Ever been in the irritating position of being empty-handed or feel as though the cupboard is bare when guests or friends show up unannounced and uninvited? I learned through experience a few years back and vowed not to be caught unaware come Christmas time. Different versions of these little crackers have been around forever but I find the recipes calling for a packet of dried Ranch or Italian dressing to be far and away too salty. I came up with this recipe by putting some of my favorite flavors together. I mean, who doesn’t like parmesan? Or lemon? Plus I figured most everyone has these ingredients or some variety of them in their pantry. That said, this is the ideal time to stock up on some holiday basics the next time you’re in the grocery store. Various crackers, butter, both grated and shredded parmesan, frozen phyllo shells and dough, puff pastry, cream cheese, jarred pesto, dried cherries and cranberries, fig jam… obviously I could go on and on but you get the picture. With a well-stocked pantry you can rustle up a remarkable AND good-looking appetizer at a moment’s notice. I plan to post a few more easy and attractive appetizers that can be made at the drop of a hat. So the next time the doorbell rings while you’re coloring your hair and you over hear your husband say, “Well, merry Christmas to YOU! Come on in and have a drink! Please say you’ll stay!”, you’ll be well prepared 🙂
These are great with cocktails or watching a football game. Any leftover may be stored in a baggie, out of the refrigerator and are easily re-crisped in the oven at 350° for 5 minutes or so. The pepper I love to use is a peppercorn medley by McCormick, found at probably every grocery store in the country. The pink peppercorns in the medley give a lovely sweetness to the pepper flavors. Lastly, only grated parmesan works in this recipe as shredded won’t stick to the crackers. Feel free to use more pepper if you wish and enjoy!
Every once in a while I say to myself, “You’re not buying anything at the grocery store today. You just make do with what you have at home.” And that’s when I come up with some recipes I’m positively crazy about. Here’s one of them. You probably have all these ingredients in your pantry and an added bonus is that it comes together in no time flat. This “dip” is a delight served with cold, crunchy celery sticks. Served with some whole grain crackers your family won’t be able to stay away. I found some organic, gluten-free, non-gmo, vegan, black pepper crackers at the grocery store that totally rocked my taste buds. “Mary’s Gone Crackers”. Holy moly. You’d NEVER know they’re so healthful. And they’re pretty, too.
Spread atop grilled fish or chicken, this tapenade is a natural pleaser as all the flavors marry so darn well. And guess what else? It’s pretty low in fat calling for only a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I hope you’re not put off by the one anchovy filet. I promise, scout’s honor (even though I was thrown out of Girl Scouts when I sneaked out of a meeting to call a boy I liked from a phone booth), you will never know the anchovy’s there. The rinsed, dried filet adds a deeper flavor and after being zipped through the food processor you’ll never even know it was there. Leave it out and your dip will be flat and one-dimensional so give it a try. Lemony and garlicky, it travels well to parties and keeps for days in the refrigerator…if it even lasts that long!
For me figs are one of the best foods Fall has to offer. Dark, autumnal and vaguely naughty, they are a seasonal food that is quite literally “here today, gone tomorrow”. Late summer to fall is their main season and here in south Florida the availability is somewhat unpredictable since they’re trucked in from far away lands. We try to eat local produce but I’m kind of a fig trollop and I don’t care WHERE they’re from OR who cultivated them. I love me my figs! Regardless, this recipe is a wonder blending sweet and salty, spicy heat and creamy coolness. With a cocktail or two I can easily make this my dinner. This little savoury is pretty enough for your cocktail party yet sturdy enough for Sunday’s football get-together. It can be assembled in the morning and baked that afternoon or evening. In the past I’ve only used chevre, plain goat cheese. I’ve seen the honeyed goat cheese at my store, Publix, but until now, I’d never tried it. Gentle Reader, it’s pretty perfect. Just the right amount of sweetness, between the lush, sexy figs and the salty sharpness of the prosciutto, this hors d’oeuvre will have you rolling your eyes to the back of your head. Enjoy!
