Easy Artichoke Dip

When you need a quick appetizer, this is my go-to recipe. It makes about 2 cups and comes together with little effort or time, so you can focus on your guests.

I like it with Ritz crackers but the only limit to the dipping is your imagination.

Easy Artichoke Dip

1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
¾ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup grated mix of parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
Dash garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the artichoke hearts. Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Put the dip in a pie plate or casserole dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until dip is hot and bubbling. Serve with crackers or chips.

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Garlic and Ginger Green Beans

As regular readers to this blog are aware, I’m not the biggest fan of veggies, especially green beans. I’ve had far too many boiled to death. However, even I like these. They are quickly parboiled and then stir fried so they keep their structural integrity. Once you add in the spicy garlic and ginger sauce and they become finger licking good (mainly because I’m a barbarian and didn’t use a fork to eat them).

This is a super quick preparation, so have everything set out and close to hand and the rest of the meal ready to go.

Very intense flavor and so good and crunchy.

Garlic and Ginger Green Beans

1 pound green beans, trimmed 
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry 
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like more heat)
1 tablespoon peanut oil or canola oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil, season with salt and add the green beans. Boil 1 minute, drain and rinse with cold water, then place on a kitchen towel to dry thoroughly. Wet vegetables added to the hot pan will splutter and braise instead of stir-frying. Combine the soy sauce and wine or sherry in a small bowl or measuring cup. Place the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes in another small container and stir to combine. Make sure all these additions are in easy reach before you start stir frying.

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Add in the oil by pouring it to the sides of the pan and swirling the pan. Add the garlic and ginger, stir-frying for no more than 10 seconds, and then add the green beans. Toss together until the beans are well coated, then add the soy sauce and sherry/rice wine and stir-fry for one to two minutes, until the beans are crisp-tender. Remove from the heat and serve.

Bold Tomato Pasta

I went to the Crescent City Sunday’s in City Park Farmer Market. They have an option to use the WhatsGood app to preorder from the vendors. On Sunday morning, you drive up and roll through the two aisles of the market with your trunk open and a placard in the window and the venders just put your stuff inside with no muss, no fuss, no contact.

I ordered a big amount of Creole tomatoes (they get their unique flavor from South Louisiana’s alluvial soil) and almost immediately upon returning home had a bacon and tomato sandwich. Delicious but I wanted more.

This is a pasta dish I had in Greece. It was tossed together as sort of an early pre-meal by one of my Dad’s coworkers for the crazy Americans who couldn’t wait until the civilized time of 9 or 10pm for dinner.

A little garlic, a lot of tomato and a touch of cheese make it simple to prepare and amazing to eat. The original was done with spaghetti noodles but I prefer rotini or penne pasta. They also used a goat cheese but I’m using what I have at home – Kraft Shredded Parmesan, Romano & Asiago Cheese.

It tastes like the essence of tomato. So, so good! Very bright and intense and so much better than any sauce from a can or jar.

This is an easy meal to scale up or down. The recipe below is for two people.

Bold Tomato Pasta


2 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large tomatoes
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
½ lb pasta (spaghetti or rotini or penne)
¼ cup Parmesan Romano & Asiago cheese blend 

Cut off a dime-size piece of the base of the tomato using a sharp knife. Grate the tomato from the base along the coarse side of an upright box grater, discarding the skin and stem top.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta to al dente.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over low heat and add the garlic. Cook until soft and fragrant. Add the grated tomatoes, raise the heat to medium and cook until most of the tomato juices have mostly evaporated and what is left is a thick pulp, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and stir.

Serve the pasta mixed with the sauce and top, if desired, with a spoonful of cheese.

Shrimp Gazpacho

As we get into late May, I begin to long for gazpacho. I’ve posted other recipes here and here but my current dilemma is that tomatoes haven’t come in locally yet. The ones available in the grocery store are from Florida and are varieties designed for transport. They just don’t have the juice or the flavor of those coming from the local U-Pick farm or farmer’s market.

Sometimes you have to improvise. In my case, that means a can of V8 juice, fresh squeezed limes and some ketchup.

When boiling shrimp, I recommend using the liquid Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp boil but a tablespoon of plain kosher salt works just fine.

You’ll notice there is no salt added to the dish – the many flavors mean it isn’t necessary for taste but I put some on the table, in case the other diners wanted it (they didn’t).

This dish is amazing with the crunchy veggies, tender shrimp, creamy avocado and the lovely tomato based sauce. I could feel myself getting healthier after eating a bowl but, more importantly, the way the flavors complement each other made all of us go for seconds.

Shrimp Gazpacho

1 small head of garlic
1 small onion (red, white, yellow – any works)
1 ½ lbs small to medium shrimp, deheaded with shells on
1 tablespoon Zatarain’s® Concentrated Shrimp & Crab Boil
1 hothouse tomato
1 cucumber
1 green bell pepper
2 avocados
1 – 11.5 ounce can V8 juice, cold
Juice of 2 limes (¼ cup lime juice)
½ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the top off the head of garlic. Place it on a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle generously with olive oil and seal the foil around the bulb. Put garlic package on a baking sheet. Quarter the onion and separate the layers. Toss generously with olive oil and place on the baking sheet with the garlic. Roast for about 30 minutes or until tender, flipping the onions layers over midway through cooking. The onion may finish roasting before the garlic so be prepared to remove it early. Transfer onion to chopping board and chop roughly. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the softened garlic and place in a large mixing bowl with the onion to cool completely while the shrimp boils.

