Posts Tagged 'potluck'

Sweet Potato Salad

Two weekends ago was our community clean up day. We resourceful residents rise early of a Saturday, don our sweats and gloves, pick up our big white trash bags, and get to work cleaning the roadsides up and down the hills of our semi-rural community. Usually, it’s a crisp sunny spring day, but this has been a soggy April and the day dawned with a steady cold drizzle. My neighbor, who is in her 70s, and I questioned our sanity as we shivered along picking up the beer cans and bottles that had been strewn along the mountainside road in front of our homes. Since our road overlooks the city, weekend nights see cars parked along the road, with people looking at the lights…or whatever else people do in parked cars on weekend nights, and tossing their beverage containers out their windows.  At any rate, by the time we dropped off our filled bags at the designated corner, we were both ready to go home and warm up before we picked up the salads we made for the post clean up potluck.

This salad originally appeared in the AARP magazine. I thought it would be a little different than ordinary potato salad, and have a bit more color.  The instructions said to bake the sweet potatoes for an hour, but in my opinion, that made them too mushy. The pieces did not maintain their shape well.  I think 45 minutes is more than enough. You could even microwave them until just soft.

I made a double recipe because I was taking it to a potluck. But the rain kept a lot of people away, so I had lots of leftovers. As an experiment, I reheated one serving as a sweet potato side dish. It worked very well, although the celery remained crisp, and that texture was a little different – but still good.

Sweet Potato Salad

4 small sweet potatoes
1/4 cup low fat mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon mustard (I used Dijon)
4 celery stalks, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
½ of a 20 ounce can of pineapple tidbits, drained
2 scallions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
Chopped fresh chives (optional)

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Wrap each sweet potato in foil and bake for 1 hour (see above for my cautions). Unwrap; let cool. Peel; cut into 3/4-inch chunks.

In a large bowl, mix mayonnaise and mustard. Add sweet potatoes, celery, red pepper, pineapple, and scallions; toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour (I actually chilled mine overnight, since I wanted to make it ahead of the clean up day.)

Fold in pecans and sprinkle with chives if using. Makes 8 servings at 5 grams of fat/serving.

NOTE: Anticipating a desire to take this to work for lunch, I removed 2 servings and put them in separate containers before I added the pecans. Without the pecans, the salad has less than 1 gram of fat/serving.

Packed up and ready to be taken to the potluck.

Chocolate-flecked Rum Cheesecake

I mentioned that I brought both the crab cups and cheesecake to our office holiday potluck.  Here is the cheesecake. The original recipe was from Susan Purdy’s “Let Them Eat Cake”, which has enough wonderful dessert recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth without expanding your hips.

This cheesecake has lots of good things in it – rum chocolate, cream cheese – what’s not to like? It doesn’t taste like low fat. It is a little fussy because you have to put the springform pan in a water bath to bake it. But the majority of the mixing happens in the food processor. You’ll also notice that the crumb crust is barely there.  It’s just enough to be able to lift a slice off the pan. I always thought that the crust detracted from the creamy cheesecake anyway.

Chocolate-Flecked Rum Cheesecake

Crumb Crust
Butter-flavor cooking spray
3 Tablespoons chocolate wafer crumbs
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

2 ounces of semisweet chocolate, divided
¼ cup unsifted cake flour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups nonfat cottage cheese
1½ cups (12 ounces) light cream cheese (block style) at room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3-4 Tablespoons dark rum
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 2 large egg whites.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 325. Coat the inside of an 8 inch springform pan with the cooking spray. Cut a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil large enough to fit around the springform pan. Mold it loosely (for now) around the springform pan. Remove the pan from the foil and set the foil aside. Locate a large roasting pan capable of holding the springform pan and have it ready. (It’s best to do this before you are dealing with a cake pan full of batter.)

In a small bowl, blend together the chocolate wafer crumbs and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Dust the bottom of the prepared baking pan with this mixture, making sure that excess crumbs are spread out evenly. Set the pan aside.

Grate 1 ounce of the chocolate over wax paper on the medium holes of a box grater. Set aside.

Place a sifter over a medium-sized bowl, and sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Whisk in the grated chocolate.

Place the non-fat cottage cheese in a strainer set over a bowl. Cover the cheese with a piece of plastic wrap and press on it with your hand to force out any excess liquid.  Place the cottage cheese in a food processor and process for 2 to 3 full minutes until it is absolutely smooth. Scrape down the bowl and blade once or twice. Add the cream cheese (I added it in pieces) and process until smooth. Add the vanilla, rum, sugar, egg and egg whites and pulse to blend. Add the dry ingredients all at once and pulse only to combine. Do not overwork batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan into the molded foil and press the foil tightly to the pan so no water can penetrate. Place the foil-wrapped pan in the roasting pan. Add hot water to reach about 1/3 of the way up the springform pan sides. Bake for one hour until the top is dry and glossy and you can touch the surface lightly without leaving a mark. Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside with the door closed for an hour.

