Category Archives: Appetizers and the likes

Three Cheese Grilled Pizza

I have two favorite things about living in New Jersey.  First is having the luxury of living in the secluded countryside while only being a short train ride away from one of the world’s biggest and greatest cities.  And second, is pizza.  Good classic Italian pizza (and all other Italian deliciousness you find everywhere).

I rarely make pizza at home because we are surrounded by so many wonderful restaurants with those blazing brick ovens.  The ones that cook your pizza to a crispy, flavorful perfection within seconds.  But sometimes in the summer, when grilling season is upon us, I love to put on my sweats, grab a glass of wine and put a cheesy pizza over the coals.  It’s the next best thing to the brick oven kind. 

And if you’re like me, you’ll seek out your favorite pizza shop and buy the dough already made for only a couple of dollars.  More time to sit back, relax and soak up these sweet summer nights.

Three Cheese Grilled Pizza

This is more of the method opposed to a recipe.  Use whatever toppings you like.  For the three cheese pizza I used Shredded Provolone, Fresh Mozzarella and Shaved Parm, and it was superb.

  • Prepared pizza dough
  • Tomato sauce, recipe below
  • Olive oil
  • Toppings (I used shredded provolone, fresh mozzarella and topped with parmesan and basil, but you can use whatever you’d like!)

Tomato Sauce

(This recipe makes a lot of sauce, so if you’re only making one pizza, freeze the rest of it in individual ziplock bags to reuse in the future.)

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes

Heat a saucepan to medium and add garlic, oil, red pepper and salt. Continue to saute for just about a minute. Add tomato paste, oregano and basil and cook for a minute longer. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about 5 minutes and then adjust seasonings according to taste.

For the Grilled Pizza

Roll out dough on floured surface.  I like a thin crust, but don’t roll it out too thin or else it will burn quickly on the grill. Once your dough is rolled out heat the grill to med/high and have your sauce and toppings ready to go. 

Place the floured dough on a pizza peel (or back of a cookie sheet) and slide the dough onto the grill.  It should only take a few minutes, but check frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn.  You want it to have a nice browned bottom.  Once the bottom is browned remove from the grill with a spatula and pizza peel.

With the grilled side up, brush with olive oil and then add your sauce (a very thin layer of sauce is all you need).  Add the rest of your toppings beginning with the cheese.  Place the pizza back on the grill and cook covered until the bottom begins to brown and the cheese melts. 

Finish with fresh basil if desired.

UPDATE: If you are using the back of a cookie sheet or other surface, instead of a pizza peel which is made specifically for handling pizza dough, make sure you dust it with plenty of flour to ensure your dough does not stick to the surface when trying to transfer.  Or, it may just have to be a two person job!

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Mango and Avocado Quinoa Salad with Blackened Shrimp

When I was precisely 16 years and 5 months old I went on a trip to Peru. I remember my age exactly because only my 16 year and 5 month old self would get on a plane to one of the most amazing and culturally rich places in the world, kicking and screaming.  It’s quite embarrassing for me to admit it today since I would go absolutely anywhere in a heartbeat, but at the time, I didn’t want to go.

I was the only one left in the house after my older sisters had all moved out and my mom and step-father (a native Peruvian) wanted to bring me along with them to South America.  Being the dramatic teenager I was I thought for sure that my life would end immediately if I missed out on three whole weeks of summer happenings in my tiny Ohio town.  The idea of doing anything other than painting my fingernails and reading teen magazines did not interest me.

The plan for the trip was to first fly into Lima to stay with some family.  After a week of exploring the city we would continue on to a few smaller towns, visit more family, and then eventually end up in Cusco to do a four day hike to Machu Picchu.  Which, by the way, I showed up in the Andes mountains for this half of a week long hike up a mountain, never having hiked before, wearing a pair of Sketchers boots, and a backpack full of Seventeen magazines and nail polish. I vividly remember standing on the top of the mountain next to a group of four Frenchmen, who had been training for this hike for months, as I flipped through and re-read my test scores from the “What kind of boyfriend is he” quiz. 

Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco…none of those words really meant anything to me at the time because, not only had I never been to Peru, I had never been out of the country before.  I had no idea what it was like to see the world and my expectations were low (how could anything be better than Ohio?).  I was skeptical all the way up to, and even after, getting off that plane and stepping foot into Lima.  I remember how we sifted through taxi after taxi lined up outside to make sure we got in a legit car since they’ve been known to just slap a “Taxi Cab” sticker on the door to make a few bucks.  I remember how I was told that sometimes they’ll even kidnap you and hold you for a ransom to make a few bucks more.  I remember how we got in the taxi with a driver going 720 miles an hour, swerving through traffic while almost hitting a man walking a goat on a leash downtown Lima.   And then I remember thinking, Oh my god.  I’m going to love this place!

It was all so new and exciting and everything about it was intriguing. I especially loved the food. I had never experienced tasting the cuisine and dining cultures of a different group of people before and of all places, Peru seriously does it right.  Foods like quinoa and ceviche are everywhere. Fresh avocado, freshly squeezed oj carts going down the streets, I loved every bite of everything I put in my mouth.  Even some questionable things that I will refrain from sharing with you!

I am so grateful for the experience and it truly helped shape me into the passionate traveler and food lover that I am today.   When I eat foods like quinoa it always makes me nostalgic thinking back to the time when I had it first.  Every bite of the mild and nutty grain is better than the next.  It’s times like this that food…is more than just food.

 Mango and Avocado Quinoa Salad with Blackened Shrimp

Serves 2 large lunch sized portions, or 4 smaller portions

Quinoa

(you can use all water if you prefer, but I think the chicken stock gives it a nice added flavor)

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • salt
  • 1 large mango, pitted and diced
  • 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • Cilantro, a large handful chopped (about ½ cup)
  • Freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1-2 tbs olive oil
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • salt
  • pepper

Blackened Shrimp

  • 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and devained
  • blackening seasoning (or you can buy prepared blackening seasoning)
  • salt
  • 2 tbs olive oil

Begin by rinsing your quinoa under cold water.  Next, add your quinoa, water, chicken stock and pinch of salt to a medium sized pot.  Bring to a boil and then cover with a lid and turn the heat down to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. 

For the shrimp, place all the shrimp in a large ziplock bag, add your blackening seasoning, a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil and shake to coat completely.  Heat another tbsp olive oil to medium-high heat in a large pan.  Cook the shrimp on each side for just a couple minutes, or until they turn pink.  Shrimp cook very quickly, so be sure not to overcook.

Mix the quinoa with the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and serve with the shrimp and fresh cilantro garnish

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Wild Mushroom, Sage and Fontina Cheese Quesadillas

I’m reposting this recipe from last year when I told you about how my husband likes to accuse me of having a secret Mexican heritage.  Besides the fact that I go absolutely batty over flavors like cilantro, avocado, jalapenos (or all three combined, like this recipe: cilantro-lime jalapeno chicken salad) my obsession with tortillas is uncanny.  I eat a tortilla at least once a day, wrapped around my morning eggs, and sometimes I’ll have more for lunch or dinner in a quesadilla format.

Quesadillas are one of my favorite go-to meals.  We all face the same challenge of finding the time to cook, myself included.  Many of my days are spent cooking and shopping for clients (and caring for this little lamb chop), leaving me little time for personal cooking.

This is why I think it’s always important to have one or two versatile dishes you could cook in a synch with whatever you have on hand.  If you have a few staples to fall back on its less planning and preparation on your part for at least one or two nights a week.  And, it’s also a great way to utilize leftovers. I am a HUGE fan of re-inventing your leftovers.

Because I’ve been known to put just about anything in the middle of two tortillas and call it a quesadilla, I’ll share with you some of my favorites. Ham, egg and pickle for a little Cuban flair, a skirt steak & caramelized onion version, chicken & chorizo with peppers, or even an herb roasted veggie and cream cheese combo. 

And of course, I can’t forget this little number.  I could eat this everyday and be a very happy girl.

Wild Mushroom, Sage & Fontina Quesadillas

serves 2

  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
  • 4 cup of assorted wild mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, baby portobello) stems trimmed and cleaned
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • about 6 large sage leaves, chopped
  • about ½ -3/4 cup mild Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • veg oil
  • salt and pepper

Heat butter in a large saute pan and add shallot.  Cook shallot for about 3 minutes over medium heat or until shallot begins to soften.  Add mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  If your mushrooms stick to the pan you need to turn the heat down and add a drop of water.  Add garlic and saute for a couple minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in sage leaves. Check for seasoning.

In large sauté pan heat oil on medium.  Add one tortilla and spread out cheese and mushrooms evenly.  Add top tortilla and press down lightly. Cook on each side for approximately 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned and cheese is melted.

