Posts Tagged ‘Appetizers’

Spicy Glazed Pecans

This wonderful recipe comes from my mother-in-law, who makes them for the holidays. I generally position myself nearest the bowl and eat them continuously through Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I’m not the only one…these go really, really fast! I finally tried making them myself for the graduation party we recently threw for my {smarty-pants, dual-degree, UNC grad} hubby, and though I was nervous about burning them, they turned out to be pretty foolproof and as delicious as usual.

The nuts have a bit of those Christmas-y spices to them, so they are a great winter appetizer, though they are also Southern enough that they can find a home on a picnic table. We had these along with ham biscuits, pepper jelly and cream cheese on crackers, pimento cheese, deviled eggs and red velvet cupcakes for our spread. As usual, they were a big hit and went quickly. I had to buy a jar of mace, which is not a spice I ever use (and I use a lot of spices!). These pecans are so absolutely perfect, I didn’t want to chance missing one of the flavors. I am guessing you could do without it – maybe sub in a little nutmeg or ground cloves for more wintery spice – but seriously, they are so good as is, you might as well go buy it!

Spicy Glazed Pecans

1/3 cup sugar

½ stick (4 Tbs) butter

¼ cup orange juice

1 ½ tsp salt

1 ¼ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ tsp ground mace

1 lb raw pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 250. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cook the sugar, butter, orange juice, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and mace in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir pecans into the hot mixture and toss until coated. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan and smooth them out with a spatula to make sure they all cook evenly.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer nuts to a large sheet of foil or waxed paper; separate and cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 5 days.

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Greek Almond Dip

I can’t quite remember where I found this recipe – it was a tiny thing I cut out of a magazine a while ago, and took me a while to try. I’ve made it twice now and we love it.  It’s light, because it’s yogurt based, with the wonderful summer flavors of lemon and dill.  If you don’t have greek yogurt, you can use regular (full fat) plain yogurt, and let it drain a bit in a cheesecloth-lined colander.  Or you could just use the regular yogurt and it would be runnier, which is probably fine.  I would also recommend using very fresh almonds – the last time I made this, I used almonds which had  been in my cabinet for a few months and I thought it lacked some of the good almond-y flavor.

This is super with pita chips and you could serve it with any other veggies as well.  I think it will be especially good in the summer, because it seems cooling and tangy.  This is also a great appetizer for a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern meal – not too heavy, not too rich, just light and tasty!

Greek Almond Dip

Serves 6

¾ cup raw (unblanched) almonds

1 cup Greek yogurt

¼ cup olive oil

1 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ tsp kosher salt

1/8 tsp coarse ground black pepper

Pulse almonds in a blender or food processor until they are finely ground.  Place in a bowl with remaining ingredients.  Stir well to combine.

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The flavors of Spain

There is a great book that I have my eye on to add to my collection, called The Flavor Bible.  It is basically a reference book for what flavors go well together, and what flavors are typical of certain cuisines.  I imagine this would be very useful for those of us who like to throw things together using the leftovers in the fridge and cabinets – for example, you could look up ‘red peppers’ and get some good ideas of what to cook using up that jar of roasted peppers in the fridge. 

To a certain extent, I do this already, but it’s based just on my limited experiences of eating and reading recipes.  So there are some things I love to put together now – blue cheese and honey, for example, or toasted peanuts on anything with curry.  Other times I have to really sit down and think, and even do some ‘research’ on Epicurious or my other cookbooks to see what one might cook with a certain ingredient.  The Flavor Bible would be, I imagine, an endlessly helpful reference book for those types of situations in the kitchen.

An ingredient that inspired a couple good dishes at our house lately was chorizo sausage.  And I have to say, despite not having The Flavor Bible around, we did a pretty good job of mixing up some yummy Spanish flavors with the chorizo!  I have loved experimenting with chorizo ever since a few years ago when I was looking for a Spanish appetizer to go with a paella dish.  (Fun tidbit: you can actually search International foods on Epicurious and look up, for example, all the Spanish recipes!)  I found a wonderfully delectable although not too pretty-looking recipe for Bacon-wrapped Chorizo-stuffed Dates.  These look like rather unappetizing little blobs but WOW do they taste good!  That was the first time I experienced cooking with chorizo sausage and I learned a couple thingss: one, there are two types of chorizo you can buy: hardened cooked/smoked chorizo and soft uncooked ground chorizo.  I prefer the uncooked ground stuff because I think it’s easier to work with and mold than the other.  But I think the other is probably pretty great with cheese and crackers when you just slice it up.  Two, I learned that chorizo had a distinct flavor from other sausages and IT IS GOOD!  I can’t really describe it…but it does not have the herby earthiness of our typical American ground sausage.  It’s orangier and tangier and it’s just great.  So when our CSA offered chorizo sausage as an option one week, I took it.

