Maple Mustard Meatballs

During the holiday season, right smack between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I shared my recipe for Smoked Maple Bourbon Crème Brûlée. That dessert was divine, with all the silky creaminess you’d expect and a generous splash of smoked maple bourbon, a Knob Creek product that my husband and I had recently discovered. The culinary possibilities of this bourbon seem limitless, as we have enjoyed it now in cocktails, dessert and these meatballs, which were inspired by a comment made by a friend on that crème brûlée post.

We have been so inspired by this smoked maple-flavored bourbon.

My friend and blog buddy, Michelle, cannot tolerate alcohol in drinks but she enjoys the flavors of booze in food (including the Tequila & Lime Chicken Tacos she inspired me to make last summer). Michelle commented that the maple-bourbon combination in my dessert reminded her of a signature appetizer made by an old friend. Can’t we all relate to that—a dish so good that we can still taste it in our minds, even years later? That simple comment about her friend’s “maple mustard mystery” meatballs got my own creative juices going. I was bored with ground beef (and it isn’t always easy to find fresh grass-fed in the store), so I turned to ground pork instead and modified a recipe I already had for Marsala-braised pork meatballs. I had been thinking about making those, but maple and bourbon sounded much more interesting.

Maple is one of the most versatile sweeteners I know—it is not a flat kind of sweet, as sugar is, but complex, with a warmth and depth that you can’t get from brown sugar or even honey. Maple plays nicely with tangy, spicy and smoky as well as it does with creamy and buttery. If you have only enjoyed maple with weekend pancakes, this recipe may help you break out of a flavor rut. The maple and mustard was a terrific combination for early December, which is when I made the meatballs. Yes, we are hanging in there with dry January, so I suppose you could say I am enjoying bourbon vicariously through myself from last month.

For this meatball recipe, I paired a spicy maple syrup with Dijon mustard, a bit of tomato paste, onion juice and some of the smoky maple bourbon we had bought for the Smoked Maple Cranhattans at Thanksgiving. I resisted the urge to add cream to this sauce, because cream tends to soften other flavors and I really wanted the maple and mustard to enjoy the spotlight.

Mission accomplished—they were delicious! I served them over a bed of simple mashed potatoes and with a side of roasted root vegetables, but I couldn’t help thinking they would also be delicious on toothpicks as an appetizer, as my friend remembered them. Super Bowl, maybe?


Ingredients

1 large, sweet or yellow onion* (see notes)

1 lb. fresh ground pork

1/3 lb. bulk breakfast sausage

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup milk

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbsp. real maple syrup*

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Up to 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 Tbsp. smoked maple bourbon*


*Notes

When I made these meatballs, I had reserved onion juice from the Classic Crispy Latkes I had made for the first night of Hanukkah. You will only use half of the large onion in this recipe, but you need the juice of the whole onion to flavor the simmering sauce.

I used a habanero-infused maple syrup for this recipe because my husband and I enjoy spicy foods. Any maple syrup would be delicious—but choose real maple for the best flavor. If the idea of spicy flavor appeals to you, try using regular maple syrup and add about a teaspoon of cayenne or sriracha sauce for similar results.

The smoked maple bourbon is a Knob Creek product. It’s completely optional in this recipe. If you avoid alcohol, simply omit this and add an extra splash of vegetable broth.


Instructions



Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail

If you are a child of the ‘70s, as I am, you have seen your fair share of shrimp cocktails. It is a classic, but I am waking it up with a fun flavor twist in the cocktail sauce. You’ll find the flavors familiar—from a brunch standard, the bloody Mary—and it’s bringing a zesty jolt of flavor to the chilled freshness of sweet juicy shrimp, which never goes out of style.

If you’re entertaining for New Year’s, this is an easy way to elevate a classic and please any palate. Begin with your favorite ketchup and dress it up with the ingredients you’d enjoy in a bloody Mary; think crunchy pickles, zippy horseradish, herbaceous celery seed, a shake or two of hot sauce or Worcestershire (or both) and, yes, a shot of vodka.

We like our flavors hot at our house, so I used a “hotter” variety of Texas Pete hot sauce, plus spicy Wickles brand pickles and “extra hot” horseradish. But if you prefer milder flavors, adjust accordingly. You could swap any flavors to suit your fancy. Pretty much anything that would work in a bloody Mary will work here. Same with your garnish.

For the shrimp, do what’s best or easy for you, whether purchasing already cooked, steaming them or perhaps trying the roasting method I’ll demonstrate below. Whichever method you choose, be sure the shrimp have plenty of time to chill. Serve them in individual cocktail glasses for an impressive presentation and garnish as you would a bloody Mary!


Ingredients (serves 6)

18 jumbo shrimp* (see notes)

6 Tbsp. ketchup

2 Tbsp. finely minced onion or shallot

2 Tbsp. finely minced sweet, spicy or dill pickle

1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. cayenne hot sauce, such as Texas Pete or Tabasco

1/2 tsp. celery seed

Splash or two of pickle juice

1 shot good quality vodka


*Notes

Take time to notice where your shrimp has been sourced, as some farming methods are bad for the environment and the seafood processing standards in some parts of the world are rife with human rights violations. Whenever possible, choose domestic (U.S. produced) shrimp that is either wild caught or sustainably farmed. Clean, peel and devein the shrimp, but keep the tails on for best presentation.

