Category Archives: Appetizers

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

DSC_0483 My husband makes our 16 month old son sweet potato fries regularly for an afternoon snack and he gobbles them up faster than you can say hot potato.  So when I was at the health food store the other day and saw Okinawan purple sweet potatoes and Japanese white sweet potatoes, I had to get them for an extra special, healthy, and colorful treat. Continue reading

Winter Squash-Walnut Pate

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I’m sorry to admit it but I fell deep into a cooking rut over the past several months.  I’ve been on autopilot and turning over and over again to my tried and true meals.  Enchiladas, huevos rancheros, chili, tamales, stir fry…same ol, same ol.  I was feeling pretty uninspired.  Until…a couple of months ago when I was given the opportunity to pilot a home delivery program for groceries.  Total game changer.  The act of sitting down to order my groceries online every weekend has led me to start meal planning more seriously and has inspired me to shake things up a bit.  And seriously…shopping for groceries in my jammies instead of shopping with a toddler in a busy store on the weekend?  Heck yes!

One of the fun new things I’ve been doing with my meal planning is picking a cookbook every week and choosing two or three recipes from it to try that week.  A couple of weeks ago we had Berbere red lentil stew (fantastic!), pad thai, and red flannel hash from Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen and Lighten Up, America! cookbooks.  Next week I’ll be moving onto Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen with BBQ tempeh and spicy smothered green cabbage on the menu.  But this week I’m having a wonderful time reading and cooking from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.  On Sunday I made Balsamic Glazed Beets and this flavor packed pate.  Tonight, my husband made the Three Sisters Stew with masa dumplings and spiced pumpkin seeds.  It was a delicious departure from my normal soup repertoire.

This pate, one of my favorite new recipes, is great smeared on top of crisp crackers, pita crisps, or used as a dip for your favorite crudites.  This is also a kid friendly recipe.  My 15-month old waddled back into the kitchen several times to tug on my leg for another taste.  Finally, it’s freezer friendly – perfect to pack away in little containers for snacks at work or on the go!

Winter Squash-Walnut Pate; Adapted From The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen By Peter Berley

Ingredients

  • 1 pound winter squash, such as pumpkin, acorn, butternut, or buttercup, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup dry-pack sun-dried tomatoes
  • 4 and 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Freshly milled black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss squash chunks with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Evenly distribute squash onto a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until you can easily pierce with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the tomatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes to soften.
  4. In a saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until it softens and begins to brown. Add the walnuts, garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes and saute gently for 5-7 minutes, until the walnuts are fragrant.
  5. Drain the plumped tomatoes but save the liquid. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the sauteed vegetables and winter squash. Puree until creamy, adding the reserved tomato water if needed, until the desired consistency is reached.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.
http://dinnerwithaura.com/winter-squash-walnut-pate/

Mushroom Carpaccio With Gremolata and Shaved Parmigiano

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December is right around the corner and we’ve had our first taste of snow.  Mornings are covered in frost crystals and I know Jack Frost will make a visit to us soon.  My little herb garden has seen better days so today I decided to harvest all of the parsley and put it to good use.  This salad was the perfect way to use it up.  Cooking Light aptly calls this salad “the perfect antidote to the winter blues.”  And served with Cooking Light’s Ribollita, it was a perfect meal on a cold wintry night.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of raw mushrooms.  I normally encounter raw mushrooms as afterthoughts in lackluster side salads with cheddar cheese, croutons, and a cherry tomato or two.  They just don’t do anything for me.  But the image of this salad was so pretty that my eyes convinced me to try it out.  I love when food surprises me and this salad did just that.

Mushroom Salad

I used my mandoline slicer to make the very thin cuts of white button and cremini (baby bella) mushrooms.  You can use a knife if you don’t have a mandoline slicer but have a sharp knife and good knife skills.  Use a vegetable peeler, cheese shaver, or mandoline slicer to make the wispy thin parmesan cheese shavings.

Cozy up, and enjoy!

Mushroom Carpaccio With Gremolata and Shaved Parmigiano; A Cooking Light Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 large button mushrooms, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter (sometimes called "stuffers")
  • 3 cremini mushrooms, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground white pepper, plus more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions

  1. Gently wash and dry mushrooms. Trim the very bottom ends of mushrooms, leaving stems intact. Cut mushrooms vertically into very thin slices; arrange on a platter so they overlap slightly.
  2. Combine parsley, rind, and garlic in a bowl.
  3. Combine juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  4. Gradually add oil to juice mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk.
  5. Drizzle juice mixture evenly over mushrooms; sprinkle with parsley mixture and cheese.
  6. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.
http://dinnerwithaura.com/mushroom-carpaccio-with-gremolata-and-shaved-parmigiano/

Honeyed Ricotta Toasts With Cherry Plum Compote

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Oh be still my heart!  We are in the midst of Michigan fruit season, my favorite food season of them all.  Strawberries just exited the farmer’s market stage left.  That is, other than in the Upper Peninsula, where the U-Pick strawberry season at Ostanek’s Strawberry Farm just started on July 4.  Call 906-446-3050 to hear a detailed voice message from the owner regarding the status of strawberries – updated at 8:30 pm each day…a lovely personal touch that makes me think fondly of the U.P.  Here in downstate Michigan, blueberries are in full swing and the cherries are in their last week.  This recipe makes good use of cherries in a very crowd pleasing way in the form of an appetizer.  It went over well at our annual potluck with friends at Portage Lake this weekend.