Figs Roasted with Honey Goat Cheese and Prosciutto
Don’t kid yourself for one second about that drink. Don’t put your tankini away and hang onto that cute, little sundress. It’s.Still.Summer. But I know they’re getting a little snug…it may be summer and hot out but we still eat and drink all kinds of no-no’s. Hot wings, lobster mac ‘n cheese, $12.00 designer cheeseburgers with fries, fried chicken and biscuit all washed down with anything from ice cold beer to blender drinks with champagne. We’re all guilty of those indulgences. Except now we’re back from our marvelous vacations and things are getting tight. Even your fat shorts can pinch at this point. I was there and this is why. I’ve always been a bourbon drinker. I adore it. Neat or with rocks I really enjoy my Wild Turkey. Until one evening when I was pouring my second cocktail of the evening (!) and my husband mentioned in passing, “You’re not going to lose any weight if you keep drinking that. You might as well sit down with a bowl of ice cream.” Well. THAT certainly hit home. Right then and there I quit the brown. Several days later I wanted a drink in an awful way. I decided on a glass of wine. I’m not a huge fan; I mean, it’s okay, so my reasoning was if I don’t particularly care for it I won’t drink much. But after a month or so I realized I was downing two glasses a night, sometimes more on weekends. That’s a lot of wine which translates to a lot of sugar. Need we be reminded sugar converts to fat? I might as well have sat down to that bowl of ice cream. I had gotten bigger than ever. Men no longer looked at me when I entered a room. (I had always enjoyed that!) My face was full, my neck was no longer long and graceful and I had the DREADED belly fat. I looked like dump. Realizing I had to make a change was easy and I quietly went about doing so. A few years back I had tried the counting “points” diet and found it worked on me for only about six months. I wasn’t about to start that grind again. We are all fully aware we need a change of diet, practice portion control and exercise. You have to start somewhere and I knew what I had to do. I cleared all grains, ALL, from my diet. Yes, that’s rice, (not easy for this Latina), potatoes, pasta and bread. I cut out dairy which was not a problem since I had already switched from 2% cow’s milk to organic almond milk for my coffee. But the cheese! Oh, how I missed it! Pizza was a double whammy. Then I addressed the alcohol quandary. Bourbon is really not high in calories unless you drink a large amount. I thought I’d try tequila. No, wait! Don’t shut me out! I, too, couldn’t stand tequila and that turned out to be a large part of my solution. Many, many years ago while I was working temporary duty for Delta in San Juan I had the worst experience of my life after drinking waaaaaay too much tequila one night. I puked my guts out. I puked so hard I cracked a rib. And to add to my woes I passed out on top of my glasses and cracked them, too. That was over 35 years ago and I hadn’t had any tequila since that fateful night. I shudder to think. Bleah. Anyway, I figured there was probably some great tequila on the market now, smooth and rich, and maybe, just maybe, I could enjoy a bit with lots of fresh lime juice in a pretty glass packed with ice. And I was right. The key is in measuring. You have to measure whatever you’re drinking. Please believe me when I say you’re pouring a heck of a lot more than you think. You’ll be surprised if you pour then measure the amount you’re having EVERY NIGHT. Have one drink…just one. That’s all you need. And that’s another thing. You don’t need it every night. You don’t. At the end of the day when you’re ready to rip apart the first person who crosses you, well, fine, if that’s what’s going to keep you out of prison. Measure two ounces of tequila or vodka, add the juice of one whole lime or, if you’re having vodka add soda, and enjoy. But if you’re not that stressed remember this. Once you’ve lost any looks you once had, chances are you ain’t gettin’ them back. Don’t be so ready to give them up. Pour yourself a coconut sparkling water, (La Croix is my favorite), and sip on that awhile. Do yourself an enormous favor and stay away from beer, wine and mixers like tonic or coke. Your body will thank you and, come Fall, so will your favorite skinny jeans!
Greece 2016…and I can’t wait! With a bangin’ new pair of sunnies I had been lusting after, also came the Christmas gift of vaca back in Greece this coming summer. Although it’s hot and the sun shines year round in south Florida, it’s a different kind of heat. There’s no humidity; it’s dry as a bone. In all the years we’ve been traveling to Greece we’ve experienced rain TWICE. That’s it. Two times. I’ve never been in the winter but the photos I’ve seen are gorgeous. We typically travel to the Northern Aegean where they have seasons including autumn and winter. It snows often, not huge amounts, just enough to be pretty. And fall brings blustery winds that sometimes are downright cold! Greeks are incredibly social people but the colder weather does at times keep them inside. But we’ll be back for summer on Lesvos, where the white-hot rays of sunlight can be blinding and the ink-black night skies are covered with thousands of stars that look like tiny, twinkling pin-pricks. That’s the Greece I love. From the balcony of the bar at the resort where we stay, which juts out over the twisted, silver trunks of ancient olive trees; or our breezy balcony nestled into the side of a hill, to the waterfront dinners at the harbor of Molyvos, the night skies are a galactic showcase. Anywhere on this magnificent island is the best place to star gaze. So, more often than not, it’s Molyvos where we watch the sun set and the stars come out. Along with all the locals and tourists, albeit not many tourists but there are some, we scan the harbor restaurants for the best seats of the night at the best eating places. Sturdy, ladder-back chairs with woven rush seating do not beckon as they are not known for comfort. But that is all you’ll find at the harbor; each leaning against the table on two legs until their patron for the night whips them out, legs clattering against the smooth but uneven cobblestones, and plops down. All tables are square but can be quickly joined together for larger groups. Each table is covered with a paper tablecloth, usually white with a large, blue map of the island printed in the middle. And since the nights are typically windy, the table coverings are held down in one of two ways. Either a huge, knotted, cloth-covered elastic, (think your hair!), slipped over and under the lip of the table or four steel pins which slide over the table rim, one on each side. Really, really standard. Any person reading this who has been to Greece is probably shaking their head, chuckling and thinking, “yup”. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Greek wine here in the States but in Greece it’s a whole other kettle of grapes. Wine is produced everywhere and produced well. Think Plato and Socrates. And don’t forget Dionysus, god of wine. I’ve only had excellent cold, crisp whites and big, full-bodied reds and typically these are house wines. Glasses in hand, we peruse the menus we know by heart. We pretty much order the same dishes from our own predictable menu. We begin with maybe a small bowl of local olives in olive oil with fresh oregano strewn on top. While savoring those we might discuss what time we want to pick up the ferry to the other side of the island for tomorrows adventure. I always go with early so we have the day ahead of us but that’s just me. Plus the air is cold and fresh, the morning sunlight is blinding on the water, the salt spray is positively intoxicating. The captain and I usually kick our shoes off and sometimes he lets me take over. Scary but true!