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Homemade Herbed Mayonnaise

If there is anything that I could say to convince you to make your own mayonnaise it would be: watch this video.  Although my days of learning to make mayo began long ago in culinary school, after watching Michael Ruhlman’s video I was in the kitchen urgently cracking eggs before it was even half way over.  Not only does he demonstrate how it takes less than 2 minutes to make with ingredients you most likely already have on hand, but he reminds us of the smooth luxurious taste that is incomparable to any type of store-bought kind. 

The video could not have come at a more appropriate time as I had just been informed that my husband was bringing company over in less than an hour.  Because I eat salads frequently I had arugula and cherry tomatoes in the fridge and because bacon is, well bacon, I always have bacon.  I took some leftover baguette from the prior nights dinner, (very) lightly toasted it, covered it with a smooth layer of herbed mayo, and although I secretly wanted to stop there, I topped it with arugula, tomatoes and bacon for a nice little BLT appetizer (and I still had time to snap a few pics!).  

You can use whatever type of herbs you’d like, but I used what I had growing on my window sill.  You can also add a little more lemon and garlic for a tasty dip, serve it with roasted veggies, make deviled eggs, eat it with hot crispy french fries or just pack it in your brown bag for your turkey & cheddar on wheat.  Whatever you decide to do with it, I’m fairly certain you’ll be a homemade mayo fan for life.

Homemade Herbed Mayonnaise

(adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • freshly chopped tarragon, chives and parsley

The fastest and easiest way to make mayo is by using a handheld blender (as shown in the video), but if you do not have one you can achieve the same results with a whisk.  Just ensure you are whisking vigorously enough to properly emulsify your ingredients.

In a medium bowl combine the yolk, salt, water and lemon juice.  Ensure your bowl will hold steady on the counter while you are whisking by folding a towel or moist paper towel underneath and begin to whisk ingredients together.

Slowly add the oil, in a wire-thin stream, while whisking vigorously.  Once your emulsion starts to become creamy, you can add the oil a little faster. From the beginning the mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape and look luxuriously creamy. Add the oil too quickly and it will break, that is, it will turn soupy.  When all the oil is incorporated add the chopped herbs and adjust the lemon if needed. 

(If the mayonnaise is too thick, it can be thinned by whisking in a little water or

If it breaks, put a teaspoon of water in a clean bowl and start the process over by drizzling in the broken mayonnaise while whisking.

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Balsamic Asparagus with Feta Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes, and Toasted Walnuts

I am seriously in love with asparagus.  In love.  So much, in fact, that I almost have a little Asparagus Envy.  

It is truly everything I strive to be in life — tall, thin, sleek, versatile, luxurious yet balanced, full of life and flavor, wholesome, tall, thin, sleek.  Did I say tall and thin?  But seriously, it is the WHOLE package — inside and out.

 

The possibilities with asparagus really are endless.  A while back I shared an Asian Style Asparagus recipe with shiitake mushrooms and sesame seeds for The Magazine of Yoga that was a terrific combination as well.   This is the type of vegetable that all you need to know is how to cook it and then you can run wild with your imagination.  It really couldn’t be any easier.

For this recipe, I didn’t measure out the ingredients exactly, so it is an approximation — feel free add as much or as little as you’d like of the ingredients.  

  • One bunch Asparagus
  • 3/4 cup of Feta Cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped, marinated Sundried Tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup toasted Walnuts
  • 2-3 tbs good quality Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Trim the bottoms of your asparagus and then bring a medium pot of water to a boil.   While the water is coming to a boil prepare an ice bath for after the asparagus cooks.  (An ice bath is just a large bowl filled with cold water and ice – this will stop the asparagus from cooking as well as help it to keep the vibrant green color).

Once your water comes to a boil add the asparagus and cook just until the water comes back up to a boil (also known as blanching).  If you want your asparagus a little more on the tender side, leave it in for just a minute or two longer.  Once cooked, drain and place the asparagus immediately in the ice bath.

To finish, remove from water, drizzle with balsamic and other ingredients, season with salt and pepper as desired and serve.

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Shredded Pork Carnitas and Purple Potato Flatbread with a creamy Queso Sauce

Let me start by telling you how my mind works.  Or more appropriately, I should say how my mind doesn’t work. Literally speaking.  This was originally supposed to be a recipe for Peruvian Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Rice), but somewhere along the way it all fell apart.

