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Quick, Simple, Fancy Appetizers

Hello Cooking Friends,

I don’t know about you, but I love quick and simple appetizers that everyone thinks took you forever to make, and are super complicated.

Baked Asparagus Citrus Habañero

Citrus Habañero Asparagus

I have two standbys that I used this weekend for a bring-appetizers-to-share event. I would like to share with you because I got so many “how did you make this?!?!” comments this weekend. I am going to share multiple variations for both just to be fair to all palates!

#1) ‘Fancy’ Asparagus

What you need: 1 bunch of asparagus, flavored olive oils, flavored balsamic vinegars, and various spices, as desired.

Preheat your oven to 350, and spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray (I prefer aluminum ones to bake-and-take-and-toss when I’m going somewhere not at a house).

Keep the rubber bands on your asparagus and rinse the stems in cold water for a few seconds. Then, using a very sharp and long knife (i.e. not a paring knife), cut the bottom 1 inch off the asparagus stems. This is key to taste and keeping the rubber bands on is key to sanity. It also lets you cut your asparagus to mostly equal length quite simply!

So now we have our rinsed, prepped asparagus, remove the rubber bands and dump the stems into your pan (layers are perfectly fine). Over top of this you will drizzle and sprinkle your olive oils and spices. Bake for 12-18 minutes, until they’re to your desired tenderness (18) or crispness (12). I usually do about 15 minutes, to get it right in the middle!

A) Citrus-Habañero: pour about 3 tablespoons of Butter Olive Oil evenly over your asparagus. Drizzle about 2 teaspoons of Citrus Habañero Olive Oil evenly over top you asparagus. Bake.

B) Peppery Citrus: mix together 1 tablespoon orange juice and 1 teaspoon Lemon Pepper Olive Oil, and pour over top the asparagus. Using a peppermill or grinder, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of fresh ground pepper over top the asparagus. Bake.

C) Garlicky Mushroom & Fig: mix together 2 teaspoons each Garlic Mushroom Olive Oil and Fig Balsamic Vinegar, 1 teaspoon of dill weed, and 1 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper. Pour over asparagus evenly. Bake.

D) Butter & Bacon: sprinkle about 2 teaspoons worth of Bacon!Bacon! over top, evenly. Pour 2 tablespoons of Butter Olive Oil evenly over asparagus & bacon. Bake.

E) Garden Veggie: sprinkle about 2 teaspoons each worth of Garden Veggie and Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto mixes evenly over asparagus. Pour 2 tablespoons of Butter Olive Oil, OR pour 1 tablespoon melted butter plus 1 teaspoon Sun-dried Tomato Parmesan & Garlic Olive Oil, evenly over asparagus & spices. Bake.

**Note, 2 tablespoons butter olive oil is equivalent to just under 1/4 cup melted (unsalted) butter.

#2) Rumaki

BBQ Barbeque Rumaki Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts

BBQ Rumaki

What you need: toothpicks, 1 package bacon, 2 cans diced & drained water chestnuts, sauce as desired.

Preheat oven to 350, and either line a cookie sheet with foil or use an 11×7 pan – spray either one with cooking spray.

The basics of what you will do: cut your bacon strips into thirds, and then wrap 1 of these strips around 1 diced water chestnut. Stick a toothpick through starting where the wrap ends, and going through the water chestnut to the other side. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until bacon is to your taste (crisp or soft). This does 2 things for you: 1) this keeps the bacon from getting messy and going everywhere while baking, and 2) creates an instant ‘serving’ option for guests to enjoy these without getting more utensils dirty!

So here are some ways to flavor the rumaki!

A) BBQ Rumaki: Take a barbeque sauce of your choice, I used the Laurel Gray Crazy ‘Bout Butts BBQ Sauce, and pour about 1/4 cup into the bottom of your pan. Place your tooth-picked rumaki into the pan in rows, and then drizzle another 1/8 cup of the sauce over top of the rumaki. Bake.

B) Ginger-Soy Rumaki: Place your tooth-picked rumaki in the pan in rows. Meanwhile, mix together 1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Butter Olive Oil (or 2 tbspn melted butter), dash of cumin, and 2 teaspoons ground ginger. For the ginger, if you happen to have pickled ginger on hand, you could substitute either 1 teaspoon of the pickled liquid OR 2 teaspoons of blended pickled ginger (solids only) for the ground ginger. Mix this well. Pour over rumaki and bake.

C) Garden Veggie Rumaki: Place your tooth-picked rumaki in the pan in rows. Sprinkle Garden Veggie and 2 tablespoons Garlic Mushroom Olive Oil over the asparagus, evenly. Bake.

