Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

“Greek” Guac

September 19, 2011

I looooooooove guacamole.  It leaves salsa in the dust any day of the week in my book.  avocados have a fair amount of fat, but it’s healthy, plant-based fat, rather than the artery-clogging animal-based fat.  Traditional guacamole is simple–mashed avocado, salt, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and perhaps some jalapeno and minced onion.  Some call for freshly diced tomatoes, others call for sour cream.  I’ve made it in a wide variety of combinations and I love them all.

On a recent night I was making fish tacos and had half of an avocado in my fridge.  Knowing that small amount wouldn’t be enough, I considered how I could ‘stretch’ it a little.  Non-fat Greek yogurt to the rescue!  By adding just a touch of the yogurt, it added creaminess, tang, and smoothed out the consistency of my guacamole.  Best of all, it adds some protein and calcium, which is an added bonus.  Even my all-things-green-skeptical children proclaimed it “mmmmm–delicious!”.

Serve with tacos, on top of a burger, or simply with tortilla chips (check out my easy homemade tortilla chip recipe here).

“Greek” Guacamole

Makes 1.5-2 cups

1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced

2-4 tablespoons non-fat plain Greek yogurt (adjust to taste/desired consistency)

1/4 cup minced red onion

1 lime, juiced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

salt and pepper

By hand, mash the avocado with a fork until creamy.  Add additional ingredients and continue to mash/stir until smooth.

In a food processor, add all ingredients to work bowl fitted with the metal blade and pulse until smooth.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

A New Italian Easter Tradition

April 18, 2011

Every family has their traditions.  Some are religious in nature.  Some are activities shared by the family at certain times of the year.  Others are food related.  In my family we have traditions in each category, but most tend to be centered around the table.  Special dishes which are made for certain holidays, events, or days.  One of my favorites is Pizza Rustica, or what my family called “pizzachina” (pronoucned pizza-KEENa), which is made at Eastertime.  After forty days of Lenten fasting, the pizzachina is a savory delicacy in every sense.  The slightly sweet crust (sometimes referred to as ‘pasta frolla’), and the rich filling made from egg, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, densely studded with prociutto (and in some cases, sweet sausage, but not in my family) is a feast for the mouth.  It’s labor-intensive, but well worth the effort.

Many years ago my parents gave me a wonderful book called Festa, which detailed many Italian food-traditions.  It listed a baked sausage bread among the Eastertime foods.  We never made this exact dish in our family, but made something similar for New Year’s called “minulati”.  Both are pretty simple concepts—pizza dough wrapped around crumbled, sweet Italian sausage and baked.  The book described making more of a loaf which would then be sliced, where as the minulati were smaller-sized sausage ‘rolls’.   I received  this book back in 1997, and started making sausage bread at Eastertime, and at Christmastime, and New Year’s, and pretty much anytime I had people over…because it was just so good.  Sometimes if I’m pressed for time I swap the sausage for pepperoni (which doesn’t require any pre-cooking), but the sausage is still my favorite. 

I would never replace the pizzachina on our Easter table, but giving it a little company is never a bad thing!

Easter Sausage Bread

Serves 6+

1 lb of pizza dough (prepared or homemade)

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 -3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet, saute the crumbled sausage until no longer pink, breaking it up with your spatula as it cooks.  (In Festa they also add a garlic clove to the mix, which you could easily do too).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a large, oiled baking sheet, stretch the dough out into a rectangle.  Scatter the cooked sausage on top of the dough, leaving a border of about one inch all the way around.  Top with both cheeses, being sure to distribute it evenly around the dough.  Starting at one end, roll the dough up, jelly roll style, and pinch the seam and ends to seal.

Make sure the seam side is on the bottom, and brush with an eggwash if desired (just lightly beat an egg with a tiny bit of water and brush over the top–it will give the loaf a golden brown color and make it glisten). 

Bake for one hour.  Slice and serve hot or at room temperature.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Above photo from Steven Valenti

“What’s Cooking” on Channel 12? ME!

January 5, 2011

Today I taped a segment for my local television news channel’s answer to the Food Network, “What’s Cooking”.  I haven’t seen it yet (it airs the weekend of January 8-9), but as promised, I’m posting the recipes here.  My Lemony White Bean Dip with Basil (or parsley on the show since EVERY store in my town was out of fresh basil!) is a low-fat, delicious dip to serve with homemade tortilla chips, which are easier to make than you think.

