Tag Archives: spicy

Bar Stool Fridays – Healthy Cocktail Snack

I always enjoy snacks during happy hour.  And, even though I’m not consuming alcohol right now, that doesn’t mean I don’t want something to nibble while everyone is imbibing.  But, I don’t want to fill up on empty calories – I want a filling snack that tastes good and is good for me, too.

Enter the almond.

Why eat almonds?

1.  They help you lose weight.  Studies show people who eat a serving of almonds at least twice a week are less likely to gain weight.  Almonds are high in calories, though; stick to no more than 1/3 cup – a small handful – each day.  Pick whole, roasted almonds.  Sugar coated almonds are not a super food.

2.  They lower your risk of heart disease.  Almonds are high in monounsaturated “good” fats, which help lower cholesterol.  By adding almonds to a low-fat diet, you can reduce your chance of heart disease by 30 to 45%.  Choose nuts with little or no salt, which can raise blood pressure.

3.  They’re a quick source of protein.  No time to make eggs in the morning?  Here’s a fun fact: A 1/4 cup of almonds (approximately 20 – 25) provides just as much protein as a single egg, strengthening everything from your eyes to your nails.  So when you’re reaching for an afternoon almond snack, you’re not only satisfying cravings but also supporting your entire body.

4.  They help strengthen your bones.  Just one serving of almonds contains 10% of your daily recommended calcium intake, making for strong, resilient bones.  They’re also high in magnesium, which supports calcium in keeping teeth healthy.

5.  They may boost your immune system.  A recent study revealed that naturally occurring chemicals found in the skin of the nut improved the ability of white blood cells to detect viruses while also increasing the body’s ability to prevent viruses from replicating and so spreading inside the body.  They discovered that even after the almonds had been digested, there was still an increase in the immune systems defenses against viruses.

These spicy almonds are slightly addictive, so do watch your portions.  But, I think you’ll find they are just as good with cocktails as they are with ginger ale.

Spicy Almonds
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 lb natural almonds
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake almonds 10 minutes on a baking sheet.

Combine butter, honey, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne in a large bowl.

Toss with almonds.

Return to baking sheet and bake an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with  salt while still hot.

Let nuts cool and break apart with hands.

Store in an airtight container.

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She’s A Firecracker

I have a  friend.  (Yes, I have more than one friend, smarty-pants, but today’s entry is just about one in particular.)  Anyway, I have this friend.  Her name is Wendy.  I’m jealous of her long lean legs and her beautiful red hair.  And, her charmingly cute kid.  And her fierce skills at first base.  Wendy is smart and funny and one of the kindest people I know.

But, watch out…she’s a firecracker.  She uses that intelligence and humor and sparks fly out of her mouth.  Those sparks can catch some folks off guard, but I love it, even when it is directed at me.  Wendy makes life fun and she reminds me to laugh at myself and to see comedy where it is not always obvious.  And, she reminds me that someone is always watching and reading and what I am doing is not a waste of time and energy.

Thanks for being my friend and a great audience member, Wendy.  I’m glad I got to help you celebrate your birthday.  I hope you liked your cake.  Kisses.

Red-Headed Firecracker Apple Cake with Caramel Glaze
Serves 8 to 10

For cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups of peeled, cored, and diced apple

For glaze:
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream

For cake:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease and flour an 8- to 10- cup Bundt pan.

Whisk flour, cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, ginger, and cayenne in medium bowl.

Whisk canola oil, brown sugar, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend.

Add dry ingredients and fold until blended.

Fold in diced apples.

Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake about 40 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.  Cool cake in pan on rack for about 10 minutes.  Invert cake onto plate or rack.

For the glaze:
In a saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the sugars.

Cook the mixture, stirring, until bubbly, maybe about a minute.  Stir in the heavy cream.   Bring to a boil.   Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let it cool slightly.  Then, spoon the glaze over completely cooled cake.  It is quite messy, so you may not want to glaze it on your serving dish.

