Archive for Appetizers

What are tomatillos? Introduction and recipe

Glance at the spelling of a tomatillo and you may think someone flubbed “tomato.” See one in the market and you may think it’s a very unripe version thereof. But rest assured, their name is legit and while they’re related to the tomato, tomatillos are not to be mistaken for green tomatoes, those Southern fried favorites.

Native to Mexico and part of the nightshade family, tomatillos come in colors such as yellow, red and purple, but most commonly are green. They can be a harder to find in mass market stores than the ubiquitous tomato, but are readily available – and very inexpensive – at Hispanic grocers such as Northgate. I also regularly see them at local Food 4 Less stores and even H Mart, a wonderful Asian grocer. Wherever you find them, tomatillos are worth seeking out.

Like tomatoes, tomatillos are technically a fruit, and here that fact is easier to believe. Tomatillos can be eaten raw or cooked, but before using in any manner require some undressing. That’s because tomatillos are protected by an outer husk that is easily peeled off. Once disrobed, you should find a plump-yet-firm, glossy green globe. The husk can leave a slightly sticky residue, so rinse well and pat dry before using. Tomatillos will stay fresh in a refrigerator for about two weeks, so making them easy to keep on hand.

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Last-minute Super Bowl recipe ideas

The big game is right around the corner, as the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.

If there is ever a day for indulgence in front of the TV, this is it. Many viewers will be chomping down on chips, wings, hot dogs and pizza, but these are just of a few of the treats that can be enjoyed on the big day. And they’re admittedly not the healthiest.

This year, either in supplement or substitution to those standards, here are some other easy food ideas for party noshing.

  • Ranchero beans — Think of this as a Spanish version of chili. It’s delicious, filling, and awesome with chips and tortillas.
  • Tzatziki — This yogurt-based dip and spread is a great alternative to the usual fat-laden dips.
  • Bruschetta — Sounds fancy, but this hearty tomato and basil mixture atop crostini is light, satisfying, and a cinch to make.
  • Blue cheese wedge — This version is spiced up with buffalo sauce. Perfect to go with those wings!
  • Shishito peppers — These addicting Asian peppers are relatively mild and are perfect finger foods.
  • Homemade salsa — What would Super Bowl be without chips and guacamole? Spice things up with this easy dip that complements them both.
  • Homemade hummus (picture above) — Forget the expensive store-bought stuff. Hummus is ridiculously easy to make at home and serves as a delicious dip.
  • Oven-baked potato fries — Another healthier alternative to frying, this version of a classic is just as satisfying.
  • Pasta salad — Add some color with the carbs in this multi-hued take on a classic side dish.

Whatever the outcome of the game, I hope you enjoy it and those wacky commercials alongside friends, family, and good food!

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Recipe: Hearty Tomato Basil Soup

As autumn sets in and the temperatures outside fall accordingly, nothing warms the body and soul quite like a sturdy bowl of soup. Among the easiest, least expensive and most nutritious to make is tomato soup. Served as an appetizer or a dinner with bread or sandwiches, it is a perennial favorite that can be tailored to a variety of tastes.

If your idea of making soup is opening a can and turning on a microwave, I have good news for you: Making it the homemade way involves not a whole lot more work, yet tastes worlds better. And because you control the ingredients that go into your soup, there’s no guessing as to how much sodium or other less-than-good-for-you things lurk in that bowl.

My version of this soup uses canned tomatoes in diced and crushed form. Not only are these main ingredients inexpensive, they’re always “in season” and ready when you are. Because this tomato soup relies on the real thing and plenty of other veggies, it’s thick and hearty. This recipe calls for chicken broth, but for a vegetarian version, vegetable broth can be used instead. The soup can be served chunky or blended for an even texture. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it. The pureeing can also be done in small portions in a regular blender.

Lastly, I like to introduce both dry and fresh basil leaves for added essence. If you want some kick, add crushed peppers or even a dash of horseradish to the mix. Here’s how to make tomato soup.

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Recipe: Tzatziki is just so easy

Tzatziki is so hard to say but so delicious to taste. If you’ve ever been to a Greek restaurant or had a gyro, there’s a good chance that you’ve sample this creamy, tart white sauce that has a bit of crunch thanks to pieces of cucumber. Tzatziki sauce can now be found in markets, but it’s a cinch to make at home. If you have a bowl a grater and a whisk, you can make tzatziki sauce. Pronunciation, by the way? Try: “zaht-zee-kee.”

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Recipe: Bruschetta is like summer in your mouth

Bruschetta is one of those dishes that sounds complicated but in reality is a cinch to make. The name is technically used for crisped bread rubbed with garlic, but most of us know bruschetta as a savory, herb-licious tomato topping that sits above crostini. And there’s another, similar term, as crostini is simply bread that has been crisped in an oven or under a broiler.

If you have the grill going, there’s no reason not to create your crostinis over the fire or coals. When making them indoors, I prefer to brown the bread under a broiler in the oven. If you’re watching your carb intake or can’t do gluten, you can substitute the bread entirely for a piece sturdy lettuce such as romaine, making what I dub bruschetta boats.

