Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Herbed Cheese Twists

I love garlic bread with my pasta, but I get tired of the same old frozen stuff. I found this recipe in a Taste of Home cookbook and was dazzled by the pretty picture. So dazzled, in fact, that I misread the recipe and made these twice as large as they're supposed to be. (I'm not very good with instructions.) The hubby and I both agreed they're probably better this way.

The recipe is quite simple; the most challenging part is rolling out the dough. Especially if it's been sitting in your freezer too long. And while it takes 40 minutes for the twists to rise, that’s a great time to cook the rest of your meal. Or take a nap.

We were really impressed with these. The hubby and I each nibbled on a couple while we were waiting for the pasta to finish. They were the perfect accompaniment to our Zucchini-Beef Spaghetti. For a snack or appetizer, I’d like to make a version that includes pepperoni and is served with pizza sauce.

Herbed Cheese Twists
Makes 1 dozen

¼ c. butter, softened
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. dried marjoram
1 lb. frozen bread dough, thawed
¾ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 375.

2. In a small bowl, combine butter, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and marjoram.

3. Roll out the dough in a 12” by 12” square.

I use the term “square” quite loosely. This was as close as I could get. I was hungry.

4. Carefully spread the herbed butter over dough, to within ½” of the edges. Sprinkle with cheese.

5. Fold dough in thirds, folding in first one side and then folding the other side over the top. Cut dough into 12 slices. Twist the bottom of each around, so twists resemble a figure-eight.

6. Place rolls on a baking sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm spot 40 minutes.

7. Brush tops of rolls with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Angie's Chocolate Chip Cookies

My friend Angie was a high school classmate of my hubby’s, and we all try to get together once a year for a long fishing and cooking weekend. Angie makes the most addictive cookie dough that I’ve ever tasted. (She probably makes great cookies, too, but we’ve never let her near the oven with our dough.)

Angie brought frozen cookie dough to our first fishing trip – fully intending to bake it, I assume – but it became our favorite snack. After a day of fishing and swimming, we would come back to the cabin, play poker, and keep sneaking little drops of cookie dough bliss from the freezer.

I got the recipe from Angie, and I’ll be darned, they make great cookies, too.

The hubby actually requested his version of the perfect chocolate chip cookie for a few years before I figured out the secret formula. I knew what he was asking for, because what he described was the type of chocolate chip cookie we both grew up with – shortening instead of butter, brown sugar instead of white, and soft and puffy instead of thin and crispy. But I could not find the perfect forumla. Then one day I tried Angie’s recipe again, but I was halving it and I can’t do math. To make a long story short, I added a bit too much flour and, ta-da! We found the hubby’s version of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

You can use any kind of baking chips with this recipe. We usually opt for semi-sweet, but today we used milk chocolate. We’re crazy that way.

Angie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 2½ dozen

1½ c. brown sugar
1 c. butter-flavored shortening
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2-3 c. flour (more makes them a bit puffier)
1½ c. chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a mixing bowl, cream together brown sugar and shortening. Add vanilla and eggs, and mix well.

3. Combine baking soda, salt, and flour, and add to batter, a little at a time. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets, and shape and flatten slightly.

5. Bake about 12 minutes, or until lightly brown. Cool at least 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quick Chili con Carne

You know how when you’re dating someone you really like, and things are kind of new and delicate, and you really don’t want to mess things up? So you pretend to like things that you actually don’t like just so you’ll have more in common? Such as country music? Or science fiction movies?

Well thank goodness for the little white lies of young, fragile relationships, because without them, I might never have been introduced to such exotic fare as green bell peppers. Cottage cheese. Chili.

Yes, when I first started dating my hubby, he used to cook for me – the starving college student – at least once a week. And I would never have offended him by refusing to eat something he made. Even though it meant gagging down lasagna with cottage cheese, or steak and pepper fajitas. Chili was the worst. It had tomatoes. And onions. And beans. Scary stuff.

Of course, it took me about thirty seconds to realize I loved all this stuff. (Except the country music.)

