Our Favorite Party Appetizers

>> Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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.

Eat well, my friends!


Pear-Gorgonzola-Walnut Salad

>> Thursday, January 25, 2018

Pear-Gorgonzola-Walnut Salad

This simple salad is one of our long-term love affairs. In fact, one of the many reasons we love each other is because we both love gorgonzola. Or blue cheese. Or bleu cheese. Somehow, gorgonzola and pears love each other too. It's all about the love with this salad.

A creamy poppyseed dressing is wonderful with this salad, but a vinaigrette works well too. Use whatever dressing makes you happy.


3 cups mesclun mix lettuce, or variety of fresh lettuces
3 cups baby spinach, kale, or chard
2 ripe pears, any variety
1/3 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup chopped walnuts


Toss the lettuce, spinach, and onion in a bowl. Core the pears and cut into 1" cubes. Sprinkle the pears, gorgonzola, and walnuts over the salad before serving.

Makes 4 side salads or 2 main-dish salads.


Mussels in Saffron-White Wine Sauce

>> Friday, January 19, 2018

Mussels in Saffron-White Wine Sauce

When mussels pop open while cooking, you see the lovely pearl-blue inner shell - pretty enough that the first humans used them as jewelry. Along the Pacific coast, Native Americans used to have village-wide cookouts and the shells piled up for yards near the shore.

I'm guessing they didn't use saffron and capers in their mussel parties, though.


3 lbs fresh mussels
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup strong chicken broth or fish stock
2 tsp saffron
2 tbsp small capers
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 pound spaghetti noodles, cooked


Scrub the mussels under running water with a brush, making sure to pull off the "beards" on the edge of any shells. Throw away any mussels that are already open.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until tender and golden. Stir in the salt, pepper, wine, broth, saffron, tarragon, and parsley. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add the mussels, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.

To serve, pile the spaghetti in separate bowls and arrange the mussels over the pasta. Ladle the sauce evenly over each bowl before serving.

Serves 4.


Ethiopian Lentil-Okra Stew

>> Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ethiopian Lentil-Okra Stew
Okra seems like a Southern US food, but lentils and okra are also staples in Ethiopian cooking.
 Let me tell you about this richly-flavored Ethiopian stew. My vegan friend lent me her copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food, in which the writer provides recipes for dozens of traditional Ethiopian dishes with substitutions for vegan and gluten-free eating.

I didn't know much about Ethiopia, other than what I remember of the horrific droughts and starvation back in the 1980s. I learned that Ethiopia is on the horn of Africa, right below the Middle Eastern countries and the Red Sea. While we won't visit Africa anytime soon, we can still take a food vacation there.

Thanks, Wikipedia, for this photo!

Some of the earliest human remains have been found in this country, and it was one of the most powerful countries in the world around 200 A.D. A culture this old must surely know a thing or two about cooking good food, and this lentil-okra stew is amazing. It's also cheap, gluten-free and vegan, low in fat and cholesterol, and easy to prepare.


For the berbere paste:

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 cup red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

For the Ethiopian lentil-okra soup:
1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh okra, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup berbere paste


To make the Berbere paste:
Saute the garlic, ginger, and onion in the oil until tender. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend into a thick paste.

For the lentil stew:
Rinse the lentils and place them in a medium saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until the lentils are tender. Skim off any foam that rises in the pot. Drain the lentils and set them aside.

Place the tomatoes and berbere paste in the pot and simmer until they soften and become a puree. YOu can use an immersion blender to make the sauce an even texture, if desired. Stir in the okra, vegetable broth, and lentils, and simmer until the okra is just tender and the sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes.

Serve over rice or with flatbreads such as naan, pita, or Ethiopian injera bread.

Serves 4.


Guinness Irish Beef Stew

>> Monday, January 1, 2018

Guinness Irish Beef Stew

A few years ago I took an Humanities tour of Ireland and Scotland during winter break at my college, studying art, literature, and Celtic culture. We left Chicago on Boxing Day (December 26 to us Yankees) and spent two weeks falling in love with the countryside, the very friendly people, and the rich tradition of art and literature around us.

Irish town
The exuberant colors of Irish buildings. 

I know I fall in love easily when I'm traveling, but there are just so many things to love.

Glendalough Monastery
Glendalough Monastery, founded around 600  A.D.
Dublin Museum of Natural History
Dublin Museum of Natural History

During my trip, I tried authentic Irish stew a couple of times. On a chilly day, is there anything better than beef and vegetables slowly simmered in a dark savory gravy? Yes there is! The Irish say, why not add a couple cups of stout beer to the broth?

Angela at Guinness Brewery in Dublin
Guinness DOES taste better at the source: the Dublin brewery's tasting room.
This beef stew is best if it cooks low and slow for a long time, so you can put it in a Dutch oven or a slow cooker and let it melt into delicious stew all day. That's perfect if you want to go to an Irish celebration like the Chicago parades or a local party. By the time you come home, chilled and ravenous, it will be ready for you to devour.

If you visit Ireland, there are at least two things you should know. Between Christmas and New Year's Day, nearly everything shuts down - the entire country is closed. I wanted a friendly Irish family to adopt me for the holiday week as their aunt from America. I would have loved to snuggle into one of those old farm cottages with the peat fires burning on each end of the house, and get in touch with my Irish pride.

The other thing that you should know is that, if you should buy a package of Guinness to sip while you're dressing to go out to the pub with your friends, there is not a single item in the Republic of Ireland that will open the bottles except for a bottle opener. Not a doorjamb, a faucet, your teeth, the sharp corner of a table, a ring, or certainly not your poor tender palms.

Kara opening Guinness bottle
Kara is battling a Guinness bottle with the faucet. The bottle won. You can feel her desperation, can't you?

Instead, just go to the local pub, which is a sort of extension of the Irish living room. You'll get to sing along with the band and maybe even play, if you brought your pipes, bodhrán, or fiddle. You'll definitely enjoy plenty of craic ("crack"), which means good times with good friends, music, and gossip.

Kilkenny pub
Pub in Kilkenny; I'm pretty sure it was called Tynan's Bridge House.


Note: use any combination of veggies you like; this stew is adaptable!
2 pounds beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup flour
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups onions, sliced
1 cup parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins (about 2 medium-sized parsnips)
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins (about 2 medium-sized carrots)
1 cup celery, sliced (about 2 celery ribs)
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
2 pounds red potatoes, quartered
1 1/2 bottles Guinness or other stout-style beer
4 cups beef broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves

Guinness Irish Beef Stew


Toss the beef with the flour until the pieces are well coated on all sides. Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the meat on all sides.

Stir together the broth, beer, water, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and bay leaves.

If using a crock pot, place half the beef in the pot then half the vegetables, then layer the other half of meat and vegetables on top. Pour the broth mixture over the top and cook, covered, for 8-10 hours on low heat or 4-6 hours on high heat (depending on your crock pot's temperature). When finished, the meat and vegetables should be falling-apart tender.

If using a pot on the stove, place the beef, onions, garlic, and other vegetables in the pot. Pour the broth mixture over the top and stir it together. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Again, you know the stew is ready when the meat and vegetables are falling-apart tender.

Before serving, remove the bay leaves. Blend together the cornstarch and water and stir it into the sauce. Let it thicken the sauce for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8.

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