So dig in…it’s good for you!

Lemony-White Bean & Basil Dip

Makes about 2 cups

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 lemon, zested and juiced

½ cup of fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Place the garlic in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Pulse several times until finely minced.

Add the beans and the lemon juice and zest to the work bowl and puree. 

With the blades running, add olive oil in a steady stream and process until creamy and smooth.

Place bean dip in a bowl and stir in basil, salt and pepper.  Serve with fresh vegetables or homemade whole wheat tortilla chips.


Homemade Whole Grain Tortilla Chips

Makes 4 dozen chips

6 – 6” whole grain tortillas, cut into 8 triangle-shaped wedges

Olive oil


Garlic powder or grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line two large baking sheets with tin foil and arrange tortilla triangles in a single layer.

Brush each side with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.

If desired, sprinkle lightly with garlic powder or parmesan cheese.

Bake for 6-7 minutes, or until chips are lightly browned and crispy.  Serve warm or at room temperature with bean dip or salsa.

In Season: Sicilian Blood Orange Spinach Salad

March 1, 2010

In late February and early March, you’ll begin to see blood oranges in the supermarkets.  Blood oranges look very much like regular oranges but are slightly smaller and sometimes have a reddish hue on the skin.  They can be a little ruddy looking, but don’t judge this orange by its cover.  When cut in half, the ruby-red (or ‘blood red’) interior is a sight to behold…but just wait until you take a bite!  They are sweet as sugar and juicy as they come. 

Blood oranges are most commonly found in the warmer climates of Sicily and southern Spain, and are considered a delicacy.  As soon as they are in season (late February), I scoop up a couple bags because I can’t get enough of them (and I’m not even much of an orange eater).  Since I was making a Sicilian-inspired pasta dish tonight, I decided to toss together a Sicilian-inspired salad to go along with it.   I added supremed segments of the blood orange to a salad of baby spinach leaves, and embellished with two other classic Sicilian ingredients, dried figs and roasted almonds.  The result was not only pretty, but delicious and nutritious.  This is a salad you may even convince your kids to eat!







Sicilian Blood Orange Spinach Salad

Serves 4-6

1 – 6 oz bag baby spinach leaves

1 blood orange, supremed (to see a video of how to supreme, click here)

6 dried figs, sliced

1/4 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped

1/4 cup of your favorite balsamic vinaigrette

Toss all the ingredients in a large bowl and enjoy!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Short-Cut Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

December 11, 2009

nov-010My grandmother used to make the best chicken soup.  Chicken and stars, to be exact.  She did it all from scratch, by boiling the chicken in water to make the broth, then using the meat in the soup.  It was the best chicken soup I ever had, and I will probably never duplicate it. 

Part of the reason I will never duplicate it is because I rarely have the time to make soup completely from scratch.  Whenever I roast a chicken for dinner, I take great pleasure in spending some time afterwards with the mangled carcas, pulling every bit of meat from the bones that I can manage.  On a recent night I was able to pull off about a cup’s worth of shredded chicken, which was just enough for a pot of soup .  I do the same with the whole rotisserie chickens I buy at the store when I’m in a hurry.  Using prepared broth (a good quality boxed brand or water and the appropriate amount of concentrated soup base) and the left-over chicken, I make a simple chicken noodle soup my kids love to take to school for lunch in a thermos. 

I keep it simple and use carrots as the main vegetable, but somtimes add green beans, chopped celery, or even peas.  Depends on my mood, and what I have in the fridge or freezer.  I mix up the pasta too—tiny shells, alphabet macaroni, ditalini, or little rings.  Anything small will work.  This soup can be your own creation—add what you love, leave out what you don’t.  And don’t forget this is equally good with leftover turkey meat!

Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4

6 cups chicken broth

3 carrots, thinly sliced

1/2 cup small pasta

1 cup cooked, shredded chicken or turkey meat

salt and pepper

Place the broth in a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil.  Add carrots and pasta, and cook approximately 10 minutes or until carrots are tender and pasta is cooked.

