Monday, August 17, 2015

Homemade Caesar Salad Dressing

My parents used to be members of a pretty exclusive dining club.  It was the location of my fabulous wedding reception and I have many fond memories of joining my folks for a celebratory dinner at the Town Point Club.  One of the special touches of the Club was that the servers made the dressing for their wonderful Caesar dressings at the table.  We had our favorite server, who would add a little extra garlic for our garlic-loving family, and I loved watching her whip up the dressing, mixing together just the right ratio of each ingredient.  Bottled dressings are certainly convenient, and I love Ken's Caesar dressing (both the creamy and vinaigrette versions), but for a special meal, homemade is the way to go!  Since you're going to the trouble, use quality olive oil and parmesan; it really does make a difference in this classic.  Enjoy!

1 egg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped anchovy fillets
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup quality olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Crack the egg into a small bowl.  Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, vinegar, anchovies, and garlic and whisk to combine well.  Gradually whisk in the olive oil.  Stir in the grated cheese.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Adjust flavors to taste (sometimes I add extra garlic or cheese).

Recipe adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Bride and Groom Cookbook, by Gayle Pirie and John Clark.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

This Month: Seafood Soirée

This time last year, I was gearing up to graduate from Nursing School.  As a graduation present, my mama treated me to a Girly Getaway to Charleston, South Carolina, which was a new destination for me.  I did a ton of research deciding where we should eat, what we should see, and must-have items that I just had to buy while I was in the low country!  The hotel where we stayed had a fabulous rooftop bar where we'd enjoy cocktails and snacks each evening.  On our second night there, Mama suggested we try the mussels, but then, worried that I wouldn't like them at all, she changed her mind.  I looked at the menu, and with an adventurous sparkle in my eye, told my mom, "Yes, let's try the mussels!"  Well, I was hooked and loved them.  When I returned home to Northern Virginia, I couldn't wait to make them for my husband as a special treat.  Fearing he wouldn't like them (guess I really am like my mama!) I saved the meal for when we had guests so he wouldn't be able to complain.  Turns out I was worried over nothing; he loved the meal and couldn't wait to have them again!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Jalapeno Popper Dip

I don't know about you, but jalapeno poppers are one of my favorite snacks.  The only problem is that they can be kind of a pain to make...  Enter this dip.  It has all the flavors, serves a crowd, reheats well, and is so good I could eat it with a spoon all by itself.  I've made this as written below, and I've also made it using reduced fat cream cheese, mayo, and cheddar.  I think I actually prefer the reduced fat version, since it's not so heavy as to turn quickly into a meal substitute!!  Either way, this dip is delish, and your guests, guys and gals alike, will love it!!

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
4-ounce can diced jalapeños
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cups Panko
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fritos and chopped veggies, for dipping

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheddar, chilies, peppers and 1/4 cup Parmesan until blended. Spoon into an ungreased 1-1/2-qt. baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the panko, oil and remaining Parmesan. Sprinkle over cheese mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20-25 min. or until golden brown.

Serve hot, with Fritos and veggies for dipping!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Devils on Horseback

This dish is the perfect starter for just about any type of get-together.  It's classic, yet simple.  It's different, but not so exotic people are afraid of it.  The ingredients are pretty easy to find in any grocery, and the dish comes together in about 15 minutes, making it the perfect solution for a last-minute hors d'oeuvre!  It tastes good warm or at room temperature, and even slightly chilled.  And I promise these little bites of deliciousness will be gobbled up in no time at all!!

24 pecan halves
24 pitted dates
8 slices bacon, cut into thirds
1-1 1/2 cups mango chutney

Preheat the oven to 400.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Insert a pecan half into each date.  Wrap with bacon, and place, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until bacon is crisp, 10-12 minutes.  Drain on a paper towel.  Serve with mango chutney for dipping.

Recipe adapted from The Comfort Table, by Katie Lee.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Month: Bunco Night!

I live in the suburbs, drive an SUV, and I play Bunco. Every month, my Bunco group gets together for a couple of hours of ladies-only, no kids (or husbands) girl time fun. We roll the dice, drink wine, catch up, and laugh the evening away. With twelve ladies in the group, we all chip in each month. The hostess provides dessert and paper goods. Each of the remaining ladies contribute either a bottle of wine or an hors d'oeuvre to share.  I try to always mix up what I bring, opting to stay away from familiar chips and dips if I can help it.  This month, I'll be sharing a few of my recent contributions, and hope to inspire you in the next dish you bring to share at a game night, pot luck, or book club get together!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Peanut Butter Bars with Chocolate Ganache

Everyone loves dessert and these rich chocolatey bars are no different.  First of all, they boast my personal favorite flavor combo of peanut butter and chocolate.  Secondly, they're wonderfully decadent whether served at room temperature, chilled, or slightly warmed with a big glass of cold milk.  They're easy to put together and even easier to pack up, making them the perfect "non brownie" dessert to complete a meal for a neighbor in need...or maybe your husband who claims the whole tray so he can have treats at the office all week!

1 1/4 cups creamy peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup syrup
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
12 ounces milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

Cream peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy.  Add syrup, eggs, and vanilla and beat until combined.  Add flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until just combined.  Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake bars until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes.  Let cool completely, about 1 hour, before topping.

To make the ganache topping, heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming.  Add chocolate chips and whisk until smooth.  Remove from heat and pour over bars.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.  Let ganache set up for about an hour before cutting into bars.

To make it travel-ready:  Simply bake these yummy bars in a foil pan.  No muss, no fuss!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Greek Salad

My mom and I went to Athens for my 16th Birthday.  I'm fairly certain we ate Greek Salad for every single meal...and I'm not complaining.  Ever since, I've been a huge fan of the stuff.  In Greece, the salads were simple bowls of large chunks of the produce.  Huge wedges of tomato, large chunks of cucumber, and whole olives.  And ever since I've been on the hunt for the perfect Greek vinaigrette recipe.  This one comes pretty close, though I never make it the same way twice.  Just continue to taste and adjust according to your preference.  You'll have enough dressing for a few salads, so just store in the fridge!

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
minced fresh mint, optional
1 heart of romaine, torn
1 cucumber, halved and sliced into half-moons
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/3 - 1/2 cup thinly sliced purple onion
12 ounces feta cheese, crumbled into large chunks
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and drained

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, garlic, salt, and vinegar.  Taste and adjust the flavors to your preference.  Add in some fresh mint if you like, but I prefer it without.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Combine the lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, cheese, and olives.   Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine.

To make it travel-ready:  Pour the dressing in a pint-sized mason jar.  Just shake it well before dressing your salad.  Lettuce can be transported in gallon-sized zip-lock bags.  Depending on how close your delivery is to meal time, you can either put the veggies and cheese in the same bag as the lettuce, or use smaller separate bags to keep veggies fresh and prevent mushiness.  Using grape tomatoes, rather than dicing a roma (or other variety) will prevent them from getting soft before serving.

Recipe adapted from Delicious Salad Meals by Dot Vartan.