Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Raspberry White Chocolate Won Ton Cups

This is an elegant dessert that is not too filling or rich. The fresh raspberries give it a little bite, and the combination of white chocolate and whipped topping make it light and creamy.

12 wonton wrappers
8 oz white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries, divided
1/2 cup Cool Whip
1/8 cup white sugar

Brush wonton wrappers with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Press sugar side up into ungreased miniature muffin cups. Bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Next, drop white chocolate chips into the bottoms of the cups. Return to oven for another 5 minutes or so, until the chocolate is melted. Cool completely.

Place 1/2 cup raspberries in a small bowl and mash slightly. Stir in whipped topping. Spoon into wonton cups. Top with remaining raspberries.

Pork Gyoza

This is one of my favorite appetizer recipes – I can never make enough of these, they disappear instantly! 

A note on ground pork - all ground pork is not the same! In particular, there is a brand called Smithfield which I would avoid at all costs. It has a really, really bad flavor. Try to get the ground pork from your grocery store's meat counter if they have it, otherwise, any brand but Smithfield should work.


1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1 lb ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
4 scallions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp Thai Garlic Chili sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

30 won ton wrappers
1 to 2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
1 egg yolk, beaten (for assembling)

Dipping Sauce:
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon red rice vinegar
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons chopped green onion

Brown pork in a skillet.  While meat is browning, chop vegetables.  Add to pan.  Next, add beaten egg, Thai Chili Sauce and ginger.  Continue cooking until vegetables are soft.  Taste and season, then allow to cool.

To assemble, place 1 tablespoon filling in middle of each won ton wrapper, about 1/2 inch from edge and shape horizontally.  Fold left and right corners of wedge over filling, overlapping slightly.  There are usually directions on how to do this on the back of the won ton package.

Dab top corner with egg yolk, then tightly roll wedge away from you, making sure ends stay tucked inside. Place roll, seam side down, on wax paper. Continue until all wrappers are used.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Fry rolls in small batches until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

For dipping sauce, simply chop onion and ginger, then mix into oil and vinegar.  Serve room temp or cold with finished gyoza.

Tips:  You can add additional Thai Chili Sauce to make this more spicy, substitute baby shrimp for the pork, or omit meat/seafood altogether for a vegetarian version.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Creamsicle Mimosas

What could make orange juice better than adding champagne?  Adding champagne, vodka and whipped cream, that's what!

Yield: 4 mimosas


3/4 cup orange juice
3 ounces marshmallow vodka
3/4 bottle of champagne
Whipped cream
Sprinkles (for garnish)

Combine orange juice and vodka into a martini shaker and shake well.  Pour about 1/4 cup of the mixture into each glass, then top with champagne. Add a squirt of whipped cream and garnish with sprinkles (if desired).

Tips:  If you can't find the marshmallow vodka, vanilla vodka would work just fine!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chocolate Dipped Kettle Chips

These are so easy to make, you won't even believe it!

Yield: About 50 chocolate dipped potato chips

1 bag salted kettle potato chips
1 package almond bark, vanilla or chocolate (or both)
Wax paper

Break the bark into small bricks. Take about 2-3 of them and place in a microwave safe bowl. Melt the chocolate quickly, about 30-60 seconds, stopping to stir the chocolate once halfway through. Almond bark, if scorched, turns hard and won't remelt - trust me, I've overheated it many times!

Sort the kettle chips and remove any that are broken or too small.  The best ones will be the large thick ones - they will be crunchier!  Spread a large piece of wax paper out on a plate or counter top.

Using a fork, life a kettle chip and lower into the bowl, making sure the entire chip is covered.  Remove, hold over bowl to let the excess drip off, then place on wax paper.  Repeat until all chips are used.  Once they are partially dry, you can use a knife or fork to drizzle a contrasting color of melted chocolate over them, as you see in the photos.  Allow the chips to set for about 30 minutes before removing from the wax paper.