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Game Day Eats – Boozy Caramel Corn

When I was single, I would sometimes make dinner out of beer and popcorn.  Occasionally, it was followed by ice cream.

I would come home too tired to do much of anything but take off my high heels and plug in my air-popper.  But, that was enough.  The salty, crunchy, buttery (real butter, of course) corn would improve my mood in minutes.  Okay, okay…the beer and ice cream helped, too.

I’ve spread the popcorn habit to my husband, but we don’t eat for dinner.  Just lots of snacking.  I so clearly convinced him of the value of regular popcorn that he bought me a huge table top popcorn popper for our bar.  Now, we can make big batches for our friends when they come over to watch a game.

But, when I want something a bit more than butter and salt  on my popcorn, I mix up something like this…

Tequila Caramel Corn
Makes about 4 quarts

4 quarts popped popcorn
1/2 cup unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp agave syrup
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp tequila
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts

Place popped popcorn in a large, buttered roasting pan.  Place the roasting pan in a 200 degree oven to keep the popcorn warm while you make the caramel.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar, syrups, and salt.  Stirring constantly while it heats.

Once it starts to boil, stop stirring and let it boil for 5 minutes.

Remove the popcorn filled roasting pan from the oven.  At the end of 5 minutes, quickly stir in baking soda and tequila.  You may want to add spicy tequila, like I did.

Working very quickly, sprinkle 1 cup of peanuts (I used chile lime peanuts!) on top of the popcorn.  Then, pour the  caramel on top.  It is very helpful to have an assistant here so one person can scrape out the caramel and one person can stir it into the popcorn and peanut mixture.  It is very hot, so be careful.

Once the popcorn and caramel are well mixed, put the roasting pan back in the oven and increase the temperature to 250 degrees F.  Bake the mixture for about an hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Break apart and let cool before storing.

Charley is not my only four-legged friend.  I also have a cat, Izzy.  He apparently wanted to see what that other black cat was doing…

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Game Day Eats – Make Ahead Snacks

You’ve had a busy week.  Maybe things didn’t go as you planned or you are in a bit of a funk.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel – the weekend approaches.  You are looking forward to hanging out with friends and family, and you can’t wait to watch your team win the big one.

But, said friends and family are coming to your house to watch said game.  And, you are expected to feed them.

What snacks can you make in advance before kickoff?  What can you do to avoid an even longer trip to the grocery store without resorting to the freezer case?  Not that I don’t sometimes enjoy pizza rolls or  7-layer Mexican bean dip, but sometimes you want to mix it up…make something a little more special for your guests.

Or maybe you don’t.

If you do, though, then here are a couple of sophisticated snacks for even the pickiest eaters.  And, most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry or cabinets.  They are both easiest if you have a food processor, however.

These straightforward recipes are not only perfect to make in advance and keep in the refrigerator for a few days, but they also travel well (to a tailgate or friend’s house) and they taste just as good in the fourth quarter as they did during the pregame hype.

White Bean Dip
Makes about 2 cups

1 (15 oz) can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 – 3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
about 1/4 cup fresh parsley, packed, plus more for garnish
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
pita chips, carrot sticks, and/or celery sticks for serving

Place beans, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pulse again until smoothly pureed.

Transfer bean puree to a small serving bowl.  Sprinkle lightly with minced parsley for garnish.

Serve with pita chips or crunchy carrot and celery sticks.

Black Olive Tapenade
Makes about 2 cups

about 3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
juice of one lemon
about 1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 – 2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
black pepper, to taste

Add olives, capers, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes to bowl of food processor.

Pulse until it makes a smooth paste.

Slowly add olive oil while processor is running.

Season with black pepper, to taste.

This pungent olive paste is great spread on crostini or sandwiches.

Or include a small bowl of the tapenade on a platter of grilled vegetables (think eggplant, peppers, tomatoes) with mozzarella or goat cheeses.  Or mixed into a classic pasta salad.  You get the idea…

Let’s go team!