I used 16-20 count shrimp, which means there are 16-20 per pound. If you are serving the cocktail as an appetizer, three shrimp per person is a good starting point.

As a side note, it occurs to me that this zesty cocktail sauce would also be terrific with raw or steamed oysters.


Instructions

Cook the shrimp, using your preferred method. Chill it thoroughly in the refrigerator before serving.

Stir all sauce ingredients together in a bowl and chill until ready to serve. For presentation, spoon about 2 tablespoons of sauce into a shallow cocktail glass and hang the chilled shrimp on the edge of the glass. Garnish with a wedge of fresh lemon and a cocktail olive, onion, pepperoncini, etc.

Happy New Year!

Easy Roasted Shrimp

The roasting method may seem fussy, but it is actually easier than boiling or steaming, because it doesn’t move so quickly. It’s so frustrating to accidentally overcook something as delicate and expensive as shrimp.

Preheat the oven to 400° F, with oven rack in center position. Peel and de-vein shrimp and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Give them a quick spray of olive oil (or toss them lightly in olive oil) and sprinkle both sides lightly with Old Bay seasoning or (more simply) salt and pepper.

Roast for 7 minutes, until shrimp are just opaque. Immediately transfer shrimp to a bowl and chill them down quickly in the freezer for several minutes or plunge the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. The goal is to bring down the temperature quickly so that the shrimp don’t overcook to become tough.


Buffalo Deviled Eggs with Bleu Cheese

There was more than a little bit of disappointment this year in limiting the number and scale of dishes my husband, Les, and I create for our annual Super Bowl party. Obviously, we didn’t have 25 people in the house this year—that would be ludicrous in these times—but the Super Bowl wasn’t cancelled, and neither was our celebration, even if reduced to just the two of us. The challenge for us was finding new ways to enjoy the flavors we’ve come to expect on this ultimate football occasion.

Deviled eggs are always on our party table and so are Buffalo wings. Why not combine the flavors into one tasty bite?

These little hors d’oeuvres have the big, bold flavor of Frank’s RedHot sauce, which is the only acceptable flavor for Buffalo wings, in this Western New York girl’s humble opinion. Little bits of crunchy celery do their part to mimic the experience, and crumbled bleu cheese is the proverbial icing on the cake.

Deviled eggs are one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, meaning that you can twist up the flavors to suit the occasion. I made these Buffalo-flavored eggs at the same time as the Dirty Martini Deviled Eggs, which is in keeping with my usual practice of putting more than one flavor on the table. The ingredients and instructions below describe my process for splitting the two flavors, but if you’d prefer to make only the Buffalo deviled eggs, no problem—simply double the ingredients as noted below.

Two flavors are better than one!

If you are intrigued with the idea of trying new flavors, check out my post from last spring, Egg-stravaganza. I’ll bet you will find a flavor combination that’s right up your alley!

Ingredients

9 large eggs, hard-boiled and peeled

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. light mayonnaise


Carefully turn out the egg yolks into a medium-sized bowl. Mash thoroughly with a fork until yolks resemble dry crumbs. Add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. Divide yolk mixture by transferring half to a second bowl (unless you intend to make all one flavor). Follow additional instructions below for making the two kinds of deviled eggs I made this particular day.


For the Buffalo flavor (double if making all nine eggs)

All the flavors of Buffalo wings, ready to take over my deviled eggs.

2 or 3 tsp. Frank’s original RedHot sauce (adjust to your heat preference)

2 cloves roasted garlic or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. celery, finely chopped (for filling) + small, thin sticks celery (for garnish)

1 1/2 Tbsp. finely crumbled bleu cheese

Frank’s RedHot dry seasoning, to sprinkle on at serving time (or substitute paprika)


Instructions for Buffalo eggs

  1. Add RedHot sauce, roasted garlic and black pepper to one bowl of the yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a fork or spoon. Fold in chopped celery bits.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites. Garnish top of Buffalo eggs with crumbled bleu cheese and mini celery sticks.

For the Dirty Martini flavor (double if making all nine eggs)

No vodka or gin in my dirty martini deviled eggs, but the vermouth and garnishes add all the right flavors.

1 Tbsp. dry vermouth (or use additional olive brine)

2 cocktail olives, finely chopped

1 or 2 cocktail onions, finely chopped (for filling)

1 tsp. olive brine

4 cocktail onions, halved (for garnish)


Instructions for Dirty Martini eggs

  1. Add dry vermouth, chopped olives, onion and brine to yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a fork or spoon.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites. Garnish with cocktail onion halves, skewered on a toothpick if you wish, to mimic the appearance of a martini.


Want to try these deviled egg recipes?


At serving time, I sprinkled the Buffalo eggs with the Frank’s dry seasoning. These deviled eggs made a fine appearance at our Super Bowl party for two! 🙂


Dirty Martini Deviled Eggs

Every Super Bowl party my husband, Les, and I have hosted together has been a little different in terms of food offerings, but you can count on two things—his incredible, thick and meaty chili (one day I promise I’ll squeeze the recipe out of him) and at least a couple of flavors of deviled eggs. This is one of those foods that everybody (except the vegans) goes a little nuts over, and I love making them because the deviled egg is what I call a “blank canvas” food. If you can dream up a flavor, a deviled egg can probably carry it.

