Category Archives: Appetizers

Roasted Pumpkin (Squash) Seeds

What to do with all of the seeds from your recently carved Jack-o-Lantern or roasted pumpkins and winter squash? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away! Save them for a super delicious (and nutritious) snack that will keep you out of your kids’ Halloween candy.

Seeds from any variety of winter squash or pumpkin can be roasted and eaten.

Scrape pumpkin/squash and remove pulp and seeds.

Separate seeds from pulp, discarding pulp. Rinse the seeds and pat dry with paper towels or a dishtowel. Place the dry seeds in a shallow pie plate or roasting pan.

Seeds can be cooked immediately, or allowed to further dry first. Drying the seeds longer will make them less chewy, more crisp. This will help if you tend to get things stuck in your teeth or dental work.

To dry, let seeds air dry in a shallow pan for several hours up to several days, stirring occasionally, to keep them from sticking to one another.

Stir in seasonings and roast seeds until they are a golden brown.

Roasted pumpkin, butternut squash and acorn squash seeds.

Roasted Delicata squash seeds (small yellow squash with green stripes). These are especially delicious. Very tender.

RECIPE:

Roasted Pumpkin or Squash Seeds

2 cups rinsed and dried pumpkin or winter squash seeds
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp hot (spicy) Hungarian paprika

Place seeds on a foil lined (I like non-stick foil) baking sheets. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter and stir in remaining seasonings. Pour over seeds in pan and stir until well coated.

Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until seeds are golden brown. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

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Greek Seven Layer Dip

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Seven Layer Dip gets a fresh summertime make-over. Or make it with eight layers (pictured above) if you want to really get fancy.

This is a great way to dress up plain hummus. Similar to the traditional Mexican 7-Layer Dip, but lighter and with fresher ingredients. With the huge variety of hummus available these days, you can adapt this recipe to suit your taste. My favorite hummus (after homemade) is the Supremely Spicy Hummus: it has a real kick!

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Start with layers of hummus and tzatziki, and then add whatever fresh ingredients you are in the mood for. I usually include most or all of the following layers:

    • Hummus
    • Tzatziki (Homemade recipe HERE)
    • Thinly sliced mini cucumbers
    • Sliced Kalamata olives
    • Chopped artichokes
    • Sliced sun-dried tomatoes (or use fresh tomatoes)
    • Sliced green onions
    • Feta cheese, crumbled

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Serve with pita chips, crackers, fresh-cut vegetables, or wedges of homemade Pita Bread. (Pita Bread recipe HERE)

 

RECIPE:

Greek 7 Layer Dip 1

Greek Seven Layer Dip

In a glass pie plate, tart dish or bowl, layer the following:

    • Hummus
    • Tzatziki
    • Thinly sliced mini cucumbers
    • Sliced Kalamata olives
    • Chopped artichokes
    • Sliced sun-dried tomatoes (or use fresh tomatoes)
    • Sliced green onions
    • Feta cheese, crumbled

Serve with pita chips, crackers, fresh-cut vegetables, or wedges of homemade Pita Bread.

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Caramel Christmas Chex Mix

Caramel Christmas Chex Mix

DAY 5: Caramel Christmas Chex Mix

Not a cookie, but a fun treat to make for family and friends. And maybe slightly addicting. Just a friendly warning.

Caramel Christmas Chex Mix 2

RECIPE:

Caramel Christmas Chex Mix

Caramel Christmas Chex Mix

1 cup butter
1 ½ cups brown sugar
½ cup light or dark corn syrup
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
14 0z box Chex cereal (Rice and/or Corn)
1 ½ cups dry roasted peanuts
1 ½ cups whole cashews
½ cup Christmas sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 1 large or 2 medium rimmed baking sheets with non-stick foil.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and then vanilla (mixture will foam).

Place cereal and nuts in a very large bowl. Pour caramel over the cereal/nuts and gently stir with a large rubber spatula. Spread mixture onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes. Let mixture cool in pan for 2 minutes. If your sprinkles DO NOT melt when heated, stir them into the mixture now. Let Chex mix cool completely in pan, stirring 2-3 times as the mixture cools. If your sprinkles DO melt when heated, wait until mixture is cool to touch, and then stir in the sprinkles.

Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

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Caramelized Onion Dip

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Like everyone else, we are preparing ourselves for a day of snacking tomorrow. We don’t feel particularly attached to either football team, so for most of the family it is all about the food and the commercials.

