Double Rainbow

The most recent theme for our office potluck was RAINBOW! We each picked a color and brought something in with that color. It was such a fun one. I have to admit I wasn’t daring enough to choose certain colors…ahem:blue:cough:purple.I chose RED and made Strawberry Bruschetta. Toasted French bread + cream cheese + strawberries + balsamic reduction topped off with a little basil. Yum. I highly recommend bringing this one to your next bbq or summer party. I hadn’t ever made a balsamic reduction but it was so easy and worked really well. I loved this. The idea came from Mrs. C. She did a balsamic and honey drizzle and used goat cheese.

rainbow_red_290_200

Orange was out sick that day.

YELLOW was Lemon Squares! They were gooey with a fantastic shortbread crust.
rainbow_yellow_290_200

GREEN was guacamole! Ms. C learned how to pit an avocado while making it too!
rainbow_green_290_200
BLUE was blue corn tortilla chips and even a special blue dip! The veggie dip had a touch of blue food coloring. What would you bring for blue? Seriously a tough one but we’ve had at least one dip at every potluck. ever.
rainbow_290_200
PURPLE was Thai Lettuce Wraps in Radicchio! Some were vegetarian with tofu and some had ground turkey. I love bean sprouts so these were really fun finished off with a sprinkle of peanuts. Purple also had a blackberry fizzy drink too.

rainbow_drink_290_200

rainbow_purple_290_200

 

 

 

 

 

 

BROWN was chocolate from a friend dropping by. We stressed she didn’t need to bring anything but this was a creative little something.

Hope the rainbow has you inspired for something new or different. Another blog I love recently posted about a Grilled Appetizer Party which is a fantastic theme! The photos will have your mouth watering but don’t let that stop you if you’re trying to come up with a fun theme! What’s the next office potluck theme? Ohh just you wait…

I’ve Got An Ap For That…

While I sadly do not yet have an iPhone I may have just made the best restaurant APpetizer at home!

In honor of my Mac & Cheese-loving-Mrs. Z, I made some fried mac & cheese bites when she was visiting Boston with her husband (who planned a guest blog post for me!). Mrs. A & Mr. D joined us for a mini staff (and husbands) dinner party.
fried_mac_plate
They were amazing. Albeit not perfect, they were still delectable and I’m onto a good thing. I think the technique was really important. I stole a tip from a blog, Dinner With Julie. She recommended making the mac & cheese then refrigerating it so it can easily be cut. Definitely a good tip. Check it out on her blog!

 

You may have seen me make mac & cheese before here or proclaim my love for it here. I wasn’t sure how this would go so I just whipped up some basic mac & cheese with small shells and cheddar.

Ingredients

mac & cheese (boxed or prepared as you like it)
2 cups vegetable oil for frying
2 eggs whipped
1 cup panko

Directions

Prepare mac & cheese
Refrigerate several hours in square dish 1” thick
Remove from dish in 1 piece and cut into cubes while oil is heating on medium heat in large skillet.
fried_Mac_cubes_290_200
Dredge the mac & cheese cubes in egg and panko before dropping into oil. Turn halfway until evenly golden brown.
fried_mac_frying_290_200

My oil wasn’t quite hot enough at first so the first round wasn’t as crisp but they were still good. Next time, as I’m sure there will be a next time, I would mix in some shredded cheese after preparing the mac & cheese so the bites would be more cheesy. I rarely fry anything because I think it’s such a bother and I don’t like the sputtering oil. Mr. J and I had JUST started a wedding registry and joked when we saw the a deep fryer…as if anyone needs that at home. Dangerous!

They were fun and more unusual than I go for aps. I was really happy with them but plan to only break them out on special occasions. I’m glad I attempted them. I now wonder if they could be made ahead of time and broiled briefly before serving to stay warm? We’ll see…

Marinate Those Mushrooms

I love marinated mushrooms and once I figured out the secret to making them I whip them up regularly. They’re so good on salad, antipasto, or on their own. Also, it’s easy to make marinated mushrooms in any quantity! That’s a perk for me who is the only fan of mushrooms around.
mar.mush_salad_290_200
I used balsamic vinegar to change it up but I normally go with cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. Once they marinate over night I usually drain out the excess marinade but I keep them in the same jar.