When I shared my Egg-stravaganza post last spring, I made mention of my “Bloody Mary” deviled eggs, filled with all the signature savory flavors you’d find in the ubiquitous Sunday brunch cocktail. Today, I’m presenting a non-spicy counterpart in this Dirty Martini version of deviled eggs, which includes the tangy brininess of lemon-stuffed cocktail olives, pickled cocktail onions and a splash of dry white vermouth. This new riff on a classic hors d’oeuvres will undoubtedly make a repeat appearance on our table at some point in the future, and it’s a fun way to enjoy one of my favorite cocktail combinations, too.

Two flavors are better than one!

I made these tasty bites at the same time as my Buffalo Deviled Eggs with Bleu Cheese, and the ingredients and instructions below describe my process for splitting the two flavors. If you’d prefer to make only the dirty martini deviled eggs, no problem—simply double the ingredients as noted below.

Cheers!


Ingredients for base filling

9 large eggs, hard-boiled and peeled

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. light mayonnaise



Carefully turn out the egg yolks into a medium-sized bowl. Mash thoroughly with a fork until yolks resemble dry crumbs. Add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. Divide yolk mixture by transferring half to a second bowl (unless you intend to make all one flavor). Follow additional instructions below for making the two kinds of deviled eggs I made this particular day.


For the Dirty Martini flavor (double ingredients if making all nine eggs)

No vodka or gin in my dirty martini deviled eggs, but the vermouth and garnishes add all the right flavors.

1 Tbsp. dry vermouth (or use additional olive brine)

2 cocktail olives, finely chopped

1 cocktail onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. olive brine

4 cocktail onions, halved (for garnish)


Instructions for Dirty Martini eggs


  1. Add dry vermouth, chopped olives, onion and brine to yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a form or spoon.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites (See slides for Buffalo deviled eggs for a visual on this technique). Garnish with cocktail onion halves, skewered on a toothpick if you wish, to mimic the appearance of a martini.

For the Buffalo flavor

All the flavors of Buffalo wings, ready to take over my deviled eggs.

2 or 3 tsp. Frank’s original RedHot sauce (adjust to your heat preference)

2 cloves roasted garlic or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. celery, finely chopped (for filling) + small, thin sticks celery (for garnish)

1 1/2 Tbsp. finely crumbled bleu cheese

Frank’s RedHot dry seasoning, to sprinkle on at serving (or substitute paprika)


Instructions for Buffalo deviled eggs


  1. Add RedHot sauce, roasted garlic and black pepper to one bowl of the yolk mixture. Blend smooth with a fork or spoon. Fold in chopped celery bits.
  2. Place a small zip-top bag into a glass, and use a spatula to scoop the filling mixture into it. Seal up the bag, snip one corner to create a makeshift piping bag, and gently fill half of egg whites. Garnish top of Buffalo eggs with crumbled bleu cheese and mini celery sticks.

Want to make these deviled eggs?


If you like the fun idea of switching up flavors on your next batch of deviled eggs, have a look at my previous post for Egg-Stravaganza, and see how I made these fun varieties!

(L to R) Bloody Mary, jalapeno pimiento cheese, bacon, egg and cheese.

Smoky Guacamole

Terrie and I enjoy surprising each other with gifts that we know the other will appreciate and play to our sense of adventure in the kitchen. So it was a few Christmases back when I opened one of my gifts and unveiled the book Buenos Nachos! by Gina Hamadey. Terrie knew that I already enjoyed making different kinds of nachos and had come to recognize herself how enjoyable nachos could be as a dinner, and relatively healthy, too, if you plan for it. The book is, as the title indicates, a treasure trove of nacho recipes, many of which come from restaurants whose owners shared their secrets. The part of the book I’ve put most to use, though, is in the smaller section on accoutrements such as salsa, guacamole, queso and “refreshments.”

Specifically, I’ve latched onto “Smoky Guacamole” as a go-to offering at parties or pre-dinner snacks at our house. I was a latecomer to guacamole, I have to admit. I moved to Southern California after college and refused to get into the chill, SoCal swing of things and eat a disgusting-looking condiment with a questionable consistency. Instead, I simply expanded George Carlin’s skepticism about “blue foods” to include pasty green stuff. I don’t remember exactly when I gave in and tried guacamole, but I cannot imagine life without it now. The freshness of the lime and cilantro added to chunks of avocado and tomatoes was made for a nacho chip. Or, in the recent case in our household, as a side/add-on to homemade barbacoa tacos.



The reason I like this particular recipe—the very first one I tried from Buenos Nachos!—is the boost guacamole gets by simply adding in a couple of tablespoons (or more, as I like to do) of chipotles in adobo sauce. The smoky spice of the adobo sauce gives guac exactly the kind of “elevate your happy” that my better half talks about so often.

Coincidentally, smoky guacamole also serves as a fine topping or side for any of the nacho dinners I put together. Next up for me out of Buenos Nachos! will be liberating and enhancing a savory cheese sauce from one of the nacho recipes. But for now, I hope you enjoy this smoky guacamole as much as we do.


The usual guac suspects are all here, but the chipotles in adobo is the standout ingredient that puts the smoke in Smoky Guacamole.

