Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creamy Corn & Bacon Dip

Today's recipe is my first official tailgate-ready appetizer of the 2014 football season! To celebrate the start of college football, and by that of coarse I mean comfort food, you're going to need a lot of dip recipes. 

I'm a firm believer in the idea that you can't have too many good recipes of any variety. There's always room for another chocolate chip cookie variation. Also, it's time to admit that corn dip is probably my favorite dip variety. It's bad. It's good. The last corn dip recipe that I shared was a south-of-the-border inspiration based on Mexican street corn. This week, however, I've been thinking about tailgate inspiration, so I took the flavor from Mexico up to comfort food land (it's a place, don't worry about it). 

Today's recipe is designed with college gameday in mind. I think that this corn dip recipe is perfect for sharing with your friends and friendly strangers as you tailgate this fall. It's a comfort food, to be sure, loaded with cream cheese and bacon. The base flavor of toasted corn (cooked with the bacon for maximum flavor) gets a bit of kick from fresh jalapeno and a dash of hot sauce. The recipe isn't too spicy, tamed by the addition of cream cheese. 

Dig in, cheer loudly, and best of luck to all of your teams today (so long as you aren't playing Arkansas)!

Creamy Corn & Bacon Dip
Serves 6 as an appetizer

You will need:
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon (not maple)
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cans yellow corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 jalapenos, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce (I use green Tabasco)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1-2 tbsp. milk
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped

  • Heat a large skillet to medium. Chop bacon into slices no larger than a 1/2 inch. Add to skillet and cook for a couple of minutes until just beginning to brown. 
  • Add onion, garlic, corn, salt, and pepper. Cook on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until bacon is cooked and corn is toasted and slightly brown. Stir occasionally to keep anything from burning. You may need to add a bit of olive oil during cooking if your bacon is very lean. 
  • Stir in jalapeno, bell pepper, and hot sauce and reduce heat to low. 
  • Add cream cheese and let it melt for a minute or two, stirring to incorporate it into the rest of the ingredients. Stir in milk. If the mixture is too thick for your preference, add additional milk. 
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in parsley. Serve hot. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Asiago and Thyme Dip with Portobello Mushrooms

This is a sponsored post. I was given free product to sample and to develop a recipe from Asiago Cheese Consortium. All opinions are my own. 

I've been craving travel something fierce lately, and when I say "travel," of course I mean I'm ready to go back to Italy (I've only spent a total of seven or so months there, all trips combined, so I need at least another five months if I'm ever going to write a book called My Year in Italy, which will definitely be turned into a movie). 

While in the midst of my travel-hankering, I received a box containing real, authentic, straight-from-Italy Asiago Cheese PDO. PDO, by the way, means Protected Designation of Origin. When you see the letters "PDO," you know that you're getting true Asiago Cheese - a product that is produced, matured, packaged, and distributed in compliance with Asiago DOP Cheese Production Regulations. 

I was very excited to try out the cheese and spent a good afternoon sipping wine on the deck while getting inspiration with these great recipe ideas

I have to say that authentic Asiago cheese tastes markedly different than non-PDO Asiago that I've had before. I wasn't expecting the texture; the fresh cheese has small holes in it and is soft and somewhat spongy. The flavor is fresh, milky, and somewhat sweet - nothing like the bland, hard stuff that I had tried previously. 

I invited some of my favorite ladies over and made a hot, bubbly dip loaded with cheese, onions, mushrooms, and spinach. This creamy dip combines fresh herbs (thyme and oregano) and earthy portobello mushrooms with mellow, flavorful authentic Asiago Cheese PDO. 

I thought that the recipe would serve six, and I'm still sure that it would, but we ended up just eating the entire dish as happy hour turned into dinner! No complaints here. Toast some baguettes, chill a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigio, and invite some friends over. It's about to get cheesy. 