Remove the cake from its water bath, remove the foil, and cool completely on a rack. Refrigerate, covered completely in foil of plastic wrap, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Grate one ounce of semisweet chocolate and sprinkle over cake before serving (or if you are ambitious, make chocolate curls to top the cake).

Makes 12 servings at 6 grams of fat/serving.

In all its gooey delicious splendor!

Mini Crab Cups

We had our holiday party at work last week. We’re a pretty casual group – 9 people, Wii games for entertainment, and of course a potluck. When the call to sign up for potluck fare went out, everyone wanted me to bring The Famous Jezebel Sauce. When I asked what they wanted to dip in it, they said “their fingers”. So I brought it with cold cooked shrimp and green and red peppers for dipping.

But a potluck is, for me, an excuse for manic cooking, and a chance to try new recipes, preferably those with the well-known Wow Factor.  Browsing through a recent holiday issue of Cooking Light, I found these Mini Crab Cups that definitely had wow.  And they tasted good, too.  I also made a rum chip cheese cake, which I will post later.

This recipe is actually much easier to make than the end results looks. It is a cold appetizer, so doesn’t need last minute cooking to be palatable. I used a 1 pound container of Costco crab, which is already well-cleaned (and an excellent ingredient to have in the refrigerator – it is pasteurized and has a long shelf-life.) I chopped everything in the food processor, starting with chopping the celery, then adding everything but the tomatoes, pulsing a few times, and adding the tomatoes last so I still had texture in my chopped ingredients.  The crab mixture is not really spicy, but you could leave out the jalapeno if your guests absolutely don’t want any warmth.

The crab filling would actually be very good served with crackers if you don’t want to fuss with the cups, but the cups are easy to make. I made the crab filling the day before, and baked the cups the morning of the party. I filled them just before taking them to the office, since after a time the cups get soggy. I didn’t have gyoza skins, so I used wonton wrappers and they worked just fine.

My apologies for the slightly fuzzy photos. My camera had a temporary melt down so I had to borrow a camera.

Mini Crab Cups

1 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons canola oil
30 gyoza or wonton skins
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped seeded tomato
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon minced seeded jalapeño pepper
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound cooked lump crab meat, shell pieces removed

For the filling (which is, in essence, crab salad): Combine celery and next 10 ingredients (though crab meat) in a large bowl; toss gently.

For the cups: Preheat oven to 375°. Combine water, honey, and canola oil, stirring with a whisk. Brush mixture evenly over both sides of each gyoza skin. Fit 1 gyoza into each of 30 miniature muffin cups, pressing the gyoza firmly into base of cups. (You don’t need to spray the cups with cooking spray because you have brushed them with the oil mixture.) Don’t worry if the cups tear a little at the bottom. It won’t affect the finished product. Try to shape the cups so they are open at the top and the sides of the gyoza don’t fall inward. I baked a few extra cups just in case, but I didn’t need them. Bake at 375° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned; I advise watching the cups carefully – mine were pretty brown by 10 minutes. Cool in pans on a wire rack. Carefully remove cups from pans.

To assemble: Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons crab mixture into each gyoza cup.

Makes 30 mini crab cups, at about 2 grams of fat/cup.

You could garnish them with a bit of chopped cilantro if you like.

Dutch Apple Cake

Yes, another potluck. Really, my entire social life doesn’t consist of potlucks. I go to jazz concerts and other musical performances. But it certainly does seem like I get invited to a lot of things that require food.

This particular potluck had a number of challenges. I had to run a few errands on the way, so the dessert had to travel around in my car for a few hours. I originally wanted to make an upside-down cake with a nice autumn theme.  But most upside down cakes start with a lot of butter to make the topping. So they can be a bit high in fat. They also are kind of sticky when turned out of the pan, which didn’t seem like a very good idea for traveling around in my car.

This recipe comes from an old Fannie Farmer cookbook, and is a variation on Cottage Pudding Cake, a basic yellow cake. The topping is somewhat similar to an upside-down cake, but the whole thing is served right from the baking dish, so it traveled well.

Dutch Apple Cake

1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup of sugar, divided
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
½ cup non-fat milk
¼ cup egg substitute
4 tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each.
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons raisins

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a 10 x 6 inch baking pan with cooking spray and lightly flour. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking powder, salt and ½ cup of the sugar. Melt the butter in a small bowl, and then stir in the milk, applesauce, and egg substitute, beating well. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and blend well.

Spread the batter into prepared pan. Press the apple wedges into uniform rows on top of the batter. Mix the remaining ½ cup of sugar with the cinnamon and raisins. Sprinkle evenly over the apples. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Makes 8 servings with about 3 grams of fat/serving.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Baked Figs

I went to Costco for coffee, and I came out with – figs!  I hardly ever see fresh figs, but Costco had them by the dozen, so I bought 2 dozen and went home to practice fig creativity.  I had a potluck to go to – and of course, there was the Wow factor to consider.  Figs, by their comparative rarity and exotic beauty, have a built in Wow factor.

I bought a stick of goat cheese, too, since it seems to me that goat cheese and figs are a natural combination.

