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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

Two pounds of jalapeños. Two pounds. They were leftover from a project and I had no plan on what to do with them. Various breads and other recipes used one or two, not nearly enough to make a dent in the pile. I had a pantry full of salsa so that was out. Someone had just given me a jar of pickled jalapeños and lord knows I didn’t need anymore. I was fully stocked with hot sauce. Jalapeño poppers were a thought but I had a better idea. What if I candied them? Sweet-hot is a wonderful thing.

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I come from a family of great eaters. We cook – and eat – up a storm over the holidays but I have a cousin who typically doesn’t like what we serve. He’s not one for oysters or clams or herring so we usually buy some sort of frozen appetizer to get him through the first course of Christmas dinner. This year we found some fancy pigs in a blanket things at the grocery store and threw them in the cart. Everyone likes a pig in a blanket, right? Turns out, we were very right. My sister saw the box and wanted one. I’m pretty sure my dad sneaked one off the baking sheet before I had a chance to plate them. Everyone wanted one. Completely understandable – what’s not to like about mini hot dogs wrapped in pastry and baked until hot and crispy?

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I took a little break from ye ‘ol blog last week, mainly to recover from holiday cookie overload. Between the 12 Days of Cookies here, my own personal cookie baking and holiday cooking/entertaining in general, I needed a bit of time away from the kitchen. But then I read something quite wonderful over the weekend. Were you aware that yesterday was National Tempura Day? Yeah, so apparently, that’s a thing. In terms of strange, made up food holidays, I am on board with this one. I often think that if there is a professional (or even amateur) contest for eating shrimp tempura, I should enter. And win. I can really down some shrimp tempura. Maybe I can be the Joey Chestnut of Japanese fried shrimp. (leave it to YouTube to find one.) But what’s with the 2 shrimp per order thing? Grrrrrrrr. Japanese restaurants should take a cue from fried fish shacks and sell them by the pound. That would be a dream. A slightly greasy paper bag of hot, crispy tempura shrimp? Yes please. (Shrimp Tempura? Tempura Shrimp? Beats me.)

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Now that the holiday entertaining season is in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot of about some new appetizer ideas. Last week I posted some really great antipasto squares, a mix of Italian meats and cheeses sandwiched between crispy layers of pastry. Delicious! This week at a friends Thanksgiving festivities, I actually squealed when he put out a platter of stuffed mushrooms. They are one of my favorites and while I tend to favor a traditional sausage stuffed mushroom, to be honest, I’ll go for any damn kind you put in front of me. I started thinking about a new spin and having made french onion soup a few weeks back, I thought that might make a good stuffing – caramelized onions and melted cheese. Brilliant.

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Folks, the season is upon us. From here on out it’s all eating and drinking and nibbling and grazing. Dig out your elastic waistband pants and find all those wine bottle sized gift bags you’ve been hoarding all year. It’s also time to think about some good recipes – things to serve, things to bring, things to gift. Holiday-ish recipes that are delicious and festive, impressive but not too complicated or time consuming. (Nothing will crush your holiday spirit more than holiday stress.) As much as I love a pinecone cheeseball, I needed some new ideas for festive appetizers that rang all those bells but let’s be real, are there any truly new appetizer ideas or has everything been done to death? I started googling and came upon several “lists” – compilations of the best holiday appetizers to make this season. Nothing really blew me over (how many version of meatballs can there be??) but one did intrigue me … Antipasto Squares.

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Back in the day, when I was a corporate young’un, I would often meet a friend for lunch at a nearby restaurant where we would commiserate about our horrible clients and general misery. She’d call me from her office with urgency – “11:30. Houston’s.” This was usually around 11:15 so I would run the few blocks over to the restaurant to get a big cozy booth just before the lunch rush. We always ordered the same thing: hot spinach artichoke dip and off-the-menu chicken club salads, easily the two best things on (or off) the menu. Then one day the restaurant closed, replaced with a fancy boutique hotel and it’s corresponding hip restaurant serving $29 burgers. We found other lunch mainstays but none had spinach dip like that. I miss that spinach dip.

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A few months ago, suffering from a terrible bout of jetlag, I decided to sort and rearrange my cookbook collection. I purposely avoided counting them (some things just don’t need to be known) but let’s just say I have a lot. In the course of sorting, I found quite a few I haven’t cracked in years and were happy reintroductions, others left me perplexed as to why I had them and yet others made me laugh out loud. One of the later was The Northern Exposure Cookbook: A Community Cookbook From the Heart of the Alaskan Riviera. I’m sure it was a gift though I don’t recall from who. I loved that 90’s show about small town Cicely, Alaska and all the characters that lived there. Plus DJ Chris Stevens was hot. (When has John Corbett not been hot?) While the DVDs are readily available, the show doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere. That’s a shame.

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