My hubby weaned me on his chili, which is pretty tame – no big chunks of onion or tomatoes. Very classic, and very yummy. This chili has onions, crushed tomatoes, and lots of garlic. And it’s beefier than your average chili. It’s based on a Rachael Ray recipe, and you can throw it together in about 15 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight.

The hubby likes his with crackers; I’m a cheese and tortilla chips kind of gal. And yet, we manage to set aside our differences and make it work.

Quick Chili con Carne
Serves 4

1 lb. hamburger
Salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. beef broth
1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 can chili beans
1½ Tbsp. ground cumin
3 Tbsp. chili powder
A few shakes Tabasco
Additional salt and pepper, to taste

1. Add hamburger to a pot over medium-high heat. Season with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt. Add onion and garlic and cook until hamburger is brown, and onion is translucent.

2. Add broth, tomatoes, beans, cumin, chili powder, and Tabasco. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes, seasoning to taste.

3. Serve with desired accompaniments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apple Pie

‘Tis the season for apples, and my dad sent a few boxes of fresh-picked apples home for me, along with instructions to please send pie. So apple pie we shall make.

I know most people will disagree with me, but I think the best part of any pie is the crust. Crusts were coveted in my family. Holiday desserts typically consisted of some sort of Sara Lee pie covered in Cool Whip. My mother, Cool Whip addict that she is, would have second thoughts about sharing her stash on a holiday (when the stores were closed), and she would run around the table trying to scoop her Cool Whip back. Then, as we got close to the ends of our respective pieces, she would make another lap around the table to grab the ends of everyone’s crusts. No wonder she’s so skinny.

One of the best things I ever did was marry into a family of people who don’t eat the ends of their crusts. (Or lick the cake batter bowl, but that’s a story for another day.)

So with all this talk about pie crust, I have a guilty admission: I don’t like making it. I’ll do it sometimes when I have the time – Barefoot Contessa’s recipe is a favorite – but I often cheat and use Pillsbury. (Especially on Tuesday nights when I have two hours of work ahead of me and muffins on my mind.) It reminds me of my grandma’s pie crust. And I like to take advantage of the few times, now that I’m an adult, when I can say, “I don’t wanna, so I don’t have to.” So there.

Oh, and the pie has filling. I should probably mention that. The filling is a modified version of a Southern Living recipe, and my dad says this is the best apple pie he’s ever eaten. And if my dad says it, it HAS to be true.

Apple Pie
Serves 8

Pastry for a 2-crust pie
6 c. peeled, chopped apples
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
A few dashes grated whole nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter
Sugar, for sprinkling over crust

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place bottom crust in 9” pie plate.

2. Combine apples and lemon juice. Combine sugars, flour, and spices. Toss gently with apples.

3. Spoon filling into crust, dotting with butter.

4. Top pie with remaining crust. Fold edges under and crimp. Cut slits in the top and sprinkle with sugar.

5. Cover edges with foil. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 50 minutes. Cool before serving.

Again, no picture of the inside. I need to start baking stuff that I get to eat.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chicken and Gnocchi Dumplings

This evening’s supper was a two-fer; I put on some chicken and dumplings for tonight, and while that was cooking, I started a pot of chili for tomorrow night. (I have pies to bake tomorrow!) This is a really good idea if you’ll be making a meal that reheats well, because you’re already spending all that time in the kitchen, anyway.

But today, it’s all about the chicken and dumplings. This version is much faster than the traditional version, and also much healthier. Yes, some oil and butter are required for sautéing, and for mixing with the flour to form the roux to help thicken the broth. Otherwise, it’s all veggies, canned broth, and boneless, skinless chicken, so it’s actually like a thicker soup. Simmering the broth with the veggies and cooking the chicken in the broth gives it this slow-roasted flavor, so the broth tastes homemade. I love it. I think I might make this every time it snows this winter.

This recipe is based on one by Rachael Ray (although I think it’s only a 30-minute recipe if you like your chicken raw). I’ve made this with biscuit mix dumplings, homemade dumplings, and no dumplings. Tonight I cheated and threw in some store-bought gnocchi, and the hubby says they’re the best dumplings of all.