Bring a quart of water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Stir in shrimp and Zatarain’s Concentrated Shrimp & Crab Boil. Cover and return to boil. Turn off heat and let stand 2 minutes or until shrimp turn pink and done. Pour off the water and place shrimp in an ice bath for up to 5 minutes. Drain and peel. Cut the peeled shrimp into bite size pieces – cut small shrimp in half and medium into three pieces.

Cut an X into the base of the tomato. Place in boiling water for 30 seconds and remove to a water bath for a minute. Take from the water and peel off the skin. Dice the tomato and place in the bowl with onion and garlic. Peel cucumber. Scrape the seeds out with a spoon and cut the cucumber into small chunks. Core and seed the bell pepper and dice. Take out the pits from the avocados and make slices into the flesh both length and widthwise. Peel the pieces from the skin. Place all the vegetables in the bowl and stir to combine. Add in the shrimp and stir well.

Whisk together the V8, lime juice, ketchup and olive oil. Pour over the veggies and turn to coat. If not eating immediately, place in the refrigerator to stay cold. Stir well before ladeling into bowls.

Serve with crusty bread – I had garlic bread on hand that worked well, too.

Smashing Good Potatoes

I served smashed potatoes with lunch the other day and they were sooo good I just had to share. I used the pretty, multi-color ones but small Yukon gold potatoes, little new potatoes or fingerlings work just as well.

I make rosemary salt by chopping fresh rosemary and mixing it with coarse kosher salt in a two parts fresh rosemary to one part kosher salt ratio. Stored in an airtight jar, it lasts for months and you can refresh it by adding more fresh rosemary.

This is one of my go-to side dish recipes. The smashed potatoes are crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

Smashed Potatoes

2 lbs small potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rosemary salt

Place washed potatoes in a saucepan of cold, salted water and bring to a boil. Boil potatoes for about 10-15 minutes until fork tender. Larger potatoes will take longer.

While potatoes boil, preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Drain potatoes and return to the saucepan to dry in the residual heat. Pour on the olive oil and sprinkle the rosemary salt over the potatoes. Stir to combine and then place on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Use the bottom of a glass to crush the potatoes onto the baking sheet – they don’t need to be squashed flat, just pressed until they pop. Roast for 30-40 minutes (the longer the cook, the crisper the outside will get), flipping them halfway through to brown both sides.

Cherry Tomato Tartlets

I walked on Romar Beach with my sister, brother-in-law and niece at sunrise on Saturday morning. There are storms in the Gulf, so the sky was red in warning.

On the way home, I stopped by the Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermans Market and bought a bunch of cherry and grape tomatoes.

I had seen an episode of Kitchen Queens – Women Chefs of New Orleans and watched Melissa Araujo whip up a tomato tart. It looked lovely but I had to make a few changes – it needed a little cheese for starters. Also, since I’m away from my herb garden, dried herbs. I cooked them in the muffin tin so we could all enjoy our own little tartlet.

While baking it made the house smell wonderful but the true joy was eating them. Bright, rich tomato flavor and the balsamic vinegar added a lovely touch.

Cherry Tomato Tartlets

1 lb cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated

Store bought pie crust

Large muffin tin or tart pan

Generously butter the muffin tin. Cut the pie crust into 6 rounds (you’ll have to ball up the pieces and reroll for the last 2. Place a round in the bottom of each muffin tin, letting it come slightly up the sides.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice the tomatoes in half. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and toss in 2/3rds of the tomatoes, reserving the remaining third. Sprinkle with salt. Sauté the tomatoes until they soften slightly. Add basil, oregano and garlic and stir. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Cook until most of the liquid has cooked away.

Divide the mozzarella cheese evenly between each muffin tin. Divide the cooked tomatoes between each muffin tin. Set the uncooked tomatoes, cut side up, on top of the cooked tomatoes.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until the filling is bubbling hot and the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and then remove from pan. Let cool an additional 10 minutes and serve.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes

I was grilling some Boston butt country style ribs and decided to use the long cook time to grill a sweet potato, too. It is sort of a misnomer as they aren’t really ribs but they take a fairly long cook to melt the collagen so I had about 2 hours of grilling time to play with.

If you’re concerned about the fat, toss the potatoes in olive oil instead of butter.

This method adds delicious flavor to the potatoes plus the addition of smoke, raises things up a level. In fact, I baked an extra sweet potato to completion on the grill (a little over an hour) and then removed it from the skin and mashed it up to put in a later recipe (like mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato biscuits or sweet potato pancakes). Freeze in 1 cup amounts in a zip top bags so you’re ready to go when the urge for sweet potato hits.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (1 tablespoon if using fresh)
½ teaspoon salt

Wash the sweet potatoes. Set up the grill for indirect grilling by placing a chimney full of white hot coals along one side. While the fire is at its hottest, place the sweet potatoes between the meat and the hot coals. Grill for 30 minutes.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the fire.

