Category: Appetizers

Italian Inspired Garlic Olive Oil Bruschetta

Italian bruschetta

I just got back from a four day trip to Rome, Italy where I ate, walked, ate, visited some historic sites, ate, shopped, did tons of work for my real job, and ate some more. I enjoyed every minute of Rome. For a full recap of my week in Rome with photos, videos and my own commentary, check out last week’s This Week on Instagram post.

Italians know how to live, and most importantly, they know how to eat. At restaurants, you never feel rushed. The waiters don’t stop by your table every five minutes to take your plates away and offer you the check. In Italy, mealtime is a laid back time with flowing table wine, a starter, main course, dessert and dessert drinks (at the very least). The waiters give you space to enjoy your meal and conversation. They check up on how your dish– likely one they recommended– tastes. They definitely don’t rush the check. Most of the time in Rome, we had to explicitly ask for the check. I loved the food in Rome. I ate my weight in pizza, pasta and gelato, and drank wine like it was water. I’m almost positive the wine was cheaper than water.

Italian bruschetta

At most of my sit-down meals, I ordered a bruschetta starter. Bruschetta, pronounced broo-ske-tta, is made up of thick slices of grilled Italian bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil and salt. Popular to contrary belief, classic bruschetta doesn’t actually come with tomatoes. Tomatoes are an add-on. Other toppings could include veggies, cured meat or cheese. Another notable difference between our “Americanized” version of bruschetta and true Italian bruschetta is the use of grilled, thick, Italian bread, as opposed to small French bread rounds or even hardened baguette rounds.

Italian bruschetta

Every single bruschetta I had in Rome was delectable. I always ordered mine with tomatoes — except that one time a group of us went to dinner and ordered “bruschetta classico.” After waiting 10 minutes or so for the missing tomatoes, our waiter explained that we had ordered “classico.” Classico does not include tomatoes, it’s basically grilled garlic bread with olive oil. Luckily for us, he was very kind, and brought us new Roma tomato-topped bruschetta. The tomatoes! The Roma Tomatoes! They’re the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever had. Packed with flavor, and not too hard or too soft, they were so perfect. Since leaving Rome, I’ve been dreaming about those ripe tomatoes over grilled garlic bread. I had to make some at home. Of course, I don’t have access to the same Roma tomatoes like I did abroad, but I made due with Roma tomatoes from Wegmans . Pro tip: the bread tastes so much better if you can grill it on an outdoor grill. 

Italian Bruschetta

Italian Bruschetta

 

Italian Inspired Garlic Olive Oil Bruschetta

Yield: 6 Bruschettas

Ingredients

  • 6 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons Olive Oil + 2 tablespoons for brushing
  • 2-3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 6 Slices Pane Italian Bread, sliced
  • 1 whole Garlic clove, for rubbing the bread
  • 1/2 cup Baby Arugula

Instructions

  1. Prepare the tomatoes by cutting a small slit at one end of each tomato
  2. In a medium pot, bring water to a boil
  3. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl with ice water for blanching
  4. Once the water boils, carefully place the whole tomatoes in the water. Cover and boil on high for 2 minutes then turn heat off.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the tomatoes and place them in the ice water. Wait about 2 minutes, before removing the tomatoes from the ice water onto a paper-towel lined plate.
  6. You'll notice that the skin has started to peel. Peel the tomatoes, then cut into small cubes
  7. In a medium bowl, mix together minced garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar then set aside
  8. Place a grill pan over high heat (or use an outdoor grill)
  9. Cut the Pane bread into 1 1/2 inch slices
  10. Place Italian bread slices on the grill, cooking each side for 5-7 minutes (until slightly charred), then flipping over to grill the other side for another 3-5 minutes. Watch the bread carefully, especially if using an outdoor grill.
  11. Remove bread from heat. While still warm, use the whole garlic clove to rub one side of each piece of bread, then brush liberally with olive oil.
  12. Top each bread slice with the tomatoes and baby arugula
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How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

Ultimate Charcuterie

As you all know, I’ve been recipe testing and planning my dinner party menu for over a month. Partially because I’m an over-planner and partially because I was really looking forward to wowing my friends with my culinary abilities. I’ll admit, I kind of wowed myself with my main dish – Seafood Paella.  Dinner party planning takes a lot of thought, and I learned so many things from my mom and all her dinner parties. She sets timers on her phone the day of to keep her on a timeline for food prep. That’s dedication. I’m not quite at the mom-level of dinner party planning and execution, but I’m sure in time I’ll get there. I did inherit some of her organization skills.