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Game Day Eats – Chile Lime Peanuts

When my friends and I watch sports we drink beer.  And when we drink beer we like to snack.  And when we snack we crave spicy, crunchy, and salty.

So what do I do about that craving?  Why, I make chile lime peanuts.  And, you can, too.  Have this simple snack ready for your guests by the time they hit your couch or tailgate.

Chile Lime Peanuts
Makes 2 cups

2 cups raw peanuts (skins are okay)
1 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp lime juice (bottled okay)
1 – 3 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stir to combine peanuts, olive oil, salt, and sugar and coat evenly.

Scrape mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast nuts until fragrant and they begin to darken.

It took me about 25 minutes on a dark-colored baking sheet.  Open the oven and stir every 7 or 8 minutes.  Keep in mind they will still cook a bit once out of the oven.

When done, transfer the nuts back to a bowl.  Add lime juice, hot pepper sauce, and cayenne, stirring to coat evenly.

If you’ve added the maximum amount of hot sauce, I recommend you scrape the nuts back onto the baking sheet so they crisp up and don’t get soggy.

Cool nuts completely before serving.  You can make them  up to a week ahead, just store them in an airtight container.

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Are You Ready for Some Football?

Can you believe it is already September and football season has begun?  I’m not quite ready to give up on my summer produce or wearing shorts and sandals everyday.  And, don’t get me started on the lack of sunshine.  Or how grumpy I get when I have to pull on a jacket to walk the dog.

My friend Kate tells me that Fall is her favorite time of year. She likes the cooler weather and looks forward to picking out jackets and enjoys everything pumpkin.  She says this with a twinkle in her eye and a broad  smile.

Hrumph.  I’m not convinced, but I guess we do both enjoy watching football.  And, we definitely both enjoy the snacks that come with football watching.

These stuffed peppadews were a big hit for my fellow football fans.  The peppadews are sweet peppers, but the stuffing is spicy with just the right amount of heat.  Plus, the red flesh of the peppers will brighten any buffet table.  No matter how much you don’t want it to be Fall.

Sausage Stuffed Peppadews
Makes 50 to 60 pieces

Modified from Food & Wine magazine

1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed (pork or turkey is fine)
1/2 cup cooked white rice (I used Arborio)
2 Tbsp olive tapenade
cooking spray
50 to 60 red peppadew peppers, drained (see note)
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 450 degree F.  Spray a rimmed cooking sheet with cooking spray.

In a bowl, combine sausage, rice and tapenade.  You can use a spoon, but I found it easier to blend the ingredients with my hands.

Once it is mixed, you are ready to stuff the peppers.  Push the filling in with your fingers to make it compact.

Place the stuffed peppers on the prepared baking sheet.

I nestled them together and pushed down just a little bit so they wouldn’t roll all over the place.  Once you’ve finished stuffing, drizzle all the peppers with olive oil and sprinkle them with the grated Parmesan.

If you want to make them in advance, you can put them peppers in the refrigerator at this point and keep them there overnight.

Bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through.  Serve warm.

INGREDIENT NOTE: You can find jars of peppadew peppers in the grocery store (usually near olives or pickles).  I typically see 14 ounce jars.  Two of these 14 ounce jars are enough for this recipe.  If you can find them in a deli or Italian grocery, though, get those.  They are often a little bigger and have firmer flesh.

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Fermentation is My Friend

Salty…spicy…crunchy…subtly sweet.  Mmmm…  I really enjoy eating kimchee.  Kimchee (or kimchi) is a Korean dish of fermented vegetables.  Luckily, my friend Virginia is willing to make it and share her recipe for cucumber kimchee with me.

I understand that kimchee is not for everyone.  Some folks don’t like the heat of the spice.  Some folks don’t like the smell.  I suppose that it could be the fish sauce, but it adds the necessary umami flavor.  (What is umami?  It is a Japanese word for savory, one of the five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.)

