Kentucky Hot Brown Swirls

The funnest thing about doing a food blog is putting all the new spins on the old dishes. Wait, did I just write “funnest?” Well, a word like that fits the situation, given that I am feeling playful about twisting up a classic. If I’m taking all kinds of liberties with the flavors so beloved for Kentucky Derby, I may as well do it with my words, too.

My celebration of the Kentucky Derby—which is Saturday, by the way, in case time has gotten away from you—is purely vicarious. I’ve never been to the Derby and honestly don’t know how I feel about the way they pressure the horses to perform for profit, but I know that I like the pomp and circumstance, the food traditions, the fancy hats and especially the bourbon! The Kentucky Hot Brown is the most classic dish associated with the Kentucky Derby, and I have twisted it up in several ways already, including a Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict, a Kentucky Hot Brown Pizza and a super simple Kentucky Hot Brown Dip. When Derby time rolled around this year, I wanted to make a fun, crowd-ready food that’s easy to pick up and enjoy in just a few bites because, honestly, who wants to sit down in the middle of a party with a knife and fork and eat a messy, traditional Kentucky Hot Brown open-faced sandwich, with all its oozing Mornay sauce? Yeah, these are much easier!

It’s no coincidence that these Kentucky Hot Brown swirls are delicious with bourbon.

If you’re entertaining friends for the afternoon leading up to the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” may I suggest these adorable little puff pastry swirls? They have all the flavors of the beloved Kentucky Hot Brown, including roast turkey, bacon, tomatoes and gruyere, plus a touch of sauteed shallot and (in a nod to the catering kitchen where I worked so long ago) “A Pinch of Thyme.”

I expected a few obstacles along the way to these tasty rollups, mostly because puff pastry can be fussy to work with. It bakes up best if it goes into the oven cold, so the first thing I planned was to work quickly. Get all your filling ingredients ready first, and refrigerate the ones that are cooked, such as the bacon and shallots. Cook the bacon long enough to render as much fat as possible, so the lingering fat doesn’t make the pastry soggy, but not so much that hard edges will tear the pastry. Shred the cheese and keep that in the fridge until assembly time, too. Fresh roast turkey is probably better than deli turkey (mainly for keeping the sodium in check), and I confess that I used leftover turkey that we had stashed in the freezer after Thanksgiving. As for the tomato, I knew that my sweet and savory tomato jam would not spread neatly onto the puff pastry without tearing it, and I didn’t want to heat it (see the first point about baking puff pastry cold), so here’s how I overcame that challenge—I added a few tablespoons of tomato jam to the bowl with chopped turkey and stirred it together. Problem solved!

You can put these two-bite treats together in the morning or afternoon, even the night before, all the way up to slicing them into swirls, and then refrigerate them until about a half hour before your guests arrive. A quick egg wash and some extra sprinkles of gruyere just before they hit the oven, and, well—riders up!


This recipe makes 12 swirls, just about right as appetizers for 6 people.

Ingredients

3 slices smoked bacon, cut into pieces no larger than a postage stamp

1 smallish shallot, peeled, halved and cut into half-moons

1 cup chopped, cooked leftover roast turkey breast

3 Tbsp. tomato jam (store-bought or homemade, if you have it!)

1 heaping cup shredded gruyere cheese (or Swiss), divided

A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped

1 sheet store-bought puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions

1 egg, whisked with a teaspoon of water, for egg wash just before baking


Instructions

Ready to make them?



Roasted Garlic Ranch Dip

There was a time (in the not-so-distant past) that we didn’t rely on overly processed food from the supermarket for every little thing. Before the grocery aisles were jam-packed with 173 kinds of salad dressing, there was oil and vinegar, and people spiced those up by whisking in a handful of other common items to create dressings far tastier than the pre-made stuff. Vinaigrette is one of the simplest dressings to make from scratch, and creamy dressings are equally simple with a few basic ingredients.

You might be amazed at how much flavor you will be able to create at home with nothing more than simple fridge items, a few spices and a whisk (or, as I’ll show you today, a food processor). On the economic side, it costs pennies on the dollar to make your own dips and dressings, and it only takes a few minutes to pull them together.