If you are looking for more recipes on how to use up your cherries, check out Cooking Light’s list of cherry recipes here.

Try these toasts with peaches or pears when in season.  Or try them savory with salted ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and basil.

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Honeyed Ricotta Toasts With Cherry Plum Compote

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
  • dash of salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of honey
  • Seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod
  • About 20 cherries
  • 1 plum
  • 5 or 6 mint leaves, shredded finely
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, optional
  • Honey for serving

Instructions

    To Make Ricotta:
  1. Heat milk and salt on medium in a thick bottomed saucepan until it gets to a just-boiling state. Stir frequently to avoid burning the milk on the bottom of the pan. Once the milk begins to bubble slightly, remove from heat. Add lemon juice; stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Pour mixture into a colander lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Let drain for 5 minutes.
  3. If you want thicker ricotta, simply allow to drain longer. The longer you drain, the more dense it will be.
  4. Scrape inside of half of a vanilla bean into ricotta. Stir honey into ricotta. Set aside.
  5. You can make ricotta ahead. Just cover and chill up to 3 days.
  6. To Make Compote:
  7. Pit cherries and slice in half. Slice plums thinly into half moons.
  8. Heat nonstick skillet on medium-high and add cherries and plums to pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the cherries and plums are caramelized slightly. Remove from heat.
  9. To Assemble Toasts:
  10. Cut baguette into 1/2 inch slices on the bias and grill or toast lightly.
  11. Spread 1-2 tablespoons of ricotta onto each toast.
  12. Top with 1 tablespoon of cherry-plum compote.
  13. Top with a sprinkle of shredded mint leaves and lemon zest (optional).
  14. Drizzle with honey and serve.
http://dinnerwithaura.com/honeyed-ricotta-toasts-with-cherry-plum-compote/

Roasted Beet Hummus With Walnuts and Goat Cheese

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An old Ukranian proverb forewarns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”  As a big beet fan, I’d like to think that a tale that begins with a beet will end with deliciousness.

My cooking style has changed considerably since my baby boy arrived in November.  Meals are simple, quick, freezable, and lunch-packable.  Sundays are filled with food prep to make the work-and-baby-filled weeks a little easier.  This Sunday I prepped muesli for breakfasts, grains, tofu, and greens for lunches, and snacks for the whole week.  As a nursing mom, I need to make sure I’m eating small, healthy snacks in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon and hummus is a clear winner.  Hummus is packed with protein and fiber, easy to make, and endlessly versatile (spread on crackers or in a sandwich, use as a dip with carrot sticks or sugar snap peas or put a dollop on a grain salad).  Sometimes I get stuck in a rut with a basic hummus recipe but last month’s Cooking Light magazine inspired me to get a little crazy with my hummus and the results were great. Continue reading

Roasted Baby Beets With Creamy Goat Cheese Dip

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Happy spring….errrrr….whatever it is.  Today is March 25 and we had whiteout conditions for parts of the day.  Nevertheless, I have some faith, due to thirty two years of walking this earth, that one day soon the sun will shine, the snow will melt, the crocuses and daffodils will force their way through the thawing ground, and it will be spring at last. Continue reading

Collard Green Wrap With Carrot-Ginger Hummus and Rainbow Veggies

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I’ve been making collard burritos for some time now.  They have never made it to my blog.  Maybe it’s because I think of them as my go-to quick meal that I eat when I don’t have time to play around with making things pretty.  They are usually filled with a hodgepodge of quinoa, beans, and some random veggies.  Nothing fancy.  Maybe it’s because if I’m eating a collard burrito it means it is late and I don’t have daylight to photograph my creation for the blog.  Winters are hard for food bloggers.  There are nights that I prep my dish the night before, then race home, fly into the kitchen, and make a mess of everything, just so I can get the last ten minutes of daylight to capture my creation.

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Asian Lettuce Cups With Spicy Dipping Sauce

Asian Lettuce Wraps

I really grappled with what I should title this post.  Why, you ask?  Well….this dish is based on tofu.  Now, I know a good number of people.  And if there is one thing I know, it’s that they probably don’t all agree on the topic of tofu.  Some eat tofu, some eat it if they have to, some would never let it pass their lips, and some tried it and don’t like it.  It’s a pretty polarizing ingredient to be sure so I hesitate to call it out from the get-go, afraid it will turn off the fussy eaters among us.