It could also be the fermentation factor that turns some people off the dish.  I think fermentation is fascinating, though. I do not fear the bacteria.  And not just because I enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages.  The ancient person(s) who discovered how to cultivate yeast or helpful bacteria to create delicious foodstuffs deserves a place in our history books.  I, for one, am very grateful.  There is a character in the food world, Sandor Katz, who writes about fermentation and teaches folks how to make things like sauerkraut.  He likes to say, “that without culture, there would be no civilization.”  Of course, he means bacteria cultures, not just art and stuff.

Now, go cultivate some bacteria. Mmmm…

Virginia’s Cucumber Kimchee

6 to 10 smallish unwaxed, thin-skinned cucumbers (pickling, Kirby, or Korean)
1/4 cup salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup shredded carrots
2 Tbsp sugar
Glass container(s) tall enough to hold the cucumbers upright with lid

Wash cucumbers, and trim the ends.  The cucumbers need to be sliced to expose the center, but stay whole.  Stand each cucumber upright on your cutting board and slice through the center down almost the whole length, but stop before you cut all the way through.  Rotate the cucumber and repeat the slice in a perpendicular direction.

Fill a large bowl with water.  Add the salt and let it dissolve.

Fully submerge the cucumbers in the salt water for 30 minutes.

You may want to put a plate on top to keep the cucumbers under the surface of the water.

While the cucumbers are soaking, make the stuffing.  In another bowl, combine garlic, chili powder, fish sauce, carrots, and sugar.  Mix well.

After about 30 minutes, remove the cucumbers from the salt water.  Don’t rinse them.

Fill each cucumber between the connected pieces with spicy stuffing, and place them in a glass container next to each other.  Virginia often uses gloves when she fills the cucumbers so her hands do not smell like fish sauce for days on end.

Once you’ve used all the stuffing mixture, don’t rinse the bowl.  Add one to two cups of water to the bowl so you can get the last of the spice mixture and then pour it over the cucumbers.  They should be almost submerged.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and store at room temperature for at least 12 hours.  (Sometimes Virginia leaves it on her counter for about 18 hours.)  Then, move and store in the refrigerator.

Cucumber kimchee is good by itself, but I also enjoy it with rice or as a garnish for other dishes.  We even like it on hot dogs!

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Bar Stool Fridays – Cure for What Ails Ya

After a week of alcohol related posts, I thought it appropriate to provide a recipe for when you’ve been having much too good a time with too much of a good thing.  You know what I’m talking about here, right?

Yep, that’s right.  Hangovers.  Ugh.

I’d like to say that now that I’m older it never happens to me, but that would be a lie.  I sometimes lose track and overindulge.  Nothing horrible, mind you, but it has its impact, nonetheless.

I always enjoy hearing about what works for folks the morning after a night of revelry.  Is it a sports drink and reality TV?  Drive-through breakfast and Diet Coke?  Bloody Marys with your ham and eggs?  The raw egg in your Prairie Oyster drink?  I also get a kick out of reading recipes for archaic methods like the classic “corpse reviver” cocktails that basically just prolong your inebriation, like a combination of brandy, applejack, and sweet vermouth.

What causes the pain of a hangover?  Your body is suffering from dehydration and malnutrition.  Alcohol saps your body of water and drains it of its supply of vitamins and nutrients.

My strategy is to avoid a hangover from the start.  Yeah, I know that the obvious solution is to drink in moderation, but …well, you know.  So, anyway, I find that trying to consume a lot of water helps me to stay hydrated.  I drink water both before partaking of alcohol and during the consumption.  I also try to eat, especially something with sugar.  Dessert, anyone?  This helps slow the absorption of alcohol in my body.

The next day I try to drink even more water, but I also find some bubbles (carbonation) can soothe my stomach.  My mother swears by Lemon Schwepps.  While I also enjoy the flavor of bitters and club soda, if I’m feeling ambitious or I have a sympathetic bartender, I try to go for a bit of Vitamin C, too.  It goes great with breakfast tacos, which are a part of my favorite morning after meal.