Ingredients

3 avocados, halved and cubed

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Juice of half a lime

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. or more pureed chipotles in adobo sauce* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Salt and pepper


*Notes

To make the chipotle puree, empty an entire 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers with adobo sauce into a food processor. Pulse several times until mixture is mostly smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl and keep in the fridge for about two weeks. In this recipe, use as much adobo as your spice meter desires. Add some to your next batch of chili, or use it to kick up a homemade bbq sauce.


Instructions


  1. Put the diced avocado in a large bowl and add the lime juice. Toss lightly to prevent the avocado browning.
  2. Add in the tomatoes, onion and chipotle-adobo puree. Stir with a large spoon or mash with a fork; if you prefer a smoother guacamole, you can mash the avocados first, but fans of chunky texture can settle for just mixing up the ingredients.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add the cilantro and fold again.

Buenos nachos!

Heaven on a chip.

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Sourdough Focaccia with Pomegranate & Walnuts

I’m learning more about the Jewish traditions that are part of the tapestry of life for my husband, Les, and this week I was surprised to learn that there are multiple new year occasions worth celebrating. We had the big one, Rosh Hashanah, back in the fall, which we celebrated at our house with a twist on beer can chicken, oven-roasted with a honey glaze. This week marks another “new year,” called Tu Bishvat, an environmentally themed observance that centers on trees and all the good things we enjoy because of them. If you’ve ever sat beneath a tree to escape the high-noon heat, you know how protective they can be. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a fruit-bearing tree, you know the joy of anticipation as you watch the fragrant blossoms turn into sweet, juicy edibles.

Our local temple recently held an online celebration for Tu Bishvat, and it included a fun food challenge, which yours truly could not resist. Participants were charged with creating and virtually sharing a dish made with one of the “seven species” highlighted during this occasion—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates.

The title of this recipe gives away my assignment (pomegranate), and I’m happy to share it as my latest food adventure.

It smells so good from the oven!

What I love about focaccia is that it is an easy bread to make, as long as you aren’t bothered by the sticky, loose consistency of the dough. It’s a high hydration recipe, which is a bread nerd’s way of saying it’s a really wet dough. Kneading by hand isn’t really an option, but there’s an easy technique of stretching and folding the dough, which builds strength and makes it more workable. My focaccia is sourdough-based, because that’s what I do, but you can find easy yeast-risen focaccia recipes online using commercial yeast if you prefer (try this quick and easy recipe from King Arthur Baking Company).

Enjoy!

Sourdough Focaccia with Pomegranate and Walnuts

Adapted from Maurizio Leo’s recipe for Simple Sourdough Focaccia
Makes one 9” x 13” rectangle or two 9” round bread loaves


Ingredients

115g ripe sourdough starter, 100% hydration* (see notes)

460g filtered water, at room temperature

350g all-purpose flour

180g bread flour*

75g white whole wheat flour

11g salt

12g mild-flavored extra virgin olive oil + extra oil for topping

Toppings*

About 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted at 400° F until lightly browned and fragrant

1/2 cup pomegranate arils*

Several sprigs fresh thyme, washed and leaves removed

Coarse or flaky sea salt (I used a specialty salt flavored with chocolate!)


*Notes

My recipe is described with weight measurements because this is how I bake. If you prefer to measure by volume in cups, please consider following the recipe on King Arthur Baking site, where ingredients are listed by weight or volume. If you decide to delve into the world of sourdough, I highly recommend purchase of a digital kitchen scale, as measuring by weight ensures precision and consistent results. You don’t have to spend a bundle for a digital scale. Mine is adjustable for ounces, grams and milliliters, and I picked it up at Walmart for only about $20.

Sourdough starter is considered “ripe” a few hours after feeding, when it has nearly tripled in volume, then begins to fall. It will have a very bubbly surface appearance and a fruity, slightly sour aroma. My starter is 100% hydration, which means it is equal parts flour and water.

Bread flour is higher in protein than regular, all-purpose flour. The protein content gives more strength to bread dough, a benefit that is particularly important with a wet dough. I prefer the King Arthur brand, which is sold in a blue and white bag at most well-stocked supermarkets.

My focaccia is topped with pomegranate arils (which I purchased ready-to-go in the produce department), toasted walnuts and fresh thyme, but there are many other terrific combinations, so use what you like—olives, figs, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, caramelized onions are all fantastic. Try it sometime with roasted grapes and feta cheese. Yum!


If you want to “fancy up” your focaccia, try drizzling it with a reduction of pomegranate juice and balsamic vinegar. Instructions below!

