Posts Tagged 'appetizer'

Caramelized Sweet Onion Dip

Last Friday the snow had mostly melted, although it was still in the mid-30’s. I went out to see what will need to be done to clean up the garden for spring planting in April. To my amazement, things were growing under the snow. There was arugula and lettuce, and some scrawny green onions. But the biggest surprise was a whole row of carrots!
onion dip carrots
Mind you, it was mid-February. it has been down to 4 degrees at night, and is still regularly in the 20’s. How did these things survive! I made quick work of the carrots – they were amazingly sweet, crunchy and delicious. After I scarfed down a couple of them, I made myself a plate of veggies and dip to snack on.
onion dip with veggies
I have been looking for a non-fat onion dip. Mind you, you can make regular onion dip with non-fat sour cream and onion soup. But that is a bit salty, and it contains MSG, which I am trying to avoid. So I have been experimenting to come up with a tasty dip.  This dip is easy to make, and I expect you could add herbs and such to it. It is better if you refrigerate it for a day so the flavors mellow.  Now I have something to pack with my lunch veggies.

Caramelized Sweet Onion Dip

Cooking spray
1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla, Vidalia, or other kind)
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon onion powder
16 oz (2 cups) non-fat sour cream
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon soy sauce.

One big beautiful onion

One big beautiful onion

Coarsely slice the onion. Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray. Over medium heal, caramelize the onion by “steam “frying” (See HINT).
onion dip onions cooking
When the onions are golden brown, put them in the food processor and pulse a few times.

onions almost caramelized

onions almost caramelized

Add the salt, pepper, onion powder, and sour cream and process everything until well blended. Add the lemon juice and soy sauce. Process again for a bit. The texture will be a bit lumpy. Put in a container and refrigerate overnight. This has 0 grams of fat, and makes at least 8 quarter cup servings, although I usually just spoon it into a bowl and dip away. Its good with lower fat chips and crackers, too – but be sure to count those grams in your daily fat gram count.
onion dip

HINT: Often, the only reason you need a tablespoon of oil (14 grams of fat) in a recipe, is to brown onions.  But you really don’t need the oil. Spray a pan with cooking spray, heat over medium heat, and add onions or other vegetables. Stir frequently. Every little while, add  about 2 tablespoons of water and stir. Each time the pan gets dry, add a little more water, until the onions are the shade of golden brown you want. The trick is not to let them burn, and to be patient stirring and adding water.

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Hotel Potluck Adventure

Only a crazy person makes goodies for a potluck in her hotel room.  I have been traveling, and I wanted to check out a possible congregation to join when I move to Baltimore later this year. Online, it said that their service was to be preceded by a potluck. Taking this as a good sign (naturally I want lots of potlucks), I decided to attend. But I was staying in a hotel, seriously limiting my gourmet cooking capacity. And of course, I would NEVER just go out and buy a pre-made dish. Shame!

The hotel had a refrigerator, meaning something cold was in order. These stuffed peppers were more assembling than cooking. I bought a bag of those assorted multi-colored little sweet peppers, and three cheese spreads: artichoke garlic, sundried tomato, and cream cheese with chives. I also picked up some nice deli olives.  In my suitcase, I brought a small sharp knife, plastic spoons, and a few paper plates to use as cutting boards. I cut and cleaned the peppers in the bathroom sink, spread a bath towel on the coffee table and let the assembling begin.

I cut up bits of olive, and some thin bits of the peppers for decoration. I needed a sturdy tray, so I borrowed the square tray from under the hotel ice bucket – less than elegant, but utilitarian.

These probably have about 3 grams of fat/piece – I used lighter cheeses.

But then the fun began.  I looked up the address of the event, which was in a building called the Interfaith Center. I plugged the address into Helga, my GPS. Appropriately dressed and with a “home-made” offering, I sailed out into the dark and rainy night. Helga took me to a shopping center. When I roamed around trying to find anything that resembled an interfaith center, she shrieked “recalculating” in her stern and disapproving tone. For 40 minutes I roamed up and down Cradlerock Road, where said building was supposed to be. I was getting madder and madder. Finally, I grabbed my cell phone and called up Google to save me. Sure enough, it identified my position and pointed to a spot behind the shopping center and above a gas station and a McDonald’s. I honed in on my object.

There were several things going on in the building. I saw a room with people eating – Jews! Of course, by the time I got there, people were finishing off the remains of what had been there (it smelled good, though). They ate quite a few of the peppers leaving me with the remains for breakfast.