Ingredients:

6 large mushrooms, cut into quarters
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vinegar (any variation)
1 tsp garlic
salt & pepper
dried spices that will compliment the vinegar choice
1 tsp sugar
mar.mush_lineup_290_200

Directions:

Drop mushrooms into boiling water for 2 minutes and drain.
Mix oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and spices in a glass jar. Shake vigorously.
mar.mush_bottle_200_290
Add mushrooms and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

I often use white button mushrooms but I had a few big ones that I just cut up and put onto my salad lunches this week. Lettuce is my least favorite part of the salad so I often just put a few veggies together and call it salad but I had some quinoa and some spinach and thought marinated mushrooms would be a great addition!

Do you know quinoa? I got red quinoa and have enjoyed it all week. My friend Ms. J LOVES quinoa and makes it all the time!
mar.mush_quin_290_200

Easy 3 Ingredient Dip

I made an ap for Easter and wanted something lighter and healthier than I’d usually head towards. This is a white bean based dip with homemade pita chips. This ended up being a good one to bring somewhere since it is served cold and the pita chips could be made ahead of time or purchased.

Ingredients

1 can white beans, drained
1 jar roasted red peppers (with liquid)
½ cup fresh parsley
1 tbs garlic
2 wheat pita pockets

Directions

Rinse and drain white beans
dip_beans_290_200
Add beans, red peppers with liquid, parsley, and garlic to a food processer.
dip_layers_200_290
Blend, stirring partway, and leaving some chunks.
Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.
dip_290_200

I toasted some of my own pita chips. Tearing the pitas all the way apart made for a thinner chip with fewer calories. The dip was good, fresh, and super easy. It would be great on bread, stirred into pasta or soup, or anything!

I think you definitely have to like these ingredients to enjoy this but this handy dip includes a simple list of ingredients to have on hand.

What to Munch for Lunch

I was lacking on groceries (as well as energy, time, and creativity) but I really wanted to relax and whip up something for lunch for a few days. I found a zucchini that was nearing the end of it’s life in the fridge. I let that be my muse since I also wanted to put my new mandolin to use!
zucc_pastry_done_290_200

Ingredients

1 sheet puff pastry
4 tbs pesto
1 cup grated gruyere
1 zucchini, sliced thin

Directions

Lay puff pastry out on a cookie sheet.
zucc_pastry_ingredients_290_200
Spread pesto to cover entire pastry sheet
Sprinkle cheese to cover entire pastry sheet
Carefully lay zucchini slices, overlapping slightly
zucc_pastry_assemble_290_200
Bake 15-20 minutes at 350

This was just what I wanted. It was easy, had some great flavors, and packed well for lunch! I was meticulous about the rows of zucchini but I should have pushed the rows closer together. Budget for the puff factor.

I cooked it for about 15 minutes, knowing that I would put it in the toaster oven at work so I aired on the under-cooked side.

Although I haven’t made interesting just-for-lunch recipes lately this reminded me how just a few high quality ingredients make for a tasty dish. Any cheese would have worked well. Even other prepared sauces would work too.

What else should be some quick lunch fixes?

Spinach & Cheese Muffin Bites

Spinach-Cheese Bake

I really love quiche but when I pack it for lunch it seems soggy and the crust flakes. I tried this crustless spinach and Monterey jack cheese version and made it in a muffin tin.
crustless_quiche_done_290_200There isn’t anything super special in this but I was glad I went with a lighter protein & veggie option for a few days worth of lunch. It would be good for a bunch item but this didn’t rock my socks.