So I sincerely hope that you enjoyed these, and if you try them, please let me know which version you tried (even if it’s your own) and how you liked them!

Craft You Later,

Chicken Veggie Rotini

Hey Friends,

I had a dinner brainstorm a bit ago that I wanted to share with you. I was in the mood for a casserole style dish but nothing heavy or super creamy. And I wanted chicken and pasta. To be honest, I really wanted the Carmela’s Chicken Rigatoni from Macaroni Grill (a previous employer of mine), but was too lazy/cheap to drive and spend $14 on one meal at 9 o’clock at night. Hey, at least I’m being honest! 😉

Beth’s Chicken Veggie Rotini!

So the basics of what I wanted were a very light cream sauce, with lots of flavor, and a bunch of diced vegetables mixed in with diced chicken over pasta. Able to be taken in to work easily for lunch as well.

I came up with this (partly due to the specials on produce at the grocery store):

1 box Rotini Pasta
1 bunch fresh asparagus, ends discarded, stalks then chopped into thirds
1 vidalia onion, sliced length-wise into 3″ x 1/4″ pieces
1 apple, cored and diced (thicker chunks)
selection of olive oils and vinegars
1/4 cup mixed shredded cheese
1/8 cup low-fat milk
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced

Cook your pasta until Al Dente (just a little hard still), and then drain and put in a PAM-Sprayed 13×9 pan. You’ll need every inch of this, I promise!

In your same saucepan, over medium heat, bring 2 tspn Blood Orange Olive Oil, 1 tspn Serrano Honey Vinegar, and 1 tspn Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar to a simmer.

Cook your chicken until just barely done (don’t over cook it since you’re going to bake it). Add to your pan of pasta and mix together. Reserve the liquid in the saucepan!

Cook your apple and onion in your reserved sauce, and bring to a simmer (~5 minutes).

Add asparagus and cook an additional 5 minutes, until crisp. Do not drain your veggies, instead scoop with a slotted spoon and add the veggies to the pasta-chicken dish.

In the saucepan with the reserved sauce, add your milk and cheese and heat on low until just blended to make a slightly creamy sauce.

Pour this sauce over the pasta dish. If you want, sprinkle additional cheese over top the pasta dish. Bake for 10 minutes at 350. Serve and enjoy!

Craft You Later,

Christmas Duck, Duck, Hot Potato!?

So for Christmas Day this year, for the first time in many a year, it was just the four of us plus my brother’s girlfriend. Normally there is some combination of relatives and friends joining us, so it was kind of nice, and odd at the same time, to just have our immediate family. Because it wasn’t 20 people, Mom and I were trying to think up something simple to do for dinner. Filling, yet not too much food. Tasty, yet not Ham or Turkey (as we both JUST finished our leftovers from the previous few weeks), and not Chicken Parm since we did that for the work party Friday night. Choices choices choices. The only thing we knew we were doing for sure was Mom making her Twice Baked Potatoes. Yum.

So we are minding our business, going through the grocery store, and Mom spies a duck. Hmmm, this could be good. It’s a small critter that won’t make us keep eating it for days after, it’s tasty, it’s enough for 5 people but shouldn’t take days to prep and cook… I think we have a winner here! 🙂 So we got a 5 pound Whole Duck to decide how to cook. YAY! I get to be creative with a new food, WOOHOO!!!! (No, I was not at all excited about this prospect, I swear!) 😉

Then we had to decide what to make with the Duck. Dad loves Duck but hates it à l’Orange. So that helped eliminate one thing. Mom voted no on Maple Syrup as the main flavor. Another one bites the dust. And brother Drew voted yes on Duck. Isn’t he just a helpful thing?!?  So I started looking up recipes on my handy dandy Evo Design, and saw a repetition of “Red Currant” across the recipes. So I decided to run with that. And keep running. And running. And finally smell something yummy (or so I hoped).

When prepping a duck, I highly recommend buying a frozen one that looks similar to a Thanksgiving Turkey. Why, you ask? Because it does the giblets and nasty innards  the same way as a Turkey – frozen and easy to remove. Just the way I like them, where I don’t have to play “Operation: Turkey Bird!” without the red nose. So first you remove the innards and icky stuff. Then thaw the bird in cold water for about 90 minutes (~5 lb. Duck) sitting in a pan. If the innards were stuck, they should still be gunked together but more easily removed after 90 minutes. Discard if you’re like me and think they’re gross, or reserve for later if you think they are delicious and functional. Either way, now you rinse the bird with cold water, make sure any excessive chunks of fat and “extras” are removed, and pat the bird dry. Set Mister Duck in a pan that is just larger than the bird, then prep the sauce.

