Your Own Flavored Vinegar

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law Ginny and I went to a Dierbergs cooking class with the St. Louis Herb Society. Nothing in the world can beat having a bunch of food experts cook for you while you sip on a champagne spritzer.

They made a lot of delicious food, including crab cakes, focaccia, herbed chicken en papillote —but one thing that stuck in my mind was their custom-flavored vinegars. Tarragon, blueberry, chive … any and all fruits and herbs you can think of are possible.

It's a bit of an investment up front — it takes 6-8 weeks for the vinegar to steep. But the preparation takes only minutes, and when it's ready, it's fantastic. Think of it as a good holiday present to give away.

I made a mix of basil, tarragon, thyme and lemon.

1 bottle white wine vinegar
1 glass jar (no exposure to metal, though)
Flavorings: herbs, citrus zest, fruit (blueberries,
raspberries, strawberries, any kind of berry).


1. Roughly chop the flavorings and put into the jar. Pour the vinegar over it.

2. Let it steep in a cool, dark, dry place for 6-8 weeks. I kept mine in a shoe box in our guest bedroom.

3. Strain the vinegar and store back into the seal-proof container.

Great to make salad dressings, bread dipping sauces (mix with olive oil and Parmesan cheese), marinades, and anywhere else you would use vinegar.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Quinoa Crab Cakes

My husband is a genius. Sometimes I can come up with some good recipes, but if you want to know the truth, Justin really is the creative soul in the kitchen. Just look at this:

Yeah, what the heck? I've never heard of quinoa crab cakes, but this is just the sort of thing that Justin will come up with out of thin air. He paired it with the most delicious side salad in the world.

I know, I know, I'm bragging. Sorry.

1 can lump crab meat
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock
bay leaf
3 garlic cloves

1 red pepper, chopped fine
1 purple onion, chopped fine
3 cloves minced garlic

1 egg
1 lemon (juice and zest)
1 tbsp mayo
1/2 cup panko

For the salad:
mixed greens
goat cheese crumbles
toasted walnuts
cherry tomatoes
3 tbsp Tuscan herb oil
2 tbsp Strawberry balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2-3 tsp honey

1. Boil the quinoa in the chicken broth with the bay leaf and 3 cloves of whole garlic. Salt the chicken broth with a teaspoon or so to season the quinoa as it cooks.  Cook as indicated on the packaging.
2. Saute the red pepper, onion, and minced garlic in some olive oil until soft. Let it cool and then combine with the cooked quinoa.
3. In the cooled quinoa mixture, add the crab meat, egg, lemon zest and juice, mayo, and panko. Add enough panko until the mixture is moist but not overly wet and sticky.
4. Heat some oil in a pan. Form the crab-quinoa mixture into patties, then saute in the oil until golden brown on each side.
5. For the salad: combine the Tuscan herb oil (basically garlic-herb infused oil; you can make your own if you can't find it in stores), strawberry balsamic (available at Di Olivas oil store), mustard and honey. Adjust the flavors until it's sweet enough for you. Toss the other ingredients together, dress the greens with the dressing, and serve with the warm, crispy quinoa crab cakes.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grilled Cheese and Tomato-Meatball Soup

It's slowly getting more fall-ish here in St. Louis. Not fast enough for me, but enough for me to start bustin' out the autumn recipes. This recipe kicks that off, and to top it off, it's a contest winner.

Well, it hasn't won yet. But it will.


To tell the truth, I'm terrible at winning things. I feel like I'm generally winning in life, but so far as prizes and money and fame go, I'm sub-par. Just looking at recipes on Pinterest in all their creativity and magical ways to use canned crescent rolls makes me feel like a rookie.

Maybe this will change that.

The contest is the 5th annual Dei Fratelli Ripened Recipe Contest, and the prize winners get free products for a year.

Free tomatoes for a year.

So much I could do! Marinara! Chili! Stew! Soup! Enchiladas!

OK, I'm going to stop now. Enter the contest if you think you can beat me, but don't enter it if you know you can beat me :-) 

By the way, the soup was delicious. But you already knew that.

Here's the breakdown:

For the soup:
1 28-oz can Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes
28 oz chicken broth (just pour broth into
 the empty tomato can to measure)
1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp both salt + pepper

For the meatballs:
1.5 lb ground turkey
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 egg

For the grilled cheese:
White cheddar
Optional: spinach, mustard, ham, avocado, etc.


1. For the soup: Saute the onion and garlic in some olive oil. Add the tomatoes, broth, lemon, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Let this simmer for 20 minutes. 
2. Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender and mix until smooth.

It kinds of feels like I should be boiling a pot of spaghetti right about now, but the ooey gooey cheese sandwich is making me hold off.

3. For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix all the ingredients into a bowl and stir until just combined.

3. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray generously with non-stick spray. I made golf ball-sized meatballs (is that right? I dunno, I'm not an athlete).

These meatballs are pretty sticky, but that's OK because they're turkey and you need the extra moisture to ensure they don't dry out. Just get them roughly spherical and bake. No need for precision here.

Bake for 20 minutes. Throw them into the soup to continue cooking on simmer for another 10 minutes.

4. For the grilled cheese: I just so happen to have a panini press, but it's not needed really. If you use a griddle, use a griddle. If you use a frying pan, use a frying pan. Your way of making grilled cheese is the right way. The more cheese, the better. White cheddar, fontina, or mozzarella work well here.

Fingers crossed, readers. I'll keep you posted.


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