Tips:  You can make these quite far in advance, as neither the chips, nor the chocolate, are perishable.  Don't refrigerate, as the almond bark will sweat.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Southwest Cobb Salad

Yes, I eat salad, everyone!  Usually for lunch...  I rarely take the time to make a salad this nice at home, but I should do it more often.

Yield: 4 Servings

1 pkg mixed salad greens
3 grilled seasoned chicken breasts
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed
1 cup shredded cheese (I used a blend of Cheddar and Monterey Jack)
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup red salsa
1/2 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper, to taste


Cook the bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels, and reserve.  Meanwhile, boil eggs, then remove shells and chop.  Season chicken breasts (I used a mix of salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin and coriander, about 1/8 tsp each) and grill or cook until done, then set aside.  

Chop or crumble cooled bacon, reserve.  Remove avocado from skin and chop.  To keep the avocado from turning brown, toss it with a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice, set aside.  Cut the cooked chicken into cubes, then rinse the lettuce and tomatoes, and drain/rinse black beans.  Now you are ready to assemble the salad!

Choose a plate and layer with greens.  Arrange remaining ingredients in rows over the lettuce.  Mix the dressing ingredients and season to taste.  Drizzle over salad just before serving.
Tips:   Substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream for calorie savings!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cherry, Almond & Dark Chocolate Granola Bars

Making granola bars from scratch... what a great idea.  It never even occurred to me that there was a non-processed version of these.  No offense, Quaker Oats!

Yield: About 20 bars

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 9 oz bag dark chocolate morsels
1/4 teaspoon allspice
6 tablespoons b
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch square pan with cooking spray.

Mix the first 5 ingredients in a bowl.  Heat the butter, brown sugar and honey in a saucepan until the butter melts.  Pour mixture over dry ingredients and mix until coated.  Transfer to prepared pan and press evenly with a spatula.

Bake about 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Press down on mixture again, to be sure it remains solid.  Cool, then remove from pan and place on cutting board. Cut into bars

Tips:  The cardamom in this recipe gives it an exotic, interesting flavor.  If you don't like cardamom, simply omit it, or swap for something more standard like cinnamon.  Change the fruit, nuts or chocolate to make this to your own specifications, or omit butter and chocolate for a healthy variety.  The possibilities are endless!

Bacon Wrapped BBQ Shrimp

It's not hard to explain why this is a delicious combo.  To make a healthy version, simply omit the bacon.  Wait, don't do that....

Yield:  4 appetizer portions 

16 medium raw shrimp, deveined, shell on
6-8 slices bacon
BBQ sauce, store bought or homemade
Skewers, soaked in water for 5-10 minutes 

Precook the bacon in a skillet for about 5 minutes, until translucent.  Pour off the fat and dry bacon on paper towels.  Precooking it a bit like this will result in a crispy finish!

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium high.  Wrap each shrimp with 1/3 or 1/2 slice bacon, depending on the size of shrimp used, and place on skewer, leaving a bit of room between each shrimp.

Place each skewer on a plate and season with sat and pepper, then drizzle with BBQ sauce.  Turn over and repeat.  Let the shrimp marinate for 15 minutes or so.  Grill shrimp for about 3 minutes per side, or until shrimp turn pink and bacon is crisp.  Serve while hot.  Enjoy! 

Tips:  I like to make my own BBQ sauce (it's quite simple and makes it easy to customize the seasonings - ketchup, brown sugar, white vinegar, liquid smoke, and spices to taste!) but if you don't have time, I think Sweet Baby Ray's is really good.

If you don't have a grill, you can make this in the oven- 450 degrees for about 10 minutes should do it!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mini Bacon Meatballs with Mushroom Sauce

How many ways can you make meatballs?  Unlimited, as far as I can tell!  I wanted to try this recipe... because of the bacon. Then I thought about adding a sauce, and let's face it, bacon and mushroom are like Romeo and Juliet - they belong together.