Ingredients

4 cups fresh baby spinach
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/3  cups  all-purpose flour
1 1/2  cups milk
4 eggs
1  teaspoon  salt
2  teaspoons  Dijon mustard
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/8  teaspoon  ground red pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray 13 x 9-inch baking dish or muffin tins with cooking spray. Place chopped spinach evenly in bottom of dish; sprinkle evenly with cheese.
crustless_quiche_spin_290_200Combine flour and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk until blended.
crustless_quiche_liq_290_200Pour milk mixture over cheese. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until lightly browned.
crustless_quiche_assemb_290_200I omitted 1 teaspoon of baking powder, by accident. These turned out a bit more spongy than I expected, probably because I forgot the baking powder.

Fav Comfort Apps

A lot of restaurants seem to be advertising their 500-calorie meals or the weight watchers specials but sometimes, you just need serious comfort food. Tavern On the Square is one of my regular comfort food places, and Phantom Gourmet agrees!

#1 Risotto Fritters

Parmesan risotto stuffed with pesto and mozzarella lightly breaded and fried. Served with tomato cream sauce and baby arugula.

The risotto is nutty with the perfect amount of pesto. The arugula is peppery and added a nice contrast to the salty parmesan.

#2 White Truffle Tator Tots

A heaping portion of our tator tots drizzled with aromatic white truffle oil and Parmesan cheese.

comfort_tavern_tots_290_200

The tator tots are truly a heaping portion. I think the truffle oil is a bit lacking and I’d prefer a better ratio but I wouldn’t pass on these…they’re just too addicting.

#3 Tropical Chicken Skewers

Chicken tenders coated in shredded coconut and panko breadcrumbs, fried to a golden brown and served with a pineapple curry sauce and fruit salsa.

comfort_tavern_chic_290_200

I was pleasantly surprised by these. The coconut was perfect and a great sweetness with the zip of the sauce.

These apps are really fun and make a meal to share.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip…with an Indian Twist

I needed to make a healthy appetizer for a non-profit having a get together for women. On The Rise is an amazing organization who supports women who are trying to move out of homelessness and women in crisis. I was in a hurry and didn’t have a ton of ideas. I knew my ap wouldn’t be able to be kept or served warm so I went with a semi-homemade dip.I had raita dip from Trader Joe’s so I used that as my starting point. I made this with the idea of spinach and artichoke dip without all the cheese and one that wouldn’t need to be served hot.

Ingredients
6 oz premade Raita
3 cups spinach, chopped
½ cup non-fat sour cream
1 jar artichoke hearts
1 pumpernickel bread loaf, uncut

Directions
1) Wilt spinach in a skillet.
spinachdip1_290_200

2) Slice the top of the loaf and hollow out the inside.

3) Mix raita, sour cream, artichoke hearts, and spinach.
spinachdip3_290_200
4) Refrigerate a few hours or overnight.
5) Serve in bread bowl with bread, baby carrots, and wheat thins to dip.This probably won’t be my claim to fame but it fulfilled the criteria I was looking for. It also was cheap, easy, and traveled well. I don’t have a final photo since they protect the anonymity of their clients so I wasn’t at the meal.

I’ve made lunch for these ladies and I really wonder how it has gone over. Again, the charge was healthy and minimal prep. Once I made sandwich filling options of grilled chicken salad with grapes or greek veggies (hummus, feta, cukes, tomatoes, and greek dressing) in pita pockets or bulkie rolls. Another time I made breakfast of baked blueberry french toast, hashbrown casserole, and mini bagels with cream cheese.

Holiday Feasting

If your holiday season was anything like mine it included goodies of all kinds, and often. Here’s a journey through the last few days of family, friends, and FOOD.

