Eggplant Marinara Flatbread


Lunch is a meal I struggle with, both at work and on the weekends.  During the week I just do not have much time to throw together a lunch consisting of more than leftovers or fruit, yogurt, cheese and crackers.  On the weekends, I should theoretically have more time and energy but usually I’ve got so many activities and tasks planned that lunch gets pushed to the back burner and I end up making a grilled cheese (or better yet, having Ben make one for me 🙂 )  Not that I don’t love grilled cheese because I really do, but sometimes it’s nice to switch it up a bit.

I’m not one to eat Thanksgiving leftovers more than once or twice, so I planned this eggplant marinara flatbread for a lazy weekend lunch after the big holiday was over.  It really didn’t take much more effort than a grilled cheese and it was a nice change from the usual.  Plus, it’s got lots of things I love: bread?  Good.  Eggplant?  Good.  Cheese?  Gooood.  (Friends, anyone?)  Cut into small slices as I did, this could also make a great appetizer for a party.  It reminds me a lot of an eggplant Parmesan panini but without the trouble of actually making eggplant Parmesan.  Score!

Eggplant Marinara Flatbread
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Ingredients:
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
6 (1/3-1/2-inch thick) slices eggplant, about 4 inches in diameter
Thick slices artisan bread, such as ciabatta, Italian, etc. (about 9 x 12 inches surface area)
Marinara sauce (about 1 cup)
1 oz. soft fresh goat cheese (I used garlic herb)
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper.  Lay the eggplant in the heated skillet.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, turning, until the eggplant is lightly browned on both sides, about 6 minutes total.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.  Brush the cut side of the bread slices with the remaining oil and cook in the warm skillet on medium-high heat until golden brown, 1-2 minutes.

Lay the bread, cut side up, on a baking sheet.  Spread a thin layer of the marinara sauce on each slice.  Crumble the goat cheese over the marinara and sprinkle with chopped basil.  Lay the egg plant slices on top of the  marinara.  Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the eggplant slices and dot lightly with remaining marinara sauce.

Bake until the topping is hot and slightly browned, about 12 minutes.  Slice into small pieces.  Garnish with additional basil leaves as desired.

Source: Bon Appétit, October 2010

Spinach Artichoke Dip


Spinach artichoke dip has to be one of the most popular appetizers around, as evidenced by the fact that so very many restaurants include some variation on their menu.  Its popularity is understandable considering how decadent and irresistible it is.  Really, I seem to find myself powerless to its charms.  As a kid I doubt I would have touched it with a ten foot pole since it contained artichokes.  I hope this mentality still holds with some today – more for me!  Whether having it as a “main dish” during a night of drinks with friends or using it as a starter for a full meal, I have no self control around this dip.  I will be serving this as a pre-Thanksgiving appetizer and I am hoping my various kitchen tasks will keep me busy enough to refrain from demolishing it before everyone else.

I used to have a recipe for spinach artichoke dip that was very tasty, but it called for jarred alfredo sauce and since I don’t buy that for any other purpose, I decided to come up with a version that didn’t require a special and somewhat expensive ingredient.  I searched a lot of my most trusted recipe sources first, but none of the versions I found sounded like what I was going for.  This is what I whipped up and after having tweaked it a bit, it’s now ready to be shared and shared often.  If your hips hate me, I sincerely apologize.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
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Ingredients:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup coarsely chopped canned artichoke hearts
4 cloves roasted garlic*, smashed
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. roasted red pepper flakes

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, Parmesan, sour cream, mayonnaise, spinach, artichokes, roasted garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.  Mix well with a rubber spatula until all ingredients are evenly blended.  Spread into a small baking dish (I used a gratin dish).  Sprinkle additional grated Parmesan over the top if desired.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is slightly browned.  Serve warm with baguette slices, pita chips, crackers, etc.

*To roast individual cloves of garlic, I just throw the unpeeled cloves into a baking dish or pan and bake at 350˚ F for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool before squeezing the cloves from the peels.

Source: Annie original

Jalapeño Popper Dip

It is already a month into football season and I can’t believe this is the first game-watching type of snack I have shared.  Shame on me.  Of course, I’m referring to NFL football here.  I mean, I went to IU so college football just doesn’t get me that excited.  I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding the topic because I haven’t been that thrilled with my team’s performance this year.  Sure, they have a winning record so far but I think only one of their games has showed them playing as the Colts I know and love.


