Mediterranean Plate

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I know this isn’t the best photography in the world, but its the only decent shot I was able to get of this appetizer plate that I threw together in about five minutes using things we already had in our fridge. And I think that’s the appeal of the whole thing. If you are having company over and you have a well-stocked refrigerator, this appetizer is quick and easy! I am also including a recipe for marinated artichoke hearts, which are tangy and delicious.

Here’s what I have on my plate:

  • Salami
  • Hummus
  • Crostini
  • Olives
  • Marinated artichokes (recipe follows)
  • Stuffed grape leaves [not pictured]
  • Prosciutto drizzled with balsamic glaze [not pictured]
  • Pan-fried haloumi (this is a really cool Greek cheese that you can brown on a nonstick pan without the cheese melting!) [not pictured]

There is no method to the arrangement – I just threw a bunch of things together on a plate. Next time, I think I will put the hummus in a separate bowl to make dipping easier. Don’t forget to include a small bowl for olive pits!

Click here to read the recipe for marinated artichoke hearts and for more suggestions to add to your own Mediterranean Appetizer Plate…

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Homemade Vegetable Stock

Like many cooks, I use stock and broth all the time to boost the flavors of the food I make. It’s not too expensive — I like to buy the cardboard containers from Whole Foods for about two bucks. But what I never knew was how easy it is to make your own stock. And you don’t even have to buy new ingredients for it! Just use scraps from the veggies you use in your everyday cooking. So as somebody who hates wasting ingredients and loves experimenting in the kitchen, I had to try it.

All I do is add my food scraps into a gallon-sized bag in my freezer. Once the bag fills up, it’s time to make stock! It’s so easy — there’s almost no work involved. Just get in the habit of throwing your vegetable scraps in the freezer instead of the garbage and then boil some water. Let it sit over a flame, strain it, and you’ve got delicious homemade broth from nothing but odds and ends. Essentially, this is a free way to flavor your food.

Click here to read which vegetable scraps are ideal for making stock…

Margaritas

Updated for Cinco de Mayo with new photos!

Who doesn’t love drinks with dinner? Usually we stick to wine, but I just had to make margaritas for my Southwestern food night (chipotle-lime chicken recipe here and black bean & corn salsa recipe here). You will find a ton of variations for margarita recipes on the web, but I love this particular combination of tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. I prefer fresh lime juice over sour mix because it has a brighter flavor and really perks up the drink for me. I also love salt around the rim because it’s a great compliment to the strong flavors in the margarita. If you want, you can throw this mix into a blender to make frozen margaritas, but I like mine on the rocks.

Read the recipe and the rest of the post here…

Homemade Mayonnaise

Adding to the list of condiments that are a million times tastier when made fresh at home than bought from the store, I bring you hand whisked mayonnaise. I’d be lying if I said my arm wasn’t tired after whisking constantly for about 10 minutes, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t even like store-bought mayo, but this fresh stuff is a whole ‘nother story. It’s smooth and tangy.

It doesn’t taste processed or greasy the way the stuff in a jar does. And the best part: it doesn’t have all those nasty preservatives and add-ins. It’s a pure, simple recipe that you can customize however you want. The flavors are so unique and bold that I suggest a simple serving like above, with steamed artichokes. Dip those leaves in the mayo one by one and scrape off the good stuff with your teeth. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it.

If you own an immersion blender, you don’t even have to worry about a tired arm from the whisking. It literally comes together in 30 seconds. Just dump all ingredients in a narrow container with oil on top. Turn on the blender at the bottom and then slowly lift it up, blending the whole time. That’s it! But that’s not how I did it. I made it the old school way — the way chefs were making it for hundreds of years before food processors came along.

Mayonnaise is an emulsion — the binding together of egg yolk with oil. If you make it the classic way — the Julia Child way — you have to add the oil a teeny tiny bit at a time, otherwise the delicate mix won’t come together or, if it’s already blended, it might break. But learning to make mayo by hand, you get an appreciation for the condiment and for the method. I recommend everybody make this at least once in their lives. Who knows? You might never go back to Hellman’s again!

See step-by-step photo tutorial and read the recipe here…

Homemade Garlic Croutons

I had some soup the other day that needed a little crunch. I also had a two day old loaf of bread. That means crouton time! It couldn’t be easier: toss some bread + olive oil + salt + garlic powder and stick it in the oven or toaster oven  for 10-15 minutes. And for all your non-trouble, you’re rewarded with a perfectly delicious salad topping that has a nice CRUNCH to it.