Post olives we may order some grilled bread and a little feta. Dinner we’ll share. The ever-present and proper Greek salad comes out crisp and oh, so satisfying. Grilled octopus? Sounds good. With lemon and olive oil. And it comes with french fries which I never order but can’t keep my hands off. Greek french fries can be exquisitely delectable. Fried in olive oil from the island to a golden crisp, dusted with fresh rosemary and local sea salt they are a treat. Jimmy and I don’t really order meat in Greece because the Greek cuisine treats vegetables and fish so well. The seafood and produce are like nothing we can get in the states. Typically the owner of the restaurant or taverna will bring out a platter of fresh fruit with the check. The fruit is their gift for patronizing their establishment. Gorgeous, hot pink slabs of watermelon are common. Or you may be surprised with fresh figs. It’s heaven and I can’t wait!
This is a wonderful hors d’oeuvre which can be served alone or on a platter with other indulgences. And you don’t really need amounts. Let me walk you through this. Place your Greek feta, and PLEASE purchase a high quality feta. None of this store brand in cryovac, okay? Anyway, put your feta on your tray or platter. Drizzle it well with your favorite honey. Throw a pinch of red pepper flakes on the cheese and follow with a heavy dusting, or to your taste, of freshly cracked black pepper. Present and enjoy with pride!
I don’t know about y’all but I can’t count the times I’ve been caught off-guard with last-minute guests especially during the holidays. I run to the store and pick up frozen sweet potato wedges and already cooked jumbo shrimp. Chances are I’ll throw a couple of pints of grape tomatoes in my basket. And another box of crisp bread sticks…can’t have too many of those. I’ll head to the taco aisle and grab a small can of Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Back home I’ll throw the sweet potatoes in the oven and head to the bathrooms with tubs of Lysol wipes in my hands. Two or three quick swipes, fresh towels, a new candle and I’m done there. I turn down the lights in the house and turn on my current favorite battery operated candles, the nice ones…the ones made of wax. I put them all over. With the lights low and candles lit no one will see any dust or gently rolling dog hair balls. I grab an empty laundry basket and run through the house filling it with everything in sight that’s supposed to be put away; stacks of papers, mail, recipes, the little box of washers I haven’t returned to Home Depot yet, stacks of books, an errant running bra, anything that falls in the clutter category and then I tuck that mountainous basket in the bedroom closet. I clean myself up as best I can then head to the kitchen to prepare the most simple dip on the planet. Spicy, smoky and creamy, Chipotle Dip is my bestie. Two ingredients. That’s all. Two. Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and mayonnaise. It’s fantastic! I drop one cup of mayo in the blender or mini-chopper and, depending on my guests tastes, one or two peppers with a tablespoon of the adobo sauce from the can. That’s it. The sauce from the chipotle tin adds such flavor because of the roasted tomatoes, onions and spices. So blend until smooth and taste it for heat. Add more peppers if you really want to see stars. I have a hard time staying away from it. James and Jimmy are crazy about it. I put the dip in a pretty bowl, lay out a tray with all my vegetables and shrimp in bowls or glasses that show them off and I’m ready for guests. Done. Boom. You’re welcome.
