Our Favorite Champagne Cocktails

>> Sunday, December 30, 2012

Champagne Cocktails

Champagne and sparkling wine has always been my favorite kind of wine - the drier the better. The little bubbles are like a party in a glass! Luckily, there are plenty of delicious sparkling wines in the $5-$10 range, and plenty of ways to dress up the wine if you want a special drink to ring in the New Year.

The best champagne cocktail I ever had was on a Paris riverboat cruise on the Seine, where the scenery slid by at dusk and lights came on all over the city. People picnicking on the sides of the river waved to us and the music on board seemed to swell just as the waiter brought me a flute glass of Kir Royale. Magical. 

Angela Williams Duea with Kir Royale on Paris riverboat cruise

Mimosas/Bellinis/Kir Royales

These champagne cocktails, popular for brunches, are made by pouring champagne over fruit juices or liqueurs in a champagne glass. If you pour carefully, the juices mix in the glass without popping the bubbles, and of course you want bubbles!

Mimosa: 3 oz of orange juice in 3 oz Champagne; garnish with an orange twist.
Bellini: 2 oz peach nectar, 1 tsp Grenadine, and 4 oz Champagne; garnish with a lemon twist.
Kir Royale: 1 oz creme de cassis (black currant liqueur) in 5 oz Champagne; garnish with a cherry.
C and C: 2 oz Chambord (raspberry liqueur) in 4 oz Champagne; garnish with a lemon twist.

 Classic Champagne Cocktail

1 sugar cube
3 drops Angostura bitters
6 oz champagne

Put the sugar cube in the bottom of the glass and drop the bitters onto it. Fill the glass with champagne. Don't stir - allow the sugar cube to melt as you drink it.

Black Velvet

4 oz. Guiness or other stout beer
4 oz Champagne

Pour the stout into a highball or Collins glass. Slowly pour the champagne over the beer, then serve.


1 oz cognac
1 oz Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)
4 oz Champagne

Stir together the Cognac and Grand Marnier, then pour into a flute glass. Slowly add the champagne. Caution: this is a powerful cocktail. We're not responsible for who you kiss at midnight!

Champagne Julep

6 mint leaves (we like peppermint for this one)
1 tsp superfine sugar
2 oz bourbon
4 oz Champagne

Put the leaves in a bowl or mixing glass and sprinkle with the sugar and a few drops of water. Crush the mint leaves well (this is called "muddling"). Stir the bourbon into the mint, then strain into a highball or Collins glass. Add ice cubes and champagne, and garnish with a mint leaf.

P.S. Ever wonder about the difference between Champagne and sparkling wines? Any wine could be carbonated, but Champagnes must be made in a specific way in the Champagne region of France to be labelled "Champagne". We think they're delightful either way.


Apple Butter Lattice Coffee Cake

>> Friday, December 28, 2012

Apple Butter Lattice Coffee Cake

I think this is the time of the year when cinnamon and apples and pastry fresh out of the oven tastes especially good. We made this lattice coffee cake with apple butter I canned this summer, and it was perfect for Christmas brunch. It's easy enough to make for any breakfast when you've got the time to sit down together and enjoy the morning.

The inspiration for this pastry came from Farm Bell Recipes, which is a fun site full of delicious cooking ideas.


2 cups flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp)
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups apple butter (we're partial to our Crock Pot Apple Butter recipe)

Powdered Sugar Frosting

1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk


Stir together dry ingredients. With a pastry cutter or fork, cut in cream cheese and butter until crumbly and beginning to stick together. Stir in the milk. With your hands, knead the dough. It will be a little dry, but if it is too dry to stick together, add a little more milk.

Spreading apple butter on pastry

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured surface, and shape into a 12x8 rectangle. Place in a greased cookie sheet. Spread the apple butter down the middle of the dough, leaving at least 2 inches on the long sides and a 1 inch margin on the short sides.

Make diagonal

Criss-cross cut strips of dough over the top and pinch ends to seal. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 minutes or till nicely browned on top.