Chicken and Gnocchi Dumplings
Serves 4

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, cut in small chunks
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
2 Tbsp. flour
1 quart (32 oz.) chicken broth
1 c. store-bought gnocchi (dry or frozen)
4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced (or a few teaspoons dried)
Additional salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add oil, butter, veggies, and bay leaf. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Add flour to the pan and cook 2 minutes.

3. Add broth to pan, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and stir. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and potatoes and carrots are tender.

4. Add gnocchi and cover. Cook 4-5 minutes, or until gnocchi start to float to the top.

5. Stir in parsley. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Lasagna could possibly be the world’s perfect food. It’s got everything I crave – pasta, meat, tangy tomato sauce, and gooey cheese. I adore it and I order it everywhere. But I have yet to find a lasagna that tops my own. Is this world’s best lasagna? Perhaps not. But it’s MY perfect lasagna. When I crave lasagna – about six times a week – this is what I want.

I’ve made dozens of different versions, and this combines my favorite elements: extra sauce with the meat mixed in, no big chunks of veggies, fresh mozzarella, cottage cheese instead of ricotta, and perfectly cooked noodles. I stopped measuring my ingredients long ago, so I don’t think I’ve made the same lasagna twice. In fact, every time I make it, I think, “Wow, THIS is the best lasagna ever. Wonder what I put in?”

In other words, this is just a technique.
  • You have the noodles: to boil, or not to boil? I prefer to pour boiling water over the noodles and let them sit about 10 minutes until they’re softened, but not cooked. (I hate a mushy noodle.)
  • You need about 4 to 5 cups of your favorite sauce. (You can even separate the meat if you like it that way.) I like jarred sauce for the texture, but use homemade, if you like. Add veggies. Use Italian sausage instead of hamburger. Or, no meat at all.
  • You have the soft cheese. I don’t care for ricotta, but you can swap that in if you prefer it. Just be sure to add an egg or two to bind it together so it doesn’t spread everywhere when you cut into your lasagna.
  • You have the gooey cheese. I love fresh mozzarella, and to me, no lasagna is complete without it. But I also like regular fresh mozzarella for the top. It melts better as a top layer. But hey, use provolone. Or parmesan. Or even cheddar, if that tickles your fancy.

Read this recipe as a cooking method, and use it as a starting point to make YOUR perfect lasagna.

Serves 8-10

12 lasagna noodles
Boiling water – enough to cover lasagna noodles in a baking dish
1 lb. hamburger
Salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt, to taste
2 26-oz. jars pasta sauce
Pinch of crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, dried basil, and dried oregano
2 c. cottage cheese (I prefer 2%)
½ c. grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1½ tsp. dried oregano
12 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
Minced fresh parsley or dried parsley, for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place lasagna noodles in a baking dish. Pour boiling water over them and let soak about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, brown hamburger, and season to taste with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt. Add pasta sauce to hamburger, along with crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, and oregano, to taste. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.

3. In a medium bowl, combine cottage cheese, parmesan, eggs, and oregano.

4. Spray a deep 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Add about a cup of sauce to the bottom, to keep the noodles from sticking and drying out.

5. Remove four noodles, one at a time, letting water drain. Lay noodles on top of sauce.

6. Add another cup of sauce to the top of the noodles. Spread half the cottage cheese mixture over the sauce, and layer half the fresh mozzarella.

7. Repeat with four more noodles, another cup of sauce, and remaining cottage cheese and fresh mozzarella.

8. Top with last four noodles and remaining sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake 1 hour.

Set the timer and take a nap. You've earned it.

9. Remove lasagna from oven. Top with shredded mozzarella and parsley, and bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. (You can even use the broiler, if you're feeling adventurous. Just watch it closely.)