Caramelized onion dip is a nice alternative to the traditional onion soup mix chip dip. You can serve it with either potato chips or a vegetable tray.

RECIPE:

Caramelized Onion Dip 3

Caramelized Onion Dip

2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced (3-4 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp dried parsley (or 1 Tbs chopped fresh)
½ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
4 oz cream cheese
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 Tbs fresh chives, optional
Potato chips or sliced vegetables for dipping

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. If the onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, add 1-2 Tbs water and lower heat slightly; continue to cook until onions are golden brown. Add minced garlic and cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Stir balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, parsley, onion and garlic powders, salt and pepper into the onions in the skillet. Stir to loosen any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.

Place cream cheese in a large bowl. Stir onion mixture into the bowl with the cream cheese. Let onions cool slightly, and then stir in the sour cream. Garnish with chopped chives, if desired and serve at room temperature with potato chips or sliced vegetables.

Dip can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving.

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Indian Samosa with Mint Cilantro Chutney

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Indian Samosa are delicious, but I find the homemade dough a little bit difficult to work with. So these are “Cheater Samosa” made with wonton wrappers. Be sure to use the small sized wrappers, about 4” squares.

Samosa are a fried Indian pastry, filled with everything from minced chicken or lamb, lentils, vegetables, or potatoes. The most common ones in the United States are Aloo Samosa, stuffed with a spiced potato and green pea filling.

The traditional triangular shape of samosa is easy to make when using wonton wrappers:

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Working with one wonton wrapper at a time (keep remaining wrappers covered or they will dry out and become brittle), place about 1 Tbs of potato filling in the center of the dough.

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Use your fingers to shape filling into a triangle shape.

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Use your finger to slightly dampen all of the edges of the wonton wrapper with water. Fold the bottom edge of the dough up over the filling (it should overlap the filling by about 1 cm).  3711 090-1

Fold the two sides of the dough down over the filling, creating a triangle (the top corners should meet, slightly overlapping, in the center of the bottom folded edge). The two sides should overlap about 2 mm in the center of the samosa and where they meet the bottom edge of the dough. Pinch corners to keep filling from leaking during cooking. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers.

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Stand each samosa triangle up on their bottom edge and press down slightly so that the samosa are self-standing.

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To keep the samosa from sputtering while cooking and to help keep the edges sealed, let the water on the edges of the dough dry before cooking. This should only take 2-3 minutes. If you fry them in the order that you made them, the first samosa should be ready to cook by the time you have finished making the rest of the batch of samosa.

To cook, heat 1-2 inches of cooking oil in a skillet until hot. Reduce heat to medium and carefully place several samosa in the hot oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once.

Use tongs to remove cooked samosa from oil. To keep samosa from getting soggy while draining excess oil, place a wire baking rack (like you use to cool cookies) over a double layer of paper towels. Place samosa on the baking rack while cooking remaining samosa.

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Serve hot with mint or other flavored chutney.

Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the samosa with the mint cilantro chutney, but you can see it HERE served with grilled chicken. Samosa are best eaten just after cooking, but they can be prepared ahead and reheated just before serving.

TO PREPARE AHEAD: Prepare and cook samosa as directed. Cool and refrigerate. Reheat in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, or until hot. (You can also refry the cooked and refrigerated samosa for 1-2 minutes to reheat.)

RECIPE:

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Indian Samosa

2 potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 cup diced potatoes)
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs oil
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp Ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp kasuri methi (fenugreek)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbs green peas
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbs finely chopped cilantro (optional)
1 package small (about 4” square) wonton wrappers (12-18 squares)
Cooking oil
Mint Cilantro Chutney (or other flavored chutney), for serving

Cook diced potatoes in a small amount of salted water until cooked through. Drain.

In a small skillet, heat oil until hot. Sauté onion until soft. Stir ginger, Ancho chili powder, coriander, garam masala, kasuri methi, salt, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne pepper into onions in the skillet. Cook for 1 minute. Add cooked potatoes to the skillet. Use the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to coarsely crush the potatoes. Mixture should be mashed enough to hold together, but not smooth. Stir in peas, lemon juice and cilantro. Remove pan from heat. If potato mixture is too dry to hold together, add about 1 Tbs of water and stir into the potatoes.