The other benefit of making your own dressing—besides the savings and the flavor factor—is that you will know exactly what is in it. Commercial dressings contain so many stabilizing and preservative ingredients that aren’t necessary. And if it seems a healthier bet to buy the packets of ranch dressing mix and “make it yourself” with fresh buttermilk, all I can suggest is to take a closer look:

As soon as I see maltodextrin and monosodium glutamate (MSG), I’m gone!

I suppose these ingredients might be perfectly harmless (remember when they said that about partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?), but it’s a fair assumption that the fresh herbs and minimal spices you add to a real homemade dressing will present a lesser concern. And your dressing will taste better, which might even lead you to enjoying more salads and vegetables.

For this creamy ranch dressing dip, I have used a whole bulb of roasted garlic to add a mellow flavor to plain Greek yogurt, buttermilk, olive oil-based mayo and a bunch of fresh herbs. A little salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and that’s all there was to it. If you prefer a bit more zing, use fresh garlic, but only a fraction of what is called for here. If you don’t have the same fresh herbs, substitute what you have or what you like. If you want to add half of a ripe avocado in place of some of the mayonnaise, go for it.

Nice to have something a little healthy for a game day snack!

My homemade roasted garlic ranch dip was intended for dipping fresh veggies as a game day snack, but if you prefer a more pourable dressing for salads, simply ease up on the mayo and use more buttermilk.

This recipe makes about 1 1/4 cups.


Ingredients

2 scallions, white and green parts

1 small handful fresh parsley

1 small handful fresh dill

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 an average-sized fruit)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise* (see notes)

1 bulb roasted garlic*

1/4 cup thick, cultured buttermilk*

1/4 cup stirred Greek yogurt (whole fat or 2% recommended)

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. carboxymethylcellulose (just kidding—I’ve never heard of this, but it’s in the store-bought ranch mix!)


*Notes

Choose a mayonnaise that you trust, bearing in mind that labels can be misleading. The front of the jar may suggest that your mayo is made with olive oil, but on further inspection, soybean oil could be listed as the first (most prominent) ingredient, with the healthier oil listed much later. Learning what your food is made of can be an eye-opener, and when you do find a product that meets your health standards, you will be able to build on it to make a lot of other foods serve you better.

Thick buttermilk works especially well for dip-style dressings. Look for a brand that doesn’t have a lot of “gum” ingredients, which are unnecessary stabilizers. Bacterial cultures should be present in good buttermilk as well. And for this dip, I do not recommend making a buttermilk substitute using regular milk and lemon juice or vinegar. That works for some baking recipes, but not in this instance, as you will miss the smooth textural element that buttermilk lends to your dip or dressing.

I love roasting garlic for use in many things, and it is easy to do. If you have never made your own, you may find some helpful tips in my previous post for making your own roasted garlic. When roasted, the garlic takes on a mellow, somewhat nutty flavor that lends a lot of depth to foods. If you prefer fresh, or simply don’t have the time or patience to roast it, I would recommend only using one or two segments of the garlic rather than a whole bulb (unless you’re battling vampires, obviously).


Instructions

  1. Begin by chopping up your fresh herbs, together with the Dijon, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. I made a small batch this time, and my processor only rough-chopped these ingredients, even in the small insert bowl. As long as the volume reduces to make room for the other ingredients, it’s fine.
  2. Add the mayo and pulse to combine. Add the roasted garlic and process until you no longer see visible bits of the garlic.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add yogurt, buttermilk and onion powder, and whisk until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste (remember that additional salt will need time to dissolve, so you may want to let it rest a few minutes before final taste adjustments).
  4. Chill the dip at least one hour before serving. Enjoy within a few days for best freshness and give it a good stir when you take it out of the fridge.



Hot Artichoke-Cheddar Dip

When you make a recipe so many times, you no longer need to review the ingredients list or even bother measuring, and that is the case for me with this hot artichoke cheddar dip, which I made umpteen dozen times during my stint as a prep cook for a catering company called A Pinch of Thyme.

The holiday season was wild in the “Pinch” kitchen, as many of our regular, affluent clients planned and hosted extravagant parties and, naturally, they did not prepare the food themselves. My friend, Tammy, was the events manager for Pinch, and she often shared colorful stories about some of the luxurious homes where our food was delivered (like the one with copper pipes running hot water underneath the marble floors to keep everyone’s tootsies warm), and I often wondered if those hosts supposed the food came from an equally posh kitchen and was prepared by consummate culinary professionals donning crisp, white chef coats and hats.