Stir together powdered sugar and vanilla, then gradually add milk until the frosting is liquidy enough to drizzle. Using a fork, dribble the frosting back and forth across the warm bread.

Makes 1 loaf.


Shiner Holiday Cheer Beer

>> Friday, December 21, 2012

Shiner Holiday Cheer, from the Spoetzl Brewery in Texas, is called an "Old World Dunkelweizen" ale. Not sure what that means for average beer drinkers? This means that the Holiday Cheer beer is medium brown wheat beer with a thick creamy head. It's malty, which means it has a smooth coffee-like taste with less bitterness than some dark beers.

Lots of breweries make a Christmas brew with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, or cloves, and Dunkelweizen beers usually have notes of banana and cloves. But Shiner Holiday Cheer went in a traditionally Southern direction with Texas peaches and roasted pecans. All of this together means a dark, satisfying wheat ale with interesting fresh fruit notes and a nutty finish.

Another reason to like Shiner Holiday Cheer? The hip retro-50s plaid and snowflake bottle and carton design. You don't even need a glass, the bottle is already decorated for Christmas!


Pork Tamales

>> Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pork Tamales

Tamales are one of the first holiday foods created in the Americas. Ancient Incas, Mayans and Aztecs had their own versions of meats, spices, herbs, seeds, and beans wrapped in corn dough and steamed in banana leaves or corn husks. There are over 40 types of tamales made in Latin America; some are only made on special occasions, while others are everyday staple foods.

When I lived with a Mexican family, they usually made these pork tamales (and sweet pink ones with red raisins) for Christmas dinner. Wrapping these bundles takes a bit of skill and time, but all the women would crowd into a kitchen, turn up the music, and laugh and talk their way through a pile of these goodies.

Memories like these are the best parts of a holiday tradition, don't you think? Even though tamales take time, the work seems like nothing when you're doing it with people you love.

Unwrapping a steaming hot, delicately crumbling tamal filled with smoky pepper-simmered pork is like opening a little Christmas present. These are fantastic with the mild pepper sauce and a dab of sour cream.

Tamales Steaming
Did you know? One bundle is called a tamal; the plural is tamales.

By the way, you can make the filling and dough days ahead of time and then wrap them up whenever you're ready. Get the whole family involved and it might become one of your family traditions, too!


50 corn husks, about 8 inches long with no rips or gaps; in specialty stores, these are sometimes labeled hojas de milpa.


1 lb boneless pork, cut into cubes
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tsp sea salt
4 ancho chiles
2 tsp flour
2 tsp oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp ground cumin

Tamale Dough (Masa Harina Dough)

Note: you can often find tubs or bundles of pre-made Masa dough in the refrigerated cases at the grocery store. Read the label for the ingredients; many brands use only water and corn processed with lime. If it does, be sure to beat each cup of dough with salt and 1/3 cup of shortening to reach the proper consistency.

4 cups corn flour (masa harina)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/3 cups solid vegetable shortening (or lard, if you prefer)
4 cups reserved broth from cooking the pork (or more, if the dough is too dry)


Soak the corn husks for several hours; it helps if you weight them down with something so they are completely submerged and get pliable.

In a medium pot, cover the pork, pepper, salt, and garlic with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, until very tender. Allow to cool, then skim off the fat and drain the pork. Reserve the cooking broth and add additional water to equal 5 cups of liquid.

Seed the chiles and tear them into pieces. Place them into the blender or food processor with 1 cup of the pork broth, heated to boiling. Let soften 15 minutes then puree the chiles.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Brown the flour in the oil, then stir in the garlic, oregano, and cumin. Pour in the chile mixture and one more cup of the pork broth and whisk until smooth and thickened.

Sauce for Pork Tamales

Reserve half the sauce in a separate covered container. Shred the pork into the remaining mixture, and allow to simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.

Drain the corn husks and towel off the water. If you have any raggedy-looking ones, peel them lengthwise into strips to tie up the tamales. You can also use kitchen string, which is a little easier to use, in my opinion!

