Tag Archives: appetizer

Louisiana Style Soup

During the summer months I often have a taste for gumbo or jambalaya but those dishes can be a little heavy. So, to compensate and satisfy my taste buds, I will make a Louisiana Style Soup in warmer weather. This soup is much lighter than gumbo or jambalaya but it has similar flavors.

Creole food is the soul food of the south mid-west. Creole cooking is a blend of French, Spanish, Caribbean, West African, Portuguese and several other country cuisines. While Cajun dishes originate from a style of cooking by French speaking Acadians that were exiled to Louisiana. (a partial history lesson). Many people think there is no difference between Creole and Cajun foods but there really is a difference. The biggest difference is that Creole cuisines use tomatoes in most dishes while Cajun cuisines do not. Another difference is how each prepares a roux or thickening for dishes like jambalaya. A Creole roux is made with butter and flour while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour. It may not sound like a big difference but it is when you are talking about flavors.

One more interesting tidbit about Creole vs. Cajun dishes is that Creole cooking is considered “city” food while Cajun cooking is considered “country” food. Hmmm… that may explain why hubby really likes Creole cooking while I enjoy Cajun foods. He is more of a city boy who loves tomatoes while I am a country girl at heart who just loves food.

Louisiana Style Soup

Ingredients:

1 pkg spicy ground sausage

1 cup frozen okra

1 cup frozen baby lima beans

1 cup corn cut off the cob or frozen corn

1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes

2 scallions diced

1 celery stalk diced

1 small green pepper diced

1 small white onion diced

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground ginger

Brown spicy ground sausage in a large pot over medium heat. Remove from pot and drain on paper towels. Add butter to the pan along with green pepper, celery and onion. Season with salt and black pepper then saute for a few minutes until vegetables soften.

Add remaining ingredients to the pot along with sausage. Stir to blend then reduce heat and let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Serve with rice or top with garlic croutons.

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Prawns and Avocado

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, my hubby and I enjoyed a delicious lunch appetizer called Prawns and Avocado. I was hesitant to order the dish at first because I sometimes have a reaction to shrimp but I decided to give it a try. Boy was I glad I did. The appetizer was so refreshing.

The dices of avocado were fresh and the prawns were soft and sweet. I have to admit it was difficult sharing the appetizer with hubby after I took the first bite. Fortunately for hubby, I love him dearly so I did share two pieces. After we both looked at the empty plate we agreed I should try replicating the appetizer once we got back home. I wasn’t able to get the exact recipe from the chef so I recreated Prawns and Avocado from a photo I took with my phone. Yes, it looked so appetizing and tasted so good I took a picture before we gobbled them all up.

My version of Prawns and Avocado is not quite like the wonderful dish we enjoyed in Puerto Rico but it is pretty darn close. There definitely is a difference between the shrimp I get at the local market but the flavor is similar.

Remembering how the appetizer was described on the menu helped me keep the recipe simple. Prawns (shrimp), avocado, red onion, lime juice and cilantro was all I needed to make this tasty treat pop!

Ahhh…. the memories.

Prawns and Avocado

Ingredients:

½ avocado diced

½ lb medium cooked shrimp cut in half

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp fresh cilantro chopped

1 tbsp red onion diced small

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

3 dashes hot sauce

1 baguette or ciabatta bread sliced

Place shrimp in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, red onion, cilantro, lime juice and hot sauce. Stir to mix. Set aside.

Place avocado in a medium sized bowl along with lemon juice and a pinch of season salt. Mash the avocado until smooth but leave a few chunky pieces. Spread avocado over bread slices. Top with shrimp mixture. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

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Kicked Up Mussels

The other day I was watching an old episode of the Barefoot Contessa about a seafood salad she was making for a friend and it included mussels. That got me to thinking about an old mussel recipe I had but never really tweaked. Since I needed a new post idea I decided I would work on creating a Kicked Up Mussels recipe.

Both my hubby and I love seafood and besides eating a lot of chicken we eat a lot of fish. Once in a while I will throw together a shrimp or scallop meal if I have the ingredients. That is one of the issues I have in creating new meals during the week. It is too easy to keep using over and over again the same ol’ staples I keep in the pantry. Preparing a special meal takes planning and sometimes calls for an extra trip to the grocery store. Because I work full-time I don’t always have a lot of time to be creative with dinner. However, I have been known to have a burst of creativity now and again if I have not had a tough day at work. The weekends are really the best time for me to test out recipes and take my time to fashion a new recipe or try an old recipe with a new twist.