Phyllo-Wrapped Asparagus with Cheese

This recipe originally called for the asparagus to be wrapped in prosciutto before being wrapped in phyllo. But I was taking it to a Chanukah party, and prosciutto just won’t work for Jews. So I used a bit of Gruyere cheese in each one instead (I know, not anything like prosciutto, but it worked.)

The asparagus gets cooked, but stays crispy. I recommend not using very thick asparagus, since it might not cook enough. Also, once I snapped off the tough bottoms of the asparagus, some of them were kind of short, and didn’t stick out of the phyllo rolls very far. I suppose you could cut the sheets in quarters instead of thirds to remedy this, but I think they were quite nice as is.

This looks like much more work than it is, and has the well-known Wow factor for potlucks. It would be a great appetizer for New Years Eve or any other festive occasion. 60 of these disappeared in less than ½ hour to rave reviews.

Phyllo-Wrapped Asparagus with Cheese

3 ounces grated gruyere cheese
30 asparagus spears, trimmed (be sure to snap off tough ends)
10 (14 x 9-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450°. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Place 1 phyllo sheet on a work surface (cover remaining phyllo to prevent drying); [See Note]. Coat phyllo with cooking spray. Cut crosswise into thirds to form 3 (4 1/2 x 9–inch) rectangles.

Put a large pinch of cheese near the bottom of each phyllo strip. Put it primarily in the middle, so that it won’t ooze out when it is rolled. Note that I put it a little way up and not at the very bottom because I wanted to avoid cheese leakage.

Arrange 1 asparagus spear across short end of each rectangle on top of the cheese.

Roll up phyllo dough jelly-roll fashion. Arrange rolls on baking sheet; coat rolls with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining phyllo, cheese, asparagus, and cooking spray.

Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until phyllo is golden and crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 30 rolls, at about 1 gram of fat/roll.

NOTE: My secret technique for working with phyllo: Recipes always tell you to cover the remaining dough with a damp towel so it doesn’t dry out. I haven’t had much luck with this. My remaining dough gets soggy and tears. So I unroll the phyllo sheets completely and, when I take the first sheet off, I spray the next one down with cooking spray. Then I spray the first sheet I am working with. Repeat each time you remove a sheet of dough – it will stay moist enough, and you won’t have to spray it again when you are working with it.

A Platter of Pickles

I have been having an urge to make pickles. Not the kind of pickles that you put up in big jars using a canner – I used to make those pickles when I was doing more earth mother sorts of things. I even still have the canner and tools.  I have been thinking about quick pickles, the kind you mix up an hour and after sitting in their brine for an hour or overnight, they’re ready to go. I found several recipes for quick pickles in a recent Sunset magazine.  I made these to take to an office barbecue – a change from the usual potato salad and cole slaw.

The cucumber pickles were gone by the tie the barbecue was over – none left to take home.  I had carrot pickles left, and they kept surprisingly well for a week or so. When a friend came to dinner and I brought them out to snack on, they still had a lot of crunch.

Mustard and Ginger Pickled Carrots

10 to 12 medium carrots (about 2 lbs.)
2 cups distilled white vinegar
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons kosher salt
3 quarter-size thin slices fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 Tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

Peel carrots and cut into 1/4-in. matchsticks.

Bring 3 cups water and all ingredients except carrots to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 minute. Add carrots and simmer until almost tender, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer carrots and liquid to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Chill, covered, overnight to let flavors develop. Serve cold. Keeps, chilled, up to 1 week. Makes 6 cups with 0 grams of fat.

Sweet and Sour Cucumber and Red Onion Pickles

1 pound Persian or English cucumbers, ends trimmed
1/2 medium red onion, halved lengthwise
1 stalk fresh lemongrass (I used I Tablespoon lemon grass paste)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup Champagne vinegar (I used Zinfandel vinegar, which was all I had)

Slice cucumbers and onion very thinly on a mandoline or with a knife. Put both in a medium bowl. Peel tough outer layers from lemongrass and smash core with a meat mallet or back of a small heavy saucepan until flattened. Mince core and add to bowl (or use the paste that comes in a tube).

Whisk sugar, salt, coriander, pepper, and vinegar together. Pour over cucumber mixture and chill at least 1 hour, stirring gently a couple of times. Serve cold. Keeps, chilled, up to 1 day. Makes 3 ¼ cups at 0 grams of fat.