Working with one wonton wrapper at a time (keep remaining wrappers covered or they will dry out and become brittle), place about 1 Tbs of potato filling in the center of the dough. Use your fingers to shape filling into a triangle shape. Use your finger to slightly dampen all of the edges of the wonton wrapper with water. Fold the bottom edge of the dough up over the filling (it should overlap the filling by about 1 cm). Fold the two sides of the dough down over the filling, creating a triangle (the top corners should meet, slightly overlapping, in the center of the bottom folded edge). The two sides should overlap about 2 mm in the center of the samosa and where they meet the bottom edge of the dough. Pinch corners to keep filling from leaking during cooking. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers. Stand each samosa triangle up on their bottom edge and press down slightly so that the samosa are self-standing. Let samosa sit for 2-3 minutes while heating cooking oil. This will allow the water to dry so that the samosa do not sputter when cooking.

Heat 1-2 inches of cooking oil in a skillet until hot. Reduce heat to medium and carefully place several samosa in the hot oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once.

Use tongs to remove samosa to a wire baking rack (placed over a layer of paper towels) after cooking. Serve hot with mint or other flavored chutney.

TO PREPARE AHEAD: Prepare and cook samosa as directed. Cool and refrigerate. Reheat in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, or until hot. (You can also refry the cooked and refrigerated samosa for 1-2 minutes to reheat.)

Makes 12-18 Samosa

Mint Cilantro Chutney

1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 of a small onion
1/2 – 1 fresh hot chili pepper (remove seeds if desired)
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp fresh ground ginger
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tsp whole cumin seeds)

Using a blender, food processor, or mortar & pestle, blend all ingredients until finely chopped. Add water 1 Tbs at a time (usually about 2-3 Tbs total) until chutney is desired consistency.

Makes about 1 cup chutney

 

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Japanese Nikuman

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Twenty-one years ago, about one year after Brian and I were married, we moved to Japan. Brian had just graduated with his undergraduate degree and had gotten a job with a Japanese investment bank in Tokyo. We were excited about the new opportunity, but as recent graduates our finances were very limited. We moved with 4 suitcases full of clothes, a mattress set, and a couple of boxes of dishes, towels and books. That was the extent of our net worth at the time. The suitcases came with us on the airplane; the other items went by slow boat and arrived about 3 months later.

Our first two weeks in Japan were spent in a luxury hotel in downtown Tokyo. The company paid for our stay in the hotel while we searched for an apartment to rent. The hotel room was paid for, but not any other expenses (like food). The company also provided a $1500 start-up bonus to help us set up our apartment and for living expenses until our first paycheck (one month later). That $1500 had to furnish an entire apartment, including refrigerator, stove, and furniture and cover utility deposits. Plus living expenses for the month. In a country where a gallon of milk cost about $10/gallon-and that was 2 decades ago. In a gross understatement, we lived very frugally for some time.

Our first meal in Japan was a company dinner of Kaiseki (a highly formal and decorative Japanese meal-very heavy on seafood in varieties I couldn’t begin to name). The next day we were on our own, for house-hunting and eating. This began my introduction to inexpensive Japanese street food: onigiri, tako-yaki, yaki-soba, and these fabulous steamed buns- Nikuman.

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Nikuman are hot, soft steamed buns surrounding a spicy minced pork filling. These buns were one of my favorite new Japanese foods. They were delicious and cheap. The perfect combination for poor starving gaijin.

In Japan, I would never have dreamed of making these at home. They are readily available everywhere: from street vendors to convenience stores. Upon returning home, however, I wanted to try to recreate what had become not only a favorite food, but a nostalgic memory.

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I have tried dough recipes that use either baking powder or yeast as a leavening. Although it takes a little more time, I highly recommend using a yeast dough. The resulting soft, light buns are worth the extra rise time.

To make the buns, flatten dough to form a circle about 5” in diameter so that the middle is slightly thicker than the edges (pinch edges of dough with your fingers to make edges thinner). Place about a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the circle.

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Bring the dough up around the meat to the top, forming little pleats around the edges of the dough.

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Slightly twist the dough to close it, and pinch it firmly to seal. If your dough is dry, moisten edges slightly with water before sealing.

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Place the buns on  squares of parchment paper.  Let the buns rise for 15-20 minutes before steaming.

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Add about 1 Tbs vinegar to the water in the bottom of a steamer (this helps keep the buns white). Bring water to a boil. Place buns with the parchment paper in the top of a steamer (a rice cooker or slow cooker can also be used to steam). Cover and steam for 20 minutes over high heat.