Asiago and Thyme Dip with Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 6 as an appetizer

You will need:
  • 1 large Vidalia onion or other sweet yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • Dash salt and pepper
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms, washed, gills removed, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach 
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley (or 2 tbsp. fresh)
  • 1 cup grated authentic Asiago PDO
  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • Saute the onion in a large skillet on medium heat with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for about five minutes, until skillet is fragrant. 
  • Add sliced mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce and cook for an additional ten minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Once mushrooms are cooked, add spinach first, then remaining ingredients. Leave heat on just until spinach is melted. Stir a few times to make sure that the ingredients are evenly mixed. 
  • Transfer the dip to a 9x9 oven-proof baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for about 30 minutes, until dip is bubbly. 
  • Serve hot with toasted baguette

You can find authentic Asiago Cheese PDO from Italy at these retailers: 

  • Sam's Club
  • Harris Teeter (Mid Atlantic and South East)
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Bristol Farms (California)
  • Central Market (Texas)
  • Wegmans
  • Kroger
Delis and Gourmet Food Stores
  • Vince and Joe's Gourmet Market (Michigan)
  • Dolce Vita Italian Grocer (Phoenix, AZ)
  • Di Bruno Bros (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Murray's Cheese (New York)
  • Ceriello Fine Foods (New York and Baltimore, MD areas)
  • Agata & Valentina (New York)
  • Hometown Provisions (Lancaster, PA)
  • Di Bruno Bros
  • Murray's Cheese
  • Alma Gourmet

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bacon Jam

I know that the title of this recipe sounds like one of those ridiculous bacon-with-everything pairings that have been popular of late. Although I (and really, honestly, everyone else in the world) think that bacon is delicious, I don't like the oneupsmanship with the strange bacon combinations. I tried a bacon chocolate bar and I actually gagged a bit. I don't want bacon in my cupcake. Please remove the bacon from my Bloody Mary. AND PUT IT BACK ON THE PLATE WHERE IT BELONGS. That's really been my attitude. I don't go "all caps" for nothing. 

That brings me to this recipe. Bacon jam. The distinction here is that this recipe brings out the bacon flavor and changes the context from crunchy meat stick to spreadable indulgence. The flavors are designed to make the bacon stand out, just to allow bacon to be transferred to multiple carb mediums (crackers, savory french toast, grilled cheese, BLTs, etc.).

This is the kind of recipe that is perfect for a weekend afternoon that you will be home all day and don't have a ton of energy. You get to feel productive by having something to show for the day, but you don't really have to do much. The hardest part of the recipe is the sheer torture of smelling bacon wafting through the kitchen for hours before you can indulge. If you can handle that challenge, try this recipe. 

The flavors are deep and rich. The jam has tangy vinegar (balsamic and malt) and garlic. A strong hit of coffee flavor cuts the sweetness of the maple syrup. Cayenne, cumin, and paprika add a bit of heat to the brown sugar. 

I had it slathered on a toasted slice of multigrain bread and topped with an egg for breakfast. Husband had it as a dip with corn chips. I served it to my more refined friends with wine a few days later and they enjoyed the jam on water crackers. 

Husband brought some to work and said that it was a hit (although that is unconfirmed). He said that his co-workers who asked to take some leftovers home mentioned spreading it on burgers. We hadn't thought of that - points for creativity. 

Bacon Jam
Adapted from The Perfect Pantry
Yields ~3 cups

You will need:
  • 3 pounds bacon
  • 3 Vidalia onions, diced
  • 9 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups strong-brewed black coffee 
  • 1 tsp. each black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Cut bacon into approximately 1-2 inch pieces. Add the bacon and diced onions to a large skillet or pan and cook bacon on low-medium heat 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  • Add garlic and cook, stirring every few minutes, for an additional 10-15 minutes, until bacon is cooked and onions are transparent. 
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. 
  • Once the bacon has cooked, stir in the bowl of remaining ingredients. Leave heat on medium and bring mixture to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. 
  • After boiling,  transfer the mixture to a crock pot. Cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours on high, then reduce to low and cook for 1 1/2 more hours. 
  • Turn off heat. Transfer to food processor and blend to desired texture. 
  • Refrigerate for at least four hours prior to serving to let the jam firm up. 
Bacon jam can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Zucchini Bake with Pesto & Thyme

