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.


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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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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 added a generous blast of black pepper to the traditional 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

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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.

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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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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. 🙂

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Les’s Homemade Pimiento Cheese

Every Super Bowl party, every Thanksgiving appetizer hour and several other times throughout the year—you’ll find this quick and simple spread on our table. Though he doesn’t know the exact origin of his pimiento cheese recipe, my husband, Les, recalls that it was shared with him by a colleague at one of his former jobs. And that’s the nature of recipes, isn’t it? We enjoy a food that someone else prepared and we ask for the recipe. Maybe it’s their original recipe or maybe they got it from a cousin or a neighbor or their church potluck cookbook or the back of a soup can. When the recipe tickles your fancy, it doesn’t matter where it came from—just enjoy the fact that someone is willing to share it.

Les has graciously shared this one with me, to be shared with you. I was busy watching and jotting down the amounts of each ingredient he used, so I missed getting pictures along the way. But would you really need them for a recipe this simple? Let’s just go straight to the money shot.

Pimiento cheese is a southern food staple, delicious on a burger or little luncheon sandwiches, or even just spread on a cracker.

Unlike so many southern-style pimiento cheese recipes, this one is easy on the mayonnaise and lets the cheese take center stage. Nothing turns me off, food-wise, more than too much mayonnaise. The addition of diced tomatoes provides a nice touch of acidity to balance the richness of the cheese, and the tiniest splash of an unexpected ingredient adds a savory undertone. This spread is sturdy enough that a delicate cracker will break when you dip it. You need a hefty cracker or crostini, or do as we do and use a serving knife to spread it on your preferred snack canvas.

We enjoyed some of this recently when we had a small, physically distanced gathering with another couple. It was a fabulous backyard happy hour, long-overdue, and complete with snacks and David’s awesome martinis.

Go on, open a box of crackers, and make it a big one—in case you decide to devour the whole batch in one sitting. Nobody would blame you.

Ingredients

2/3 cup mayonnaise (we use an all-canola oil brand)

1/2 can Rotel tomatoes, very well drained*

2 oz. jar of diced pimientos, drained of excess moisture

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (surprise!)

2 blocks (8 oz. each) cheddar cheese, freshly shredded*

Freshly cracked black pepper

*Notes

Les uses the “hot” version of Rotel, which has habanero pepper but honestly isn’t really that hot. If spicy isn’t your thing, use the original.

Try using a couple different types of cheese, to keep it interesting. This time around, Les used sharp yellow cheddar and extra sharp white cheddar. But if you want to get creative and use smoked cheddar, or mix it up with gouda or another favorite firm cheese—we would both say, “go for it!”

For sure, do not use the pre-shredded cheese in a bag. They coat that stuff with a substance that keeps it from sticking together in the bag, and it adds a weird texture to finished recipes. In our opinion, all cheese is best when you buy it whole and grate it yourself.

Instructions

Stir together the mayonnaise, tomatoes, pimientos and Worcestershire sauce in a large mixing bowl, and season to your liking with black pepper. You won’t need to add salt because the cheese has enough. Add the shredded cheddar cheese and mix until evenly combined. I will note that Les and I differ on how to put together certain types of dishes, this being one of them. He grates the cheese first and then blends in each ingredient after that; my thought is that mixing the wet ingredients first and then blending in the dry makes life far easier. (Coincidentally, our methods differ in the same way for cookies. But that’s another post.) You can serve the spread immediately, but the flavor is best after a few hours in the refrigerator.

Simple ingredients, simple to make, and delicious!

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Pimiento cheese is practically its own food group in the South. If you have never heard of it (or maybe even pimientos themselves), here’s some background info to bring you up to speed:

What are pimientos?

Also sometimes spelled “pimento,” these are smallish round sweet peppers, about the size of a golf ball, and they are commonly referred to as “cherry peppers” because they have a similar shape. When jarred, the peppers are usually diced quite small. Most likely, you’ve seen pimientos before, stuffed into the inside of pitted green olives. Of course, now I’m craving a martini.

Are pimientos spicy?

Most people would agree that pimientos are not spicy, but sweet in flavor. For reference, they land somewhere about 200 on the Scoville scale, which measures the capsaicin, or heat value, of peppers. To compare, jalapenos are somewhere around 3,000. Having said that, if you decide to grow some pimientos, give them some distance from spicier peppers in your garden, as they have a tendency to take on more heat once they have cross-pollinated.

What else can you do with pimientos?

You can use pimientos the same way you’d use any other sweet pepper—in salads, soups, spreads or omelets. They are nearly bite-sized, so you might also remove the stem and clean out the seeds, then stuff them with herbed cream cheese or tuna salad. If you just have way too much time your hands, I suppose you could buy a bushel, dehydrate them and grind them into a powder. Voilà—homemade paprika.

How can I dress up pimiento cheese?

Adjust the flavor profile by blending in different kinds of cheese—smoked gouda, asiago or bleu cheese would each lend an interesting twist to pimiento cheese. Or add small amounts of other ingredients, such as pickled jalapenos, pickles or even cooked crumbled bacon for variety.

How can I use leftover pimiento cheese?

I’m sorry—I don’t think I understand this question, because we never have leftovers! 🙂 But sometimes, Les makes a double batch so we have enough to use for other things, such as topping a burger, melting over a toasted bagel, slathering inside omelets or elevating our happy in a macaroni and cheese. Go on, make some!