Here’s the “recipe.” I can’t really call it a recipe since I didn’t measure anything. Just use your eye and you should be fine!

How to Make Crunchy Homemade Garlic Croutons

  1. Preheat the oven or toaster oven (much easier) to 350°F.
  2. Cut bread into roughly 1″ cubes and spread out in one even layer on a baking pan or sheet or dish or whatever.
  3. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. Remember, the bread is already a little salty, so don’t overdo it. Use sea salt if you’re feeling decadent. Garlic powder has a very strong flavor so just a little bit on each piece will suffice.
  4. This is where you can get a little creative. If you want, you can add a little bit of Italian seasoning and/or crushed red pepper flakes here for added flavor. Or you can leave out the garlic powder completely for plain croutons. OR you can cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side all over the pieces of bread. My grandma used to do this and the flavor is very sharp but very delicious if you love garlic. You can also try sprinkling onion powder instead. Or paprika. Or how about a blend of cumin/coriander/turmeric for curry croutons? Whatever seasonings you decide to add, remember to use a light hand. You don’t want the flavor to be overpowering, just a little hint is what you’re aiming for.
  5. Toss everything together, spread in an even layer again, and put it in the oven. Watch it closely – I recommend checking and tossing every 4 minutes. You want the pieces to bake until light brown and crunchy. Any longer and they will become hard as a rock. The total time depends on how fresh or stale your bread was when you started. My two day old bread took about 15 minutes; fresh will take longer.
  6. Enjoy in soup, on top of a salad, or as a snack straight off the baking sheet!

I recommend making these in small batches. They dry out even more if you leave them out, but they get soft if you leave them in an airtight container. Plus, prep is so easy that there’s no reason not to have fresh, warm croutons whenever you want them.

Tips for Moist, Juicy, and Tender Chicken

chipotle lime chicken with black bean corn salsa

We’ve all cooked chicken before that has come out tough, dry, and chewy. But through the years, I’ve learned a couple of  tips for moist and tender chicken that I’d like to share with you. If you follow these steps, you will have juicy cuts of chicken every time. I am also including links to some chicken dishes you can try your luck with.

Click here to learn how to avoid dry and overcooked chicken…

How to Make Butter from Scratch

butter from scratch

See that dreamy yellow stuff up there? Well, it’s butter! And I made that! It didn’t even occur to me that I could make it myself, but it’s actually pretty simple. The only ingredient is cream. Unless you salt your butter, in which case, you also need salt.

The difference between fresh, homemade butter and store-bought is amazing. This stuff just tastes fresh and buttery! I don’t know how else to describe it. Of course, any butter is good butter, but homemade is the best butter.

A note about cream: you don’t want to use ultra-pasteurized, which is heated to a higher temperature than “regular” pasteurized cream to get rid of harmful bacteria. It tends to have a more chemical and cooked flavor and it’s harder to whip up. I used an organic, pasteurized cream from Whole Foods. They also had raw milk (not pasteurized) from grass-fed cows, but a quart was $14! I wasn’t ready to pay that kind of money, but I would love to try it some day. There’s a great article at Chow comparing flavors of different kinds of milk if you want to learn more.

Anyway, butter is made by beating cream until it separates. You need either a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. If you are going to salt it, try about 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon per half pound of butter. I like to keep mine unsalted. Read the rest of the post for a step-by-step photo tutorial on how to make butter from scratch.

Update: Welcome everyone coming from the Tasty Kitchen Blog! I encourage you to subscribe to my RSS feed or view my Tasty Kitchen profile and add me as a friend.

Let us know in the comments below if you have any success making your own butter!

Read the recipe and rest of the post here…

New Site Feature – How to Stock Your Pantry

First of all, happy new year to everyone! I am kicking off 2010 with a new page on the site – How to Stock Your Pantry. I discuss the items I keep in my own pantry and the uses for them. For so many of us, it’s a huge struggle to keep well-stocked without running out of space. I try to keep a limited supply of the bulkier things — like only having one type of short pasta and one type of long — to save space. I also try to clean it out regularly and throw out anything that’s expired or that I don’t plan on using anymore. I would love to hear what you all have to say about the topic. You can access the page by the link in the right-hand menu, or click below.

So click here to read my tips on stocking your pantry and let me know what you think!