Spicy Campari and Orange Juice
Makes 1 drink

1 ounce Campari (bitter orange liqueur)
2 ounces orange juice
1/2 oz chile pepper infused simple syrup (see below)
3 to 5 ounces of chilled club soda

Combine Campari, juice, and simple syrup in an ice-filled shaker.  Shake well.  Strain into an ice-filled glass.  Top with club soda.

Sip slowly and take off those sunglasses.

Chile Pepper Infused Simple Syrup – Regular readers of this blog may have figured out by now that I always have some simple syrup on hand.  It is indeed simple so there is no reason not to.  In a small saucepan, combine equal parts water and sugar (1 cup is easy) over medium  heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  If you want to flavor your syrup, say with chile peppers or lemon or ginger, add the pieces now and let it simmer for just a minute.

Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool and the flavors infuse.  Strain out the addition before using.  It can be stored in a covered container in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks, so you can always have some on hand to flavor your cocktails.

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A Little Something Fancy

This week Washington, DC was host to the Summer Fancy Foods Show by the National Association of Specialty Food Trade.  And, I was lucky enough to go.

Um…wow.  This was my first time and I was completely overwhelmed.  There were over 2400 exhibitors and 180,000 products on display.

This is not an event open to the public.  It is a business trade show and a large number of attendees are buyers of food products.  The show gives specialty food purveyors an opportunity to showcase their goods, and for some, it becomes a fast track to success.

I didn’t t have press credentials so I can’t provide you with pictures of the hottest products direct from the showroom floor.  I can offer you my opinion about some of the big trends.

Popcorn.  Lots and lots of popcorn products.  I love the stuff, but I didn’t realize there was this great a need in the marketplace.

Heat and spice.  Spicy elements were all over the place, especially chipotle and jalapeno flavors.  Bring it on!

Salt.  Exotic salts and just plain sea salt were added to unexpected products…Some were intriguing, but others felt like just an excuse to introduce something new.  What have we got?  Hmmm…I know, let’s sprinkle it with sea salt!

Pork is king.  There is saw a continued (stale?) emphasis on bacon writ large, but there were several purveyors of Spanish ham, too.  We did not turn down any samples.

Asia rising.  I noticed a pretty large number of products with an Asian influence (that were not from Asia), and I lost count of how many folks were peddling crispy seaweed snacks.  I was partial to the ones labeled Beer Mate.  We also drank several versions of aloe juice.  I like it and I hope it spreads.

Goat.  Tons of dairy products using goat’s milk…not just rounds of goat cheese, but yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, and more.  Yay!

Water.  Too many lame fancy-pants waters.  It felt very ugly American.  I find them a bit too precious and out of touch with our current economic situation and not too environmentally friendly either.

I am very grateful to the person who supplied our complimentary passes.  She knows who she is, and I hope she knows we appreciated the opportunity.

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Ditch the Boring Chicken Recipes

Break out of your chicken rut.  This is an easy one-dish meal that is cool and refreshing for those hot summer nights.  Combine simply grilled chicken breasts with a bag of crunchy coleslaw mix and liven it up with a pleasantly spicy, sweet, and salty dressing.

Vietnamese-Style Chicken Salad
Serves 4

Modified from Fine Cooking

3 – 4 green onions
1 jalapeno, chopped (seed, if you want less spice)
1 Tbsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbsp fish sauce
about 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded thin, 1/4 tp 1/2-inch thick)
kosher salt
10 oz package coleslaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots)
1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro

Coarsely chop green onions.

 With a mortar and pestle, pound the green onions, jalapeno, sugar, and about 1/8 tsp pepper until the onions are soft and liquid is released.

Transfer to a large serving bowl, and stir in vinegar and fish sauce.

Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through.  Probably about 2 minutes for each side.

Let the chicken cool and then shred with your fingers or slice into long thin strips.

Toss the coleslaw mix into the vinegar mixture.

Add the chicken, mint, and cilantro, and combine well.

Serve at room temperature.

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