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Okay, back to the Kicked Up Mussels. I had to search a couple of my old recipe journals to find my mussel recipe and was happy to discover it was a pretty simple one. My original recipe called for beer instead of white wine like most other recipes. I could not remember if this was a good idea or bad idea. But hey, I use beer in a few of my recipes and I have not heard any complaints yet so I guessed it was a good idea. Since I was using beer instead of wine I had to find a nice light beer with a hint of citrus flavors rather than a dark beer which I thought would be heavy. I am not a beer drinker so my apologies to true beer drinkers if I don’t know what I am talking about. I did a little research by perusing the beer isle at a local liquor store with a large variety of beers. I landed on Namaste White which is by Dogfish Head Brewery located in Delaware.

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As a non-beer drinker I must say I enjoyed taking a swig of Namaste White after adding most of it to the mussels. The combination of orange, lemongrass and coriander in the beer along with the brininess of the mussels and aromatic herbs was genius. All right. I may not be a genius but the combination of flavors was genius. I will even go as far as to say my recipe would be welcomed in any 4 star restaurant. The proof is in the pudding. You be the judge and try it out.

Kicked Up Mussels

Ingredients:

2 dozen mussels cleaned

3 plum or tomatoes diced

3 cloves garlic chopped

2 shallots diced

1 jalapeno pepper seeded and diced

1 Namaste White beer

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp parsley

½ tsp thyme

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

pinch of salt

pinch of black pepper

Clean mussels by running them under cold water and gently scrub them if necessary to remove dirt from the shells.  Use a knife to remove the fuzzy beard if present. Arrange mussels in a large skillet. Set aside while sauteing tomatoes.

Place olive oil in a medium sized non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic shallots, jalapeno pepper and tomatoes. Season with salt, black pepper and thyme. Stir then saute for 2 minutes. Move mussels to heat and pour tomato mixture and beer over mussels. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and shake to mix tomatoes and mussels. Cover and cook for 3 minutes until mussels pop open. Discard any mussels that do not open. Sprinkle with parsley before serving. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the delicious sauce.

Tip: Cultivated mussels vs. wild mussels. 

If you purchase wild mussels, they may be a little gritty which means your mussels will be crunchy.  To make sure you remove any sand from the mussels dissolve about 1/4 cups of salt and 2 cups of warm in a large pot along with 2 tbsp of flour or cornmeal.  Add the mussels then cover with water.    Soak for 1 – 2 hours.  Drain then rinse the mussels with cold water.  Most mussels you find in the grocery store are cultivated and do not contain a lot of sand or grit so there may not be a need to soak the mussels.  Just clean the shells. To be on the safe side I would soak the mussels as I described.

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Panzanella Salad

I had never heard of a Panzanella Salad until I saw a cooking challenge on television. The amateur chef was Italian and decided to make a Panzanella Salad because ingredients were limited and time was short. After all, it was a challenge.

Salads in general don’t take long to pull together and Panzanella Salad fits that bill. The most time consuming part of making this salad is crisping up the bread cubes. Of course, if you are really short on time you could use prepared toasted bread cubes or even croutons. In a pinch use whatever is quick. I like crisping up my own bread cubes because I like to use different types of bread when making this salad. Ciabatta, sour dough bread or even a french baguette are a few of my favorites. One day I want to try and use cornbread but I am afraid it may come out mushy. I will let you know once I figure it out.

I took a few liberties with my version of Panzanella Salad by adding vegetables not included in the traditional versions (there are many versions of the traditional salad in the universe). The straight forward version does not use peppers or meat. I wanted the salad to be colorful since we often eat with our eyes. My family and I are meat eaters. Plain and simple. We love veggies and can go a few days without eating meat but we always go back to eating fish, fowl, pork and sometimes beef. I offer no apologies to my vegetarian friends. Adding meat is optional.

Like I always say …. make this recipe your own. I did!

