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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

Queso. Chile con Queso. Cheese Dip. As a kid we called it Dip Dip. Whatever you call it, it’s damn good. We all know this. And we all know one other thing, though some may be ashamed to admit it. Skip the real cheese. It has to be made with melty, smooth processed cheese. Yes, the beloved Velveeta. This is not the place for fancy cheese. I’ve tried. Boy have I tried. I may make macaroni & cheese with a béchamel and handfuls upon handfuls of sharp cheddar but when it comes to queso, I track down the Velveeta. Because that’s just what it needs to be.

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Pan con tomate. Pa amb tomàquet. Or, simply put, tomato toast. Crusty bread, juicy tomato, maybe a hint of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. That’s all there is to it. Summer in a few bites. When the tomatoes are bursting to the point of juicy ridiculousness and its too damn hot to think about doing much, this is what you make. When done properly, you’ll wonder why you eat anything else.

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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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