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

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

Turkey Pesto Sliders


After our family fell quickly in love with the ham and cheese sliders we served at Andrew’s birthday party, I have come to realize what a quick and versatile meal sliders can be.  Turkey pesto sandwiches have long been a favorite of mine, and I have served them at bridal showers and other get-togethers in the form of finger sandwiches.  Here I changed my old favorite up just a bit by putting them on a slider bun, adding provolone cheese and baking briefly.  These make a great party food, but are an equally fabulous quick and easy dinner.  If I have a busy day, I certainly breathe a sigh of relief knowing Ben can have these ready to pop in the oven when I walk in the door.  You can easily adjust the quantity for however many you need to serve.  Oh, and these are great warmed up as left overs!

Turkey Pesto Sliders
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Ingredients:
6 slider buns
6 slices of turkey deli meat
6 slices of provolone cheese
3 tbsp. pesto
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. butter, melted

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat.  Split the slider buns and lay a folded slice of turkey on the bottom half of each bun.  Layer each with a slice of provolone.  In a small bowl, combine the pesto and mayonnaise in a small bowl and mix until blended.  Spread a thin layer of the pesto mayonnaise on the inner side of the top half of each bun.  Replace the top bun over the cheese to assemble the sandwiches.  Brush the tops of the buns lightly with melted butter.  Bake 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sandwiches are warmed through.

Source: Annie original

Ham and Cheese Sliders


I’ve never been a ham and cheese kind of girl, let alone ham and Swiss.  (On that note, why is Swiss kind of icky but Gruyere is sooo good?)  Anyway, a ham sandwich is something I pretty much never order or make at home.  To be honest, the only real reason I made these at all was to have a snack-type food to fit the green eggs and ham concept for Andrew’s Dr. Seuss birthday party.  They completely surprised me both with how popular they were at the party, and the fact that I loved them too!  A certain brother of mine may have eaten five.  Apparently a simple buttery mustard poppy seed sauce is all it takes to make a kind of eh sandwich turn into something much better.

And talk about easy – they are so easy Ben made them, twice.  (I don’t mean this negatively towards Ben, but he’s constantly telling me my idea of “easy” in the kitchen is completely different than his.)  Basically all this requires is assembling the sandwich, mixing the sauce, pouring over the top and baking briefly to melt the cheese.  I put them on the dinner menu last week on a night when I had to work late, and it was the perfect quick meal.   Our only change this time around was to simply sprinkle poppy seeds on top rather than add them to the sauce.  As you can see in the picture, they were a little clumped the first time we made them.  I wanted to get a new picture last week but, well, I ate them before I had the chance.  These are definitely an ideal party food because you can assemble them in advance and then just pop them into the oven before serving.  I have a feeling these will be on our menu a lot come football season (COME ON, football season!)

Ham and Cheese Sliders
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Ingredients:
For the sandwiches:
24 slider rolls (mini Hawaiian rolls are also recommended, but I can’t find them in my area)
24 slices honey ham
24 small slices Swiss cheese
Mayonnaise

For the sauce:
1½ tbsp. yellow mustard
8 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp. finely minced onion (or 2 tsp. dried minced onion)
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Poppy seeds, for sprinkling

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Split the slider rolls and spread the insides lightly with mayonnaise.  Fold a slice of ham to fit on each slider bun, and top with a slice of Swiss cheese.  Replace the top bun to assemble the sandwiches.  Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients except the poppy seeds in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Drizzle the sauce over the tops of the slider buns.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Cover with foil and bake 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted.  Remove the foil and bake 2 minutes longer.  Serve warm.

Source: slightly adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything

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

Salmon Mousse


Salmon mousse may sound gross to some, but chances are if you enjoy smoked salmon, you will love this.   This recipe was passed on to me by my wonderful mother-in-law, and I have enjoyed this recipe for many years.  Typically we serve it in a bowl as a dip or spread for crackers.  An easy way to fancy it up is to pipe it onto crackers and garnish with fresh herbs, as I did for my girls’ night/guys’ night party.  And though I haven’t yet tried it myself, I’m sure this would be fantastic spread on a bagel.  If I were going to go that route, I might whip it on high speed in my mixer for a while, just to make it a light and airy schmear.  Which ever way you choose to enjoy, do give it a try.  It’s delish!

Salmon Mousse
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Ingredients:
8 oz. smoked salmon, flaked with a fork
8 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. dried dill weed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, finely minced

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse repeatedly until all the ingredients are blended and smooth.  Transfer to a serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least one hour.  (Alternatively, pipe the mixture onto crackers and garnish with fresh herbs.)

Source: passed on to me by Robin C.