Here’s what my dinner party timeline looked like:

  • 1 month-1 week before: Plan and set menu
  • 1-2 days before: Grocery shopping
  • Night before: Prepare any make-ahead desserts or marinades
  • Morning of: Set the table, get out serving dishes, serveware and centerpieces
  • Afternoon of: Cook! Clean up, repeat as needed until you’ve made everything. Save warm dishes for setting out once guests arrive.  
  • Right before guests arrive: Set out the cold items, Turn on the lights, Burn bokhoor بخور (incense)
  • Enjoy the dinner!

The two things I was most looking forward to was making seafood paella, and setting out a GORGEOUS charcuterie board. I have been drooling over charcuterie boards on Pinterest and Instagram for months. I’m not even kidding. There are so many ways to go about it. You can stick with just cheeses, or make it a meats board, you can tailor it by season (summer, winter, etc.), make it big, make it small, keep it simple, go all-out … it’s totally up to you.  

I decided I wanted an over-the-top display with a mix of meats, cheeses, breads, spreads, veggies and nuts. Other than those broad categories, I did not have a game plan. So when I went on my shopping trip Friday night, I ended up spending two hours at Wegmans. I love Wegmans, by the way, I bought all my dinner party ingredients from there.  Generally speaking, my grocery shopping trips are a get in-get what I need-get out kind of deal. While I had my grocery list in hand (on my iphone), I still managed to spend 75% of my time in the cheese and meat sections of the store. They have an impressive meat and cheese selection.

Ultimate Charcuterie

How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

The ultimate charcuterie includes a selection of cheese, meat, spreads/dips, nuts, dried fruit, veggies, bread/crackers, and some (optional) extras. 

 

Cheese

If you’re going to have cheese here are a couple pro tips:

– Mix up the texture. You want to offer a mix of soft  (semi soft), (firm) and hard cheese

– Add color. While white cheeses are more prevalent, don’t be afraid to add in some yellow cheese, like cheddar cubes

– Go for different sources. Cow cheese is great, but offer up sheep cheese and goat cheese too.

Cheeses I used: Manchego, Cheddar Cheese cubes, Blue Cheese, Brie, Bucheron.

Meat

So here’s the deal with my meat selection, I was constrained by non-pork options. Really, that didn’t stop me from offering up a fun assortment. Same idea with the meats as the cheese, you want to offer a variety of tastes and textures. I featured roasted turkey slices, bresaola, beef salami and turkey pepperoni. I added in the turkey slices for color, and because everything else was beef-based. You’ll want to mix up smoky, spicy and simple flavors.

Spreads and Dips

I only had two dips on my charcuterie. I featured a sweet fig jam and plain hummus. With dips, you don’t want to go too crazy. Stick with 1-2 (3 max) and vary up sweet and savory. Great additions include tapenade, pate, apricot preserves or honey.

Nuts and Dried Fruits

For added crunch, go with smoked almonds and raw cashews. The world is your oyster with nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachio), just be sure to check for nut allergies ahead of time! Fruit should be a mix of fresh and dried. Add cranberries, dried apricots, dates, and mix in some fresh fruit like grapes, apples or figs.

Veggies

I think vegetables really round out the charcuterie. For presentation (see presentation section below), veggies give you some color. Celery, carrots and tomatoes make for a no-fuss addition. 

Bread and Crackers

Keep the bread simple. You want to offer useful options. Sliced baguette, fresh or toasted, is always a win because its conducive to easy spreading. I added breadsticks and crackers for a crunchy option with soft cheese and spreads.

Extras

For a Mediterranean vibe, I set out small pickles as well as green and black olives fresh from Wegmans’ olive bar. Get the almond-stuffed green olives, they’re generally a hit. Don’t be afraid to get varying pickles. Pickled turnips, onions, and peppers bring texture and flavor to your charcuterie.

Presentation

Presentation is everything. Let me repeat: Presentation is everything. They say, you eat with your eyes before your stomach. It’s the truth.

You want to offer up a visually appealing board. For me, that means mixing colors and textures, as well as filling in every inch of the board. If you have a small board, add some fun trays to hold the bread and crackers. Use small jars, or unusual looking containers for spreads. Spread out meats and cheeses, but don’t be afraid to place items extremely close to other things on the board.

Now, go forth and build your ultimate charcuterie.   

Labaneh Rounds

Labaneh Rounds If you haven’t had labaneh (لبنة) then you’re in for a savory treat! I grew up on labaneh, as did most Arab-American kids. It’s a staple in most Arab-American households. There’s always a container in the fridge. Breakfasts and brunches include some form of labaneh with olive oil and zaatar for dipping, usually alongside olives, freshly slices cucumbers and tomatoes, and in most cases boiled eggs.