The passage of time becomes more apparent when your children’s peers and their siblings begin to wed. Ouch. Admittedly there is a slight sting to getting older, but on the other hand, we have a wedding to celebrate! Weddings and baptisms are such sunny, exhilarating events. They are celebrations filled with the promise of hope and jubilation; of all-consuming love for another living soul and the unspoken word of honor, vow, that all gathered have pledged to others in their lifetimes. Big wedding, small wedding it matters not. They are all lovely and joyous. This past weekend I took part in a wedding shower for a young lady who grew up in our neighborhood and went to the same schools as our son, James. Katie’s’ brother was in James’ class beginning in Pre-K through high school. Pre-K is where this group of students’ mothers met and forged a bond that, through the years, has withstood the tragedy of drugs, financial ruin and even death. There were four core families, all Catholic with working mothers and fathers and more kids than you’d care to count. We lived within a one mile radius of each other. The boys all played T-ball up to high school together and the teams were coached by the fathers. What a time we had! As parents we learned to prepare snacks for the kids AND hors d’oeuvre for the grownups. Hot? Sweet baby Jesus, but it was hot at that ball park. We started bringing our cocktails in insulated coffee mugs then graduated to large beverage coolers filled with OUR version of jungle juice, hooch, grain punch…bad girl punch. The poor coaches were out on the 100° field and dugout and never got any. And though it was hot as blue blazes up on those rickety bleachers we parents laughed, caught up with one another and cheered all the boys on. And yes, we got tanked. Back then that was what Saturday afternoons were for. After a few Solo cups full of “juice” no one cared about the steady stream of perspiration flowing from the top of their backbone down to their fanny! Katie’s father, Bob, one of the coaches, would take a big, old boom box and crank out baseball tunes between innings. Sometimes we sang. We had a blast! The coaches encouraged all the Little Leaguers, lifted them up and boosted their self-confidence even when mistakes were made. The boys adored their coaches. Never was there a happier group of people. We always gathered to pre-party and post-party when there were evening functions at school. Friday nights we’d potluck it, each family contributing to the meal. When school let out for summer we formed the 601 Club. Again, each family would contribute a dish or appetizer, sometimes booze, and we’d meet at the beach, across from Bahia Mar, at the grills, by the swings. We named it the 6-oh-one club when it was discovered that after 6p.m. parking was free on the beach. Our caravan pulled into the parking lot every Friday evening during summer. If it’s free sign me up! Whoever arrived first claimed two or three tables and a grill or two. The children ran and screamed in the waves. Often several of the children would build entire villages filled with sand castles. There was always an adult tossing a football, sipping beer or wine by a grill sizzling with burgers and dogs or passing out chips and salsa. All of us so appreciated and savored those enchanting evenings. There’s just something about the beach at night. The smell of salt water and the sound of the waves rolling in coupled with the moon transforming into a colossal pearl, its reflection shimmering away on the inky water is positively mesmerizing.
The stresses of the week melted away as we slowly loosened up and let our hair down. This is where I discovered the miraculous world of frozen Whiskey Sours. One of the core moms, Harriet, showed up with a cask full of them and changed our lives completely. She’s from New Orleans and is accustomed to novel and exotic libations. We were nothing short of enthralled. If she gives me the recipe I’ll post it. Well, the years went by and yes, to a certain extent, we grew apart as our kid’s interests evolved, new friends were made, the children graduated and went on to college. Every now and again we’d run into each other, usually at the grocery store or Mass, but it wasn’t often. This past weekend though, we were reunited.
If only for three or four hours the four core moms…Julie (who hails from the Keys and is mother of the bride), Suzanne (matriarch of FOUR darling boys and one spectacular girl), Harriet (Southern girl extraordinaire who single-handedly raised three incredibly gifted children after unexpectedly losing her husband years ago), and me (you know all about me, I think), were together again. What joy! What bliss! Yes, there were a few misty eyes every now and again, but way more high-pitched shrieks and good-natured laughter, whispered gossip from scandals past and, more than anything, hugs. Lots of hugs. We just couldn’t get enough of each other. Thankfully all our children are happy well-adjusted young adults, each up and coming in their chosen field and blazing their own trails. The bride-to-be glowed all afternoon and I believe her shower guests took delight in the festivities and got a kick out of us “older ladies”. I am so pleased and grateful I was included. One of my contributions to the party was this little pick-up. Ruby colored fresh strawberries, hulled and filled with sweetened cream cheese. They’re lovely, easy and luscious. In fact, this is one of the dishes I served at Suzanne’s baby shower when she was pregnant with Madeline. It’s a classic. One tablespoon of orange flavored Gran Marnier is wonderful in place of vanilla. Feel free to experiment with flavors. The filled berries I took to Katie’s shower were topped with toasted almond slices but fresh mint leaves also marry well with the fruit. Keep in mind this dish is absurdly easy but it’s best not assembled more than two to three hours prior to serving or your berries will become soggy.