Instructions

Making bread can seem a little intimidating. I know, because it used to be scary for me. But as with any relationship, it takes some time and experience, trial and error to find your comfort with dough. If you want to learn to make bread, focaccia is a great place to begin. There’s no kneading, and it doesn’t punish you if you mess up your timing. I love a forgiving recipe! Have a look at the slides to get the idea, then give it a go with the instructions below. Keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. You’ve got this! 🙂

  1. Combine starter and water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix together into a slurry.
  2. Whisk together flours and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour all at once to the starter mixture. Using the mixer’s lowest speed, beat until all flour is absorbed into the starter, which should only take 1 to 2 minutes. Increase to the next speed and beat for about 5 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky, but gathered up around the beater blade. Remove beater blade, cover the bowl and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Using the dough hook, and with mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the olive oil and mix until oil is fully blended into the dough, plus about 2 more minutes. The dough will seem impossibly wet and heavy, but don’t give in to the temptation to add more flour.
  4. Transfer the dough to a large, wide bowl and cover, resting it in a warm, draft-free spot in the kitchen for a total of 2 hours. Don’t wander off though, because you’ll need to do some stretching and folding over the course of the first couple hours.
  5. After 30 minutes, using wet hands, grab hold of one side of the dough, keeping it in the bowl. Pull it up and over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl halfway around and repeat with the other side of the dough, then turn it a quarter way, and repeat with the other two sides, for a total of four stretches.
  6. Repeat the stretch and folds at 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and the 2-hour mark. This intermittent stretching makes a big difference in the strength and condition of the dough, so don’t skip it.
  7. Prepare a pan (or two) for baking by drizzling olive oil into the pan. Transfer focaccia dough to the pan(s) and spread as best you can to fill the pan. Don’t worry if it doesn’t stretch all the way at first. Cover the pan and rest dough for 30 minutes, then spread it again. Use wet hands (or spray them with oil) to avoid sticking to the dough. Give the dough about 4 hours to proof. During this time, you’ll notice quite a bit of puffiness develop—this is good!
  8. Near the end of proofing time, preheat oven to 450° F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.
  9. Using wet (or oiled) hands, gently press your fingertips straight down in a wide pattern all over the focaccia dough. The goal is to make deep dimples in the dough but leave large air pockets in between. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of additional olive oil over the surface, and sprinkle toppings evenly over the dough. It helps to arrange the toppings into the dimples so they are not sitting high on the surface of the bread. You can press them into the dough to accomplish this, but take care to only use your fingertips to keep the bubbly texture going.
  10. Sprinkle top of bread with flaky sea salt. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes, turning bread at the halfway time for even baking. Use a loose foil tent if needed to prevent over-browning.
  11. Cool the focaccia in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy it warm or cool completely before wrapping and storing.
The focaccia is about 2 inches high, and you can see the pomegranate seeds and walnuts are deeply embedded into the bread.

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Who’s getting fancy in here?

Les teases me all the time about my use of “balsamic reduction,” which is nothing more than quality balsamic vinegar simmered until it’s reduced to half volume. This is not rocket science, but it sure does seem to impress people! For this focaccia, I combined about 1/2 cup pure pomegranate juice (easy to find in the produce section) with a couple tablespoons of real balsamic vinegar from Modena. I happened to have a bottle that is also infused with pomegranate, and you can find it at one of the specialty oil & vinegar shops that have popped up all over the U.S. A reduction can vary in flavor from tart to sweet, depending on the ingredients, and it adds a nice final pizzazz to even a simple dish.

Let me hear you say, “Ooooh, aaah! 😀

Pumpkin Chipotle Deviled Eggs

At our house, the Thanksgiving “pre-feast” is almost as traditional as the feast itself. Even in this weird pandemic year, which finds us home alone for Turkey Day, we will have an eclectic spread of snacks and finger foods that will serve as sustenance until dinner.

We always have deviled eggs in the mix; they are a perfect little bite, savory and delicious, and packing enough protein to fill our bellies in a healthy way rather than just scarfing on carbs. As I mentioned back in the spring when I shared an egg-stravaganza, deviled eggs are a blank canvas for any flavor that strikes your fancy. This time, it’s the savory side of pumpkin, highlighted with a little garlic and ground chipotle powder.

By the way, this recipe would also work great with equal substitution of pureed sweet potato, if you prefer.

The pumpkin and chipotle flavors are a savory surprise with these deviled eggs.

Ingredients

6 hard-boiled eggs

3 Tbsp. pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. canola mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder

Sprinkle of garlic powder

Kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Instructions

The pictures tell the story, but you’ll also find written steps below, and a link for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Cut hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise and drop the yolks into a small bowl (I used the small bowl of my food processor, but this is not essential).
  2. Add pumpkin puree, mayonnaise and spices to the cooked yolks.
  3. Process or mash together until the mixture is completely uniform. Add another small spoonful of mayonnaise if needed for creamy consistency.
  4. Fill the cavities of the egg whites with the yolk mixture. You can spoon this in for a quick finish, or take a simple shortcut for a more polished presentation by using a small zip top bag with a snipped corner.

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Spinach Balls with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Hi, everyone! I’m bustling about this week, putting together plans for Thanksgiving, so my awesome husband is stepping into the Comfort du Jour kitchen to share one of his fabulous appetizer recipes! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂

Terrie

Water logged, salt bloated, mushy.

I think we can all agree that canned vegetables suck. I grew up on them, though, force fed night after night by my mom, who was trying to make a thin budget stretch enough to feed three hungry kids.

Perhaps my mother was worn down by the time I came around after my two sisters, but mom did let me get away with complete rejection of canned peas and asparagus. I choked down string beans and carrots. Grudgingly. I actually liked two types of canned veggies. Corn and, somewhat inexplicably, spinach.

Maybe it was the Popeye cartoons. You remember how Popeye always was getting whaled on by Bluto until, miraculously, he discovered a can of spinach, opened it with a variety of odd devices he would somehow pull out of thin air and, voila, POW! Bluto was punched off the planet.