Panzanella Salad

Ingredients:

2 – 3 cups cubed ciabatta, sour dough bread or french baguette

3 pearl tomatoes cut into wedges

3 slices prosciutto torn into pieces (optional)

1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 English cucumber

3 oz fresh mozzarella torn into pieces

3 oz fresh feta cubed

½ red pepper seeded and cut into chunks

½ yellow pepper seeded and cut into chunks

½ orange pepper seeded and cut into chunks

½ cup kalamata olives pitted

¼ cup red onion thinly sliced

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese (garnish)

4 tbsp olive oil

Dressing:

½ cup olive oil

½ cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic minced

1tsp salt

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp ground black pepper

pinch red pepper flakes

Place ingredients into a small jar and shake to blend. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and allow to crisp up but not toast. Shake and toss the bread cubes to make sure they do not burn. Let cool and set aside.

Cut cucumber in half and scoop out the center then cut the cucumber into chunks. Place vegetables in a large bowl. Add prosciutto, feta, mozzarella cheese pieces and bread cubes. Shake dressing then pour over salad and gently toss to combine all the ingredients. Set salad aside for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours so that the flavors blend together. Sprinkle with shaved parmesan cheese for garnish.

 

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Crostini Delights

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Not too long ago I was watching an episode of the Sandwich King on the Food Network channel and he gave me an idea for a recipe. Granted, his version of a steak crostini was much more high end than mine but I would put my Crostini Delights up against his any day. No Jeff Mauro, that is not a challenge.

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My family is not big on eating beef so making a light dish with a little beef was right up my alley. Crostini Delights can easily be adapted to whatever you like on slices of french bread. Before I made my Crostini Delights for my hubby he only raved about having bruschetta which I layered on thin slices of french bread. Now, he raves about the “Delights”.

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On the Sandwich King, the host flashed fried thin slices of filet mignon and built layers of meat, pesto, rosemary, gorgonzola cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes. Like I said, his version is high end. My version uses deli slices of London broil instead of filet mignon which still has great flavor and is very tender. To make the crostinis my own I paired different ingredients to create a melt in your mouth treat. Put this recipe on the list for your next dinner party as an appetizer and I am sure your guests will be raving about the great taste of the Crostini Delights.

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Crostini Delights

 Ingredients:

1 thin crusty french bread loaf

½ lb deli sliced London broil

¼ lb sliced provolone cheese

2 Roma tomatoes sliced then cut in half

½ cup gorgonzola cheese

¼ cup BBQ sauce

basil leaves

olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice entire french bread loaf at an angle to create bite sized pieces of sliced. Drizzle olive oil over each slice of bread. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 5-8 minutes until bread is lightly browned. Remove from oven.

While bread is baking, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pour BBQ sauce around the bottom of the pan then add the slices of London broil. Quickly toss the meat in the warm pan until well coated with sauce. Turn off heat.

Once the bread is lightly browned layer each slice with gorgonzola cheese, London broil, a basil leaf, two pieces of tomato then top with a little provolone cheese. Place back in the oven for a few minutes until the provolone cheese melts. Serve immediately.

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White Bean Chicken Soup

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OMGoodness! It is COLD today so what better time to make a big pot of soup. That is exactly what I said to myself on the way to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few items for dinner. I might not have felt so chilled if I had cranked up the heat in the car but that still would not have warmed me on the inside. To make that happen I needed a nice bowl of homemade soup.

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My choice was either chicken noodle soup or a White Bean Chicken soup. I planned to have spaghetti the next day for dinner so chicken noodle soup was out and White Bean Chicken soup was in. Keep in mind I did not have a recipe for White Bean Chicken soup but not having an actual recipe has never stopped me from cooking. So, while strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s I made up the recipe that would become “the soup”.

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Most soups are pretty easy to make. They are a one pot dish that only needs a little tender love and care and lots of seasoning. Because it was freezing outside I was in the mood for a healthy, hearty soup. I figured the white beans and chicken would make it hearty plus filling with lots of protein while the mirepoix and cabbage would make it healthy. Did I just hear someone say what the heck is mirepoix? Yes, I did. It was my hubby. He asked me this question while I was writing down the recipe when I got home. I was talking out loud to myself trying to remember how to spell mirepoix and hubby asked “What the heck is that?” When I told him it was diced carrots, onions and celery he said “Why don’t you just say that?” My response was I wanted to sound fancy like the chefs on TV. I know. It is always better to keep it simple.