Smoked Trout Cups

There have finally been a few days dry enough for me to put my smoker out in front of the garage and have at the smoking. I will try to smoke almost anything! On this sunny morning I stoked the smoker with alder chips and I smoked 4 lamb shanks (more about them in a later post), a small pork tenderloin which I ate on sandwiches, and two fat trout. I admit, I “caught” the trout in the grocery store, but they were mighty tasty nonetheless. The first evening I shared the smoked trout with a friend, on crackers with cream cheese. The next morning I had it on a bagel. I decided to use the rest of the trout to make smoked trout salad, which I planned to have on crackers. Then I came upon these adorable little corn chip cups, called scoopers. I originally bought them to use with fresh salsa – the baked cups only have 3 grams of fat for 14 cups. Be sure you get the baked ones, though. The regular scoopers have a lot more fat.

At any rate, I proceeded to make the trout salad and fill the little cups. What a nice, easy, impressive little appetizer. I am going to experiment with more fillings for these little cups.

Smoked Trout Cups

4 ounces of smoked trout, bones and skin removed and chopped
2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon dried dill
2 Tablespoons non-fat sour cream
sea salt to taste
14 baked corn “scoops”

Mix trout, onion, dill, sour cream and salt thoroughly. Divide evenly among the scoops cups. Don’t fill the cups too far ahead of time; they get soggy.  You might also decorate each cup with a sprig of parley, sliver of radish or another garnish.  Makes 14 adorable and tasty smoked trout cups at just under 1 gram of fat/cup.

Experiments with Arthichokes Part 1: Steamed Artichokes

I have avoided cooking artichokes for a several reasons. They’re kind of scary looking – I mean in a strange and beautiful way.

I always wonder who ever discovered that they are at all edible, I mean looking at them, you don’t actually see something obvious to eat.  I can imagine the first hunter-gatherer’s conversation “trust me dear, it looks weird but its edible.”  In fact, there isn’t very much edible on the mature artichoke.  Which brings me to the other reason I haven’t made artichokes recently. My memory of making them many many years ago has to do with copious amounts of butter – or perhaps butter with a bit of lemon juice.  After cooking the artichoke, you sat around delicately peeling off each petal and dipping the fleshy end in melted butter, and then stripping each petal of its bit of edible flesh with your teeth while butter dripped down the chin, until you reached the soft, delectable heart. This was a rather lengthy and erotic activity to be shared with a friend, the details of which, for propriety’s sake, I shall not share here.

Artichokes, however, were bargain-priced at the supermarket, and they looked lovely in their weirdly beautiful way. So I bought two to see what could be done with them, sans copious amounts of butter, or necessarily, a friend.

Steamed Artichokes

Wash artichokes by plunging them up and down in cold water. Cut off the stem end, and trim about 1/2 inch from top of each artichoke. Remove any loose tough-looking bottom leaves. With scissors, trim away one-fourth of each outer leaf so that the sharp, often yellowed part is gone.

Rub top and edges of leaves of each artichoke with a lemon wedge to prevent discoloration (I more or less squeezed a quarter of the lemon over the artichokes.) Place artichokes in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add about 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat. Simmer 40 to 45 minutes or until leaves pull out easily. Remove the Artichokes from the pan. Spread leaves apart; remove fuzzy thistle center (choke) with a spoon. Count on one artichoke/person – the artichokes themselves have no fat. The fat is in any dip you use.

This what the inside of the artichoke looks like. The purple insides, tiny inner leaves, and fuzzy “hairs” are what needs to be removed.
This is what the inside looks like with the choke removed. The sturdy-looking part on the bottom is the heart, which you may have purchased canned or frozen as a separate vegetable.

Alternatively, you can eat your way around the artichoke, pulling off each petal, dipping it, and stripping off flesh with your teeth until you reach the choke, then cut away the fuzzy innards, leaving the sturdy artichoke heart at the bottom. Cut up the heart to dip and eat.

As a dipping sauce, I mixed ¼ cup of low fat mayonnaise with the juice of a lemon, garlic, and herbs, for about 2 grams of fat/serving. I think they would be good with a curry mayonnaise, too. I even think melting a couple of tablespoons of light butter would be good, and give you the butter dripping down the chin feeling. Just count the fat grams accordingly.

The True Adventures of Mock Chopped Liver

Each year my congregation has a community seder at Passover. About 80 people attend. We hire a caterer for the main course, but members are assigned traditional foods, such as the haroset or the matzoh balls to put in the soup.  This year they requested that I make my famous chopped liver, using my mother’s age-old recipe. But they also asked if I could possibly make a “mock” chopped liver for the vegetarians among us, or those who don’t like liver in any form.