Fill a large steaming pot with enough water to cover the bottom, but not touch the steaming basket. We use our pasta pot to steam tamales. We also add a clean penny to the bottom of the pan. As long as the water is boiling in the pot, we hear the penny rattling and know there's enough water for steaming. Place one or two corn husks on the bottom of the steamer basket.

Masa harina dough

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the masa harina, salt, and baking powder. Beat in 4 cups of pork broth until you have a moist batter. Add the shortening and beat until the dough is fluffy and thick. A traditional way to test if your dough is the right consistency is to float a little ball in a glass of cold water. If it sinks, it needs more beating, and shortening. If it dissolves, it needs more flour and shortening. If it floats, it's just right.

Open up one corn husk with the narrow end toward your wrist. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the dough over half the husk, leaving a generous margin on each side. Arrange 1 tablespoon of pork filling down the center of the dough, then bring up the long sides of the husk and fold one over the other. Be sure the dough completely encircles the filling.

Rolling a tamal

Fold up the pointed end of the husk so that it's even with the top of the leaf, then tie it in the middle or towards the top.

Stand up the tamales in the steamer basket, and top with another two corn husks. Cover with a tight lid and bring to a boil. Don't open the steamer unless you need to add more water. Steam the tamales for 1 hour, then take one out and try to open it. The tamales are done when they separate easily from the husks.

Serve the tamales hot with the reserved chile sauce and sour cream.

If you have leftovers, they freeze really well in their husks and you can heat them up in the microwave or re-steam them.

Makes 30-40 tamales.


German Potato Pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer)

>> Monday, December 17, 2012

German Potato Pancakes
Thanks to Lori Stalteri for taking this photo for me.

I have to be honest with you: I don't like some of the traditional German potato pancakes. My grandma (God rest her merry soul) and many before her made them with raw grated potatoes that somehow turned a little gray and gooey in the middle. It just wasn't appetizing or flavorful enough for me.

But I have tasted superb ones in German restaurants like the Brauhaus in Chicago and Mader's Restaurant in Milwaukee, and a cute little local place called The Swedish Cafe. If I like fried potatoes, onions, sour cream and applesauce, surely there must be a way to combine this in a way I enjoy.

Every Christmas, we have a tradition of meeting my daughter and her boyfriend in Daley Plaza for Chicago's Christkindlmarket, and we always share a big plate of pancakes with sour cream and applesauce on the side, and mugs of beer and mulled wine. After our annual trip last week, I was craving them again.

Joe experimented until he came up with the most marvelous potato pancakes I've ever tasted. His trick is to cook the potatoes slightly before draining and frying, and he added the traditional German flavorings of lemon, caraway, and onion to the basic recipe. Next summer, we're going to try these with fresh zucchini, too.

These are filling enough for a whole meal, which is what I ate for dinner that night, along with a bowl of organic applesauce I canned this summer. Joe, being a meat and potatoes man, added some leftover pork carnitas to his pancake plate.


2 lbs (about 6 cups) shredded russet potatoes (we shredded them with the skin on for more fiber & flavor)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp ground caraway seed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp salt
2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup vegetable oil (for frying)


After shredding the potatoes, put them in a colander and rinse them until the water runs clear, to remove some of the white or pinkish starch that will prevent them from crisping. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer 5-10 minutes, until slightly tender. Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to cool.

Place 1/4 of the potatoes into a clean, absorbent dish towel, roll up the towel, and wring out all of the excess water into the sink (this ensures the pancakes will not be gummy or doughy). Place the dried potatoes into a large mixing bowl and repeat with the remainder of the potatoes.

Stir in all the rest of the ingredients, except the oil. Heat a large frying pan, then add 1/2 of the oil and spread it around the pan. Scoop out 1/4 cupfuls of the potato mixture and place it in the pan. Use a spatula to press it into a pancake shape. Cook each pancake for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. Use more oil as the pan becomes dry.

As the pancakes are cooked, place them in a single layer on paper towels and keep them on a warm platter in the oven until they're all done.

Makes about 25 1/4-cup pancakes.


Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Blue Cheese Sauce

>> Friday, December 14, 2012

Beef Roast with Horseradish Blue Cheese Sauce

This roast is good enough for Christmas dinner or a special dinner party. A buttery-smooth tenderloin or lean sirloin roast is best, but the low-fat and flavorful horseradish sauce will dress up any beef roast. I personally could just eat the sauce with a spoon, but I'm crazy about blue cheese in general. Maybe I should just say that the roast is optional. Go for the sauce!

The original recipe came from Weight Watchers, so you know it's a guilt-free and scrumptious meal.


2-3 pound beef tenderloin or sirloin roast
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fat-free mayonnaise
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
2 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice


Heat oil in a frying pan. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, then brown it on all sides. Heat the oven to 275 degrees and roast the meat until it reaches 130 degrees on a meat thermometer (60 to 90 minutes, depending on the weight). Remove it from the oven, cover it with foil, and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before carving.

While the meat is roasting, stir together the rest of the ingredients and allow it to chill until ready to serve. We like to warm up the blue cheese sauce before passing it with the meat.

Serves 6-8 4-oz servings. If you follow Weight Watchers, these are 8 points per serving with 2 tbsp sauce.


Vegan Polenta Bites with Salsa

>> Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I came up with these vegan gluten-free appetizers when I realized my gluten-sensitive friend and a vegetarian friend would not have anything to eat at a chocolate party I was planning. We pressed warm polenta into a mini muffin pan and pressed a dent into the top. Before we baked them, we spooned a little salsa into those hollows.

Joe and I are longtime polenta lovers, so these cute little bites with our homemade poblano-thyme salsa were just our thing. People raved about these appetizers and even chose them over equally yummy fat-, meat-, and flour-laden treats.

This is another one of those recipes we love because they are quick, and can be made up to a week in advance, chilled, then cooked right before the party. There's always so much to do before a party that it's a blessing to have some of it out of the way ahead of time. If you want an even easier route to a gluten free polenta bite, buy the prepared polenta in a tube or plastic package, from the refrigerated section of the grocery store.


3 1/4 cups vegetable broth or water
2 tsp chili powder
1 cup coarse cornmeal (Bob's Red Mill is great!)
1 cup poblano-thyme salsa, or commercially prepared salsa
1/2 cup crumbled farmer's cheese or queso fresco (if making a non-vegan version)


In a large saucepan, bring the vegetable broth or water to a boil with the chili powder. Stirring constantly, add the polenta. Reduce the heat and simmer 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the polenta is creamy and very thick. It should coat a wooden spoon thickly when it is done.

Spoon the polenta into oiled mini muffin tins. Make sure you press the polenta firmly into the pan so that the bites don't crumble when you remove them. You know how cornmeal gets. Press your thumb or a spoon into the center of each muffin bite to make a shallow dent.

Chill at least an hour, or up to 1 week. Set 1 tsp of salsa into the dent of each bite. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the polenta is crispy and browned around the edges. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Makes 24 appetizers.


Salted Caramel Dreamboats and Turtles

>> Sunday, December 9, 2012

When I worked with my Grandma in her cake and candy-decorating store, every once in a while she'd tell me stories about her childhood and her courtship with my Grandpa Jim. They met during World War II when he was visiting a friend in the hospital in California, and fell in love there. They weren't very demonstrative about their love, but sometimes in the middle of twirling a perfect frosting rose onto a slip of waxed paper, she'd stop her ever-busy hands and look off into space.

"He was a dreamboat," she said. "He looked just like Errol Flynn. And his moustache...!"

Then she'd shake away the thought with a smile, and go on making roses for someone's wedding cake. I remember her hands were always soft from working with frosting and chocolate, and her bakery always smelled like a child's dream of heaven.

Grandma used this candy recipe to make both pretzel dreamboats and chocolate turtles. She gave us extra turtles every year because she knew that they were my Mom's favorite candy. I adore them both.

To make turtles, replace each pretzel with two whole cashews or pecans. Make sure the chocolate drips all the way to the nuts so that the piece holds together. You can skip the sea salt if you wish.


1 pkg milk or dark chocolate chips
30 little pretzel twists or squares (60 whole pecans or cashews)
2/3 pound block caramel, or 30 firm caramel cubes (like Brachs)
1 tbsp coarsely ground sea salt


Melt the chocolate slowly in a double boiler or microwave until smooth and very runny.