Cut into rounds and peel. Place in a bowl with the butter. Once it has melted, stir to coat the sweet potato rounds. Sprinkle on the brown sugar, rosemary and salt and stir again.

When there are 30 minutes left on the meat cooking, return the sweet potato rounds to the grill. I placed them on a grill pan, in two rows with the thickest rounds in the first row and the smaller in the next. If your grill grates are close enough together, you can place them directly on the grill.

Set the sweet potatoes almost but not over the coals and grill for 30 minutes more.

They are done when tender. Serve warm.

Scalloped Potatoes

I was making pork schnitzel (see recipe here for chicken schnitzel) and decided that instead of hot potato salad, I’d try scalloped potatoes again.

I’ve failed before on making au gratin potatoes before as the milk fats can separate and make for a still tasty but pretty ugly dish. This version has you make a roux to hold the milk together. You’re not aiming for any color on your bechamel sauce so 3 to 5 minutes should be sufficient. Once you’ve added in the cheese to melt, it is almost foolproof – and I know as I’ve been fooled before!

Final dish is cheesy and creamy and delicious. You can make it with cream or milk, although I can tell you it is super luscious with cream.

A wonderful comfort food in this time of uncertainty.

Scalloped Potatoes

4 cups thinly sliced potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1⁄2 cups cream (or milk)
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash cayenne pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1⁄2 cup grated cheese, to sprinkle on top

In a small sauce pan, melt butter and blend in flour to form a roux. Cook, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes over low heat to cook the flour taste out. Let sit for a minute. Add all of cold cream/milk, stirring with a whisk. Season with salt and cayenne.

Cook sauce on low until smooth and boiling, stirring occasionally with a whisk. Reduce heat and stir in cheese. Place one third of the sliced potatoes in a lightly greased one quart casserole dish. Pour a third of cheese sauce over potatoes and use a spatula to spread over the entire surface.

Repeat with second and third layer of potatoes and cheese sauce.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake uncovered for an 1 hour at 350°F. Let stand for 5 minutes to tighten up before spooning onto plates.

 

Sweet Potato Filled Manicotti

I saw one of Kevin Belton‘s episodes recently on Louisiana Yams. One of the recipes on the show was for making sweet potato ravioli. While he doesn’t have the recipe on his website, my local Create TV station showed it twice in one day so I was able to scribble down the recipe, as I haven’t been able to find it online.

I’ve never had much luck with ravioli – they always seem to explode on me. So, I decided to try filling manicotti shells. After boiling them, they were large enough for me to spoon the filling in. I recommend using a small spoon or a piping bag to fill them, otherwise you risk tearing them. For even easier filling, you might want to try using large pasta shells instead.

The flavor of the filling is quite good but combined with the mushroom pecan sauce is what makes this dish a real winner. I cheated with a jar of portobello mushrooms I had in the cabinet but 8 ounces of fresh sliced would be great, too.

I used cottage cheese but ricotta cheese would also work in the filling.

This recipe uses dairy and eggs but no meat and so would be a good offering for vegetarians.

Sweet Potato Filled Manicotti

Sweet potato filling:
1 cup cottage cheese
2 cups cooked sweet potato, mashed
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

6-8 manicotti shells

Buttered mushroom and pecan sauce
½ cup unsalted butter
1 – 16 ounce jar portobello mushrooms (about a cup when cooked)
½ cup pecans, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor combine cottage cheese, mashed sweet potato, parmesan cheese, egg and seasonings. Process until smooth.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Place in the shells and add a generous pinch of salt. Boil about 4 minutes or until tender enough to work. The shells will finish cooking in the oven once filled.

Use a spoon or piping bag to put the filling in the shells. Place the shells in a casserole dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a skillet over medium heat melt the butter. Once the foam has subsided and it begins to turn golden, add the mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes. Add in pecans and seasoning, stir well to combine.

Spoon over the filled manicotti shells and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Of course, now Michelle is dreaming of what else we can fill with that sweet potato filling. Any ideas?

Soufflé Potatoes

This potato casserole went really well with Thanksgiving dinner in place of mashed potatoes. It is also a little more diabetic friendly because of the cottage cheese and eggs.

My mom is a fan of mixing a packet of Lipton Onion Soup and Dip Mix in a container of sour cream to eat as a dip with potato chips. She had just made some when I had the idea of using a 1/2 cup  in this recipe instead of just plain sour cream and it added a subtle onion flavor to the final dish. Yum! I may need to use more of this in other recipes that call for sour cream and would be enhanced with onion flavor.

Soufflé Potatoes

3 cups mashed potatoes (about 6 potatoes)
1 cup cottage cheese
½ cup sour cream
3 egg yolks, well beaten
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a two quart casserole dish.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, sour cream, egg yolks, melted butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Use an electric mixer to beat the mixture until light and fluffy. Fold in the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Dot with the butter.

Bake in the 350 degree F oven for 1 hour or until the casserole is puffed and top is golden.