If you are a summer gardener, you probably have more zucchini than you know what to do with. If you frequent your local farmer's market, you may have forgotten that you already bought zucchini at the store last week, bought a dozen gorgeous squash specimens from your favorite stand, then realized at home that you have more zucchini than you know what to do with. It could happen to anyone. Either way: if you may have more zucchini than you know what to do with, I have just the recipe for you. 

As you may have surmised, I am not much of a gardener. I am, however, a farmer's market enthusiast. Here's my similarly enthusiastic local-market-loving dog:

And some other nerd who gets way, way too excited when he sees other people after a recent foray to our farmer's market: 

Once I had realized that I had suddenly invested heavily in zucchini, I set about developing a recipe for zucchini that would be a change from the delicious grilled variety that we have been having for dinner every single night. Ketch pulled his composure back together when I finished my recipe for this zucchini bake and sat like a proper good boy asking for a sample (with an incredibly serious fact, I might add): 

His intense begging is justified: this zucchini bake is a top notch way to diversify the zucchini flavors you may be used to this summer. The dish isn't "eggy" enough to qualify as a traditional frittata, in my opinion. Eggs serve as more of a binding agent for all of the delicious flavors; the egg flavor isn't pronounced in the least. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to serve this for brunch or breakfast. 

I brought this to a work potluck lunch with the assumption that everyone would see it as a casserole or side dish. I noticed, though, that my co-workers seemed to think it was a dip (or maybe they always eat casserole atop corn chips). So, I think you can serve this recipe as a breakfast, a side dish, or, apparently, an appetizer. 

Zucchini & Thyme Bake with Pesto
Serves 6-8

You will need:
  • 2 large zucchini or summer squash (or one of each), ~4 cups total, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
  • Dash each salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup pesto
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheddar 
  • 1/3 cup feta
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce (optional)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan (to sprinkle on top, optional)
  • Preheat oven to 375. Grease or spray a 9x9 baking dish. 
  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat and add olive oil, garlic, onion, and sliced zucchini. Stir in salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until zucchini has started to brown, stirring occasionally. 
  • While the squash is cooking, prepare the egg mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs first, then add in sour cream, pesto, thyme, cheddar, feta, sundried tomatoes, and hot sauce (if using). 
  • After the zucchini mixture has cooked, transfer to the baking dish. Top with the egg mixture and stir gently to evenly distribute. Sprinkle Parmesan on top, if desired. 
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the dish is "set" (i.e. the dish doesn't "jiggle" if you touch it). 
  • Serve hot. 
Note that this dish isn't great leftover. I recommend eating it when it is prepared or the next day. Reheat in an oven for best flavor. Do not freeze for later use. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Summer Salad Inspiration

I wanted to share some of the salad success stories I've had this summer. Instead of posting exact recipes with step-by-step instructions and quantities, I'm posting the combinations that I found truly divine and plenty of photos to guide you and your cutting board to salad nirvana. Adjust the ingredients, add things you like omit things you don't, or just be inspired when you're in the kitchen from the pictures.

I'm from a family of devout salad eaters. My mother has mastered the art of salad. I am not quite on her level yet, but I'm carrying on the torch of salad-loving as best I can. Her level, by the way, is unattainable to mere mortals like us. Here's a gorgeous salad she threw together for a casual family dinner that featured my new favorite salad combination: cherries, corn, basil, and cucumber. I'd never thought to combine these ingredients before I tried her salad and now I'm hooked. 