So then we had to figure out what to do with it.  I decided to make half of it into hamburgers and half of it into pizza.  I figured a little bit of it (but certainly not the whole pound) might be a delicious flavor in ground beef burgers.  And with a little chorizo in the burgers, it would be fun to come up with other Spanish-flavored toppings!  So first, of course, on any burger you need some cheese.  And of course the best Spanish cheese is Manchego.  If you haven’t ever tried it – well, just try it.  It’s a hard cheese with lots of flavor that’s easy to like.  So we got some Manchego for our Spanish burgers.  Then we needed the goopy topping – you know what I mean, the something oozy and sweet to bind the whole thing together?  So I turned to a Skena Family Favorite: Balsamic Onion and Fig Compote.

Now, we first encountered this little taste of heaven in a salad in a restaurant in Georgia that is worthy of it’s own post, and it will have it, one of these days, when I make it next and get a picture of it.  But for now, suffice to say that we make this little topping for a number of things and it always MAKES the dish.  As originally encountered, this compote (for lack of a better word…it’s sort of like a jam, sort of like a sauce) was made from shallots sauteed in balsamic vinegar and then some kind of fig added. I’m not sure what the original recipe used for figs, but I like to use fig preserves.  They are already prepared, very figgy and really sweet, and you’re looking for the sweetness to add to the onions or shallots.  Although it’s not really a recipe, let me tell you how to make this, and if you are very brave and just TRY it, you’ll find it’s pretty hard to mess up.  In fact, this last time I made it I scorched the onions and by the time I dumped in the fig jam, you couldn’t even tell!

Balsamic Onion and Fig Compote

1. Thinly slice approximately 2 medium onions or 5 large shallots (shallots have a lovely taste in this but if you don’t have them around, just use the onions).  Saute in a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and a couple pinches of sugar (which helps them caramelize), on medium high heat til golden brown and reduced.  I don’t stir them too frequently at the beginning (every 5 minutes or so)…let them develop some color before tossing them around.  As they get browner, you may want to lower the heat some, and stir more frequently (every minute or two).  At that point, as things are speeding up, add a 2 second drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  You want enough to keep the shallots/onions moist with it but not swimming in it.  If you need still more moisture, add more olive oil.

2. Once your onions/shallots have turned a deep golden brown and seem on the verge of burning, remove from heat and add another quick drizzle of balsamic vinegar and about a 1/2 cup of fig preserves.  You can usually find this with other jams in the grocery store.  Stir it all around til the fig preserves melt into the onion/shallot mixture.  Taste a little bit to see if you want more salt and pepper.  If the consistency is too thick for you, add a splash of water to loosen it up.

So, with our flavorful jammy topping, we had our completed burger: Chorizo Burgers (2 lbs ground beef mixed with 1/2 pound of ground chorizo) with Manchego and Balsamic Fig Onion Compote.  YUM.

Dish #2 used the same components on my favorite way to eat leftovers: pizza.  Another easy Trader Joe’s pizza crust (this time the herb one, because it was all I had in the freezer), drizzled with my GOOD olive oil (the expensive one I keep for when you’ll really taste the flavor), covered with an 8-oz bag of Italian cheese blend from the grocery store and then our Spanish toppings.  I cooked the remaining ½ lb of the chorizo sausage and drained it on paper towels.  Then I scattered it over the top of the pizza, along with tiny bits of manchego, the Balsamic-Onion-Fig Compote, and some pitted olives.  I thought the burgers were good but THIS was excellent!!!  The manchego added great flavor, the olives a big zest, the fig-onion compote was perfect as always, and the chorizo was really delicious crisped up on top of the pizza.  The combination of flavors was SO good…a little unexpected but perfectly right.

So our latest adventure in chorizo led to some fun Spanish flavors – whenever I get my hands on that book I can’t wait to see what they say are good combinations with chorizo, or the standard Spanish ingredients and spices.  But this first try wasn’t bad.  And I would recommend pizza as a great way to start experimenting with these mix-and-match combos…there’s not a lot that truly is BAD with cheese and bread, you know what I mean??  So next time you have a quirky ingredient or need to empty the fridge of a few things consider the lowly pizza and enjoy your leftovers in style!  🙂

Spanish pizza - after

Spanish pizza - before

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Smoky Salsa

Here’s my salsa recipe which I needed to road-test one more time before sharing.  This is not a salsa fresca, with very fresh uncooked veggies, heavy on tomatoes and cilantro.  This is a smokier, roasted version.  I love both, but the smokiness of chipotles are definitely my favorite.  It’s harder to find that type in a fresh salsa in the store (and I know some people love them but I just can’t do salsa from a jar, I’ve never really liked it much) so I decided to try my own.