4 strips bacon, diced
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb ground beef sirloin

1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

1/4 cup red wine
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp paprika

1 tsp oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cook bacon over medium-high heat until starting to brown, about 4 minutes.  Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.  Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from skillet.  Saute onions in skillet in reserved drippings over medium heat until softened.  Add garlic to skillet and cook 1 minute.  Deglaze with red wine.

Combine beef, pork, bacon, onion, and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Stir in beaten eggs.  Form mixture into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet.  Bake meatballs until fully cooked, about 10 minutes.

For sauce:
Any type of mushroo
ms can be used to make this sauce.  The mushrooms can be chopped, sliced or cut into chunks, depending on preference.

8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp beef broth
2 oz butter
2 tbsp flour

1 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil and melt butter into it.  Add mushrooms and sauté until soft.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  Add flour, broth and cream.  Mix together, stirring continuously.  Return pan to medium heat and stir constantly until it thickens.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 - 8 minutes.

TipsThese meatballs can be frozen uncooked for up to a year.  For this particular recipe, I squeezed a bit of mushroom sauce onto each toothpick skewered meatball and placed them on a serving platter.  They disappeared like government employees.  Enjoy!

Pineapple Infused Tequila

So this is a fun gift idea - or make it for yourself!  Either way, it is delicious.

750 ml of your fave tequila (I used Patron Silver)
1 20 oz can of pineapple
2 tsp white sugar
A large bottle or jar with an airtight lid

This is a very simple recipe, in fact, I would say it's nearly impossible to mess up.  Choose a bottle before purchasing the ingredients, as that will determine the amount of tequila and pineapple you use.  For this infusion, I used a tall bottle, and for that reason I used Dole Pineapple Tidbits, which are basically small chunks that I knew would fit within the narrow neck of that particular size bottle.  If I were using a mason jar or pitcher, I would probably use the rings, because I think they look prettier.

Next, decide if you would prefer fresh or canned pineapple.  I have used both.  The fresh pineapple doesn't last as long in the bottle (meaning you will need to strain the liquor sooner) and is more time consuming to cut up; however, it does have a fresher and more intense flavor.  If you do use fresh, I would suggest adding an additional teaspoon of sugar.  If you use canned pineapple, simply choose which type according to which type of bottle you plan to keep it in.

Finally, place pineapple into the pitcher/jar.  Add sugar.  Fill container to the top with tequila and close.  Let marinate for no less then 24 hours.  For the strongest flavor, wait 1-2 weeks before consuming.  Once ready, the tequila can be mixed into pineapple margaritas, cocktails, drunk straight or in shots - just remember, this is still straight tequila, so don't drink it like water!  The pineapple should keep in the bottle for about a month, a bit less if fresh.  If the pineapple begins to discolor, simply strain the liquor and discard the pineapple.  Usually this delicious elixir will be gone before you have to worry about that.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Creamy Artichoke and Green Chile Soup

I had a soup like this at a nearby Mexican restaurant. It was served as a complimentary course, and I was skeptical - artichoke and green chile? But it was delicious; unique and intensely flavored.  So, like a foodie Sherlock Holmes, I wrote down all the flavors I could discern on a napkin and ran home and made my own version that very weekend.

6 whole artichokes (or about 12 jarred artichoke hearts)
1 cup heavy cream
4 cups vegetable broth
1 whole bulb roasted garlic
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 stick butter
8 oz canned green chiles
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup parmesan cheese (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)


Wash artichokes and cut stems at base, then remove small bottom leaves. Trim leaf tips and cut off top two inches (the sharp parts!).  Place artichokes in large pot and cover with water. Boil gently 35 to 45 minutes or until base can be pierced easily with a fork.

While artichokes are cooking, drizzle a large bulb of garlic with olive oil and roast in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes or until soft. Remove and let cool.

Chop celery, carrot, and onion. Place butter in a large pot and melt, then add celery, carrot and onion. Cook until softened, then add vegetable broth and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, reserving 1/4 cup. Squeeze roasted garlic into pot, then add lime juice and coriander.