10. Let sit 10 minutes. (Use this time wisely. Make garlic bread.) Then serve.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

I think I get my obsession with food from my father. Not necessarily our taste in food; my dad is a strict meat ‘n’ potatoes sort. It’s more the fact that we both really look forward to food. About a month ago, my dad told me that since the weather had been growing cooler, he’d been “thinkin’ a lot about stew lately.” I respect a man who thinks a lot about stew. And I completely understand where he’s coming from. So this weekend we made our annual fall pilgrimage to the homestead, to help my dad prepare his ginormous yard for winter, and feed the man some stew.

I actually despise cooking in someone else’s kitchen. And my mother’s kitchen is no exception, but I do get a sort of perverse thrill from it.

See, when I was young, I used to stay with a babysitter who had this amazing dollhouse that I found enchanting. I was enthralled by the miniatures, the dollhouse was beautifully appointed, and – most importantly – it was Not A Toy. One hundred percent off limits. Likewise, my mother’s kitchen is tiny (unless, of course, you don’t have elbows), and even contains a miniature oven. It is very well furnished in that the knives are sharper, the appliances higher-grade, and the cookware more upscale than anything I’ll ever own. And, lastly, my mother’s kitchen is Not Intended For Use.

My mother finds it irksome when people use her kitchen. I know this, because she says things to me like, “I just discovered the mess you left the last time you used the oven, at Christmas. And I know it was you, because no one has used the oven since.” Or “Thanks for teaching your brother to mess up the kitchen.” (For the record, I actually taught him to make chicken parmesan. To-may-to, to-mah-to.) Obviously I didn’t rebel enough as a child, because I find this entertaining. (Hi Mom! Love you!)

But back to cooking. While my mother was away, I got down to the business of making some serious stew in her kitchen – a double batch to feed the hungry yard crew. Assisting me was my baby brudder, who shall henceforth be known as Cory the Amazing, Disappearing Sous Chef.

He’s nowhere to be found during the more mundane food prep tasks, but miraculously reappears when things get interesting. (Hi Cory! Love you!)

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Serves 4-6

¾ lb. peeled or baby carrots
2 lb. potatoes
1½ lbs. beef
Flour, for dusting beef
Salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt, for sprinkling on beef
32 oz. beef broth
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. onion powder
1½ tsp. seasoned salt
¼ c. cornstarch
½ c. water
Additional salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt, to taste

1. Wake your sous chef, using whatever means necessary. I recommend the patented puppy alarm system. Git 'em, Chester!

2. Ask your sous chef to cut carrots, potatoes, and beef in bite-sized pieces. If your sous chef has disappeared, do this yourself.

Size-wise, use whatever you prefer in your stew. As per my hubby’s request, I cut my meat and veggies into pieces suitable for humans to chew, rather than making stew for giants.

3. Add carrots and potatoes to slow cooker.

4. Dredge about half the beef pieces in flour.

Cory! You’re back!

5. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add cooking spray or some oil, and sear beef until lightly brown. Add beef to slow cooker.

6. Add some of the broth to the pan – just enough to loosen up the bits on the bottom.

7. Add broth to slow cooker, and repeat with remaining beef.

8. Add remaining broth to slow cooker, along with bay leaf, onion powder, and seasoned salt. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours, until beef and vegetables are tender.

9. Combine cornstarch and water, and stir into stew. If stew thickens immediately, season to taste and serve anytime. Otherwise, turn heat to high and cook stew an additional 30 minutes. (Slow cookers really do vary in temperature.)

10. Serve stew in a bowl, with biscuits.Or maybe on toast.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cheesecake

And for our second cheesecake of the week (oh, to say that every week), we have a peanut butter and chocolate layered cheesecake with a chocolate ganache. I found the idea for the filling for this recipe in a holiday cooking pamphlet, but made up the rest as I went along. I don't follow directions very well.

The ganache is optional, but yummy. Plus, it can cover a multitude of sins. Like cracks. You know, if you happened to get one down the middle of your cheesecake. Not that I speak from experience.

This cheesecake is to celebrate the birthday of one of my best pals, Dave. This is a milestone birthday for Dave, so he deserves a special cake. Especially since he lets me yammer on about food whenever I want. So happy birthday, Davey!