A holiday gathering with friends was made more special with delightful holiday beer. Of course they had the regulars as well but I’m a sucker for seasonal beers. I thought it was a really nice touch to have a few seasonal varieties on hand.

holidaybeer_200_290
Some other fun additions they served was a decadent bark. This would be a fantastic post-halloween treat as well. Bittersweet chocolate was topped with pretzels, melted red & green chocolate, and all the candy and cookies you can think of. Bittersweet chocolate was definitely necessary since milk chocolate would make it over-the-top sweet. The pretzels added a nice sweet/salty/crispy aspect.

holidaybark_290_200
Lastly they served roasted chestnuts! I hadn’t ever had them but fell in love. They have a real woodsy flavor. They are meaty and substantial. A little cut on the bottom made them easy to pop right out. Check out how nicely the bowl complimented the nuts too!

chestnuts_290_200
Ok, lets move on to some holiday meals. Breakfasts are my favorites. Christmas Eve was already my 2nd day of holiday celebrations with the C family and we had a crockpot scramble dish including ham, egg, cheese, and shredded potato. We also served Ebelskiver (translation: dutch filled-pancake). These are tasty and really fun. Mr. J is a master at turning them so he did the honors. We filled them with raspberries, banana, and chocolate chips. More than 3 options just gets confusing.

pancake_290_200
The pan only allows for a few per batch but we found out the first time making them that this is probably all that we could keep up with at a time anyway. Williams Sonoma makes fancy turners for $12.95 but bamboo skewers work just fine. We kept them warm in the oven while making the rest. I’ll post again about these…they’re that good.

pancake2_290_200
After discovering a Christmas journal from 1987 we realized the R fam has been eating a traditional Christmas breakfast since at least since then. It is a casserole (to be made the night before) with rice, eggs, velveeta, ham, and asparagus. It’s delectable and nobody is ever ready for a change.

holidaybfast_290_200

The other benefit is that it just gets popped into the oven while gifts are in progress and nobody misses anything! We also have a partridge and a pear tree, minus the partridge. Though I’m not sure why, the top of the tree gets a sugar cube with a drop of flavored extract lit on fire for a second.

holiday_peartree_290_200
Dinner time? There’s no set tradition with the R family so this year we had ham. Yum! Sides included the best sausage stuffing ever, creamed onions, green beans, and a baked fruit on the side.

holiday_dinner_290_200

Check out the BLT skewers I made with Mrs. C. She brought them to church on Christmas Eve and they were such a hit. How is it that I’ve never had super thick cut bacon? I’m now enlightened. Wow. We cut one end of the grape tomato off to make it stand better.

blt_sticks_290_200
One last delectable thing I ate (and ate) was sis’ sticky buns. The recipe will follow soon! Hope everyone else had great meals too!

Post Thanksgiving Pumpkin Beer Taste-Off

My Thanksgiving Day was with family but my the day after was with friends. I hosted a Non-Thanksgiving Pot Luck with a pumpkin beer taste-off. It was great fun and amazing food. Here are some highlights.
bruschetta_290_200
While it was a true potluck, it wasn’t until the day of that we knew who was bringing what. The challenge was to stay away from the foods we had all enjoyed the day before: no pumpkin or squash, no turkey, no cranberries.falfel_sliders_290_200
I made falafel sliders & black forest bread pudding. We also enjoyed: buffalo chicken dip, bruschetta, pizza, breadsticks, 7-layer mexican dip.

buff_dip_290_200
I know, this is a lot of food for nine people.

eggrolls_290_200
Dessert included: banana chocolate “ravioli”, black forest bread pudding; and turtle brownies.Our only nod to the previous day’s holiday was a pumpkin beer tasting. I seemed to track down the last pumpkin beer in all the liquor stores in Somerville, MA. Apparently it is a Halloween thing, not a fall thing. Noted for next year. Here’s how it worked.

We labeled the cups everyone could pour his/her sips from. We made a list to keep track of which was which. I thought about having everyone rank them but decided to keep it easy and just let our guests learn which were the favorites and drink the rest. Check out the variety of the beers!

pumpkin_beer_290_200
I see more taste-offs in my future. When I first had trouble finding pumpkin beer, I decided my second option was for a seasonal beer taste-off. Who knows, maybe that’ll be next!