Bruschetta is a perfect appetizer any time of year, but really shines in summer when tomatoes are cheap, plentiful and – most important – in season. I prefer Roma tomatoes because their thick flesh and relative lack of seeds, which are to be scooped out anyway for this recipe.

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Make this: buffalo blue cheese dressing on a wedge

We all know that restaurant food usually costs far more than what you would pay to make the same thing yourself, and most of the time we’re OK with that. When it comes to things like good steak or seafood, it can make sense to have a professional chef perfectly cook an item of food whose base cost would still be relatively expensive even if you were to buy it at the store. This is especially true with ingredients like USDA Prime-graded steak or sushi-grade fish, which are often reserved for the food-service industry and thus are more difficult to attain.

Salad, on the other hand, is just the opposite. The menu item that vexes me most is the iceberg wedge. Basically it’s a wedge of iceberg lettuce slathered in blue cheese dressing and often garnished with small tomatoes and maybe some onions. It’s delicious and a fine complement to a hot summer day. But for the $10 or so restaurants can charge for this starter, it’s a rip off.

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Recipe: Shishito peppers and soy-honey sauce

A few weeks ago I introduced you to the glory that is the stuffed bell pepper. This week it’s on to something a little more adventurous, yet even easier and quicker to cook: The shishito pepper. What’s the adventurous part of this dish? Acquiring of the main ingredient.

Shishito peppers look something like ET’s finger, long, green and wrinkled. True, they may not appear that special, but they taste amazing. Shishitos are not usually spicy. They are a sweet pepper, but occasionally you’ll hit one with a bit more kick.

If you’ve never heard of a shishito pepper, that’s probably an indicator of where you shop. You aren’t likely to find shishitos at your mainstream market. And here’s where the adventurous part of this recipe comes in. To buy these Asian peppers, you’ll need to go to – surprise! – an Asian store.

My go-to place for these is H Mart, but I’ve also seen them at 99 Ranch. You’ll find shishito peppers in the produce section, either in bulk or wrapped in plastic in small cartons. Sometimes they are labeled “sweet peppers.” And they’re inexpensive. On a recent trip to an H mart, they were about $1.30 a pound, and trust me, a pound will go far.

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How to make tortillas terrific

I’m an unabashed lover of Mexican food, and in my house, burritos, tacos and quesadillas are among my favorite things to make when I’m short on time and meal ideas. I know I’m not alone. Aside from the sheer variety of stuff you can wrap inside a tortilla – from the ubiquitous beans and cheese to grilled shrimp in a cilantro-lime dressing – these Mexican-food staples are popular far beyond our border because they are inexpensive and a cinch to make.

But while many of us focus on the innards of our tacos, burritos and quesadillas, too often the tortilla itself – that all-important culinary housing – is an afterthought. If you’re prone to wrapping your favored ingredients in a flour or corn tortilla that’s simply been microwaved or not even heated at all, know that there is one more step you can take that works miracles in moments. It all begins with the wrapping.

For the best flavor, texture and pliability, tortillas need to be heated properly before being used and eaten. And that really isn’t in a microwave, which can make them rubbery. If you skip heating altogether, tortillas tend to be stiff and fall apart in your hands. And no one wants a lapful of burrito filling.

For the solution, look to your stove, which can heat tortillas one of two ways: in a pan or directly over a flame.

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Recipe: Homemade cheese biscuits

It’s true: Some foods have a near-global appeal. No matter where you’re from or what your food preferences are, they speak the universal language of delicious.

Oftentimes these culinary all-stars are rather simple, and shine not just because they taste good, but because they have other inherently likable characteristics as well, such as an agreeable texture and ease of handling. One such food that immediately comes to my mind is the biscuit.

These simple, puffy clouds of carbohydrate goodness have a seemingly magical quality about them. Through the centuries they have been found everywhere from the sacks of traveling peasants to gilded baskets atop linen tablecloths.

They can be savory or sweet, and only get better when teamed with condiments such as butter, honey or gravy. Biscuits are also special in that they can be had for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack; eaten as a side; or, when cut in half, used for a sandwich.

When I told a colleague that I’d be making some, he asked if I use Bisquick. My eyes immediately shot daggers.

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Homemade aioli is so easy

In the pantheon of culinary words, there are a few that seem to carry extra cachet. One of those is “aioli.” You may have seen this oddly spelled and easily mispronounced word (say “I-oh-lee”) on posh restaurant menus or heard it thrown around by your foodie friends.

No need to be overwhelmed. While the stuff is admittedly delicious, it’s also quite simple: Aioli is basically garlic mayonnaise, made with olive oil.

See, that wasn’t so bad.

Even better? You can make it. Easily. In a blender, no less.

Since aioli is basically mayonnaise with a couple extra ingredients, you can consider this recipe a two-fer: With it you can make homemade mayonnaise or aioli, depending on the ingredients you add.

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