If they only knew.

My day job at the radio station usually had me out the door by noon, which gave me plenty of time to change into my most worn-out jeans and a WKZL T-shirt before tackling the party menus at the kitchen. The rock music would be blaring, Chef Rodney would be barking orders to everyone, the dishwasher would start running full-steam ahead and, somehow, we’d get it all done in time for the serving crew to load the truck and shuttle our delicacies to the client. The menu for such a shindig might have included a whole roasted beef tenderloin and buttered red bliss potatoes, some exquisite pastry dessert that I probably can’t even pronounce, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese and, more often than not, this artichoke cheddar dip. Because, simple though it was, everyone loved it.

Warm and bubbly from the oven, this artichoke cheddar dip is delicious served with pita chips or crostini!

No matter how elaborate (or not) you intend your holiday get-togethers to be this year, I promise this dip will bring rave reviews. From memory, I scaled down the recipe to make it at home and, over time, I have modified it to reduce the ratio of mayonnaise in favor of smooth cream cheese; I think it endures better, especially when guests will be mingling for a while. The cream cheese keeps this dip silky, the cheddar gives a little sharpness and the artichoke hearts are satisfying and tart with their lemony zing.

If you want to go overboard, as we usually did in the Pinch kitchen, you might serve the dip in a silver chafing dish with handmade toasted herbed pita chips, which we typically made in quantity to fill up a hotel laundry cart. We would cut pita breads into wedges, split them to expose the shaggy insides, brush them with melted butter and then toss them with dried oregano, basil and garlic powder before baking them to perfect crispness. It was delicious, for sure, but at our house this year, we simply baked the dip in a pie plate, opened a bag of Stacy’s multigrain pita chips and had ourselves a party!


Ingredients

8 oz. brick of cream cheese (full fat or Neufchatel)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

A few shakes hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Texas Pete

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

8 oz. brick cheddar cheese (medium or sharp), freshly shredded* (see notes)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, finely chopped*

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

A pinch of dried thyme (of course)

1/4 cup parm-romano blend*


*Notes

I know that it’s tempting to use pre-shredded cheese from a bag, but don’t. The stuff is coated with a powdery substance that keeps it from clumping, which may be great for the purpose of packaging, but not great for cooking because it does not melt well. Break out the box grater and shred the cheese yourself. You’ll be glad you did!

I use artichoke hearts that are marinated in spices and oil, and I usually scoop them out of the jar with a slotted spoon without draining them. The herbs and oil add a pleasant layer of flavor. If you use artichoke hearts packed in water, drain them thoroughly and also drizzle them with a bit of olive oil before mixing into the dip. If they are plain, consider increasing the dried herbs slightly.

I use oil-marinated artichoke hearts. There is no need to rinse or drain them, and the herbs add flavor.

We make our own parm-romano blend, which is easy to do and super convenient, because we love the piquant flavor in so many dishes. If you don’t care to do this (or if you just don’t have the time), substitute a good quality grated parmesan from the supermarket.

Before we get into the making of this recipe, I have a confession (as you’ll see in the photos). To satisfy our shopping list on the day I made the dip, my husband had to visit four grocery stores. I decided not to wait for the new package of cream cheese, and I dipped into our fresh batch of spreadable scallion cream cheese, which we make regularly as a bagel schmear. The spread has a bit of sour cream in it, plus chopped scallions and a touch of dill. I scooped out a heaping cup of it for this recipe and it worked great. Improvisation has led me to some of my favorite flavor discoveries, and I’ve learned to not be strictly bound to a recipe.


Instructions

Using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream together. Add garlic and hot sauce and mix until smooth. Give it a taste and adjust hot sauce to your liking. Add about 2/3 of the shredded cheddar and mix again. Season with about 15 twists of freshly ground black pepper. Blend in the chopped artichoke hearts until evenly distributed. Add oregano and, in keeping with the original recipe, a pinch of thyme.

Pile the mixture into a deep pie plate or 8 x 8 glass baking dish. Sprinkle on the parm-romano blend. Top with remaining shredded cheddar.

Bake at 375° F for about 25 minutes, until dip is heated through and cheese is bubbly. Serve warm with pita chips, sturdy crackers or crostini.



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.

Want to make this recipe?