I made this dip a few weeks ago to enjoy during a game and it was a major hit with the fam.  My dad must have commented nearly ten times on how much he loved it.  The fact that the bowl was scraped clean was pretty telling too.  This really does have the flavor just like that of jalapeño poppers.  There is nothing even remotely healthy about it, which is why I chose to serve it with a huge plate of veggies to a large crowd.  Of course, I preferred it on the baguette slices – go figure.  I know everyone seems to have a different threshold for spice, but I thought this was just right – definitely hot enough to call spicy, but not so much I was gulping water.  I’m sure this will make more game day appearances before the season is over.  I hope the Colts do too.

Jalapeño Popper Dip
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Ingredients:
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (4 oz.) can diced jalapeño peppers, drained
½ cup shredded Mexican style cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cooking spray

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, green chiles, jalapeños, and shredded cheeses.  Mix thoroughly with a spoon or spatula until smooth and evenly combined.  Spread the mixture into a baking dish (approximately 9 x 9-inches).

In a second bowl, combine the Panko and Parmesan and stir with a fork until combined.   Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture in the baking dish.  Spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the mixture is hot and the topping is golden.  Serve warm with baguette slices, vegetables, etc. as desired.

Source: My Baking Addiction

Baked Brie en Croûte with Apple Compote


Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?  Believe me, this is one of the easiest and most irresistible appetizers on the planet.  Last week I hosted a small dinner party for my friends and was looking for a starter that complimented the menu.  I had a left over block of homemade puff pastry in the freezer and used that as a starting point.  It didn’t take me long to think of baked brie which, surprisingly, I have never made before though I have eaten and loved it many times.  The apple compote can be made in advance if needed.  This takes next to no time to assemble and the most difficult part is waiting until it comes out of the oven to dig in.  My puff pastry unfolded a little bit during baking but I actually liked it that way because you could see the warm, gooey brie layered with apples.  This was demolished by the end of the evening, and is a fantastic recipe to have in your repertoire.  I’m fairly certain this will make an appearance on my Thanksgiving appetizer table this year.

Baked Brie en Croûte with Apple Compote
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For the apple compote:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut to ½-inch dice
¼ cup sugar
Pinch grated nutmeg

Ingredients:

To assemble:
10-inch round puff pastry, rolled to ¼-inch thickness
1 round Brie cheese, 6-8 oz. and about 4½ inches wide, chilled
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Water crackers, for serving

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the diced apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have released most of their juices, about 5-7 minutes.  Mix in the sugar and nutmeg, stir well to combine, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 12-15 minutes longer.  Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Transfer the round of puff pastry to the prepared baking pan.  Using a sharp knife, cut the disc of cheese in half horizontally to create two thinner discs.  Place the bottom disc in the center of the puff pastry round.  Spread about half of the apple compote over the surface of the cheese.  Top with the remaining cheese disc.  Layer with the remaining compote.  Bring the puff pastry up around the edges of the brie-apple layers.  Fold and pinch the edges so that only a small portion of the top surface is exposed.  Brush the surface of the puff pastry lightly with the egg wash.

Bake until the puff pastry is golden all over and crisp, 40-45 minutes.  Let rest 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving platter with a knife and crackers.

Source: Williams Sonoma

Tomato Basil Bruschetta


As soon as my loaves of French bread came out of the oven, our dinner plans changed.  I don’t even remember what I had been planning to make that night, but when I saw (and smelled, and tasted) these beauties, I knew they needed to be enjoyed right away.  With some tomatoes in the fridge and my basil plants booming in the backyard, it took next to no time to decide on making a tomato basil bruschetta.


Many people think that bruschetta means exactly this – baguette slices topped with a tomato basil mixture, because that is how it is commonly served here in the US.  Actually, bruschetta is the base of the toasted baguette slices and they can be topped any number of ways.  Typically I brush the slices lightly with olive oil, rub with a cut clove of garlic, and then top them as I please.  This time around I just left the baguette slices fresh because, well, they are delicious that way too.  This has long been one of my favorite snack foods or appetizers, and it also made for a fantastic light dinner.