Now I’m not sure why anyone would mock chopped liver. It is a high fat food of the gods, which should be treated with utmost respect.  And, I am not going to include the recipe for chopped liver as if it were healthy and low fat, although I’ll tell you the secret formula at the end of this post.  Just so you know the difference:

The chopped liver is to the left – the mock is to the right

But what would mock chopped liver consist of? I decided it should be essentially like chopped liver – braised onions lending their caramelized sweetness to the same mix of hard boiled eggs, chicken-flavor broth crystals and …what?  I decided to use mushrooms in place of the chicken livers, in the exact same proportion as the chopped liver.

The recipe is:

For each pound of mushrooms, sliced (I used ordinary button mushrooms) use
1 hard boiled egg
1 fairly large onion, sliced vertically
1 Tablespoon canola oil
Chicken-style (vegetarian) soup mix or bullion cubes (crushed) to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions until golden brown and somewhat caramelized.  Remove to a bowl. Add mushrooms to the same pan. Sauté  until soft and somewhat browned. Put onions, mushrooms, and egg through a food grinder. If you use a food processor instead of a grinder, pulse so that the mixture is coarse. Add soup mix to taste, mixing it in thoroughly. Makes 6 servings at 3 grams of fat/serving.  I actually thought the mock chopped liver, which is actually a mushroom pate, tasted better than the real thing – oh sacrilege! And I plan to make it again just to eat with crackers.

I actually think I could make this without any oil – just sauté the ingredients in a non-stick pan coated with cooking spray, adding hot water periodically to “steam fry” the onions and mushrooms. This is how I usually cook onions – without oil. You get the same rich caramelized taste. Then the mock chopped liver would only be about 1 gram of fat/serving.

But wait, I said there was an adventure. I made the mock chopped liver the day of the seder (the chopped liver had been made 2 days before). This meant I got up early and sautéed 6 onions and six pounds of mushrooms. This took several hours, because while I have a very large sauté pan, I still had to cook them in several batches. I confess I was working with some haste, so that I would have time to take a nice hot shower before driving to the seder location. I ground the mushrooms, eggs, and onions into the large metal bowl of my mixer. The bowl was very full. I then set the bowl aside while removing the grinder from the mixer so I could use it to mix the seasoning into the mock chopped liver. In my haste, I bumped the full bowl and it crashed to the hard kitchen floor. Miraculously, it landed upright, with most of the food in it. But the impact shot some of the contents out of the bowl …

Onto the floor
(I had already cleaned it off the wall, which was coated)

Onto the ceiling

On the wall above the refrigerator, which was across the room.

There was mushroom mix on cabinets, walls, random dishes, and other locations that reveal themselves daily. I hastily cleaned and headed for the hot shower.  I still haven’t figured out how to get it off the wall above the refrigerator.

So what am I – chopped liver?

There is no way you can make chopped liver low fat (I’ve tried), so you should make it once a year, eat it and enjoy, and give the leftovers to deserving people so it doesn’t tempt you from the refrigerator.

The reason it isn’t low fat is not only because it is made with chicken livers and eggs, but because the onions and livers are cooked in Chicken Fat! I render my own chicken fat. To render chicken fat (an ancient art practiced by my mother and grandmother) remove all the skin and fat from a large raw chicken. (Use the naked chicken for something else.) The skin and fat from one chicken makes enough fat for about 3-4 pounds of liver. Place the skin and fat into a large sauté pan, and cook slowly over a medium low heat for several hours until there is golden liquid fat in the pan, and crisp bits of skin, known as gribenes. Wikipedia says that gribenes are crisp chicken or goose skin cracklings somewhat similar to pork rinds. Gribenes are a byproduct of schmaltz (the Yiddish term for chicken fat) preparation.

When I was young, my mother would fish these bits of skin out of the pan onto a paper towel to drain, and then sprinkle the hot gribenes with salt for anxious children to grab as snacks. My advice is to nibble one…and then speedily put them in the garbage or feed them to your dogs, or whatever it takes to get the addictive little bits out of the house. I rendered enough chicken fat to freeze some for next year.

Once you have the chicken fat, follow the same proportions and procedure as for the mock chopped liver, substituting the liver for the mushrooms. I usually use the same pan I rendered the fat in, and cook it all in one day.


ABOUT KAREN

I have lost 200 pounds. I did not do it through surgery – I don’t like knives and needles – or by joining a club, vigorous exercise, or rigorous dieting. I did it by gourmet cooking. To be precise, by cooking low fat, really delicious food. I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Food magazines are some of my favorite reading. I would feel deprived if I couldn’t have the sensuous experience of good food crossing my lips. This blog is about my perpetual feast, my passionate love of food, with recipes, photos, and occasional advice and principles that I have learned along the way.

More about me.

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