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Simply put, White Bean Chicken Soup is comfort food. Whether it is freezing cold outside or you want a flavorful homemade meal in a bowl, this soup will do the trick.

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White Bean Chicken Soup

 Ingredients:

3 cans cannellini beans rinsed

1pkg sliced pepper chicken

1 container mirepoix (diced onions, celery and carrots)

6 cups low sodium chicken broth

2 cups chopped cabbage

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tbsp Adobo

1 tsp thyme

½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp black pepper

½ tsp lemon pepper

Shred chicken and set aside. Mash ½ cup of white beans (this will help soup to thicken) and set aside with remaining beans.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add mirepoix and seasonings to the pot and stir. Allow the vegetables to sweat for 3 – 5 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and add white beans then stir. Reduce heat to medium. Mix a spoonful of broth into the measured heavy cream. Add the mixture to the pot. Stir and let simmer 3 minutes.

Place chicken in the pot and stir. Cook for 20 minutes then add chopped cabbage. Stir to mix in the cabbage. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes until cabbage is softened and cooked through. Serve with crackers or crusty bread.

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Roasted Tomato Salad

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Fruits and vegetables all have a “season”.  Meaning, there are certain times of the year when fruits and vegetables are at their best and taste fantastic. Living on the east coast, I find tomatoes are at their best during the summer and early fall months. I grow a lot of different types of tomatoes in the summer and miss them when they are gone.

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Of course, just because the seasons change it does not mean you cannot get good tasting vegetables. However, you have to be careful because “out of season” vegetables like tomatoes can lack flavor and may not have a nice texture inside. Even tomatoes imported from warmer climates may not live up to east coast summer tomatoes. For that reason, I sometimes like to roast tomatoes to bring out their natural sweetness. Roasted Tomato Salad is wonderful because the roasted tomatoes add a nice kick of flavor to the salad.

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My Roasted Tomato Salad is nutritious and full of savory and slightly sweet flavors. Salads are a very personal dish because you can combine all of your favorite vegetables, fruits, nuts and meats. Or, you can keep it simple with only lettuce and roasted tomatoes.

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Roasted Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

2 bunches romaine lettuce chopped

6 -8 plum tomatoes cut into wedges

3 slices prosciutto chopped (optional)

½ red onion sliced thinly

¼ cup black olives

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

¼ cup Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss tomatoes with red onion slices and season with olive oil, salt, black pepper and oregano. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray and then spread tomatoes and onions on the cookie sheet. Roast for 30 – 45 minutes until browned and/or slightly charred (based on your preference). Let cool for 10 minutes.

Toss cooled roasted tomatoes with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Serve as a main dish or nice appetizer.

 

 

 

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Tomato Soup

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My Tomato Soup is not like your popular brand of canned tomato soup. It is much better. At least that is what my hubby thinks. After eating two bowls of my Tomato Soup he proclaimed it was the best soup I had made to date and he enjoys all of my homemade soups.

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Using a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes makes this soup tasty and gives it texture. I like smooth soups but I also enjoy soups with a little texture which lets you know what kind of soup you are eating.

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A good test of whether or not a soup is blog worthy for me is if I want to dip a sandwich into it. At the very least, a good test is if I want to take that last piece of bread and run it around the bowl to get every last bit of soup. By those standards this soup was fantastic! Not only did I dip my sandwich into it, I licked my fingers to get the few drops that landed there after dipping. Yum! Yum!

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Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

6 large vine ripened or plum tomatoes peeled

1 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes

1 14 oz can spicy red tomatoes

2 scallions sliced

½ red onion sliced

½ white onion sliced

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese

½ cup ½ and ½

¼ cup heavy cream

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp seasoned salt

1 tbsp dried basil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dried parsley

½ tsp lemon pepper

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp thyme

½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp dried dill weed

pinch of sugar.

Boil about 4 cups of water. Place fresh tomatoes in a large pot and pour boiling water over tomatoes for easy peeling.  Rough chop the tomatoes.

Place peeled tomatoes and all other ingredients except the Parmesan cheese, heavy cream and ½ and ½ into a large pot. Simmer over medium heat for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from the heat. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until it is smooth but still has some texture. You can also place the tomato mixture into a blender to smooth out the veggies then place back into the pot.