Tomato Basil Bruschetta
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Ingredients:
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 tbsp. basil, minced
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Pepper, to taste
1½ tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. finely grated Parmesan
Toasted baguette slices, for serving

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; mix well to blend.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  Spoon the tomato mixture on top of the baguette slices and serve.

Source: Annie original

Soft Pretzels


This is not the first time these soft pretzels have appeared on the blog.  Almost exactly one year ago, I hosted a summer fun and games night for my friends, and I served these pretzels.  They were a huge hit!  At that time, I mentioned that it might be a good idea to experimenting with freezing the pretzels at some point in the process to avoid having to make them fresh just before a party, therefore making them more party-friendly.  In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to keep myself fairly busy in the kitchen, and I never got around to the pretzel experiments, but I also never forgot.  Finally I decided to just buckle down and make it happen.

So, recently I tried three different methods of making the pretzels.  First, I made them the usual way – shaping the dough, boiling, baking and serving all at once (pretzel A).  I also tried freezing some that had been freshly boiled and baked (pretzel B).  I thawed these in the microwave on defrost and then rewarmed in the oven.  Finally, I tried freezing some of the shaped pretzels after shaping (pretzel C).  I boiled these directly from the freezer, adding about 15 seconds to the boiling time, and baking for a minute or two longer than normal.

The verdict?  All three methods work wonderfully.  Ben and I agreed that of the two pretzels that had been frozen, those that were boiled directly from the freezer and then baked (pretzel C) were just ever so slightly better in texture than those that had been frozen after baking. That said, all of the options were fantastic and I would not hesitate to serve any of them at the party.  That is fantastic news, so you can choose whatever option is most convenient for your schedule.  I have left the recipe below as is, but just know that you have several prep choices available.

Soft Pretzels
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Ingredients:
For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

For finishing:
Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Pretzel (or kosher) salt

Directions:
To make the dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.


In the meantime, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.


Working with one piece at a time, roll a segment out into a 24-inch long rope.


Make a U-shape with the rope and holding the ends of the rope…



cross them over each other and onto the bottom of the U-shape in order to form the shape of a pretzel.  Place onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.


Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and return to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Source: Alton Brown via Food Network

Creamy Stovetop Crab Dip

It’s funny now when I look back on the past and remember when I thought I didn’t like seafood.  I realize now that I only felt that way because I had never tried any that was properly prepared. (Hellooo, frozen fish sticks?)  Also, I’m from Indiana.  We aren’t exactly known for our abundance of fresh seafood in these parts.  After lots of summer vacations in South Carolina and ordering seafood in plenty of fancy restaurants with great ingredients and great chefs, I positively love it.  I order it probably 90% of the time when we’re dining out – like the two pound lobster I ate during our anniversary date last week (sorry, lobster!)

Now that I know where to get good quality seafood I enjoy preparing it at home.  I still don’t do it quite as often as I might like because it’s fairly pretty expensive to get the good stuff around here, but I do my best.  This crab dip has been on my mind for quite some time, just waiting to be made.  As soon as I was in the vicinity of a store that had good crab meat, I was all over it.  This is a quick snack or appetizer to whip up.  I made it in under 15 minutes while we were running out the door to visit family.  I brought it along and it was devoured in no time.  It’s decidedly not health food so I was glad to have people to share it with.

Creamy Stovetop Crab Dip
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Ingredients:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup onion, minced
12 oz. lump crab meat
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
½ tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup light mayonnaise
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes.  Add the crab meat to the pan, including the juices in the can.  Stir in the cream cheese, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and Parmesan.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until all the ingredients are warmed through and the cheeses are bubbly.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm with crusty bread, crackers or pita chips as desired.

Source: slightly adapted from White on Rice Couple

Caramelized Onion Tart

Caramelized onions are magical things.  Don’t get me wrong, I love onions in all different contexts – raw, sautéed, grilled, you name it.  But caramelized onions are in a category all their own.  They are a wonderful topping for focaccia bread, delicious paired with brie in bite-sized appetizers, and brilliant in French onion soup.  Well, this tart is another phenomenal use of caramelized onions because they are paired with flaky, buttery puff pastry.  Can you say yumtown?

I have to admit that I can no longer bring myself to use the store-bought puff pastry because homemade tastes so much better, they can’t even be compared.  The homemade version really doesn’t take all that much effort, just a few steps of rolling out, folding, and chilling (step-by-step pictures here).  But, if you do go the route of store-bought puff pastry, this is a quick and impressive appetizer.  If only I didn’t know just how much butter was in the puff pastry, I would make short work of this tart as a meal all by itself.