Salads: the most forgiving and easily customized of all meal options. I would love to hear some of your favorite salad combinations too - leave a comment and let me know what you've been eating this summer. Here are a few salad ideas that I think are just great:

Sauteed Tomato & Avocado Vertical Salad

Slightly cooking the tomatoes for this elegant vertical salad releases infinite flavor (aided by a bit of sugar and salt in the cooking process). This salad is perfect for a dinner party. Or, truth be told, you can enjoy it like I do: with the addition of bacon and a soft-fried egg for a brunch salad. I like using a variety of tomatoes to add color. 

You will need:
  • Avocado
  • 2-3 tomatoes, varying sizes and colors
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt, pepper, and a dash of sugar
  • Kale
  • Baby spinach
  • Slice two to three tomatoes of varying sizes and colors horizontally. Saute on medium heat in a skillet with balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of sugar (the sugar opens the flavor of the tomatoes tremendously). Cook for three to five minutes, until tomatoes are just starting to brown. 
  • Toss a mix of baby kale and spinach in an herby vinaigrette. Spread salad greens on a plate. 
  • Layer cooked tomatoes and avocado on top of salad greens. Drizzle extra balsamic vinegar to finish, if desired. 

Grilled Steak & Zucchini Salad in a Romaine Boat

This recipe is a total show-stopper that I think is a perfect compromise meal. Husband wants steak, I want salad. I like steak; he likes ranch. We can even share cooking duties (i.e. I can put him to task on the grill while I pretend that it takes forever to slice lettuce in half). The salad is so easy, fresh, and filling. 

You will need:
  • Grilled steak
  • Grilled zucchini
  • Grilled onions (optional)
  • Sauteed mushrooms (optional)
  • Avocado
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Romaine lettuce (1/2 head per serving)
  • Ranch dressing
  • Prepare romaine by cutting in half lengthwise. Arrange lettuce with the cut side facing up (a "boat" or "bowl" shape). Remove a few layers of the romaine in the middle to make room for the ingredients. 
  • Top romaine boat with grilled zucchini, grilled steak, cherry tomatoes, and slices of avocado (plus optional ingredients, if using). 
  • Drizzle ranch on top and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, if desired. 

Supreme Summer Salad

I didn't know what to call this salad. I wanted to use literally every ingredient in the name. I think this flavor blend captures summer perfectly. It's a light, fresh salad that is perfect served with white wine and a cheese board for a simple dinner on the deck. 

You will need:
  • Pineapple (use fresh, not canned)
  • Green bell pepper
  • Avocado
  • Chevre
  • Pistachios
  • Dried cranberries (I prefer low sugar)
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Salad dressing of choice (a citrus vinaigrette is ideal)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Broccoli Salad

We recently gave our patio a makeover, adding a large table, new chairs, an outdoor rug, and some plants that are barely alive just a week later (how am I so bad at gardening? Am I really going to kill a mint plant? Is that even possible?). Now, despite the sweltering heat and mosquitoes, we feel obligated to eat dinner outside most days of the week. Neither of us wants to be the first to throw in the towel and admit that it's just not that fun to sit outside and sweat while eating a hot dinner. It's a standoff.

Here's the new patio rug, just behind our foster dog, Freedom (adopt her!):

Until we reach a truce and can come back indoors, we are grilling up a storm. I've been making this broccoli salad as an excuse to come back inside and into the sweet, tender embrace of the air conditioning as an alternative to coleslaw with our cookouts.

The variety of flavors helps it to pair well with many types of dishes. It's a slightly sweet, creamy dish with raisins, toasted pumpkin seeds, and, of course, bacon. I like to serve the salad chilled, but room temperature is also an option (and if you're forced to eat enjoying dinner outdoors, you'll find that it is somewhat heated after just a few minutes on the deck).