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Serve hot. Buns can be eaten plain or dipped in soy sauce (plain or spicy: soy sauce + chili paste or hot mustard)

RECIPE:

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Japanese Nikuman
—–(adapted from LaFujiMama and JustHungry)

Dough:
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm (not hot) water
about 6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup very hot water (bring to a boil and then let cool for 5 minutes)
1 cup warm (not hot) milk
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbs coconut oil, lard or vegetable shortening

Parchment paper
White vinegar

Cut the parchment paper into 24 squares about 3” square. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup warm water with a pinch of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the sugar water and proof 5-10 minutes, or until foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together 5 cups of the flour and the sugar. Make a well in the center, add the hot water and mix rapidly. Add the warm milk and mix. Then mix in the yeast mixture, baking powder, and the shortening or lard. Mix well. Add the rest of the flour a little at a time until you have a workable dough (you may not need the entire additional 1 cup). Knead for a few minutes until the dough is soft and pliable.

Place dough in a large oiled bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel. Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Divide the dough into 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and let rest for 5 minutes.

Filling:
1 lb ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 (5 oz) can bamboo shoots, finely chopped
2 Tbs finely grated fresh ginger
1-2 Tbs chili garlic sauce (adjust based on how spicy you want it)
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1 Tbs sesame oil

Mix the ground pork, onion, bamboo shoots and ginger in a large bowl. Add the chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Mix the ingredients together until well incorporated.

Assembling Buns:
To fill the buns, flatten each dough ball to a circle about 5” in diameter so that the middle is slightly thicker than the edges (pinch edges of dough with your fingers to make edges thinner). Place about a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the circle. Bring the dough up around the meat to the top, forming little pleats around the edges of the dough. Slightly twist the dough to close it, and pinch it firmly to seal. (If your dough is dry, moisten edges slightly with water before sealing.) Place the bun on the prepared squares of parchment paper. Repeat with remaining dough and meat filling. Let the buns rise for 15-20 minutes before steaming.

Add about 1 Tbs vinegar to the water in the bottom of a steamer (this helps keep the buns white). Bring water to a boil. Place buns with the parchment paper in the top of a steamer (a rice cooker or slow cooker can also be used to steam). Cover and steam for 20 minutes over high heat.

Serve hot. Buns can be eaten plain or dipped in soy sauce (plain or spicy: soy sauce + chili paste or hot mustard)

Makes 24 buns

 

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Baked Chicken Taquitos with Cilantro Ranch Dressing

041811 073-1Finger foods with dip are always popular around here. These chicken taquitos can be served with sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or our favorite is this creamy Cilantro Ranch Dressing. It is hard to say whether it is the chicken taquitos or the dip that is most popular. We use this dressing for all kinds of things: on taco salads or tostadas, for dipping quesadillas, as a regular salad dressing, over grilled chicken. Some little people around here have even been known to eat a vegetable or two if I serve this dip along side. It is also great as a dip for raw vegetables. The recipe below makes a dressing that is pourable, like a creamy salad dressing. If you want a thicker dip, substitute sour cream for half of the mayo, and use a little less buttermilk.

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I prefer to use flour tortillas for these, but you can also use corn tortillas. If you are using corn tortillas, place 2-3 tortillas between damp paper towels and microwave for 20-30 seconds to soften them before filling with chicken mixture. Corn tortillas tend to crack easily, so only work with a few at a time. Flour tortillas can be rolled easily at room temperature. Try to use the small fajita-sized tortillas; it is easier to get a tighter roll.

Brush the filled and tightly rolled tortillas with a small amount of olive or vegetable oil and then sprinkle lightly with a coarse salt (like kosher salt). Bake for 15-20 minutes and serve with your favorite dip.

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These make a great main dish or appetizer. Cut in half on an angle for a nice appetizer-sized portion.

RECIPES:

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Baked Chicken Taquitos
—————-(adapted from OurBestBites)

4 oz (1/2 pkg) cream cheese
1/4 C green salsa
1 lime, juiced (about 2 Tbs)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 green onions, sliced
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups grated Pepper Jack or Monterey Jack cheese

12-18 small flour or corn tortillas
kosher salt
olive oil or vegetable oil

sour cream, salsa, guacamole or Cilantro Ranch Dressing (for dipping)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray (or use non-stick foil).

Heat cream cheese in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds, until soft. Add green salsa, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, onion and garlic powders. Stir to combine and then add cilantro and green onions. Add chicken and cheese and combine well. (You can prepare this mixture ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to cook.)

