CHILI CON QUESO – Si, Si, Si!

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Festivities abound in summertime and when people get together, there’s food.

Next time you’re asked to bring a potluck dish, don’t groan. Instead, try my Chili Con Queso dip. There are only 3 ingredients and all you do is heat them together. You can do that, right?

NOTE:  For those of you who want to go that extra step, you can make your own salsa.

CHILI CON QUESO – makes about 2 cups

  • 1 cup salsa (I use thick & chunky, medium spice)
  • 1/4 lb Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 lb medium cheddar cheese, shredded

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Over low heat, stir until cheese is melted. If you heat it too high, it may “seize”, which means the cheese doesn’t melt properly – it kind of clumps. If this happens, re-name the dish, “Rustic Chili Con Queso”, and pretend this is how it should be. It will still taste yummy.

If you like, top with olives, cilantro, tomatoes, etc. Serve with tortilla chips.

 

 

 

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FRENCH ONION SOUP – Magnifique!

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Who can resist FRENCH ONION SOUP, with its cheesey bread topping, encrusted over a savory soup?!

You may think FRENCH ONION SOUP is one of those foods only obtainable at a restaurant. (And when I worked in a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant, we did serve it.) But it’s actually easily made at home, and my vegetarian version (no beef or chicken stock) is every bit as tasty as that expensive version ordered out.

Three points of caution:

  1. It’s essential to use soup crocks that are broiler-proof.
  2. Allow 4 hours from beginning to end. Don’t fret, though! Nearly all that time is hands off.
  3. Make sure your Dutch oven or saucepan has handles & knobs that can withstand high oven heat.

FRENCH ONION SOUP – serves about 7

  • 4 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1½ tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup Sherry
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (if purchasing, use one that’s not too flavorful)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2″ slices of baguette or rustic bread (don’t use sandwich – it’s too mushy)
  • about 2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • about 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

In an oven proof Dutch oven or large saucepan, put the onions, butter, olive oil, and 1 tsp salt. Stir together (don’t worry that the butter isn’t melted yet) and cover tightly with lid. Put in a 400º Fahrenheit oven and cook 1 hour without disturbing.

After an hour, stir onions and replace lid but leave it slightly askew to allow steam to escape. Let bake 1½ hours, undisturbed.

Place saucepan on stove and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes to develop a nice dark fond (the baked-on food that sticks to the bottom – it’s full of flavor!). Stir occasionally.

NOTE: If you’re using a saucepan with a handle, I suggest you put an oven mitt or towel on the handle to remind yourself how hot it is. Remember it’s been in that 400º F oven!

Now you’re going to deglaze the fond by pouring in 1/4 cup water and stirring over medium heat, until the water is gone and new fond develops – about 5 minutes. Do this 3 more times (total of 1 cup water).

Pour in the Sherry for a final deglazing. Cook until Sherry evaporates (about 5 minutes).

Add the vegetable broth, 1/2 tsp salt, thyme, and bay leaf to pot. Bring to boil, cover, lower heat, then let simmer for 30 minutes.

Add in pepper and remove bay leaf.

Leaving room for the bread, ladle soup into BROILER-PROOF crocks. Top with bread, then sprinkle on Gruyère, followed by the Parmesan. Place crocks about 3″ under broiler element, and cook until toasty brown. Keep an eye out – it takes about 6 minutes, but that can vary.

 

PESTO TRAPANESE – Presto Pasta!

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PESTO TRAPANESE should be called PESTO TRAPAN-EASY!  It’s one of the fastest homemade meals you’re likely to come across. The time it takes to boil the pasta water and cook the spaghetti noodles, is the time it takes to make this dish. Impossible, you say?! Not at all. While the pasta is cooking, you prepare the pesto. It’s that fast.

For those of you who make your own pasta (like I do), the time is only slightly longer. I’ll prep the pesto ingredients (which only takes about 5 minutes), THEN put the water on to boil. While the water is heating up, I roll out the pasta dough. Generally, by the time the pasta is made, the water is at a full boil. Perfect!