When we were kids, my mom used to make us labaneh sandwiches on Arabic bread (that’s what we call pita bread at our house). It’s, hands-down, my favorite dairy product. I still make myself labaneh on toast in the mornings.

So what is labaneh? It’s savory cream cheese … of sorts. According to Wikipedia, labaneh is:

yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey, resulting in a thicker consistency than unstrained yogurt, while preserving yogurt’s distinctive, sour taste.”

That description doesn’t do labaneh justice! Comparing it to savory cream cheese is so much more appetizing. My favorite kind of labaneh is the rounds. Admittedly, I casually refer to them as labaneh balls. But that doesn’t sound as appealing. Maybe I should refer to them as labaneh truffles, just to give off that exotic vibe.

In all honesty, the labneh rounds and the dip taste just about the same. The process for straining yogurt into Arabic cream cheese is essentially the same. It’s how long you strain and what you do after the yogurt has been strained that really defines the difference between the two. I’m not really sure why I get so much more excited about the labaneh rounds. Maybe because they’re perfectly portioned? That would be a great reason if I didn’t eat four rounds … or more in one sitting.

Labaneh isn’t hard to make. It just takes time – idle time, mostly while the yogurt is being strained. Now, don’t go out and buy a strainer and some yogurt. That’s not exactly what I meant. The straining takes place over a 24-hour period using cheesecloth. I have vivid memories staying overnight at my Tayta’s and waking up to find a white, damp, bag hanging from the kitchen sink. That’s how she strained her yogurt—overnight, hanging from the kitchen sink. My Tayta seriously makes the best homemade labaneh. It’s tangy and savory and I know she adds a little extra salt, just the way we like it. Those nights, I’d go home with a Tupperware full of Tayta’s fresh labaneh.

 

Labaneh Rounds

 

Labaneh Rounds

Labaneh Rounds

Labaneh Rounds

Yield: About 20 Rounds

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Plain Whole Greek Yogurt (I used Fage Total Plain)
  • 1 Cheesecloth
  • 2 cups Olive oil (maybe a little more depending on the size of your jar)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Salt
  • Herbs (dried or fresh mint, dill, rosemary, etc.), optional

Instructions

  1. Line a large strainer with cheesecloth, folded over once
  2. Set over a deep bowl
  3. In a separate bowl, stir the salt into the Greek yogurt until combined
  4. Spoon the yogurt into the middle of the cheesecloth
  5. Gather the cheesecloth around the sides to cover the yogurt and fasten (I used a rubber band)
  6. Suspend the cheesecloth from a stationary object, like the faucet of a sink, or a stick draped over the sink, and allow it to drip drain into a bowl underneath
  7. Keep the cheesecloth suspended 24 hours
  8. After 24 hours, fill a glass jar (with a secure lid) ¼ way with olive oil
  9. Rub your hands together with some olive oil and begin rolling small balls out of the labaneh and placing them into the jar
  10. Add optional herbs
  11. Once, you’ve filled the jar, pour olive oil into the jar until the balls are covered
  12. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 months.
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Parsley Pesto

Parsley Pesto

I’ll be honest, when I think of pesto, I generally think of a basil-based chunky spread. But that’s because it’s the most popular flavor on grocery store shelves and at our favorite restaurants. What most people don’t realize is, there are so many variations of pesto, basil and parsley pesto being only two of them.

Last year, Bon Appetit showed us that that we can make pesto out of anything. Really, almost anything. Did you know that you can even use arugula?!  

According to Bon Appetit, you can pick from a number of greens, nuts, and cheeses then add in garlic, salt and lemon juice, if you so choose. So your probably wondering why I didn’t just go ahead and make traditional pesto with basil. If you haven’t noticed, buying basil in bulk is not easy around here. If you’re lucky, you can find a whole basil plant, use up all the leaves, attempt to grow it in your garden and then kill it with your lack of a green thumb. Or, if you’re a little less lucky, you can find those little plastic packets with 3 sprigs of basil for something like $3. It would probably take at least 10 packets to get enough for 3 cups. Parsley, on the other hand, is much easier to find in bulk, and also much cheaper. I mean they don’t really give you the option to buy anything less than a  portioned out bunch. Faced with this reality, I considered looking into growing my own herbs and vegetables– but that’s a consideration and discussion for another day. At that point, it was a no-brainer. I was experimenting with parsley pesto. 

