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Sweet Pepper Dip


Red peppers

Peppers are with us year-round, but they are at their best when picked fresh. So, look for them first at farmers markets, and give them a try in this versatile dip recipe, featured in the new “From Seed to Skillet” (Chronicle Books, $30) by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger.

“When our peppers ripened in mid-summer, we put them in everything from eggs to soup, and we still couldn’t eat them fast enough,” the authors write. This dip is “a snack food and we spread it, slightly warm, on crackers or bread. Sometimes, for dinner, we’d even dip our ribs or chicken in it, we so loved the combination of crispness and sweetness that resulted from cooking half the peppers and leaving half of then raw before blending the two together.”

Sweet Pepper Dip

1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
6 large sweet bell peppers, red and yellow, sliced into strips, divided use
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Warm the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until softened. Add half the sliced peppers and cook until they’re very tender.

Let cool slightly, then scrape the contents of the pan into a blender, add the rest of the peppers, and purée until fully smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes about 2 cups.

“From Seed to Skillet” by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger

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Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts


Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts

“Most North Americans think habanero = fire,” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Sons, $35). “I think habanero = aroma of tropical fruit and flowers … plus some pretty searing heat. By roasting habaneros (along with garlic) and blending them into seasoning, we’ve already mitigated their heat without doing too much damage to that beautifully aromatic flavor. Adding a touch of honey soothes the heat to a very manageable glow.

“Still scared about using habaneros? Try using two or three serrano (or two small jalapeño) chiles instead. And if your macadamia nuts come salted, cut the salt in the seasoning by half.”

These can be made a week in advance and stored in an air-tight container before servings.

Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts (Macadamias al Chile Habanero y Ajo)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 to 2 fresh habanero chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (about 1 pound) roasted macadamia nuts

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. In a dry skillet, roast the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles over medium heat, turning them regularly until soft and blotchy-blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the habanero, 10 to 15 minutes for the garlic. When the garlic is handleable, peel off the paper skin. In a mortar or small food processor, combine the garlic and habanero. Pound or process to as smooth a mixture as possible. Add the oil, honey and salt and pound or process to incorporate thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the macadamias and flavoring, stirring to coat the nuts thoroughly. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake —stirring occasionally — until the nuts are toasty smelling and the flavorings have formed a shiny, dryish coating, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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Chipotle-Roasted Almonds


Chipotle-Roasted Almonds

“Wanting a sweet-spicy nibble to set out for guests, I concocted this sweet chipotle glaze (though it works as well on peanuts and other nuts),” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Sons, $35). “And you’re reading the ingredients right: I used ketchup as the medium to work the chiles, lime and brown sugar together into one pretty fine coating that’s easy to distribute evenly. When the nuts are ready to remove from the oven, they will no longer feel sticky — but they won’t be crisp. That’ll happen as they cool off.

“If the almonds you buy are blanched (peeled) but not toasted, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 325-degree oven until they’re aromatic and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.”

I failed to do the last step and used raw, unpeeled almonds. The nuts came out sticky. In fact, they clumped in the bowl. But they broke apart easily and disappeared quickly, sticky or not.

Chipotle-Roasted Almonds (Almendras Enchipotladas)

2 canned chipotle chiles
2 tablespoons adobo (tomato-y sauce in the can of chiles)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups (1 1/4 pounds) toasted, blanched almonds

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the chipotles, adobo, lime juice, ketchup, sugar and salt into a blender and process to a smooth purée. Pour into a large bowl along with the almonds and toss until the nuts are evenly coated. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly spread the nuts on it. Bake until they are fragrant and no longer moist, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool the almonds on the sheet pan, then scoop into a serving bowl and set out for all to enjoy.

Makes 4 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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Melissa Guerra’s Tacos de Acelgas Are Filled with Chard


Red and white chard

The cover of Molly O’Neill’s new cookbook, “One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking” (Simon & Schuster, $50) promises “600 recipes from the nation’s best home cooks, farmers, fishermen, pit-masters, and chefs.” That means Dungeness crab from San Ramon, Calif.; lobster chowder from Stonington, Maine; and Kansas City ribs.

Given the melting pot that is America, there are also plenty of dishes with international flavors, such as Sri Lankan Dry Potato Curry from New Rochelle, N.Y.; Israeli couscous from Party City, Utah; and Penang beef with rice noodles from Santa Fe, N.M.

What there is not in 830 pages is a single recipe from anyone in San Antonio. The closest the book comes is a recipe from Melissa Guerra, who is listed as being from McAllen. Guerra, who owns the eponymous Tienda de Cocina at the Pearl Brewery, offers up a crispy fried taco recipe with chard, or acelgas, that can be served as a snack or a vegetarian main course.

You’ll find both red and white chard at farmers markets these days.