If you are using corn tortillas: Work with a few tortillas at a time and heat in the microwave between damp paper towels for about 20-30 seconds until they are soft enough to roll without cracking. Flour tortillas can be worked with at room temperature.

Place about 3 Tbs of chicken mixture on the lower third of a tortilla, keeping it about 1/2 inch from the edges. Roll it up as tightly as you can. Place seam side down on the baking sheet. Lay all of the taquitos on the baking sheet and make sure they are not touching each other.

Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the uncooked taquitos lightly with oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake at 425°F for 15-20 minutes or until crisp and the ends just begin to brown.

Serve whole, or cut taquitos in half on an angle (this is a nicer size for appetizers).

Serve with sour cream, salsa, guacamole or Cilantro Ranch Dressing for dipping.

Makes about 12-18 taquitos (using small flour tortillas); amount will vary depending on the size of the tortillas

Cilantro Ranch Dressing

1 package ranch dressing mix
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup kefir or buttermilk (or regular milk)
2 tomatillos** or 4 Tbs green salsa
½ bunch of cilantro (about 1 cup chopped)
2 cloves garlic
1 lime, juiced
1-2 jalapenos (with or without the seeds; with seeds=spicier)

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until well mixed. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving for optimal flavor.

**Optional: Roast tomatillos for 20 mins at 400°F before adding them to the blender. If you are using a spicy green salsa instead of the tomatillos, go easy on the jalapenos.

FOR A THICKER DIP: Use 1/2 cup mayo and 1/2 cup sour cream, and reduce the kefir/buttermilk to 1/4 cup.

 

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Homemade Pita Bread

Pita bread is an easy bread to make, even for bread-making beginners. If you use instant yeast, you don’t even need to let the dough rise before rolling and baking it. Just a short 10 minute rest, and you are ready to bake!

I use a rectangular pizza stone to bake mine, but you can also use a regular baking sheet or cook them in a small skillet on the stove.

I use a pastry cloth (really just a well-used piece of plain canvas) dusted with flour to roll out my pitas. Once you get the hang of it, you can roll out one or two pitas while your other pitas are baking. Just don’t lose track of time. They cook quickly (2 minutes on one side, 1 minute on second side) and you don’t want them to burn. Keep any rolled pita doughs covered until ready to bake.

Terrible lighting and a bad picture; but a great pita! Some day I think I will do a post called, “Bad Pictures. Good Food.” I have plenty of those taking up space on my hard drive!

Cut pitas in half and fill with this Greek Pork with Tzatziki, or anything you want, really. They are great for a summer fresh-from-the-garden-tomato and bacon sandwich.

Or leave pitas whole and break into pieces (or cut into triangles) and serve with tzatziki and/or hummus as an appetizer.

RECIPE:

Pita Bread

2 ½ tsp instant yeast**
1 ½ cups warm water
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Additional flour for kneading, if necessary

Combine yeast, water, flour, salt and sugar. Add additional flour if needed to make a soft, but workable dough. Knead until smooth and elastic. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

If you have a baking stone, place it (ungreased) on a lower rack in oven while preheating (if you are using a regular baking sheet, place it in the oven only 1 min before adding dough). Preheat oven to 500°F.

Divide dough into 12 small balls. Leave in covered bowl. Roll out each ball into a circle about 6-inches across and ¼-inch thick.

Place on hot baking stone (or baking sheet), one or two at a time. Cook 2 minutes, or until dough puffs up. Turn over and cook about 1 minute longer. With spatula, partially flatten pita (don’t completely flatten, or the insides will stick together). Place on a plate and cover with a towel while other pitas are cooking.

Cut in half and fill to eat. Or leave whole and break into pieces (or cut into triangles) served with hummus and/or tzatziki for dipping.

**NOTE: If you are not using instant yeast, combine regular yeast and water; let sit for 5 minutes, until combined and active. Mix in flour, salt and sugar. Knead until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise for one hour. Roll into balls and proceed as above.

Yield: 12 whole pitas

 

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Greek Pork with Tzatziki in Pitas

Sometimes I think that I should be a paid spokesman for Ziploc. More often than not, dinner at my house either starts in a Ziploc bag full of marinade, or ends up in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.

I am not a fan of bland meat. Honestly, I prefer my meat to taste like something other than meat (except for the occasional really good-quality steak, and even then I tend to be a heavy seasoner). Which is probably why I lean towards Asian cooking so often. Soy sauce, ginger and garlic are a great cure for flavorless chicken breasts.