Maybe it was the fact I could mix spinach, with a liberal amount of margarine, into the baked potato we had every night. The spinach-potato glop was my favorite—until I discovered frozen creamed spinach in early adulthood in the supermarkets of Southern California, where I moved after college.

It was only a matter of time until I discovered fresh spinach. Tasted good in a salad. Tasted even better sauteed in butter. In short, I discovered the world beyond the can. Years later, I had the good fortune to be invited to a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, the Ke’e Grill, where “Spinach Maria” achieved the rank of “best spinach dish ever.” Even more fortunate for me, I have a wife, the inspired, genius founder of Comfort du Jour, who loves the challenge of creating dishes even better than we have out. Hence, I’ve enjoyed Terrie’s Spinach Maria and consider it better than the original. Not unlike her version of New York-style pizza.

But I digress. My point is that tastes change and grow over the years, but I still love spinach, and love using it in dishes that I can do, too. Like spinach balls.

These spinach balls are great as appetizers, or just snacking in general.

I first made these by searching recipes when I was tasked with creating an appetizer dish for an annual holiday potluck at work. First time out of the box, they drew raves, especially from one of the office vegetarians. I guess he enjoyed the savory taste, a blend of seasoned bread crumbs, butter, eggs, cheese and spices. They were clean and neat, easy to just keep popping in your mouth. I’ve been making them, especially around the holidays, ever since, and Terrie has done one of her “elevate” tricks by making use of leftover spinach balls and recasting them as an ingredient, in, say, breakfast waffles. She’s working on a way to incorporate them in some form (Crumbled, sliced? Who knows? That’s the joy of living with a creative kitchen mind) one of her specialty pizzas. I can’t wait.

Enjoy!

Spinach Ball Ingredients

1 10-ounce package of frozen spinach*

2 cups seasoned herb mix*  

2/3 cup grated Italian cheese*

1/2 cup (1 stick) of salted butter, melted and cooled

3 eggs, beaten

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

½ tsp. black pepper

*Notes

Some frozen bagged spinach comes in 12-ounce size, and the extra will not harm the final outcome.

I use a combination of Pepperidge Farm herbed turkey stuffing mix (about 2 parts) and panko bread crumbs (1 part).

I also use our blend of grated parmesan and romano cheeses, but regular grated parmesan would also work.


Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Defrost spinach and dry as thoroughly as possible with paper towels.
  3. Blend dry ingredients, grinding the bread crumbs so they are largely fine in texture. Add spinach, then eggs and butter, mixing until thoroughly blended and dough-like in consistency.
  4. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons worth of the spinach mixture between your palms, pressing it together to help it take an oval form, then gently roll it between your palms to form golf ball-sized bites, spacing each about an inch apart on the cookie sheet. Be careful to ensure the mixture is pressed initially and to roll it gently to avoid crumbling. If the mix itself is too crumbly, add an egg and another tablespoon of butter, remix and start again.
  5. Spinach balls should cook 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the oven. Turn them once midway when one side has a slightly brown coloring.

The red pepper sauce is something new, and it came about quite coincidentally. Except I don’t believe in coincidences. So here’s the story. One Monday, Terrie asked me to make the spinach balls for the coming weekend. The next day, I peeked at my email and there was one of The New York Times’ 12 emails a day (Yes, I have an online subscription. Sue me; I’m a former journalist.) that crowd my inbox. This one said “Giant couscous cake with red pepper sauce.” I didn’t give a hoot about the couscous cake, but “red pepper sauce” caught my attention. I love sauces. Love to try them, love to create my own. I looked at the recipe and immediately thought it would be perfect for the spinach balls, which we typically serve with a marinara. So we tried it. And like Mikey in the old Life cereal ads, “we liked it.”

Pepper Sauce Ingredients

2 medium red bell peppers, quartered and seeds removed

1 medium tomato, halved and seeded

2 full heads of garlic

1 1/2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

4 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper


Instructions

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Toss peppers and tomato in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and the kosher salt and arrange skin side up on the cookie sheet.
  3. Cut off ends of garlic heads, drizzle with olive oil and place in foil either on the same cookie sheet if there is room or alongside.
  4. Place the cookie sheet in the oven to roast. After 35 minutes, the peppers and tomatoes should show a nice brown. Remove them from oven and allow to cool slightly; let the garlic continue to roast another 15 minutes until the individual cloves are deep golden color.
  5. Once slightly cooled, remove skins from peppers and tomato and put in a food processor. Remove garlic and squeeze bulbs into the processor as well, taking care not to drop the garlic paper in.
  6. Add red wine vinegar, a good pinch of salt and solid shake of pepper.
  7. Pulse the processor several times to begin the blend, then leave it on and slowly drizzle in remaining 3 Tbs. of olive oil until mixture is smooth. Additional olive oil can be drizzled on top of the sauce upon serving.
Thanks for letting me share these with you. I hope you enjoy them.