Add the cooked chicken and heat through.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Discoveries of the Season

September 8, 2009

rose-wineEveryone has their favorite this, or favorite that.  I love discovering something new, or at least something new to me.  Below are some of my favorites that have been keeping me happy this season.

Rosé wine:  No, I’m not talking White Zinfandel here!   Once you can get that out of your head and open up to rosés, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  Rosés are crisp and perfect for summer and early fall, and are made from a wide variety of grapes.  I tend to favor the Spanish rosés, which my favorite wine connoisseur describe as “really fun to drink”, but the French rosés are also really good( and a tad drier).  Stick to a 2008 vintage for best quality.

Kalamata Olive Hummus and Pita Chips:  I’m ordinarily not a huge hummus fan unless it’s super creamy and light.  However, there is something about the addition of Greek kalamata olives that make ordinary hummus sing “opa!”  Add some salted pita chips and you’re in business for a healthy snack or as an accompaniment to some wine or beer.

Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Thins:  Okay, chocolate covered pretzels aren’t exactly breaking news, but the super thin pretzels I found covered in DARK chocolate are incredibly addictive and worth mentioning (I found this particular variety at Trader Joe’s).

Flavored Vodkas:  Regular vodka has no flavor (or at least it isn’t supposed to)…but flavored vodka gives a whole new twist to your cocktails.  Try vanilla vodka in a martini, citron vodka in a Cape Cod, or pomegranate vodka with just a splash of soda.  If you haven’t been in a liquor store lately, you’ll be amazed at the wide variety of flavored vodkas on the market!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Photo by ocadotony.

In Season: Tomato and Peach Salad

August 18, 2009

aug09-005This week when I went to pick up my CSA share, I was thrilled to see more gorgeous little red and yellow cherry tomatoes.  They are not only beautiful, but out-of-this-world-delicious.  Just for the heck of it, I taste-tested one of those little beauties along side a grape tomato from the supermarket.  Not that I really thought it would be any contest, but eating is believing.  Wow.  Farm-fresh makes all the difference in the world.

I was also thrilled to see giant, juicy peaches on display.  Peaches and nectarines have always been among my very favorite summer fruits, and again, those freshly picked are all the more delicious.  When I was surveying my kitchen for salad ideas to go along with my turkey-breast burgers*, the tomatoes and peaches sitting right next to each other on the counter were all the inspiration I needed.  Texture, color, flavor—check, check, check!  Mixed up with a light champagne vinaigrette and topped with some thinly sliced scallions, it made for a fresh and tasty side to our dinner.

Tomato and Peach Salad

Serves 2

1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (I used a combination of red and yellow)

1 large peach (or nectarine), cut into a small dice

1-2 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar (okay to substitute white wine vinegar)

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

Place the tomatoes, peaches, and scallions in a bowl.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil.  (honestly, most of the time I just pour them on top of the salad separately then toss—but you can whisk if you are so inclined!)

Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to combine.  Serve at room temperature.

*Consider spending the extra money for ground turkey breast.  Regular “ground turkey” almost always includes both white and dark meat, plus the fatty skin.  Ground breast is just that—all lean, white meat, which is much lower in fat and calories. 

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

More Beach House Cooking: Grilled Steamers with Chipotle-Lime Butter

August 14, 2009

steamers1Vacation is meant to be a break from reality.  That usually includes a break from cooking.  However, if you follow my 5 simple rules for beach house cooking, you may actually look forward to your lazy evenings on the deck or patio.  The kids can run around in the yard while you enjoy your cocktails and prepare a simple (and I mean SIMPLE) meal everyone will enjoy.

As I mentioned in my last post, using foil packets to cook on the grill were key during our  vacation.  All kinds of veggies can be prepared right alongside your other grilled items.  I also love grilling veggies directly on the grill, but the “grill-steam” method is a true low-maintenance way to cook (you don’t have to keep your eye on them as much).  Of course, we made all the traditional favorite grilled foods….burgers, steaks, chicken, sausages.  But one night we treated ourselves to whole lobsters and steamers.  The fabulous fish market around the corner from our rental steamed the lobsters for you (remember, I refused to use any pots while on vacation), but I also grabbed a couple pounds of steamers to do on the grill.  After soaking them in salt water for about 30 minutes (this draws out the sand), I rinsed them and tossed them right on the hot grill-grates.  Close that lid and wait for them to open up!  Depending on your grill, this could take anywhere from 7-10 minutes or so.  Scoop them into a big bowl and serve hot.  Remember, discard any clams with broken shells, or ones that do not open after cooking.  In the case of the unopened clams, this usually means the clam was dead to begin with and isn’t safe to eat. 