This dinner is not at all Asian, but does start in a Ziploc bag full of strong flavors. Mediterranean cooking is also one of my favorite styles, with heavy use of olive oil, vinegar, oregano, feta cheese. No wimpy flavors here!

These filled pita pockets can be made with chicken or pork, but I prefer pork-either a pork tenderloin or a pork loin. The loin is a little tougher cut of meat, but if you leave it in the marinade long enough (overnight, at least), it will be tender when cooked. The sautéed pork is combined with peppers, onions, feta cheese and tzatziki and can be served in pita bread pockets or on a bed of lettuce for great salad.

RECIPE:

Greek Pork with Tzatziki in Pitas

2-3 lb boneless pork loin or pork tenderloin, cubed
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs chopped fresh oregano (or 1 Tbs dried)
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp ground cayenne red pepper

1 sliced Onion and 1 sliced Red Pepper
————— (or 1 bag frozen onions/peppers)
Pita Bread
Feta Cheese, crumbled
Tzatziki

Combine cubed pork with marinade ingredients (next 10 ingredients) in a Ziploc bag. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Drain pork in a colander. Sauté in a large skillet for 5 minutes; drain any excess liquid. Cook 10 minutes longer, or until pork is cooked through and nicely brown. Add peppers and onions to skillet; cook until tender.

Serve pork in pita bread halves with feta cheese and tzatziki.

OPTIONAL SERVING VARIATION: Serve cooked pork, onions and peppers on a bed of Romaine lettuce, topped with the tzatziki and feta cheese.

—–

Tzatziki

1 32-oz container plain yogurt (not nonfat) **
½ of a large seedless cucumber
salt
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dill
Dash white pepper

Line a colander with cheesecloth (or a coffee filter) and place over a bowl. Strain yogurt in cheesecloth in refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) until very thick. Grate cucumber (unpeeled), sprinkle with salt and drain in colander until most of the liquid is removed. Combine yogurt and cucumber with remaining ingredients. Add additional salt (usually about ½ tsp) to taste. Refrigerate several hours to blend flavors.

**You can substitute Greek Yogurt (about 16 oz) for the regular yogurt, and skip the straining process

 

While you can always use pre-made, tomorrow I will share my recipe for homemade pita bread. They really make a huge difference, and are not difficult to make.

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How To . . . Roast Garlic

Roasted garlic adds a wonderful flavor to many dishes: salsa, steamed or roasted vegetables, grilled meats, soups & stews, pastas, mashed potatoes, garlic bread.

Roasting garlic is easy to do (much easier than peeling raw cloves), and can be done with either whole heads of garlic, or individual garlic cloves.

For Whole Garlic Heads:

Using a knife, cut off  the top of the head of garlic (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch), just enough to expose the individual cloves of garlic.

Place garlic head on a square of aluminum foil (Large enough to wrap around garlic head). Drizzle each cut garlic head with about 1 Tbs olive oil.

Wrap foil around garlic head and place on a baking sheet. If you are doing a large number of garlic heads at the same time, you could also line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, place garlic heads in the pan and then cover the entire pan with foil, instead of wrapping each garlic head.

Bake at 400°F for 30-40 minutes. The garlic cloves should be soft and slightly browned.

Remove foil, and let the garlic cool slightly. Use the tip of a knife to remove garlic cloves from skins. If the cloves are soft enough, you can also gently squeeze the individual cloves out of the skin of the garlic head.

Empty garlic skin

For Individual Garlic Cloves:

I like to use fresh garlic, but do not like peeling it, and I’m not always a good judge of how many heads to buy for the week. So I buy peeled fresh garlic cloves in 3 lb bags from Costco or Sam’s Club (in the refrigerated produce section):

I definitely can’t use this much garlic before it goes bad, and it really makes the refrigerator reek of garlic. Unless you freeze the whole bag! This has been a perfect solution for me. I throw the entire bag in the freezer (before ever opening it), and then pull out as many cloves as I need for a recipe. They thaw quickly just at room temperature, but you can also microwave them in a small bowl for about 10 seconds, if time is short. No more peeling garlic!

These cloves also work perfectly for roasting.

Place as many cloves of garlic as you want to roast in a small foil-lined oven safe bowl (like a ramekin). Or use a muffin tin if you want to do a lot at a time. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 Tbs for 10-15 cloves) and wrap foil around cloves.

Bake at 400°F for 30-40 minutes. The garlic cloves should be soft and slightly browned.

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