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Confetti Chicken Meatballs

Once upon a time, I cooked these fun and colorful meatballs for a little girl…

OK, it wasn’t that long ago, and it wasn’t “once” upon a time—rather, multiple times over the better part of a decade. During a previous marriage, I had the joy of cooking for (and eventually, with) a bright and sassy, food-loving child who was my stepdaughter. From a distance, it was clear that this blue-eyed towhead was not a blood relative. Up close, however, one might swear that she must have been mine, given that she swooned over cooking shows such as Emeril Live, Good Eats and The Next Food Network Star. The child was obsessed, even, and she always had something intelligent to say about whatever food was being prepared on our TV screen.

“I’ll bet Emeril’s gonna put that skillet into the oven to finish it.” And, sure enough, that’s what he would do.

To nurture her curiosity and passion for food, I did the only thing that made sense to me—I bought her a junior-sized denim apron and put her to work alongside me in the kitchen. I passed down to her the food lessons and techniques that had been passed down to me, and it wasn’t long before she was the most excellent sous chef. I could ask her to “julienne those two carrots over there” and she’d return in short order with perfectly uniform little matchsticks. She knew what it meant to “chiffonade” fresh basil or “caramelize” onions without burning them. Her palate became even more sophisticated as she continued to help in the kitchen, and by the time she left home for college, she requested written copies of some of her favorite recipes that we had made together.

Whether this recipe was included in the request I cannot recall, but it was undoubtedly one of her favorites. I’ve tweaked it recently, opting to make my own dressing rather than depending on a bottled version from the supermarket, though we’d have no objection to anyone taking that shortcut. I’ve also discovered that coconut sugar produces a better glaze on the meatballs than my original method of rolling them in regular sugar. Coconut sugar is richer, both in color and flavor, and it’s lower on the glycemic index, so probably a better choice anyway.

This dish is similar to my copycat chicken lettuce wraps, but only in the fact that both contain ground chicken and Asian-inspired flavors. Although the “copycat” version is distinctly spicy and savory, this dish is more of a mixed bag of flavors and textures. The chicken is shaped into firm meatballs, each one carrying its own little confetti explosion of sweet bell pepper and sharp garlic and scallion, but softened on the outside by a sweet, sticky glaze. The sesame ginger dressing permeates the senses from the moment it reaches the table, and no wonder—it’s inside the meatballs, too.

The coconut sugar produces a lightly sticky glaze, boosting the flavors over the top and complementing the barely spicy, tangy dressing.

Serve this on its own or with steaming hot jasmine rice. As a meal, it’s good for 4 servings. If serving as appetizers, the recipe makes 18.

Ingredients

1 lb. ground chicken (not chicken breast)

3 scallions (white and green parts)

2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 large red bell pepper

1/2 large yellow bell pepper

1 egg

1/2 cup unseasoned panko bread crumbs

1 tsp. sesame seeds

About 1 Tbsp. Sesame Ginger dressing (recipe below)

1/2 cup coconut sugar (to “frost” the meatballs before baking)


For Serving

1 large romaine heart, rinsed, dried and separated into individual leaves

1/2 medium red onion, cut into thin slices

A handful of fresh cilantro leaves (optional, but recommended for serving)

Additional sesame seeds to sprinkle (optional, or serving)

Jasmine rice, if desired, for serving


Sesame Ginger Dressing

2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce (or Tamari)

1 Tbsp. coconut sugar

1 tsp. sriracha (optional, if you like a little heat)

1 tsp. fish sauce

3 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil

1 or 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil (depending on taste)


Instructions

First, the visuals:


  1. Combine the garlic, peppers and scallions in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 times, for 1 second each, until the mixture looks like colorful confetti. Sprinkle a generous pinch of kosher salt over the pepper mixture.
  2. Line a colander with double thickness paper towels and transfer the processed pepper mixture to it. Allow it to rest in the colander long enough to absorb the excess moisture from the mixture, about 10 minutes.
  3. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the first five dressing ingredients. Slowly drizzle in the canola or peanut oil while whisking constantly. This will help to emulsify the ingredients. Whisk in 1 teaspoon of the toasted sesame oil and give it a taste. Add more if you like. This oil is very pungent, so generally speaking, a little goes a long way.
  4. Season ground chicken with kosher or sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Combine confetti veggies with chicken, egg, a splash of sesame ginger dressing, sesame seeds and panko crumbs. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands. It will be a gooey mix, but if it’s too wet to hold together, add an extra sprinkle of bread crumbs. If it seems dry, add another splash of sesame ginger dressing.
  5. Add coconut sugar to a shallow dish or small bowl.  Shape the mixture into meatballs about 1 1/2” diameter. Working quickly, roll the meatballs through the sugar, just enough to frost each one, and roll again in your hands to fully adhere the sugar, which will become a glaze on the baked meatballs. Place meatballs into a 9×13 glass baking dish, allowing space between them. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes.
  6. Arrange romaine leaves on a platter, then bed your meatballs on them. Whisk the dressing ingredients again. Scatter red onion slices over the top and drizzle with the sesame ginger dressing. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and sesame seeds and serve (with rice, if desired).
What happened to the 18th meatball? And why am I licking my lips right now?

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Ricotta Squash Blossoms

A couple of unexpected things have begun to happen since I first started this blog back in April. The first is that I’m getting more serious about using up foods from the freezer and the other is that I’m finally tackling some of the foods on my culinary “bucket list.” I keep a running list of dishes I’d like to try one day—either because I’ve seen it in a magazine or cooking show or because I’ve tasted it somewhere. And when I taste something and love it, my instinct is “I’ve got to make that!” As of now, the list includes (among other things) pierogis, handmade mozzarella, and black-and-white cookies, a childhood favorite of Les, my NYC-raised husband.