Chipotles are POWERFUL little peppers, and the first time I made this I put in way too many and had to add a ton of ingredients to calm it back down.  You’ll find these in a little can with other “mexican” foods in the international aisle at the grocery store.  Start with 1 pepper if you really don’t like a lot of heat, and then add more to taste.  I love the flavor the adobo sauce gives, so I always try to scoop some of that in as well.

These aren’t super cheap, and I can’t imagine a recipe in which you’d actually use the whole can, so here’s a tip for saving the ones you don’t use: divide the chipotles and the adobo sauce into small ziplock baggies (I usually put 2 in a bag) and pop them in the freezer.  Then the next time you want to use chipotles, you’ve got them already portioned out and on hand.  I use these in my fish taco recipe (mixed with sour cream) and occasionally in soups or stews to bring a little smoky heat.  The flavor is so wonderful…

I’ve used a lot of our nice summer veggies for this salsa, but you could probably make it fairly easily in the winter too.  The corn is a nice touch, which I added the first time I made this because I had some grilled corn left over in the fridge, but is not necessary.

Smoky Salsa


1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 large clove garlic, or 2 medium

½ large red onion

1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1-2 chipotle peppers with adobo sauce

½ lime, juiced

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup grilled/sautéed corn (optional)



Olive oil


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Chop the ½ red onion into large chunks.  Cut the garlic into3-4 large slices.  Put cherry tomatoes, red onion and garlic into a 9×13 pan and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 25 minutes or until browned. 
  3. Remove from oven and place ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until finely blended.  Pour into small bowl and cool.
  4. Drain the can of tomatoes and add to the salsa with the lime, cilantro, chipotles and corn, if using.  Add ½ tsp kosher salt.  Toss together and taste for seasonings, adding more chipotles if desired, or salt.

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A Parting Gift

 Today I leave for a three week trip to Rwanda, for work.  I’m so excited, as it’s been almost a year since I was last in Africa and that’s way too long for me.  Also, I’ll be able to spend a night with dear friends in Belgium on my way, and then stay with more sweet friends while in Kigali.  Not to mention that the work itself should be really interesting this time.  So I’m pretty thrilled to be taking off today.

I am never, however, happy to leave my husband and doggy, and it’s even worse than usual this time because I’ll be gone for the ENTIRE NCAA TOURNAMENT!!!  I may be lucky and able to catch a few snippets of a game in the airport today, but otherwise I’m missing the whole thing from start to finish.  How awful.  Especially because I just love watching basketball inside with snack food and my hubby. 

It’s very sad for me, but don’t worry because I’m not going to leave you hanging for the tournament without a special treat – consider it as a parting gift for what is likely to be a pretty blank hiatus from blogging!  I’ve got another Barefoot recipe for you, one that you and your friends will LOVE!  Guys especially go crazy over this dip – Pan Fried Onion dip.  Basically it’s all the yummyness of carmelized french onion soup, in a dip.

This dip is not difficult but it does take some time and advance planning.  I like to let mine sit overnight in the fridge so it really allows the flavors to meld.  Some of the carmelization from the onions will come out a little more, and when you stir that puppy up, all the flavor goes even deeper into the dip.  I do recommend lettting it sit out for 15 minutes or so before serving so it can come to room temperature and soften up.

So really all you do is just pan-fry the heck out of a huge pile of onions for about 40 minutes.  They cook about 10 minutes at a high heat, which really starts breaking them down and begins the carmelization process.  You then lower the heat and let them simmer away, stirring occasionally, for about half an hour or until the whole pan is a nice deep brown.  Drain and cool and then mix into the cream cheese, sour cream and mayo.  Serve with plain, salty potato chips (I always use Wavy Lays, for some reason).  This recipe will be devoured quickly if you have a crowd, so for them you might want to double it.  It takes no extra effort in the cooking process (and doesn’t leave you with a leftover half-block of cream cheese) and will be, I promise, greatly appreciated. 🙂

Happy basketball viewing!!!  I’ll post if/when I can with anything food-wise from Kigali.  A la prochaine!


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