Melissa Guerra’s Tacos de Acelgas

3 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 or 2 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons corn oil, plus additional for frying, divided use
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound fresh red or white chard, washed and chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
32 corn tortillas (6-inch size works best)
3 ounces crumbled cotija cheese or shredded Monterey Jack (about 3/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Place a wire rack over another baking sheet.

Purée the tomatoes and garlic in a blender or a food processor. If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup water to facilitate blending.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the purée, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While tomato purée is reducing, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the chard and cook for 10 minutes, until tender. Drain thoroughly.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the chard and minced garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the filling is very dry and well flavored. Remove from the heat.

Wrap 8 tortillas at a time in a clean, damp kitchen towel. Heat them in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high, until they are steamy and pliable. Remove 1 tortilla from the bundle and lay out flat. (Keep the rest well wrapped in the towel.) Fill the tortilla with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the chard and roll up tightly. Place the taco on the wire rack over the baking sheet, with the curved edge of the tortilla underneath. Dampen, warm, fill and shape the remaining tortillas into tacos in this fashion.

Heat 1/2 inch oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Place the tacos one by one in the hot oil. with the curved edge still underneath. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, then gently turn oven with tongs and fry the other side about 1 minute, until crisp. Remove from the oil and drain on the paper towel-lined sheet pan.

Place all the tacos on a serving platter, pour the warm tomato purée over the top, and sprinkle with the cheese.

Makes 8 servings.

From “One Big Table” by Molly O’Neill

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Skewered Crisp Shiitakes With Garlic


From Mark Bittman, author of “How to Cook Everything” comes this simple finger food. The recipe makes easy work out of an unusual appetizer, and the skewers are simply toothpicks.

Skewered Crisp Shiitakes with Garlic

40 shiitake mushroom caps, about 1 pound (stems should be reserved for stock or discarded)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin (but not shaved)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

[amazon-product]0767911938[/amazon-product]Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put shiitakes on one layer in a roasting pan and add olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the shiitakes have begun to shrink. Stir in the garlic, salt and pepper, and return to oven, tossing and turning occasionally, until the shiitakes are crisp, and garlic slices are crisp and browned. Skewer the shiitakes on toothpicks and lay on a warm serving plate. Scatter over the garlic “chips.”  Serve right away.

Serves 8-10

Adapted from “The Minimalist Entertains” by Mark Bittman

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Dates Add Gooey Richness to Bars


Dates and nuts give this bar cookies their richness.

Nutmeg Date Bars

8 ounces pitted dried dates
1 cup pecans or walnuts
1 cup sifted powdered sugar, plus more for garnish
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Put the dates and nuts through a food grinder using the medium blade. (Editor’s note: Here’s where modern appliances come in handy. Make the dough for this dish entirely in your food processor.) Add the sugar, eggs and salt and mix well. Add the melted butter, lemon juice, flour and nutmeg and mix thoroughly.

Spread the batter in a very thin layer in a greased 9-inch square pan. Bake for 30 minutes.

Cool partially. Cut into bars. Roll the bars in additional powdered sugar.

Makes 21 bars.

From “The New York Times Menu Cookbook” by Craig Claiborne

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Add Chocolate to Your Popcorn


Make this recipe about three hours before serving or earlier in the day.

Chocolate Popcorn

12 cups popped corn (about 3/4 cup unpopped)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup light or dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 (6-ounce) package semisweet chocolate pieces (1 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place popcorn in large oven roasting pan; set aside.

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat sugar, corn syrup and butter to boiling, stirring constantly until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in chocolate pieces and vanilla until chocolate is melted. Pour hot mixture over popcorn, stirring to coat well.

Bake popcorn 1 hour, stirring mixture occasionally. Spoon into another large roasting pan or onto waxed paper to cool, stirring occasionally to separate. Store popcorn in tightly covered containers.

Makes 12 cups.

From “The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook”

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Make Popcorn in a Pan, Not Microwave


Perfect Popcorn Recipe

3 tablespoons canola, peanut, grapeseed or avocado oil (high smoke point oil)
1/3 cup high-quality popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons or more (to taste) of butter
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan on medium high heat.

Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan.

When the kernels pop, add the rest of the 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and count 30 seconds. (Count out loud; it’s fun to do with kids.) This method first heats the oil to the right temperature, then waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time.

Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once. Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner. Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper). Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.

With this technique, nearly all of the kernels pop (I counted 4 unpopped kernels in my last batch), and nothing burns.

If you are adding butter, you can easily melt it by placing the butter in the now-empty, but hot pan.

Salt to taste.

Additional tips:

  • If you add salt to the oil in the pan before popping, when the popcorn pops, the salt will be well distributed throughout the popcorn.
  • Fun toppings for the popcorn – Spanish smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, cayenne powder, chili pepper, curry powder, cumin, grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes 2 quarts popcorn.

From SimplyRecipes.com

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