Our Favorite Party Appetizers

>> Thursday, February 4, 2016

I'll be honest, we're not usually football fanatics, but we love a good Big Game commercial as well as anyone. One year, a friend of ours had a source that leaked the commercials to her a week ahead of time. At her party, she gave us a little game sheet to play "Guess the Commercial?" Her clues were pretty hilarious, and nobody got up to use the bathroom in the breaks.

Elote (Creamy Corn) Dip

Elote (Creamy Corn) Dip

These appetizers are really any kind of party snacks. A lot of these have been well-loved by our monthly bible study group and our Cooking Party friends.

Roasted Red Pepper-Pine Nut Bruschetta


Joe has been making the roasted red pepper-pine nut bruschetta since I first met him, and if he ever starts wondering what he should make for the next get-together, I always suggest this one. There's some sort of magic that happens when you let the nuts, fresh roasted peppers, garlic, golden raisins, and herbs marinate together. I'd really like a bowl of that right now.

Salted Caramel Dreamboats


I learned how to make chocolates in my Grandma's cake and candy store, and I love throwing a candy-making party with my friends. These are truly addictive little bites, so you might want to make a big batch. They're super easy to make!

P.S. I call these "dreamboats" because once in a while my grandma would talk about the days when she dated grandpa, and he was a real dreamboat. That translates just fine over generations.

Hot Reuben Dip


We usually make this in the fall, because it kind of fits an Oktoberfest theme or maybe it's just a fall type of food. One time we showed up a day early for our friends' Oktoberfest party, then stayed to help them cook, including this dip which I immediately needed to make again. Awesome.

Seafood-Stuffed Portobella Caps


This may be a bold statement, but I believe you could stuff just about anything in a mushroom cap and I'd like it. Um, when I say "anything", I do, of course, mean any reasonable food item. That leaves out tripe and edible insects.

Ahem, This stuffed mushroom recipe will make you forget that people eat such things. In fact, let's pretend it never came up.

Eat well, my friends!


Turkey / Chicken Croquettes with Aioli Sauce

>> Thursday, January 28, 2016

Croquettes are traditionally served as tapas in Spain. My Spanish teachers have told me that in many places in Spain, the large meal of the day is around noon and people sometimes take off a couple of hours for lunch. After work, people often go to the bar/restaurants for a drink and a few little bites to eat - tapas. If you live in a small town, you might have to make the rounds of the two or three pubs around you, for fear of insulting one of the innkeepers.

Like many places in Europe, bars are not intended as adults-only spots, but as an extension of a family's living room. Kids play on the floor, people take turns singing with the band, teens giggle in the corner, and everyone catches up with their neighbors before going home for a light meal and bed. Doesn't that sound wonderful?

The original recipe comes from Kim and Ellory's Kitchen, a fantastic personal chef and catering service in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago. They gave fun tapas cooking demonstrations for Joe's business clients and friends each year. Sadly, Ellory has passed away and Kim is cooking in New Orleans, but they left behind wonderful memories with us.


Aioli Sauce (Garlic Mayonnaise)

3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg, at room temperature
1 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp chili powder

In a blender, mix the egg and garlic for 15 seconds. Gradually add the olive oil while continuing to blend, then slowly add the lemon juice and chili powder while blending. Chill before serving.


4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
6 oz cooked turkey, chicken, ham, or fish, finely minced
2 oz cooked pancetta or lean bacon, finely minced
2 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp red or green pepper, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup fine bread crumbs


Follow the aioli directions above, then refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

In a small sauce pan melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until well mixed. Slowly pour in the milk and keep cooking until thickened and creamy. Stir in the nutmeg.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the turkey, parsley, red pepper, salt, and pepper. Add to the white sauce. Put it in the refrigerator and allow it to cool at least 2 hours.

Divide the mixture into 20 balls and dip into the beaten eggs, then roll in the bread crumbs. Return to the refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes more.

Deep fry the croquettes until golden brown, or bake on a greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until golden and crunchy.

Serve with aioli sauce for dipping.

Makes 20 croquettes.


Easy Baked Falafel (Chickpea Patties)

>> Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Easy Baked Falafel (Chickpea Patties)

You can check all the boxes on these Middle Eastern chickpea patties: low-fat, vegan, gluten-free, fiber-rich, and delicious. Usually falafel is deep-fried, but this version is simply baked on a cookie sheet. When I was researching the recipe, I learned that falafel patties or balls are a staple of a lot of Middle Eastern countries; in Israel and Turkey they mostly use garbanzo beans, but in Egypt they use broad beans, herbs, and spices.

Joe came home from band rehearsal to find that dinner was falafel and tzatziki sauce on thin pita. "This is so cool! Who gets to eat like this on a weeknight?" We do, and I think you'll want to, also!

simple falafel ingredients of onions, garbanzo beans, herbs and spices


1/4 cup brown sesame seeds
1 20 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 medium white onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water (or more, if the patties are too crumbly)

chickpeas, cilantro, sesame, and onion becoming falafel dough


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a cookie sheet. If desired, toast sesame seeds on a hot dry griddle until slightly browned and more fragrant; this will enhance their flavor.  Add all ingredients to a food processor, blender, or mixer, and blend until it is at the consistency that looks good to you. I made mine into a fine dough, but some people like coarser bits of garbanzos in their falafel balls.

