Saturday, July 18, 2009

Easy Appetizer

How often do you ask someone, "What can I bring?" and they say, "How about an appetizer?" and then you think, "Shoot, what should I bring?" Here is an easy one, that is light on the pocketbook and easy on the waistline. As an added benefit, it makes lots of "bites" so fits the bill whenever you need to feed a crowd. It's my variation on a old recipe from the 80's, that used to appear at every gathering, but as things do, kind of slipped out of style. It has the additional benefit of having most of it's ingredients being shelf stable. That qualifies it as a "go to" recipe in my book!

Tasty Tortilla Pinwheels

6 soft flour tortillas, 8"

1 8 oz. block light cream cheese, softened to room temp.

1 package Original Ranch Dressing mix (powdered, in an envelope)

1 4 oz. can diced green chilies, slightly drained

1/4 c. chopped and drained black olives

10 pickled jalapeno pepper slices, minced and drained

In a medium mixing bowl, combine eveything except the tortillas. A rubber spatula works best for this.

On a flat surface, using your rubber spatula, spread a scant 1/4 c. of the cream cheese mixture evenly over the surface of one tortilla. Roll it up, not too tightly, and scrape off any of the mixture that escapes at the end when you have completed the roll up. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cover them and refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the filling can firm up and come together.

Uncover the plate and slice each tortilla into 1/2" pinwheels. Serve them on a plate garnished with some fresh greens or herbs. Makes approx. 60 pieces, as you will loose a little from the ends where the tortillas are rounded off -- looks too sloppy for me, so those are the cooks' treat!

Variation: Instead of chopped green chilies, olives and jalapenos, you can make these with 1/4 c. chopped, cooked shrimp and about 2 -3 tablespoons of your favorite salsa. You may also substitute green olives for the green chilies, but that would significantly up the calorie and fat content. Roasted red peppers would be another sub for the green chilies.

Think of this as a method you have learned, and can make your own! Experiment and have some fun! Try mixing the ranch dressing mix with the cream cheese and layering it with sliced deli turkey, some sprouts and a T. of salsa for a different lunch. Let your culinary imagination take charge!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lemon Chess Pie

As you may have noticed, I like pie and I like to make them. Here is another one of my familys' favorites. It is from a very old recipe, passed down to my mother in law, from her mother in law. To keep that in perspective, and show how old this is, my mom in law will be 90 in December (I think she's proud of that, as she should be!). This pie fits the bill for lemony sweetness and once again, as I've said before, it's easy as pie. Check out the direction for "butter the size of an egg" -- that's exactly the way it was written when given to my mother in law from hers!

Lemon Chess Pie

1 unbaked pie crust

3 eggs

butter "the size of an egg" (about 1/2 stick)

1 tsp. + 1 T. flour

juice of 1 1/2 lemons

grated rind or the "zest" of 1 lemon *

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs and sugar together. Add softened butter, flour, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour into the prepared pie shell. Bake for 35 minutes.

*Cooks note: Make sure to zest only the yellow part of your lemon. The white part is bitter. A microplane rasp works really well for this. This adds great lemon flavor to your pie, so don't leave it out!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cold Cucumber Soup

Another one of the joys of summer, fresh, crispy cucumbers, and all the fabulous dishes you can create with them. I have loved cold cucumber soup for years now, and it really helps me stick to my healthy eating plan. I realize that cold soup is not everyone's idea of good eating, but as far as I am concerned, when the weather turns hot and humid, there is absolutely nothing better than gazpacho or cold cucumber soup!

Cold Cucumber Soup

3 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded

24 oz. fat free, low sodium chicken broth

1 rib celery, cleaned and roughly chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 c. water or dry white wine

16 oz. fat free, plain yogurt

1/3 c. light sour cream

1 tsp. salt

fresh dill or snipped chives for garnish

In a heavy sauce pan, combine broth, celery, onion, garlic and wine or water. Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and let simmer about 30 minutes until the veg. are very tender. Remove from heat and let cool about 30 min.

Put your prepared cucumbers into a food processor fitted with the all purpose blending blade. (You may do this in a heavy duty blender.) Add about half of your broth and process until smooth. Remove half of that mixture to a large bowl and blend in half of your yogurt and sour cream. You must make this by doing it in "batches" as I have never found a processor or blender big enough to do it all at once. Pour the broth/yogurt mixture into your large bowl, and then pour half back into the processor and blend again with the the rest of the yogurt, sour cream and salt. Do this several times, until everything is fairly smooth and blended together. Don't overfill your processor or blender, just take a few extra minutes to pour back and forth till completed. Chill soup thoroughly. Serve garnished with a slice of cucumber, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of dill or chives.

Basil, cucumbers and tomatoes, pesto...summertime!

Oh, my the joys of summertime! Fresh tomatoes on the vine, cold cucumbers and lots and lots of fresh herbs. We have been eating a tremendous amount of tomatoes, cucumbers and basil at our house this last week or two.
If you have not explored making pesto at home, you must give it a try. It jazzes up any grilled meat, is great on pasta or even just spread on bread and run under the broiler. Pesto is so versatile, it even freezes well. It's also very forgiving, pairing well with lots of different ingredients that all add up to pesto. The traditional recipe calls for pine nuts, but I find that toasted walnuts work just as well. Adding in other herbs will change it up a little, but it will still be delish Here is a good basic, lower fat pesto recipe that I make all the time.

Basic Pesto Sauce

1/2 c. packed basil leaves

1/2 c. packed baby spinach leaves

2 T. toasted pine nuts or walnuts

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 - 3 T. extra virgin olive oil

about 1/3 c. low sodium, fat free chicken broth

1/2 c. fresh grated parmesan
a little fresh ground black pepper

Toast your nuts: put them into a small, dry, non-stick stick frying pan over medium heat. Let them heat up until you start to smell them. Watch closely so you don't burn them!

In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, spinach, garlic and nuts. Pour in a little bit of the chicken broth, just enough to get things going. Start your machine, and add in the parmesan cheese through the chute or top vent of a blender. Drizzle in the olive oil and a little pepper. Add some more broth until you get the consistency that you like.

This is a recipe you must make relying on your senses -- watch how the ingredients come together and add liquid as needed. Does it look a little watery? Add some more parmesan. Too thick? Add a little more broth. Taste it -- does it taste good? Add a little more basil, fresh pepper or olive oil. Pulse the machine on and off, and scrape down the sides as needed.

The rule of thumb is that you need about 1 T. pesto sauce for each 1/2 c. of pasta. My family loves this served on spinach and cheese ravioli or over fettucine. It's great on grilled tuna too.

Feel free to expirement with this one. Try adding a few oil packed sundried tomatoes. I like to put in some fresh garlic chives from my garden.