Just South of Buffalo Wings

It was circa 1977. I was just a kid in a small town south of Buffalo, New York, and I still remember my first bite of the mouthwatering spicy hot chicken wings my Uncle Mike made for me. Mike worked with nightclub sound and lighting systems during those days, which was a big freaking deal, given that we were hanging onto the tail end of the disco era. For his work, Mike traveled into the larger cities where the clubs were, and after an installation at a club in Buffalo, he brought home with him the recipe for these delectably crispy, tangy-hot treats.

And oh my God, did I love them! Clearly, I was not alone.

It didn’t take long for “Buffalo wings” to catch on across upstate New York, and eventually the entire country. Today, though restaurants everywhere have imagined new and unusual sauces for wings, I will forever favor the original flavor of Frank’s RedHot sauce with a side of celery and chunky bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and I can never, ever get behind the idea of breading them—not in flour or batter or crumbs or whatever, though plenty of sites suggest the original 1964 Anchor Bar recipe had them coated in flour and oven-roasted. That sounds suspicious to me, given that I’ve enjoyed them deep-fried for decades. The wings should be crispy, as they were on that hot summer night in ’77, and they should make my eyes water just from the smell of them. Just give me what I want.

Yep, this is exactly how I remember them! (photo from Wikipedia)

The only problem I have with Buffalo wings today is the whole deep-frying thing. I enjoy them, but I can’t indulge in them very often if I want to stay healthy. A few years ago, however, I came across a new technique for preparing wings that promised the same crispy exterior and juicy interior, but without deep frying or any amount of oil at all. Pinch me, I thought; I must be dreaming. And then I tried this simple little hack and it was as if angels were singing inside my head.

Friends, the non-fried wings are 100% as delicious as the crispy deep-fried Buffalo wings I tasted back in the day, and you don’t need an air fryer or any other special gadgets to make them. The big thanks goes to Alton Brown of Food Network. His technique involves steaming the wings to render some of the fat, and then oven roasting them to perfection before tossing them in your favorite sauce. I’ve named these “Just South of Buffalo Wings” because that’s where I’m from, and also because I’ve thrown a twist on the traditional wings, adding a generous blast of black pepper to the usual Frank’s RedHot sauce, and a little bit of brown sugar to balance that bite.

Serve these with fresh celery sticks and some homemade chunky bleu cheese dressing. And a cold beer, duh.


Ingredients

2 lbs. fresh chicken wings* (see notes)

1/2 cup Frank’s Original RedHot sauce*

1/4 stick salted butter

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. coconut aminos*

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 or 3 shakes garlic powder

1/2 tsp. black pepper


*Notes

For best results, use fresh (never frozen) wings for this recipe. If they are already split into drummettes and flat pieces, that’s fine. But it’s also OK if they are still whole pieces. I’ve done them both ways, and the only adjustment you may need to make is a bit more roasting time on the whole ones.

There are many newer versions of Frank’s RedHot sauce available today. Get the one that is labeled as the “original.”

Coconut aminos provide some depth of savory flavor to this sauce. It’s a dark-colored, liquid sauce, similar to soy sauce but sweeter and lower in sodium. It is made from the fermented sap of coconut trees, but doesn’t taste at all like coconut. You can find them in the same aisle, or substitute in this recipe with half as much lite soy sauce.


Instructions

I’ll walk you through it with pictures, or you can keep scrolling for more detailed description. There’s also a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files. Begin by setting a steam basket over a pot of gently boiling water.

  1. Bring a couple inches of water to a boil in a medium saucepan fitted with a steamer basket and tight-fitting lid. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack over the towels.
  2. Add the chicken wings to the steamer basket, working in as many as will fit at a time. Steam the wings for 10 minutes, then arrange them on the cooling rack. Repeat with remaining wings and then cool a few minutes at room temperature, allowing most of the steam to dissipate. Cover the baking sheet with foil and transfer the wings to the refrigerator until they are fully chilled, about an hour. This step is important for crisping later.
  3. Preheat oven to 425° F. Remove the chilled wings from the fridge.
  4. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low for several minutes, until the sauce is fully blended and slightly thickened. Turn off the burner and cover to keep the sauce warm.
  5. Roast the wings for 40 minutes, turning them once after half the time. The skin should be crispy and golden brown.
  6. Transfer the wings in batches to a large seal-able bowl. Pour enough sauce to coat the wings. Cover the bowl and gently shake to thoroughly coat the wings. Put the wings back into the oven for about 8 minutes to “seal the deal” and bake the sauce into the wings.
  7. Serve with crunchy celery sticks and chunky bleu cheese dressing.
Just South of Buffalo Wings

Want to print this recipe?