Stir in heavy cream and ½ and ½. Place pot back on the heat and reduce heat to medium low. Add parmesan cheese to the pot and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until the cheese melts and is incorporated into the soup. Simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Serve with a nice crusty piece of bread to sop up all the tomato soup goodness!

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Hot Pepper Relish

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I have said in my blog posts on many occasions that my family loves spicy foods. Actually, that is an understatement at least for my hubby and kids. I like some spice but not as hot as they do.

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Every year I grow a variety of peppers and each year they seem to be more plentiful. This year was no different and as the farmers say “We had a bumper crop” of peppers. The sunlight on our porch is just right for my pots of peppers and cherry tomatoes. Whenever I try to grow veggies in the backyard, the veggies shrivel up and died no matter how much tender love and care I give them. I guess there are too many trees casting shade so not enough sunlight reaches the plants. This year I bought several types of hot peppers along with bell peppers for my hubby because he likes to cut them up on his eggs and uses them in salsa.

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Because we had so many peppers I had to come up with a new recipe since I did not want all of those peppers to go to waste. I already had enough pepper sauce courtesy of my mom but I did not have a something spicy to use as a topping for chicken, beef, vegetables and hubby’s eggs. The only thing I could come up with was a Hot Pepper Relish. At least that is what I call it. Hubby wanted me to call the recipe Ed’s Pepper Hots but that just did not roll off of my tongue. Relish is a better description and to make sure I was not totally off base I checked out the local grocery store to see if they had pepper relishes. They did.

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This recipe is not for the faint of heart. The peppers I used were so hot I could still smell the pepper juice on my fingers after washing them in really hot water several times. Yes, I would suggest wearing gloves when you cut up the peppers and no, I did not. Big mistake and I will not make it again. The next time I make Hot Pepper Relish I will add a few milder peppers to balance out the heat so that I can enjoy it too. For now, hubby is thoroughly enjoying the Hot Pepper Relish and is adding it to everything.

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Hot Pepper Relish

Ingredients:

8 – 12 fresh hot peppers seeded and diced small (hot cow horn, jalapeno, hot banana)

6 cherry tomatoes quartered

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp red onion diced small

1 tsp cilantro

½ tsp dill weed

sprinkle of salt and pepper

juice from ½ a lime

Place all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Spoon into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to marinate. Serve with your favorite chips or use as a condiment with your favorite foods.

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Lentil Stew

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Don’t ask me why but I have had lentils on my mind for the past week. I think it was because I wanted to make some red lentil soup and discovered I didn’t have any lentils. Since I usually find them at Trader Joe’s I had to wait until my weekend ritual of running errands to be on that side of town. Once I got to the store and spotted the red lentils I also spotted green lentils which made me think of a Lentil Stew. Again, I don’t know why.

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Sometimes my imagination kicks in and I just come up with ideas for combinations of food. For the Lentil Stew I thought of carrots, potatoes and tomatoes as the right combination of vegetables to add to the lentils to make a stew. Yes, a stew not a soup. To me, stews are a little heartier than a soup even more than those soups that are thick and packed with vegetables. Stews have a slightly different consistency than soups and are surrounded by a kind of gravy. In the case of Lentil Stew it makes its own gravy.

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Lentil Stew is the type of dish I would make during the winter or on chilly fall days. Granted, the day I first made this stew it was not really chilly but there was a nice gentle breeze. Now that I have tested out the recipe, I know what I will be preparing it quite often when the gentle breezes turn into strong cold winds.

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Lentil Stew

Ingredients:

1 pkg green lentils (soak overnight in cold water then drain)

½ cup red lentils (optional)

½ cup shredded carrots (slightly chop)

2 cans roasted diced tomatoes

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup water

2 small potatoes diced

2 scallions diced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp minced garlic

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp basil

¼ tsp ground ginger

Add lentils and water to a large pot. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to medium low. Let simmer while preparing vegetables.

In a large frying pan add olive oil and potatoes over medium high heat. Season potatoes with a little salt and pepper. Saute potatoes until slightly browned. Reduce heat to medium then add onions, carrots, tomatoes and remaining seasonings to the potatoes. Stir and allow veggies to soften. Add veggies and chicken broth to lentils and stir. Allow stew to simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Taste to determine if you need more salt. Add additional broth if stew is too thick.

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