Caramelized Onion Tart
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Ingredients:
2 tbsp. butter
1 medium-large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. white wine (optional)
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (or 1 half batch homemade puff pastry)
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.  In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the sliced onion, thyme, sugar, salt, pepper and white wine to the pan.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have fully caramelized and are golden brown in color, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  In a small bowl whisk together the ricotta and egg yolk until smooth.

To assemble the tart, lay the puff pastry sheet on a baking sheet and fold in each edge about 1 inch.  Spread the ricotta mixture over the puff pastry.  Sprinkle about half of the Parmesan cheese over the ricotta mixture.  Layer the caramelized onions evenly over the ricotta mixture.  Top with the remaining Parmesan.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until the puff pastry is golden and baked through.  Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.  Slice into squares or rectangles and serve warm.

Source: adapted from Savory Sweet Life

Roasted Garlic Hummus


I make a lot of hummus.  It is a great way to use up left over pita bread, and my family always devours it when I serve it with broccoli florets.  I almost always make the basic restaurant-style hummus both because I love it and because it takes just a few minutes with ingredients I nearly always have on hand.  However, I’ve been meaning to try this variation with roasted garlic forever.  The problem is, it requires a bit of foresight – at least enough for you to roast the garlic.  Finally I buckled down and decided it was time to try this stuff already!  Just as expected, it tasted great.  The garlic flavor was very subtle – basically, this tasted like the regular hummus but with a more complex flavor.  I realized afterward that I pureed the toasted garlic slices in with the hummus instead of using them as a garnish as I was supposed to.  I’ll chalk that up to making pita and hummus at 10:30 pm on a work night, and I’m sure it would taste great whatever way you choose to garnish it.

Roasted Garlic Hummus
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Ingredients:
2 heads garlic, intact
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup water
6 tbsp. tahini
1 (14 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp. salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Remove the papery outer skins of the garlic heads, leaving them otherwise intact.  Chop off the top quarter of the head so that all of the cloves are exposed.  Wrap the garlic in foil and bake until very tender, about 1 hour.  Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the sliced garlic cloves and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the cooking oil.  Set aside.  Once the roasted garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their skins (you should have about ¼ cup).

In a small prep bowl, combine the lemon juice and water.  In another bowl, whisk together the reserved garlic cooking oil and the tahini.  In the bowl of a food processor, process the chickpeas, the roasted garlic puree, the remaining clove of garlic, salt and cayenne until the mixture is finely ground, about 20 seconds.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the machine running, add the lemon juice-water mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream.  Scrape down the bowl and process for an additional minute.  With the machine running, add the oil-tahini mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream.  Scrape down the bowl and continue to process until the hummus is smooth and creamy.  Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, top with toasted garlic slices and minced fresh parsley, if desired.

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, May/June 2008

Mushroom Crostini

I’m always on the look out for a tasty new appetizer.  Crostini in general are one of my very favorite options.  They are simple, delicious, and can be made with lots of different toppings or spreads.  If you are a fan of mushrooms, you will love these.  The spread is essentially a mixture of mushrooms, garlic and herbs.  I used a combination of baby bella and button mushrooms, but you can use whatever types you prefer.  I didn’t try it this time around but I think these would be fantastic spread with a thin layer of goat cheese or some other soft, spreadable cheese beneath the mushroom spread.

Mushroom Crostini
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Ingredients:
For the crostini:
24 thin slices baguette or other crusty bread
Olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, halved

For the mushroom spread:
3-4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 lb. mushrooms, any combination, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  To make the crostini, place baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Lightly brush each slice of bread with olive oil.  Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Once the bread slices have cooled enough to handle, rub each crostini with the cut side of a garlic clove.  Set aside.

To make the mushroom spread, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Mix in the garlic, parsley, thyme, rosemary and salt, cooking 1-2 more minutes, until fragrant.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor with the feed tube open to vent steam.  Process until finely ground.  With the processor running, add the remaining 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, until the mixture is smooth and spreadable.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Spread each piece of bread with a thin layer of the mushroom mixture, transfer to a platter and serve.

Source: adapted from Williams Sonoma