I had the ingredients neatly lined up on my kitchen counter waiting to be used.  Then, during my daily grocery store stroll (between work shopping and personal shopping I can officially say I live at the supermarket) I spotted the most gorgeous, sexy, dark purple potatoes in the produce aisle. They had my name written all over them – and I’m pretty sure it was Spanish. “Natali-yahhhh.

My initial thought was to throw them into the arroz con pollo since I’ve seen lots of variations of Peruvian rice and potato dishes.  But then I thought I should keep them separate and showcase them on their own.  That’s when it all started to go down hill.  My mind began racing and I started thinking of a ridiculous amount of ideas, as if I had never seen a potato before. The.entire.car.ride.home.

One thought led to another, which led to another, which led to…three days later.

I literally spent three days pondering over these darn little spuds until my brain broke down and completely stopped working all together.  At that point, I had no idea what to do with them. 

I gave it a rest for a while until it finally hit me – flatbread!  Hmmm, or maybe potato salad.  Ok, flatbread.

Typically, I would be too embarrassed to admit that these are the types of problems I face, but because I have an end result like this one, I’m beginning to think it’s a good thing that my brain stops working every now and then.

…although, I’m fairly certain my husband would beg to differ.

1. Pizza Dough

My local grocery store has a great pizza counter where I purchased my dough from.  A lot of local pizzerias also sell good dough for just a couple dollars.

2. Toppings

  • Corn
  • Purple Potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • Hot peppers (or mild if you prefer)
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Avocado, diced

3. Pork Carnitas Recipe

Pork carnitas means “little meats” in Spanish.  This is a very delicious, flavorful and inexpensive way to prepare pork, but make sure you allow yourself time since you want to cook it on low heat for several hours to get that fork tender meat.  You could also prepare it in a crock pot if you prefer.

  • 2 lb bone-in pork shoulder
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 adobe chipolte peppers
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven and season pork liberally with salt and pepper.  Add pork and brown on all sides.  Remove pork from pot and add onions, scrapping up all the brown bits.  Add garlic, cumin and oregano to pot and cook for a minute longer.

Add chipolte peppers, chicken stock and pork back to pot.  Cover pot and cook for about 7-8 hours or until the pork is fork tender.  In crock pot cook on low for about 8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.

4. Queso Sauce Recipe

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbs Tabasco sauce
  • salt and pepper

In small-medium sauce pan melt butter. Add flour, whisk and cook for a few minutes to create the roux.  Whisk in milk and cook until the milk begins to thicken into a sauce and coats the back of a spoon.  Turn heat off and add cheese slowly. Add Tabasco sauce (for flavor, not heat — but you can add extra if you would like the heat).  Add salt to taste.

Assemble the Flatbread

For the flatbread, first roll out dough on a floured surface.  Place the dough on a pizza stone or if you do not have a stone, place on the back side of a baking sheet.  Arrange potatoes, corn and peppers on the top of the dough.  Cook in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, add pork and cook for about 5-10 minutes longer or until the dough is cooked.  Remove from oven, top with chopped cilantro and diced avocados and serve with cheese sauce.

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Salsa and Avocado Deviled Eggs

I’m a huge egg fan to start, but when I was pregnant with my butterbean I couldn’t get enough.  Specifically the deviled kind.  Something about that creamy, tangy filling hit my ravenous hard-boiled-egg-spot every time.

Because I did try to nourish myself with some healthy choices during my nine-month long egg-a-thon, I incorporated lots of different variations into my diet.  This version is among my favorites and although lighter than the classic mayo mixture, it is still packed with tons of flavor. 

Spicy salsa, creamy avocado and complete with fresh cilantro.  Ahhh, I can’t think of a better combination!

Salsa and Avocado Deviled Eggs

(You can add a diced jalapeño if you like a little heat)

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup prepared salsa
  • 1/4 cup (light) sour cream
  • 2 green onion, green part sliced
  • Squeeze of fresh lime
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-3 tbs cilantro
  • 1 avocado, diced

Slice eggs in half lengthwise and scoop out yolks into medium bowl.  Add salsa, sour cream, squeeze of lime juice, green onion, freshly cracked pepper and a generous pinch of salt.  Combine well until the mixture becomes smooth and the egg yolks are creamy.

Spoon out the salsa mixture into the egg whites and top with avocado and cilantro.  Chill, serve, enjoy!

 

 

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