Since I was in the mood for using Red Currant on my Duck Sauce, I compiled a group of ingredients that I thought would go spectacularly with that flavor profile. I used half of a jar of Red Currant Jelly (about 1/2 cup), 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, an overflowing 1/8 cup Cherry Creek Montage (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chancellor Noir wines),  2 tablespoons Maple Syrup, 1 teaspoon Majoram, and about 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Mix these together with 1/2 of a stick of Unsalted Butter, softened and sliced into small pieces.

Once these are mixed completely, use a baster and cover your Duck in the sauce, as well as inject it into the breast and legs of the Duck. Make sure you have some sitting in the inside of the Duck as well, to keep the flavor cooking fully through the Duck later on.

Voilà, raw Duck à la Courant Rouge (hehehe, French play on words, weeee!):

To cook the Duck, I let it simmer (re-basting with extra juices every 45 minutes) in the oven for about 2 hours at 350. After it’s been sliced off the bone by Master Cutter Dad:

Then we add in the sides:

Mom made her Twice Baked Potatoes. She bakes potatoes sliced in half for about 45 minutes at 350. Then once the insides are tender, she scoops the potatoes out, being careful to maintain the shape of the potato skins, and adds 1 cup sour cream and 1 cup shredded cheese. She mixes this up well, then scoops the mixture back into the potato shells. Then bakes the potatoes for and additional 25 minutes at 350. Easy peezy.

I made Parmesan Asparagus and Roasted Butternut Squash. These are super easy. I rinsed the asparagus, placed it in a 9×13 pan that was sprayed with Pam, and then sprayed the asparagus with Pam as well. Then I sprinkled the asparagus with grated Parmesan cheese, added small slices of cut-up unsalted butter, and sprinkled a tiny bit of Dill Weed over the entire thing. Baked for about 18 minutes at 350, until tender. For the Butternut Squash all I did was slice the squash into 6 pieces (scooping out the few seeds) and topped with cut-up unsalted butter. Baked this for about 40 minutes at 350. Then you are done! 🙂

While Mom thought the Duck was a bit too fatty, everyone else thoroughly enjoyed it. I had recreated the ‘Duck sauce’, minus the butter and olive oil, using the remaining Red Currant Jelly directly in the Jar, and heated it up for about 45 seconds in the microwave. Everyone dipped the Duck in the sauce. This also, according to my Brother, tasted delicious over the leftover Prime Rib (from Friday night’s Catering Party). So it was a raw-meat-less sauce that can be re-used with other meats, woohoo! 🙂

If you do not like fatty and gamey meats, I do not recommend eating Duck. Mom is proof. But if you do like those kinds of meats (or just any thing spelled m-e-a-t) then this is something fun to try for a smaller group of adventurous eaters! 🙂

As the final piece, we also made a Blueberry Pie, which I am shamed to say I did not take a picture of, particularly shamed since Drew & Alicia helped out! (I missed a perfectly good blackmail picture moment, darnitall!) For the pie, it is very simple. Buy 1 box of Jiffy Pie Crust (the kind you just add water to), 1 can of blueberry filling, and chopped pecans. Then just make sure you have brown sugar, flour, sugar, rolled oats,  cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, unsalted butter and almond extract in the house!

Beth: mix the Jiffy Pie Crust mix with about 1/8 cup of water, mixing with a fork until doughy. Spread out on floured surface, adding flour as needed, and rolling (I use my hands not a pin, to each their own) out the crust until it will fit your pie dish (Pam-sprayed!).
Drew: mix 1 cup rolled oats, 1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/8 cup chopped unsalted butter (chilled but not hard); mix ingredients until well blended and not too lumpy. Add in 1/2 cup well-chopped pecans, and mix well. Set aside this topping.
Alicia: in a bowl mix togther the jar of blueberry filling, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Mix well.
Beth: Take the pie dish that you’ve put your crust in, and spray the crust with Pam. Then take a fork and lighly poke the bottom of the crust until you have about 4 sets of prongs along the bottom. This will keep the dough from baking with a bubble crust look. While it’s cool to see, it’s difficult to add your filling to it! Bake the crust for about 15 minutes at 375, until just starting to harden.
Alicia: Remove the pie crust from the oven, let cool 5 minutes. Then add the blueberry filling mixture.
Drew: Top the blueberry filling with the oat-and-pecan streusel topping, until completely covers the pie filling. Spray with Pam for good measure. Bake for 30 minutes or until top of streusel is browned, still at 375. Let cool & enjoy!

Let me know how you like anything/everything! Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Still Cooking Away,

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