When artichokes are finished cooking, let cool. Next, scrape edible flesh from each artichoke leaf and place in pot. Remove purple center from each artichoke heart and add the cleaned hearts to the pot. Add cream and with an immersion blender or food processor, puree soup until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Place in bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese before serving.

Tips - It was a real hassle to cook, clean, and remove the flesh from these artichokes!  I am all about cooking with fresh produce, but next time I make this, I'm going to try it with jarred artichokes to save time.  I doubt it will make much difference... artichoke is such a strong flavor that I don't think the fresh will taste much different.  Shoot me if I'm wrong!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Catering Gig

In October, I started culinary school. I made the decision very spontaneously, even though in retrospect it seems like I should have thought of it sooner!

A couple of weeks after I started school, a friend recommended me to a local business owner who hosts many events. It was quite a coincidence, as I had never really thought about catering until I registered for school.  Apparently, the lady in question, Alex, is a psychic!

So, three weeks into culinary school, I was asked to cater a vegetarian party for 50 people.  Luckily, hosting so many parties and cooking so many simultaneous courses really prepared me for this type of event.

Here are some photos and recipes from the party, which was hosted at House of Trend, an upscale clothing boutique here in Chicago - House of Trend on Facebook

The owner wanted something creative, as his clientele is very artistic, so I came up with some fun ideas. I purchased a few styrofoam shapes from a craft store, covered them in silver & black foil, then used them as pedestals for my serving platters. 

Ceasar Salad Boats

Gorgonzola Truffles

For the next dish, I used the styrofoam itself as a serving platter, simply sticking the skewers directly into the cubes. The material is flexible enough that the skewers were easy to remove and it was a nice presentation.

Antipasto Skewers

Curried Cranberry and Almond Pinwheels

Avocado Pesto Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

Mac and Cheese "Sushi" Rolls

Bananas Foster Cups

I was lucky to have my beloved, hard-working boyfriend Kyle lug platters, photograph the food beautifully, and work as my sous chef.  The guests were all happy and I had a great time at the event. Getting paid for something so fun almost seems like stealing!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Baked Potato Soup

This is a savory, tasty soup that's perfect on a winter day.

Yield: 10 servings

1/2 pound bacon
1/4 cup white wine
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped green onions

In a large pot, cook bacon until crisp. Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings. Set bacon aside. Add white wine to deglaze pan, then add onions, celery and garlic and cook until tender. Stir in thyme, flour, salt, and pepper. Add broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add potatoes, cream and hot pepper sauce. Garnish with bacon, sour cream, cheese and green onions.

Tips: For chunky soup, serve as is. If you prefer it thick and creamy, puree in a food processor until smooth. I like to serve this soup with toppings on the side so everyone can make it to their liking.  Enjoy!

Ceasar Salad Boats

This is a fun take on the classic salad.  Add chicken to turn this into a more hearty appetizer.

Endive or romaine lettuce leaves
Caesar salad dressing
Mini croutons (prepared, or homemade!)
Parmesan cheese

Trim the endive or romaine, keeping the boats as close to the same size as possible and reserving any pieces that are too large or not uniformly shaped.  Rinse and set leaves aside.  Take discarded portions and chop.  Toss with dressing and spoon into endive boats.  Garnish with croutons and parmesan cheese.

If you have never made homemade croutons, this would be a good time to try!  There really is quite a flavor difference between fresh ones and store bought.  For homemade croutons, simply slice a loaf of french bread into desired size cubes.  Season with salt, pepper, garlic and fresh chopped thyme.  Saute in olive oil until brown and crisp.  Yum!

The first time I made this, they didn't have endive leaves at the grocery store I went to, so I used romaine.  It actually worked out fine because I was able to trim the leaves and shape each one into several boats, so endive or romaine will work, just a bit more chopping involved if you use the romaine.  Enjoy!