If you want to get really creative, you can make a  fabulous Chipotle-Lime butter sauce into which you can dip the steamers.  Just melt some butter (a stick should be sufficient), add about a teaspoon of minced chipotle peppers (they come in a small can with adobo sauce), and a few squeezes of fresh lime juice.  I must give full credit for this idea to my friends Mike and Daniella, who served their grilled steamers this way at a recent barbeque.  They blew me away…and as long as you’re willing to wash one tiny little pan, it’s worth the effort.  Otherwise, if you’re sticking to “the rules”, just melt the butter in the microwave, add the chipotles and lime, and mix together.  Allow to stand for a few minutes for the flavors to combine, or pop back in the microwave for a few seconds.

Now I’m back home and back to reality— and I’ve already used more pots and pans than I’m willing to admit.  Beach-house cooking was good while it lasted!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

In Season: Strawberry Spinach Salad

July 14, 2009

june-25-008A group of my college girlfriends recently had our annual reunion, and we each pitched in to bring a part of the meal.  Because I’d be travelling that day, I took salad duty (no cooking required!).  Considering what I do for a living, I always feel pressure to “produce” and I knew any ordinary salad would not do.  Since strawberries are at their peak right now, I wanted to incorporate them into the salad, but wanted to also include a little something different, so I combed the aisles of the grocery store looking for inspiration.

I often like to include nuts in my salads (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and pistachios are my favorites), but one of my friend’s children has a nut allergy, so nuts were out as an option.  I also like using dried fruit, and growing up we always had raisins in our salads.  Dried cherries, dried cranberries, and golden raisins are all fantastic additions to any salad.  On this day a big bag of dried figs caught my eye, and I knew immediately this would be my other secret ingredient. 

Using baby spinach leaves (much more nutritious than many salad greens, plus great color), I sliced up the strawberries and dried figs, then tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette.   When I recreated this salad at home the other night, I decided instead to make an orange-flavored vinaigrette, using some Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar I had in my pantry.  Regular orange juice straight from the container is a great substitute if you cannot find orange-flavored vinegar.  It will be sweeter and lack the “tang” of the vinegar, but still makes a tasty dressing. 

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Serves 4-6

1 – 6 oz bag baby spinach leaves

8 fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

a handful of dried figs, sliced

3 tablespoons orange-flavored vinegar or orange juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place the spinach, strawberries and figs in a large bowl.

Whisk together the vinegar (or orange juice), olive oil, and salt and pepper in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Pour over the top the salad and toss to combine.  Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.


Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

June 9, 2009

tomato-003To think there was a time in my life when I did not like fresh tomatoes!  Granted, this was when I was a child, and unless you grew your own tomatoes, the ones with which you became familiar were the orangey, mushy, tasteless grocery store variety.  Who could blame me?  It wasn’t until I tasted a fresh-from-the-vine tomato that I realized what I’d been missing out on all that time.

This is the time of year people in my neck of the woods begin planting their tomatoes.  When my neighbor found himself with too many plants to fit in his small garden, he offered up the extras to me.  People assume that because I cook, I must also garden.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  So although tomato plants cause me stress, actual tomatoes make me happy.  So, you can imagine my delight when I came across a beautiful container of various heirloom tomatoes at my local market.  Red, orange, yellow and green tomatoes of all shapes and sizes!  Gorgeous!  A colorful tomato salad simply adorned with basil, red onion, and some cubed, fresh mozzarella.  Great for lunch, fantastic when paired with a homemade pizza or pasta dish.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Serves 4 as a side salad

1 lb mixed heirloom grape, pear and cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons minced red onion

4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed

1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Place the tomatoes, onion, mozzarella, and basil in a medium bowl and toss to combine. 

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl or measuring cup and add to the tomatoes.  Serve at room temperature.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.