Spiced Pumpkin Hummus

Amid the pies, cookies, muffins and lattes that have unfairly typecast pumpkin as being exclusively sweet, I’m flipping the script and respecting the savory side of this autumn favorite. This tasty twist on hummus is a simple appetizer that you can put together last minute for your Thanksgiving pre-feast. It’s satisfying, but low-fat, good for you and vegan.

All you need to make it is a can of garbanzo beans, a little pumpkin puree, some tahini and your preference of savory spices, and I’ll give you a few flavor ideas that will work splendidly.

Hummus is a blank canvas for your favorite flavors. This time, canned pumpkin and garam masala are making it special.

As with any hummus, you need to have a food processor or blender to be successful. For tips and tricks to make your hummus super smooth, you may want to check out my recipe for easy hummus at home. If you’re in a hurry, don’t worry; I’ll also walk you through it in a slideshow below. This is easy stuff.

At our house, a green plate means the dish is suitable for vegan guests.

Ingredients

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), preferably low sodium

2 cloves garlic, minced (optional but recommended)

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)

1/2 tsp. savory spice* (pick a favorite or use one of my suggestions below)

Extra virgin olive oil (2 or 3 Tbsp., depending on taste)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

*Notes

I used garam masala for this batch of hummus, but you might try chai spice, chipotle or ancho chile, cayenne, chili powder, cumin or smoked paprika. Make it your own!


Instructions

Follow along with my pictures, or skip ahead for the written instructions and downloadable PDF for your recipe files!


  1. Pour the garbanzo beans and their liquid into a small saucepan over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or long enough to see moderate bubbling as it boils lightly.
  2. Drain the beans through a mesh strainer, but do not discard the liquid; you’ll need some of it for blending the hummus.
  3. Transfer the beans to the food processor bowl and pulse a few times until it has appearance of a coarse meal. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of the reserved liquid and pulse a few more times.
  4. Add pumpkin, tahini, spices, and several twists of freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until combined, and then run the processor constantly while streaming in additional bean liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches your preferred consistency. This will only take a minute or so. Stop and scrape down sides as needed. Taste hummus and adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. To finish the hummus, run the processor constantly and slowly stream in olive oil. This adds a touch of healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as a silky creamy texture.

Transfer hummus to a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Drizzle hummus with olive oil and sprinkle with additional spice or chopped pepitas, or both, for a pretty presentation. Serve chilled or room temperate with pita chips, crackers, vegetables or my soft pita breads.

Pita chips, cut-up veggies and crackers are all great for serving any kind of hummus.

Want to print this recipe?


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.

Want to print these recipes?


Creamy Crab and Artichoke Dip

Of all the recipes I stashed away in my mind during the time I spent working in a catering kitchen, the hot artichoke dip takes the gold as my most durable. During my two years as a kitchen assistant, I probably made this dip more than 100 times. It was a favorite among clients, and for good reason. It’s easy to make ahead, easy to serve in large quantity and an undeniable crowd pleaser. It also happens to be extremely adaptable to other ingredients, as we learned with the Kentucky Hot Brown Dip a few weeks ago. By keeping the base recipe the same, I’m able to adjust the other ingredients to create whatever impression I wish, and I encourage you to do the same with ingredients that sound good to you.

What I haven’t confessed is that the cream cheese part of the recipe I share today is technically my own adjustment to the original, which (I’m sorry to say) was completely off the charts in fat content. If you spend even a little bit of time in a commercial kitchen, you will quickly come to realize the overwhelming dependence on mayonnaise. I’m not kidding—pro chefs use that stuff for everything—from dips and dressings (which makes sense) to spreading on fish before rolling in bread crumbs (why not eggs or Dijon?) and replacing butter for grilling sandwiches (I’m sorry—what’s wrong with butter?). As crazy as it seems, the solution presented in the catering kitchen to the oiliness that would appear when the artichoke dip was drowning in melted mayonnaise was, “add more bread crumbs.” Yowza. When I decided to make it at home, this recipe got an easy makeover.