Test the consistency of the dough by pressing together a handful (about 1/3 cup). It should press together into a ball that sticks together but doesn't stick to your hands. Form them into patties about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake about 10 minutes on each side, until browned and crusty. We served this on pita with our cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce, shredded carrots, sliced onion and squash, and lots of napkins.

Makes about 12 patties.


Italian Fontina-Cabbage Pasta Bake

>> Friday, January 15, 2016

Italian Cabbage-Provolone Pasta Bake

Last summer, my adorable niece, who is still about five years old in my mind, graduated from high school. She's the baby who made me an aunt for the first time, and I still remember crying when I got the call she was born. The whole family headed over to Ann Arbor for her graduation party.

This is the only picture I could find of the very large graduation party, and my niece is not in it. The Boy, however, is prominently displayed.

Because her little brother and I have birthdays close to the party date, we did a little celebrating, and then spread the circle wider to include my brother-in-law's sister and Joe and I think about three other people. And so my brother-in-law's parents Don and Adair, who I adore, gave Joe and I a new cookbook: Italian Country Cooking by Loukie Werle.

Italian Country Cooking by Loukie Werle.

I promised Don and Adair I would post some recipes, but life and rotator cuff surgery came between me and cooking. Finally, I'm posting a casserole. One casserole is all I've got, folks.

Cucina Povera is the simpler food that country people all over Italy enjoy rather than a Michelin-starred meal. It's the Italian equivalent of a hot dish at a Midwestern potluck. There are a lot of pasta-and-legume meals with tomatoes and greens filling in for high-priced ingredients. This book makes me want to grow a garden again, right in the middle of a January in Chicago.

So here you go. This will fill you up and keep you warm.


1/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp sage, chopped (fresh is great if you have it)
10 oz rigatoni or penne pasta
1 large floury potato, like Yukon gold or russet, peeled and diced
5 cups savoy or napa cabbage, shredded
1 cup fontina or provolone cheese, shredded


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain and return to the pot with fresh water. Add the potatoes and boil 7 minutes more. Drain.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then add the onions and saute until tender. Add the garlic and sage and cook, stirring, until sticky. Add 1/2 cup hot water and the cabbage and saute until tender.

Grease a 9x12 casserole dish and add the cabbage mixture, pasta and potatoes, and half the cheese. Stir, then top with the other half of the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serves 4-6.


Sausage with Peppers and Onions

>> Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cheap, easy, and hearty fall food...this one fits all the First Apartment Food requirements, Jessie and Jenn. And if you buy a low fat sausage like a turkey or chicken sausage, this tomato-y pasta topper is nearly fat-free, also. This dinner can be on the table 30 minutes after you enter the kitchen.

First, you cut up the string of sausage. Heat up a  frying pan and when it is hot, turn it to medium heat and stir in the sausage. Brown the sausage on all sides, stirring occasionally. While the sausage is cooking, slice the peppers and onions into strips. I like to use a couple of different colored peppers because they look pretty in the finished dish, but green bell peppers are usually the cheapest and they all taste pretty similar. When I made this one, I also added some cut-up zucchini that needed to be eaten. You can put in whatever vegetables sound good to you.

Heat some oil in another pan. When it is hot, put in all the peppers, onions, and garlic and cook on medium heat until they start to soften, stirring now and then. While this is cooking, put a paper towel on a plate and then spoon off the sausage onto it. This will drain off any grease from the sausage. You're done with the sausage pan now.

Next, put the sausage into the pan with the cooked veggies and stir it up. Open up a 20 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce and pour it over the sausage and peppers. After I've poured out a jar of sauce, I like to add about 1/2 cup of water to the empty jar, swish it around to get the rest of the sauce, and then pour it all into the pan. In my opinion, there is so much flavor in this dish that it is OK to use cheap spaghetti sauce. Heat the pan until the sauce is boiling, then turn it to medium-low and put a lid on it.

Fill a large pot 2/3 full of water. Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to keep the pasta from sticking. Heat it until it is boiling well. Pour in the pasta and stir it right away so the pasta is coated with water on all sides so they don't all clump together. I happen to like linguine for this recipe, but any kind of larger pasta would work well. Really thin pastas like angel hair will be too delicate for the big chunks of sausage and vegetables.

If you can afford it, buy whole wheat pasta. It has more fiber which is good for your stomach and your digestion. It's also more nutritious.Cook the pasta for as long as the package says. I recommend only cooking it to the lower end of the time range because I like my pasta a bit firm. When the time is up, pour it into a colander and let it drain for 2-3 minutes. Stir it at least once so that the pasta doesn't clump together.

Put a serving of hot pasta onto a plate and ladle some of the sauce over it. Let's eat!

If you have left-overs, I suggest storing the pasta and sauce in separate containers so the pasta doesn't absorb all the juice and get soggy.


1/2 pound mild or hot Italian sausage
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large red, orange, yellow, or green bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 20-oz. jar of spaghetti sauce
1 box of pasta


Cut up the sausage into 1" wide pieces and brown it in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Slice the peppers and onions into 1/4" wide strips. In a separate frying pan, heat up the oil. Add the onions and peppers and saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the minced garlic. Pour in the spaghetti sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. To serve, place a helping of pasta on a plate and top with the sauce.

Serves 4-6

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