I wanted something that would be easy for people to pick up, since this potluck party, on the roof of a photographer’s office building, has hundreds of people bringing scores of dishes. Everyone puts a bit of this and that on their plate, in between dancing, listening to live music, and engaging in great conversation.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Baked Figs

12 fresh figs, sliced in half lengthwise
2/3 cup honey, divided
4 ounces goat cheese
2 ounces walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Place figs cut side up on a baking sheet. Brush with 1/3 cup honey.
Bake for about ½ hour or until figs are soft.  Allow to cool.

Beat the remaining 1/3 cup honey with the goat cheese. Stuff the figs with about a teaspoon of goat cheese each. Sprinkle with the nuts.
The foil-wrapped pizza pan “platter” isn’t very elegant, but at this crowded affair, when your dish is empty, someone tosses it under the table. When you want to leave, you dig under the table to find whatever you brought your food on.  This is not the place for Grandma’s best china!

Makes 24 half-fig servings, at about 2.4 grams of fat/serving

Use-Up-the-Tomatoes Salad with Perlini

Yes, it’s potluck time again.  H-N is supposed to bring salads.  I know I have to make something with tomatoes, because I have 6 tomatoes sitting on my counter that will certainly expire before I eat them.  I usually take a chopped salad for lunch – tomato, cucumber, other veggies, some kind of cheese – but I think I had a lot of leftovers to take this week so the tomatoes didn’t get eaten.  Also, I plan to do yard work all morning, so whatever I make has to be something quick and easy.

I decided to make a large version of a chopped salad, dressed up with bread croutons.  I even used a good low fat bottled dressing, which I often use on my lunch salads, rather than home-made.  I had quite a few other vegetables in the house, but I went to the grocery to buy a cucumber and see if there was something interesting I could add.
The vegetables.

And there I found…perlini!

They are not fish eggs or giant tapioca.  They are tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, just waiting to be mixed into a salad.  Let me tell you, they were a sensation in the salad. Great Wow factor. Everyone exclaimed over them.  The salad was pretty much gone by the time I gathered up my bowl to take it home.  This is an imprecise recipe in terms of the veggies.  You can use what you have in the house or what looks good in the store or at the farmers’ market.

Use-Up-the-Tomatoes Salad with Perlini

6 medium tomatoes, cut in 2 inch pieces
1 large cucumber, peeled and mostly seeded, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 sweet pepper (I used yellow), cut in one inch pieces
¼ of a small onion, sliced very thin
about ½ cup broccoli, chopped fine
about 4 ounces of sugar snap peas, sliced in ½ inch pieces
8 ounces of perlini, drained
½ cup light balsamic salad dressing (I use Newman’s Own)
8 slices of oven baked garlic toast, either home-made or from a bag.

Toss together the vegetables, perlini, and salad dressing. Break each of the toasts into 5-6 pieces.  Add to the salad just before serving.  This makes 10 servings, at about 5.8 grams of fat/serving.

I packed the crumbled toast separately in a bag so I could add it after I hauled the salad to the potluck.  That way the bread didn’t get soggy right away.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Bites

This is heaven in a brownie bite.

Have I mentioned that I love Nutella, that creamy chocolate and hazelnut spread. I had always avoided it, because it seemed that by its very nature it would have too many fat grams for regular use – but then I read the label and discovered that it had less fat per serving than peanut butter, and my love affair began.  I love Nutella on bananas:

I love it on banana bread (or regular bread, for that matter):

I love it on French Toast:

So when the potluck announcement said H-Q (that’s me) bring desserts, I knew what I had to do.  The original recipe came from Sunset magazine, and made 8 humongous brownies.  I honestly don’t know how you could eat one of those big brownies, since my brownie bites were very rich even for one piece – and the only thing I did to them was swap out the eggs for egg substitute.

I expect they would freeze well if you had leftovers, but don’t expect any.  The ones I brought were almost all gone before the main course came off the grill (life is short, eat dessert first), and I took an empty plate home.

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Bites

Cooking spray
½ cup butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup flour
½ cup chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 2 mini muffin pans (24 total muffins) thoroughly with cooking spray.

Microwave the 1/2 cup butter in a heatproof bowl until melted. Add chocolate, stirring until melted.  Use the best quality chocolate that you can for richer flavor, and make sure that the chocolate is finely chopped:

Add sugar and cocoa to the chocolate mixture and stir to blend. I mixed this by hand and stirred thoroughly after each ingredient was added. Stir in egg substitute, vanilla, and salt. Add flour ¼ cup at a time and stir until smooth. Spoon batter evenly into muffin cups.

Use a half teaspoon measure to spoon a heaping half teaspoon of Nutella on the top of each brownie bite.  Press gently into the brownie bite so it is still on top, but sinks in a little.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the brownie part comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack about 10 minutes. Loosen brownies from pans, move to rack, and cool completely.  This make 24 brownie bites at about 7 grams of fat/brownie.  Yes, I know that these are not the lowest fat dessert ever, but they are very good, and won’t break the “fat bank” as an occasional treat or a party dessert.


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.

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