Today, I can scratch off a dish that I only added to the list as a “maybe someday” item—fried squash blossoms. I’d never dared even think about what was involved in making these lovely delicacies, but I knew how delicious they are from a wine dinner menu years ago at one of our city’s authentic Italian restaurants. So I added them to the list even though they intimidated me.

Last week, once the shock of discovering life in my raised-bed garden wore off, I got serious about trying them for real. After all, I had a hearty handful of these perfect little blossoms, and what’s the worst that could happen—I’d fail?

The thing is, it was not a failure at all. Quite the contrary. They were surprisingly simple (yes, really) and perfectly delicious. I scanned a few internet recipes for suggestions of what they should be stuffed with and to learn how to fry them without overwhelming their delicate structure, and then I got to work. When I launched Comfort du Jour, I had two goals, but I’ve put most of my effort toward only one of them—taking a classic comfort food to new levels. This project is a delicious example of my second goal—finding a way to make a complex or intimidating dish more approachable.

Before you shake your head and decide you could never make these, let me put this out there—if you can pick a flower and if you can squeeze ricotta cheese from a corner-cut zip top bag, you can make these. Yes, it’s really that simple. Grab an apron and let’s get started.


Ingredients

Handful of freshly picked squash blossoms* (see notes below)

3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

Handful of fresh basil leaves*

1/4 cup grated parm-romano cheese

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 can chilled, unflavored seltzer water (or club soda or very mild beer)

1/2 cup canola oil for frying*


*Notes

In my First Fruits post earlier this week, I pointed out what I’d learned about squash plants having “male” and “female” blossoms. For this recipe, I used only male blossoms. It’s easy to identify them because they don’t show the beginnings of any tiny squash fruit. Once the female blossoms have been pollinated (as mine were), the male flowers are basically just decoration.

Basil is one of those polarizing herbs. Some people swear it tastes like dish soap, and I’d hate for that to stop anyone from trying these special treats. Swap the basil out for thyme, parsley or oregano as you like.

Another neutral oil would be fine for frying. Be sure it is an oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado, coconut or grapeseed oil.

Instructions


  1. Place the ricotta in a mesh strainer over a measuring cup to drain excess moisture.
  2. Carefully reach inside the squash blossoms and remove the stamen, which is a bulbous yellow thing inside. It’s the, um—how shall I say it?—male part of the blossom. Don’t worry if the petals tear a little bit. And may I suggest that you consider doing this step outside at the garden. I made a first-timer’s mistake of doing this at the kitchen sink and scared the bejeezus out of a pollinator bee inside a blossom. Sadly, I had to smash it in the sink because Les is terribly allergic to bee stings. I felt awful about it, but I went through a lot to find this wonderful man, and it was him or the bee.
  3. Rinse the blossoms under cold running water, and gently shake them to empty out excess water. Lay them on a couple layers of paper towel to drain.
  4. Rinse and blot dry the fresh basil leaves, then stack and chop them into small pieces. Mix the basil leaves into the strained ricotta, along with the parm-romano cheese, salt and pepper. Spoon the ricotta mixture into a small zip top bag and seal it.
  5. Snip a small corner off one end of the zip top bag, and gently squeeze a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture inside each blossom. The blossoms will “give” a little bit as you go, and it will feel obvious that you’ve filled them enough. Stretch the blossom petals around to fully cover the filling and twist the tops very gently to seal them up. They don’t have to be perfect, but the goal is to keep the filling from spilling out during frying. Rest the filled blossoms on a paper towel while you prepare the batter and frying oil.
  6. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the canola oil. This is not a lot of oil, so it will heat up fairly quickly. It should be about 1/2″ deep in your skillet.
  7. In a medium-size bowl, mix some salt and pepper into the flour, and stir in enough seltzer water to make a thin batter. It will bubble quite a bit, and that’s a good thing. It should be thinner than pancake batter, but not quite as thin as heavy cream. When I dipped the blossoms into the batter, they were coated, but I could still see them through the batter.
  8. Very gently lay the blossoms into the hot oil and be careful not to crowd them or they will stick together. When the bottom side is lightly golden and crisp, turn them to cook the other side. Drain the fried blossoms on fresh paper towels, sprinkle immediately with sea salt and serve.
They were so pretty, and remarkably easy to make. I’m proud of myself for this elegant appetizer!

Oh yes.

So light and crispy, and they didn’t need any kind of dipping sauce or other accoutrements. To keep our dinner easy and light that evening, I put together a simple tomato sauce (thank you, leftovers) with bucatini pasta. These three pictures describe how easy that was, and it really needs no additional explanation. Simple is good, right?

If this is how they eat in Italy, I want to move there tomorrow!

My “bucket list” experiment of making fried squash blossoms ended very, very well. It was also Les’s first experience tasting them, and though skeptical at first, he declared during dinner that he was a fan.

These were Les’s first ever squash blossoms, and he really enjoyed them.

Do you have foods on a bucket list? Tell me about it in the comments, and then go cook them. Be brave in your kitchen!

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