For any creamy hot dip, light cream cheese fits the bill as a substitute for so much mayonnaise. It maintains the silky creamy texture, gives better structure and (in my humble opinion) improves the overall experience of the dip because it doesn’t separate or become greasy. I don’t need to create an infographic to describe to you the nutritional comparison. (Spoiler—the cream cheese wins.)

And although the original recipe is for artichoke dip, the base is a neutral canvas for whatever you want in the dip. This time, I kept the marinated artichoke hearts, added cooked crab, swapped out cheddar in favor of cheeses that paired better with the delicate crab, and topped the whole thing with garlic-buttered (not mayonnaise-laden) panko crumbs. We wanted something on the “heavy hors d’oeuvres” side for a backyard happy hour, and this was perfectly transportable and an absolute winner. As you can see, the ingredient list is short and sweet, just like our time spent laughing and relaxing with our friends on a beautiful spring evening. Charlotte was convinced this must be difficult to make—just wait until she sees the simplicity of this recipe! 🙂

Whether you’re gathering safely with friends as we did or hoarding the whole batch for yourself (I’m not judging), I hope you’ll feel free to swap ingredients to suit your palate for your next “happy hour.”

This dip is really, really easy to make with only a handful of ingredients. The crab is already cooked, so it comes together quickly. If you’re pressed for time, it’s OK to use pre-shredded cheese.

Ingredients

8 oz. brick light cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened

1/3 cup canola oil mayonnaise

2 tsp. dried chopped onion (or 1/4 cup sauteed onion)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few shakes of Old Bay seasoning (optional, but so good with crab)

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (to save time, I used a pre-shredded blend from Trader Joe’s)*

4 oz. prepared crab meat*

3/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup parmesan-romano cheese

*Notes

I’m eating my words from other posts regarding the use of pre-shredded cheese. Normally, I cringe at their use because of the no-clump coating that generally prevents even mixing or melting. The truth is, I was pressed for time on the day I made this scrumptious dip, because my stylist was able to squeeze me in for my first hair appointment in more than 90 days! As always, my tips are only suggestions. If it comes down to taking a shortcut or missing the opportunity, please always take the shortcut!

Use any cooked crab meat you prefer. In some dishes, fresh is crucial—but in this hot dip, I’ve found that the prepared blue crab available in my supermarket’s seafood section is perfectly suitable.

Instructions

Using either a stand mixer or handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and mayonnaise together until smooth and creamy. Add the dried onion, plus salt and pepper to taste, and mix to combine. This is the base recipe, and you can use it as a backdrop for any other ingredients you wish, provided you follow the general ratio of added ingredients, and none of them are excessively wet.

To continue with the crab artichoke dip recipe, add the Old Bay seasoning and shredded cheese and stir or mix on low until it’s evenly incorporated. Use a rubber spatula or spoon to gently fold in the crab meat and artichoke hearts. You want these ingredients to keep their shape, so easy does it here.

For serving at home, transfer the mixture to a 9-inch pie plate. Because we were planning to share the dip at a safely-distanced backyard happy hour, I divided it among three smaller oven-safe ramekins—one for us, one for our friends, and a third to leave behind for them to enjoy later in the weekend.

Melt butter in a small skillet and sauté the garlic over medium-low heat. Stir in the panko crumbs and toss them around until all are coated evenly. (Want to save a bit of time here? While the butter is melting, put the panko crumbs in a small Rubbermaid-style bowl. After sautéing the garlic, pour the butter mixture over the crumbs then seal the bowl and shake the heck out of it. It’s one more dish to wash, but you will make quick work of blending the butter with the crumbs more evenly.)

Sprinkle the buttered crumbs evenly over the crab-artichoke mixture, then sprinkle with parm-romano blend and cover with foil and tuck it into the fridge until you’re ready to bake.

Bake at 350° F for 35-40 minutes, or until dip is bubbly and parm-romano crumb mixture is lightly browned. Serve warm with crackers, pita or toasted baguettes. Wouldn’t you know?—we were in a rush to get over to our backyard happy hour, and I was so excited about seeing our friends in person, I forgot to snap a picture of the bubbly dip while it was hot from the oven. I guess I’ll have to make it again, and then I’ll update the post. 🙂

Want to print this recipe?