Broccoli Salad
Serves 4-6

You will need:
  • 3 1/2 cups broccoli
  • 5 slices bacon (optional: 1 tsp. brown sugar)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • 2 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • drizzle oil and vinegar
  • Salt, pepper, and paprika, to taste
  • 1/3 cup low-sugar dried cranberries
  • 2 tsp. french viniagrette salad dressing
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets (discard most of the stems). Place broccoli in a ceramic, microwave-safe bowl and add three tablespoons of water. Cover the bowl tightly (or top with a microwave-safe plate). Microwave on high for 2 1/2 minutes - just until broccoli is slightly steamed. 
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet on medium heat, toast pumpkin seeds, stirring slightly until they're just starting to brown and they become fragrant. Remove the pumpkin seeds from the skillet and set aside. 
  • Add bacon to the skillet, cook with a touch of brown sugar (optional) until somewhere between crunchy and soft. Remove from skillet and place on a plate with a paper towel to soak up excess grease. Set aside and crumble into small pieces when bacon is cool.
  • In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients. Serve chilled or at room temperature. 
  • This salad keeps for about four days when covered and chilled in the refrigerator. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mexican-Style Sauteed Corn Fritter

I pride myself in wasting very little food through innovative leftovers. This week has been a major challenge for me in that department, but I think I'm rising to the occasion. I brought the dinner to a birthday party last weekend with my friends for a post-lake cookout. My (genius) idea was to do soft tacos. I cooked everything ahead of time and let my friends pick out their fillings by setting up buffet-style. Guests wrapped their tacos in aluminum foil while we fired up the grill to heat them up, and we enjoyed dinner in under 15 minutes from declaring that we were hungry. Low maintenance, easy cleanup, and everyone can have exactly what they want! 

This post includes two recipes: the original (sauteed corn) and the Mexican-style corn fritter (which is what I did with the leftover sauteed corn). 

The sauteed corn was one of the condiments available for the soft tacos - scattered over the base layer of either the chorizo and ground beef mixture, the vegan option (sweet potato, black bean, and spinach), the plain grilled chicken option (for the purists), or the sauteed chicken, bacon, zucchini, and onion filling (Husband's favorite). 

We came home with a little bit of almost everything leftover, which is why this week has been something of a challenge. I've been making all sorts of creative dishes featuring just enough leftovers to keep reducing the supply, but not so much that we get completely bored eating the same thing all the time. 

The Mexican-style sauteed corn fritter is one of the better leftover recipes that came out of my waste-not, want-not week. It's a golden brown, deep fried fritter that is perfectly gritty (cornmeal) but still nice and smooth (topped with sour cream, salsa, and guacamole). 

There's spice (a jalapeno) and fresh veggie flavor (corn, bell pepper, and cilantro). I served the fritters on their own (there was no way we could wait before digging in), but if your family has some restraint, these would be great topped with a bit of bacon and a poached egg for brunch. 

Mexican-Style Sauteed Corn Fritter 
Yields 4-5 large corn fritters

For the corn fritter, you will need:
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. parsley
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce (to taste)
  • 1 3/4 cup sauteed corn (recipe below)
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Corn fritter method:
  • Stir together cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. 
  • Whisk egg lightly and fold in. Stir in cayenne pepper, parsley, milk, melted butter, hot sauce, and green onions. Add sauteed corn (see recipe below) and mix. 
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for two minutes. Drop 1/3 cup batter into the oil. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. 
  • Remove from eat and add a pinch of salt and pepper to each fritter. 
  • Serve hot. 

Sauteed Corn
For the sauteed corn, you will need:
  • 2 cans yellow corn (low sodium, if available), drained
  • 2/3 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 jalapeno (adjust to spice preference), seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sauteed corn method:
  • Heat a large skillet to medium. Add olive oil, garlic, and onion. Cook for two minutes, until onion becomes fragrant. 
  • Add corn, bell pepper, salt, pepper, paprika and cumin. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times, then add jalapeno. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • When corn appears slightly toasted, remove from heat. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in cilantro. 
  • Serve on tacos, stir into guacamole, and on the side or as a topping to other Mexican dishes.