Place the pretzels on a cookie sheet lined with foil.

Using clean kitchen shears or scissors, cut 1" square pieces of caramel and press them into button shapes with your fingers. Press onto the top of the pretzels or nuts.

Swirl 1 tsp of chocolate on top, allowing some to drip down over the caramel and pretzels or nuts. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the chocolate before it hardens.

Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before boxing or wrapping the candies and refrigerating them.

Makes 30 candies.


Gourmet Chocolate-Dipped Pretzel Rods

>> Saturday, December 8, 2012


These candied pretzel rods are so easy to make and look so fancy that people will think you spent all day making them. There's something amazingly satisfying about the chocolate/salt/crunch combo that makes these irresistable. Joe brought a platter of these to his worship band Christmas Party last night, and they ate 'em up lightning-quick.

When I make these for a party, I make half pretzel rods. Somehow, an entire rod of chocolate and candy is too big of a commitment on your plate of appetizers, but a half-sized one hardly has any calories, right? Since they're so rich, a small portion seems just right. If you give these as gifts, a nice box of long decorated ones look elegant.

My favorite combo is white chocolate with chopped pecans and mini dark chocolate chips. Let me know which ones you like best!


1 package pretzel rods
12 oz milk chocolate chips
12 oz cup white chocolate chips


Candy sprinkles
Colored sugar
Mini dark chocolate chips
Crushed toffee
Mini M&M candies
Flaked coconut
Chopped nuts
Chopped dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, banana chips)


Melt the chips slowly in separate double boilers, a bowl over a pot of hot water, or in the microwave (be careful not to scorch the chocolate!). Break the pretzel rods in half, if desired.

Dip the rod into the chocolate at least 2/3 of the way up the rod. I try to leave at least 1 inch of uncoated pretzel at the top. Use a spoon to coat the pretzel if the bowl is too short to let you dip the whole thing in. Holding the uncoated end, allow the excess chocolate to drain off.

Now it's time to decorate the rod! After you've dipped it, set it on a cookie sheet covered with foil. Sprinkle it with any amount of toppings you like. To add a drizzle of the opposite-colored chocolate, run a fork through it and then drizzle back and forth across the pretzel. It helps if you do this part quickly. Don't stress if the drizzles doesn't look like what you've seen master chefs do on TV. From my own drizzling experience, those little stripes look professional to other people. We're just too hard on ourselves!

If the chocolate starts to get too thick or lumpy, return it to the heat and stir until it gets smooth again. Be careful not to get any water into the chocolate, or it will get crumbly and unusable.

Makes 20-30 rods, depending on package size.


Dreamy Chocolate Truffles

>> Friday, December 7, 2012

I'll bet you will surprised when you find out how easy it is to make these luscious and dreamy truffles. Like the gourmet black mushrooms that gave these candies their name, homemade truffles are a little lumpy and rustic-looking on the outside, but full of heavenly flavor.

I have about 20 variations that I learned from my grandmother, Therese Tarr, who once owned a wedding cake business and a candy store in Waukegan, IL. She sent us boxes of assorted candies every Christmas.

I learned most everything I know about sweets from working in her store, and then later visiting her in Minnesota so she could pass down her tips to my daughters. I like to think that maybe she's looking over my shoulder when I use her candy molds and recipes. I hope you love these as much as we do.

P.S. When you roll out these truffles by hand, expect to get messy. And roll them small, because they are unbelieveably decadent and rich!

Chocolate chips for Dreamy Chocolate Truffles


16 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
3/4 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1 tbsp vanilla


Heat the cream until just boiling (bubbles around rim of saucepan). Remove from heat. Slowly pour the chocolate morsels into the cream, stirring constantly, until creamy and somewhat like the consistency of whipping cream. If adding other ingredients, stir them into the chocolate.