 

Parsley Pesto

 

Parsley Pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Parsley
  • 3-5 cloves Garlic
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Pine Nuts
  • Salt, to taste.

Instructions

  1. Toast the pine nuts by placing on a sheet pan and broiling until lightly browned. Watch the oven carefully, as pine nuts toast quickly.
  2. Place parsley, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor.
  3. Process until smooth, or until desired consistency.
  4. Add parmesan cheese, salt and olive oil
  5. Process until smooth
  6. Serve on your favorite pasta, or garlicky toast

Notes

Toasting the nuts ahead of time adds some extra flavor. However, you can use raw pine nuts

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Kubbeh Batata [Potato Kubbeh]

Kubbeh Batata (1)

From personal experience, sometimes just eating someone else’s cooking is a lot easier than trying to recreate it yourself (even when you asked the auntie what she would do). So here’s my story.

Once upon an amazing work project ago, I helped set up a number of media interviews for a high-ranking general. As part of that whirlwind experience, I, along with a journalist and TV crew were invited over to the general’s home for a feature on his daily life, and lucky for us his wife was making dinner and made us try her home cooking. The spread was definitely something to write home about. But I distinctly remember trying something I’d never had before – Kubbeh Batata. Well, that’s not true. I’ve had Kubbeh Batata in the form of a casserole – Palestinian-style, if you will. But this was different. This was little balls of kubbeh with a potato dough stuffed with ground beef. It was amazing, and I’ve only had it a handful of times after that, when I’m treated to Iraqi take out.

A number of years later, I decide, out of the blue that I want to try to make Kubbeh Batata on my own. I will say, it was a very humbling experience.

I learned that sometimes on the first try, you don’t get it right. You make 30 or so little kubbeh balls, perfectly shaped and when you fry them and go to flip them over, they completely fall apart. At that point, I thought I might have to give up and just call my new creation Arabic-style hash browns. Hang tight, you might actually see that on the blog soon!

But I persevered through and I actually did it! I ended up with a decent amount of Kubbeh Batata.

Here are some things I would do differently to ensure they don’t fall apart when you fry:

  • Cool the pre-fried balls in the fridge for an hour or so to keep the shape
  • Be patient and wait until the bottom side is browned before CAREFULLY rolling the kubbeh ball to the other side.

In all, I give myself a B. I had a few testers who loved them and said that they turned out well. Next time … Kubbeh Batata Palestinian style (casserole). It’s much less time consuming, and so much easier on my nerves.

Kubbeh batata_4

Kubbeh Batata [Potato Kubbeh]

Yield: About 20 Pieces

Ingredients

    FOR THE DOUGH
  • 5 russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 cup basmati or jasmine rice, cooked
  • FOR THE STUFFING
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) of Seven Spice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

    FOR THE DOUGH
  1. Wash, peel and boil the potatoes in a large pot until soft
  2. Meanwhile, cook 1 cup of rice with turmeric and cardamom powder and allow to cool before using
  3. In a food processor, process together the rice and potatoes until smooth, but not liquid
  4. FOR THE STUFFING
  5. Sauté the chopped onion in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  6. Add the ground beef and brown
  7. When about half-way browned, add salt and seven spice to taste
  8. Continue cooking until the beef is browned
  9. Add the chopped parsley and mix well
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Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo Chicken Dip_2

It’s been a while, I know. My last post was over two months ago and I appreciate my loyal followers who haven’t given up on me yet! Thank you, thank you.

What happens every once in a while is that I get so caught up with work and other things in my non-blogging life that I don’t take the time to work on new posts. It’s been an action-packed two months, with weddings and birthdays and some fun adventures including rock climbing, kayaking and a weekend trip to Vegas with a pit stop inside the Grand Canyon. I’m happy to report that I can now cross both those off my bucket list. I’ll also admit that since Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been spending my lazy weekends poolside working on my tan – slowly but surely.

I’m so excited Summer is finally here. For one, warmer weather means more pool time. I also love summer because unlike the rest of the year, everyone seems to work on a slower burn. More casual Fridays at work, more opportunities to do outdoor activities and really, a fun time to experiment with food. Because, if you know me on a personal level … I love to eat!

So don’t fret my fabulous followers, I’ll have a few new things up on the blog soon, I promise!

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 Can Chicken
  • 1 cup wing sauce
  • 1 cup ranch dressing
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded, divided
  • 1 package cream cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together except one cup of cheese
  3. Pour into a cast-iron skillet or large baking dish
  4. Top with remaining cheese
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbly
  6. Serve with celery, carrots or your favorite chips
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