It's a shame I'm not good with icing. This would have been just stunning with "Over the Hill" written across it.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cheesecake
Serves 10-12

1½ c. vanilla wafer crumbs
1/3 c. cocoa
½ c. powdered sugar
5 1/3 Tbsp. (1/3 c.) butter, melted

1 c. chocolate chips, melted and cooled
1 c. peanut butter chips, melted and cooled
3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
¾ c. sugar
1/3 c. sour cream
3 Tbsp. flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs

¼ c. whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
½ c. chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine vanilla wafer crumbs, cocoa, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with a fork until well combined. Press mixture into bottom of a 9" springform pan.

3. Using a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add sour cream, flour, salt, and vanilla, and beat until well mixed.

4. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until just mixed after each addition.

5. Divide batter in half. Add melted chocolate chips to one half and melted peanut butter chips to the other.

6. Mix each bowl of batter thoroughly.

7. Pour chocolate batter over crust and spread carefully. Top with peanut butter batter and spread even more carefully.

8. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until outside is baked, and center is starting to set. Cool until cheesecake is at room temperature.

9. In a small saucepan, heat whipping cream, vanilla, and corn syrup over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a light boil. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips. (It will combine eventually.)

10. Pour ganache over cheesecake and spread carefully. Top with grated chocolate, if desired. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate cheesecake until serving. Cut into a crumbly mess and enjoy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fudge Truffle Cheesecake

This is it, the chocolate cheesecake to top all chocolate cheesecakes. I have been making this cheesecake for years -- I forget where the original recipe came from -- and it is seriously unbeatable. It's rich and incredibly dense, as all good cheesecakes should be. And because it's flavored with melted chocolate, it doesn't taste overly bitter or cocoa-y.

A few tips for creating a perfect, crack-free cheesecake:
  • Don't add crack. Ha! I kill me.
  • Bring all your ingredients to room temperature.
  • Add your eggs individually, and mix until they're just combined.
  • Add a pan of water on the rack under the cheesecake while baking.
  • Do not overbake. Take the cheesecake out even while it looks like the middle isn't yet set.

I'm making this cheesecake to celebrate the birthday of Michelle, who is the office manager where my hubby, dad, and brother work. She keeps the office warm, cheerful, and smelling of something other than boys and popcorn. And for this, among many other things, she deserves a cheesecake. Happy early birthday, Michelle!

Because this is a birthday cake, I suppose it would be rude to cut a piece to photograph (and taste-test), right? Right?

Sigh. I thought you'd say that.

Fudge Truffle Cheesecake
Serves 10-12 (sometimes 4-6)

1½ c. vanilla wafer crumbs
1/3 c. cocoa
½ c. powdered sugar
5 1/3 Tbsp. (1/3 c.) butter, melted

2 c. chocolate chips, melted and cooled
3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla (the real stuff, not that "vanilla-flavored" nonsense)
4 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Combine vanilla wafer crumbs, cocoa, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with a fork until well combined. Press mixture into bottom of a 9" springform pan.

3. Using a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, and mix. Add melted chocolate and mix.

4. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until just mixed after each addition.

5. Pour batter over crust in pan. Bake 55 minutes to 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until outside is baked, and center is starting to set.

6. Cool until cheesecake is at room temperature, and then refrigerate several hours before serving.

Short Rib Ragu

This evening’s supper experiment was pasta with Short Rib Ragu, which is a Giada de Laurentiis recipe. I had never cooked with short ribs before – and I still have problems finding them with the bone in – but needed to appease my curiosity.

The only modifications I made to the recipe were to omit the bittersweet chocolate (I just don’t like chocolate in my savory sauces), and I substituted additional beef broth for some of the red wine. (Just a personal preference. You make one really bad batch of beef bourguignon, and you never forget it.)