PESTO TRAPANESE – serves about 3-4 (depending on how hungry people are)

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2½ cups sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 T deli-sliced jalapeño peppers (I use ‘tamed’ spice level – but if you want more kick, go to ‘hot’)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a good quality)
  • 1/2 cup (+ extra for sprinkling) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 lb spaghetti noodles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil.

While water is heating, toast the almonds, wash the tomatoes and basil, and measure the salt, red pepper flakes, jalapeños, olive oil, and parmesan. Chop basil.

When pasta goes in the boiling water, put the almonds, tomatoes, basil, salt, flakes, and jalapeños in a blender or food processor. Pulse several times to break up ingredients. Then let machine run continually as you slowly pour in the olive oil to emulsify the pesto. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

Drain pasta when cooked, then return to empty pot. Stir in pesto and the 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve, sprinkling on extra Parmesan, if you like.

 

 

BROCCOLI-CASHEW PASTA SALAD

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BROCCOLI-CASHEW PASTA SALAD is one of my all time favorites. Not only is it visually appealing, but it’s one of those “I’ll just have a little bit more” dishes.

The orecchiette pasta (which means ‘little ears’) is a perfect shape to capture all the goodies, so each mouthful is a tasty combination of crispy broccoli and red pepper, subtle mushrooms, salty cashews, all coated with a savory dijon dressing. If you use a spoon, you might be able to finagle everything in one bite.

This salad can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the water, then cook the pasta. It can be served warm, but I prefer to chill mine for about 20 minutes.

BROCCOLI-CASHEW PASTA SALAD – makes about 5-6 cups

  • 1/2 lb orecchiette pasta
  • 3 cups broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onions, chopped
  • 6 oz mushrooms (about 8), chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup salted cashews, lightly toasted (do this even if you buy them roasted)

Put a large pot of salted water to boil.  When it reaches a full boil, add in the pasta and cook until done. Drain immediately, but don’t rinse or shake.

While pasta is cooking, put the broccoli in a steamer basket (don’t forget the water!). The goal is to break down the fibers enough to eat, but still leave a little crunch. Turn heat to high, cover, and set timer for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and take off lid. Let sit in pot while you do the next step – this allows the broccoli to complete cooking.

Heat oil in a skillet and add the onions and mushrooms. Sauté 2-3 minutes, then add in the red pepper. Continue to cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and vinegar until smooth. Cool in refrigerator.

When pasta is done, combine it with the mushroom mixture and broccoli. If you’re serving the dish warmish, stir in the dressing and then the cashews. Serve.

If you want the salad a little chilled, place the pasta mixture in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Then stir in dressing and cashews. Serve.

GINGERBREAD COOKIES WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS – Chewy Goodness!

gingerbread cookies textGingerbread Cookies with chocolate chips are my kids’ favorite. They’re soft cookies with a flavorful bite from ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. The chocolate chips balances them out with with a creamy sweetness.

Once the dough is made, it needs to be refrigerated and then rolled into balls – a great task for little ones (with very clean hands) who want to help. At this point, the dough can be frozen, ready and waiting to be popped in the oven for a last minute dessert.

GINGERBREAD COOKIES WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS – makes about 3 dozen

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp dried ginger
  • 1¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • about 1/3 cup granulated sugar for rolling dough into

Using a standing mixer, cream butter and brown sugar. Mix in egg and molasses.

In a bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Blend into butter mixture on low speed. Stir in chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour to make it easier to handle.

Roll dough into 1″ balls, then roll into granulated sugar – coating well. Place on parchment paper lined or greased cookie sheets. Don’t flatten them – they’ll spread in the oven.

If you want to freeze them for future use (I’m AM the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, after all), put the dough balls (without rolling in sugar) on a non-greased cookie sheet and place in freezer until solid. Gather them into a container for storage. When ready to bake, roll them firmly into granulated sugar and place them on prepared cookie sheets, letting them thaw about 20 minutes. Bake as directed.

Bake at 375º Fahrenheit 10-12 minutes. Don’t overbake – you’ll get a dry cookie. Remember, they’ll continue to cook on the hot cookie sheet out of the oven. The edges should look done, but the center should look slightly underdone.

Let cookies set for 5 minutes before removing them to a wire rack.