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Baked Root Vegetable Chips

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Anyone else out there have cabin fever?  I’ve got a bad case of it.  Drew has about had it with the shoveling and pushing stuck cars out of a foot of packed snow.  He has become the unofficial neighborhood snow expert.  As I type, he’s out there in his Carhartt bibs and  wool-lined Sorels helping neighbors and doling out advice on when to take a break while shoveling, where not to park, where not to drive, and how to avoid making things worse when you’re stuck.  If he asks one more helplessly stuck college girl to buy a cheap bag of kitty litter to have in case of emergency I’ll die laughing.

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Samaritans, The Gift of Food…and Fresh Spring Rolls With a Thai Dipping Sauce

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A week and a half ago I met a remarkable woman whose work brought me to tears and who gave me a sense of hope in the kindness of others.  Shura Wallin, the founder of Green Valley Samaritans in Sahuarita, AZ, spoke to a small group of like-minded participants of a seminar discussion at the Circle Pines 75th Anniversary Celebration in Southwest Michigan.  A tiny woman with a huge heart, a big message, and a spitfire to boot, shared with us her stories of locating migrants who are found suffering and offering them first aid, food, and water to prevent them from dying in the desert as they cross the border and make their way toward Tucson.

Her stories were touching and she reminded me just how closely tied we are to others and how we can always find a common thread of understanding to carry us past differences of personality, religion, politics, and all other ‘issues’ that can stand in the way of finding common ground.  If we try, we can usually find a common thread despite our differences.

One of the reasons I love food and cooking so much is that it offers a common ground and shared experience.  Drop the politics and a group of people coming together over good food can come to coexist over the shared joy of food.

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It is also the finest way I know to show someone you care for them.  For me, cooking healthy but tasty foods and sharing them with those I love is the simplest gesture of love I can offer.  I love having friends over to share a meal with us.  I love sending them home, bellies full and leftovers in hand to enjoy for lunch the next day.  To me, food is love.

Not too long ago (but long enough ago to make me feel like I’m behind on posting!) I whipped up these spring rolls when our friend, Natalia, had a canceled flight and ended up staying the night with us.  Although I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled about the canceled flight, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to have her for dinner.  It was a hot and sticky night that called for something fresh and cooling.  We had a wonderful night hanging out and I loved hearing Natalia and Drew share their new songs with each other. I felt lucky to share an unexpected meal with a very cool new friend.

This recipe is great because it satisfies those who eat gluten-free, vegans (without the sauce or with a modified sauce), and vegetarians, as well as meat eaters and picky eaters.  The fresh spring rolls seem to be a universally enjoyed dish, at least amongst the many friends I’ve served them to.

Fresh spring rolls can be concocted in a myriad of ways–this is just the way I do it most of the time.  Feel free to experiment or pick and choose various components from other recipes.  Here are a couple of others to pick and choose from:  Fresh Spring Rolls from Cooking Light (2004), Fresh Vegetable Rolls from Cooking Light (1999).

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Fresh Spring Rolls With a Thai Dipping Sauce–Serves 4

Dipping Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oolek (garlic chili paste)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1  garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated carrot

Spring Rolls:

  • 12  (8-inch) round sheets rice paper
  • Head of butter lettuce (tender leaved lettuce)
  • 1 cup julienned carrots
  • 1 cup julienned cucumber
  • 1 cup shredded radishes
  • 1/2 cup basil and/or mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 block of extra firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour (for instructions, click here), cut into fat matchsticks
  • 2 tablespoons tamari or high quality soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
  1. Add oil to a wok or skillet and heat until very hot.  Toss tofu into pan–you’ll need to keep an eye on it to avoid burning and toss with a spatula or spoon until browned.  Turn off the heat and dash the soy sauce onto the pan.  Toss tofu into sauce and let sit to cool for a bit before making the rolls.
  2. To prepare dipping sauce, combine all six ingredients.  Stir until sugar dissolves.   Let sit while making spring rolls.
  3. To make the spring rolls, put an inch or two of hot water in a wide, shallow dish with sides.  I sometimes clean out the sink and fill it with water if I can’t find a bowl right away.
  4. Place one rice paper sheet at a time into the water.  Let soften–it will take about 30 seconds.  Don’t soften too much or the sheet will fall apart–you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of tries.  Put rice paper sheet on clean counter or a large plate.  Put one piece of lettuce in the center of the sheet and top with carrots, cucumber, radishes, tofu, and some chopped herbs.  Fold one edge over the filling, then both sides, rolling as you go.  The rice paper will stick and form a seal.  Press the seam if it doesn’t automatically stick.  Put the spring roll on a platter, covering with a wet paper towel to keep from sticking.
  5. Repeat with remaining ingredients until you are out of either filling or papers.  Slice on a diagonal, arrange on a beautiful platter, and serve with dipping sauce.