Melting chocolate for truffles
My daughter Jessie stirs so fast her spoon is a blur.
Refrigerate the bowl for one hour, or until firm enough to form balls with your hands. Remove from fridge and scoop out 1/2 tsp at a time if you're dipping them in chocolate or rolling them in a thick topping; otherwise, roll them 1 tsp at a time. With your hands, form them into balls and place them on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator. If you are not dipping the truffles into chocolate, roll them in nuts, cocoa powder, dry coffee creamer, or top with colored sugar, flakes of sea salt, or other sprinkles.

If you plan to dip the truffles in chocolate, cool the balls in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or until hard. Melt white, milk, or dark chocolate, or almond bark, in a double boiler. Using a spoon or candy dipper, dip each ball quickly into the chocolate, and then allow the expcess to drip off before returning it to the sheet. Decorate each ball right after you have dipped it, so that the topping sticks to the truffle. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving or packaging.


Raspberry/Chocolate Truffles

8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
8 oz white chocolate morsels
3/4 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp raspberry flavoring
Red food coloring (optional)

Follow directions as above, adding sufficient food coloring to make the truffles dark red. Dip in dark chocolate and decorate the top of the truffle with a red swirl of chocolate piping.

Cappucino Truffles

8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
8 oz milk chocolate morsels
1/2 cup instant coffee crystals
3/4 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1 tbsp vanilla

Follow directions as above. Dip in milk chocolate and sprinkle with powdered cocoa.

Cherry Walnut Truffles

1/2 cup maraschino cherries, drained
1/2 cup walnuts
8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
8 oz milk chocolate morsels
3/4 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1 tbsp vanilla

Roll cherries on absorbent paper towels to completely dry them. Finely chop the cherries and walnuts together. Follow directions as above, adding the cherries and walnuts towards the end. Dip in dark or white chocolate and sprinkle with finely chopped walnuts.

Chocolate Mint Truffles

8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
8 oz white chocolate morsels
3/4 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1/8 tsp peppermint flavoring

Follow directions as above. Dip in dark chocolate and decorate the top of the truffle with a green swirl of chocolate piping, or green sugar sprinkles.

Almond Joy Truffles

16 oz white chocolate morsels
3/4 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
1/4 tsp almond flavoring
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup shredded coconut

Follow directions as above. Stir in the coconut and almonds before the mixture becomes too stiff. Dip in dark chocolate or roll in cocoa powder, and decorate the top of the truffle with a sprinkle of coconut.

Grand Marnier Truffles

8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
8 oz milk chocolate morsels
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
2/3 cup heavy cream, or evaporated milk
4 drops orange flavoring

Follow directions as above. Dip in dark chocolate and sprinkle with powdered cocoa or decorate the top of the truffle with a swirl of white chocolate piping.


Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta

>> Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whenever we're having company over, or plan to bring an appetizer to a party, Angela's first choice is Joe's roasted red pepper with pine nuts and raisins. It's an interesting combination of smoky, sweet, and buttery flavors perfect for toasted bread rounds. We also love it as a topping for hearty crackers like Triscuits, rye crisps, or toasted pita wedges.

The original appetizer is from the legendary Rao's Italian restaurant in New York City, where Joe spent many of his younger days.


6 red bell peppers
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp golden raisins
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf of baguette, French, or other thin crusty bread
Butter-flavored cooking spray, or olive oil


Heat the broiler or grill. Place the peppers on a broiler pan or cookie sheet. Broil or grill close to the heat until the exposed side is blotchy, black, and peeling. Turn over the peppers and roast until both sides are blistered and the skin is blackened.

Place the peppers in a paper bag and allow to steam for 30 minutes. This will help you peel the blacked parts off. When finished steaming, cut off the stem and scrape the charred skin and seeds off with a knife. Cut the peppers into thin strips and let drain in a colander for 1 hour.

Stir together all ingredients (except the bread) and allow to marinate at room temperature for at least an hour.

Cut the bread into 1/2 inch thick rounds. Spray them with cooking spray or brush with olive oil. Toast in the oven until slightly browned but still soft.

To serve, top the bread rounds with about 1 tbsp of pepper mixture, or serve in a bowl with crackers or bread on the side.

Makes about 2 cups.

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