The short ribs were incredible. They just fell apart, and the meat is so buttery. And although the sauce was far less tomato-y than I thought it would be, it’s so well flavored – it almost tastes like an Italian pot roast sauce. It’s also a thinner sauce, so it really soaks into the pasta.

I’m tempted to actually lick my plate right now.

Short Rib Ragu
Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, chopped
2½ lbs. short ribs, trimmed
Salt and pepper
¼ c. flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
½ c. fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
1 14.5-oz. can diced or whole tomatoes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
2¾ c. beef broth
½ c. red wine
Cooked pasta

1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook pancetta until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes.

2. Season short ribs with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour.

3. Using a slotted spoon, remove pancetta and set aside. Add short ribs to pan and cook until browned on all sides, about 7 minutes.

4. Combine onion, carrot, parsley, garlic, tomatoes, and tomato paste in food processor. Pulse until finely minced.

5. When short ribs are browned, add minced vegetables to pot, along with pancetta, and stir. Add rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, beef broth, and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove lid and simmer another 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Using a slotted spoon, remove short ribs and shred meat.

7. Remove bay leaf from pot. Return meat to sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

8. Serve over pasta.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tapas Party

Although we’d planned on having smoked ribs today, the weather didn’t cooperate, so we had a tapas party for two, instead.

The best thing about a tapas party is that when you say “tapas,” it sounds a lot like “topless.” Needless to say, the hubby was very excited.

Of the four dishes I made, three of them – the chicken, shrimp, and chorizo – are Rachael Ray recipes or were based on them. And I just threw the potatoes together. Because deep down we’re good, Midwestern, meat-and-potatoes folk. Which is also why we ate this with crusty bread. (I was raised to eat with bread in one hand and a fork in the other.)

I loved all the dishes, except the shrimp, because I don’t eat shrimp. My shrimp-loving hubby, who excels as a recipe troubleshooter, says he would recommend grilling the shrimp before tossing them into the infused oil. Duly noted. In spite of this, he ate all the shrimp, while suffering only minor injuries.*

*Surgeon General’s warning: Squirting hot red pepper oil into your eye while biting into shrimp may cause temporary blindness.

Chorizo Tapas
Serves 2-3

A drop of olive oil
2 links (about 6-8 oz.) smoked chorizo, sliced on an angle in ½” slices
A few splashes Rioja wine

1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until pan smokes.

2. Add chorizo slices and brown for about a minute on each side.

3. Add a few splashes of Rioja to the pan, and shake pan until wine is mostly evaporated.

4. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish.

Piquillo Potatoes
Serves 2-3

2 medium red potatoes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
½ medium red onion, chopped
1 roasted piquillo pepper*, chopped
½ tsp. hot pimenton
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley, minced, for garnish

*Piquillo peppers are Spanish peppers. They’re available roasted and jarred. You can substitute roasted red peppers.

1. Scrub the potatoes and poke them with a fork. Microwave them about 5-6 minutes, or until tender. (You can also boil them; I didn’t have enough burners). Cut the potatoes in bite-sized chunks.

2. Heat oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute 2-3 minutes, or until it starts to brown. Add piquillo pepper and saute 1 minute.

3. Add potatoes to pan. Sprinkle with pimento, salt, and pepper, and saute 2-3 minutes.

4. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Herbed Chicken Tapas
Serves 2-3

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
1 stem fresh rosemary, leaves striped and minced
¾ tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ c. chicken broth

1. Toss chicken with oil, lemon juice, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Let sit about 10 minutes.

2. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan, reserving marinade. Cook 6-7 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Remove chicken from pan.

3. Add chicken broth to reserved marinade. Pour marinade mixture to pan, and scrape any loose bits from the pan into it. Pour over chicken in serving dish.

Shrimp Pil-Pil
Serves 2-3

½ lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on (can uses frozen, if thawed)
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ c. olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp. sweet smoked paprika
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

1. If desired, grilled shrimp beforehand, seasoning with salt and pepper.

2. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

3. Add shrimp to pan, seasoning with salt and pepper if not previously grilled. Cook about 1-2 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Transfer to serving dish.