Kentucky Hot Brown Dip

Not everyone has the time (or the patience) to make a fussy Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict, or the traditional open-faced brioche sandwich that served as inspiration for it. Here’s a super simple way to enjoy all the same flavors, but in a make-ahead dip version. You’ll notice that my recipe does not mention adding salt—this is not accidental. I’ve used deli sliced turkey to keep it simple. Between that and the bacon, the recipe doesn’t need more salt.

Ingredients

4 slices thin uncured bacon, cut into 1/2” pieces

About 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup sweet onion

3 oz. thinly sliced deli turkey, chopped into smaller pieces—about 1/2 cup packed

1 pkg. (8 oz.) Neufchatel cream cheese

1/4 cup light mayo

1/4 cup light sour cream

Small handful fresh Italian parsley, cleaned and chopped

1 small (10 oz.) can Rotel tomatoes (mild version), drained completely

3/4 cup Swiss-Gruyere cheese blend from Trader Joe’s

2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese (and extra to sprinkle on top)

Freshly ground black pepper

Tools

Cast-iron skillet
Stand mixer or electric hand mixer
Rubber spatula
Cutting board and knife
Small non-stick skillet
Oven-safe baking dish (volume about 4 cups)*

Instructions

Place cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook bacon pieces until crispy. Set aside on paper towels to drain; when cool, chop the crispy pieces into smaller, basically uniform bits.

Place small skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. When it begins to shimmer, add chopped onions and sauté until caramelized. Add chopped turkey to the pan and continue to sauté until turkey pieces have browned edges. Set aside to cool.

In mixer bowl, whip cream cheese until smooth. Add mayonnaise and sour cream and whip again until blended, stopping once to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add Swiss-Gruyere blend, parmesan, parsley and tomatoes and mix gently until blended (don’t whip too much or tomatoes will lose their shape and turn the cream cheese pink). Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a silicone spatula to gently fold the turkey and onions, plus half of the crispy bacon, into the cream cheese mixture. Transfer the dip mixture to an oven-safe baking dish*, and top with remaining crispy bacon and another sprinkle of parmesan.

* We are still doing physical distancing (which is really bumming me out, but still necessary), so I’ve divided the dip mixture into separate ramekins to share with friends and neighbors for their own private Virtual Kentucky Derby gatherings (of two). These adorable dishes were handed down from my grandma, and I just love them! Each holds about 1 1/4 cups of dip mixture.

Proceed with baking, or cover and store in the fridge up to 3 days, until ready to serve.

Baking and Serving

Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake, loosely covered with foil, for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer, or until hot and bubbly.

Serve piping hot, spread on crackers, baguette slices or these dainty little brioche toasts I found at Trader Joe’s.

These seem appropriate, in keeping with the traditional “Hot Brown” open face sandwich on brioche.

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Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Balls

Think of these as very grown-up candies! During the mixing step, it will seem a little bit like you’re making mortar—it’s sooo thick and gooey. But once you have shaped and chilled them, they’ll be wonderful. What I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t involve making ganache, which is an extra step of melting chocolate in heavy cream in a double boiler. Using pantry ingredients keeps it simple, but make no mistake—these itty bitty bites are still impressive. Unlike the ganache-style truffles, these have some texture to them, thanks to the graham crumbs and pecans.

This recipe makes about 24 bourbon truffles. They pack a pretty boozy punch so don’t serve them to children or non-drinkers.

Ingredients

1 cup dry toasted, unsalted pecan pieces

3/4 cup Kentucky bourbon, divided

2 sleeves graham crackers

1/2 cup dark cocoa powder, divided

1/2 cup powdered sugar, divided 1/4 cup Karo corn syrup (light or dark is fine)

Instructions

In a small bowl, pour about half the bourbon over the pecan pieces and let them relax (in a drunken stupor) for about 3 hours.

Break the graham crackers into pieces, pulse in a food processor or blender until they are fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 325° F. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pecans from the bourbon and transfer them to a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Reserve the soaking bourbon. Bake the pecans until they’re dry and lightly toasted, about 12 minutes or up to 15 minutes (be careful not to burn). Cool, then chop finely or pulse in a food processor, but not to the point of powder. They should have a texture similar to panko crumbs.

Combine 1/4 cup each of the cocoa and powdered sugar in a small bowl or zip-top bag, and set aside for dusting the finished truffles.

Add the chopped pecans, all remaining bourbon (including the soaking portion), corn syrup, and the remaining cocoa and powdered sugar to the bowl of graham cracker crumbs. Prepare to get messy. Stir these ingredients together until no dry pockets remain. It will be sticky and gooey, but keep going. When the mixture is fully blended, rub your hands with a little dab of butter and roll a heaping tablespoon at a time into a ball. Place the bourbon balls on a parchment-lined tray, cover with plastic and chill for about 2 hours.

When balls are chilled and firm, gently roll them around in the reserved cocoa-sugar mixture until they’re well coated. Cover and chill again until ready to serve. If desired, give them another roll in the cocoa-sugar when you’re ready to present them. I think they’re cute in these little mini-muffin papers, and your guests will be able to pick them up without tongs.

Boozy truffle, anyone?

Elevate your happy, Comfort du Jour style!

I decided to make these Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Truffles even more impressive by rolling them in different types of coatings. Try doing a third of them in the cocoa-powdered sugar blend, a third in super-fine (caster) sugar and a third in finely chopped pecans. One recipe, but three treatments, gives the impression of variety but with very minimal extra effort.

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