Saturday, October 30, 2010

Making Queso in the Crockpot

This is my favorite party tool because it looks sleek on the buffet and works non-stop to keep foods hots. I'm not sure what I would do without my Cuisinart Crockpot. Although my last post was Dip overload, I failed to include one of my favorite dips of all time: Queso! It's a staple at our football parties and this recipe is extra special because it uses ground turkey and just the right amount of heat.

The first thing to do is brown a pound of turkey with one chopped onion.

You could use any type of ground meat in this recipe, simply brown over medium-high heat until there are no signs of pink meat.

Yes, I use velveeta. It's a log of processed cheese and melts beautifully in queso and taste great in this recipe. Don't be afraid, it's how most Texans make queso - or at least my circle of Texans.

After the meat is browned with the onion, dump it into your crockpot and add a small can of hatch green chiles.

Next, add one can of rotel. I like to buy the "hot" rotel.

Cube the cheese log.

Stir the cubes into the crockpot.

With the crockpot on high, the cheese will melt in about 15 minutes. Every once in a while stir the mixture and the cheese will melt smooth. This is one of those really easy recipes, but I always get asked what I put in my queso because the green chiles and ground meat add a slow heat and hearty bite. Now you know. If your guests can take the heat, dice up a jalapeno also.  Did you also know that this freezes really well? I put leftover queso in a freezer safe zip top bag and freeze flat.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Game Day Dips

It's football season in case you haven't noticed. With the cooler temperatures this time of year, we can also expect some exciting game day parties with plenty of food and drink. Keep it simple by serving snacks and appetizers that can be prepared in advance.

When your team takes the field, be ready to cheer them on by hosting a dip buffet. Here is a round-up of my Most Valuable Players that you can add to your play book as well.

Serving Tips: Setting the scene for game day can be fun when you get creative and serve dips in vegetables such as peppers or acorn squash, hollowed bread, or beer mugs.

Be sure to have plenty of these staples on hand for your dips:
  • Tortilla chips
  • Pita triangles
  • Vegetables
  • Chips
  • Crackers
  • Bread rounds or sliced baguettes
  • Shrimp
The following recipes will definitely score you some points with your team:

The number one visited page on Home with Mandy is this homemade French Onion Dip made with caramelized onions, sour cream and a few surprising ingredients.

Good old salsa, nothing beats the homemade kind. Here is my copy cat recipe for my favorite salsa that taste like On The Border Salsa.

Another restaurant dip that I just love is the Creamy Jalapeno Ranch at Chuy's Tex Mex Restaurant. This copy cat recipe makes a dip that taste good with tortilla chips, french fries or hot wings.

With only two ingredients, this Raspberry Peach Chipotle Dip is one of the easiest dips you can pull together right before kick off.
Thanks to my blogging buddy Aggie, we have fallen in love with this Hot and Spicy Artichoke Dip.

Coconut shrimp are elevated to new heights when served with this amazing Sweet Chili Mayo dip.

Hummus is easy to whip up in the cuisinart mixer and it is such a versatile dip as well. Add whatever ingredients you like or have on hand. Pine nuts, roasted bell pepper, black bean, spinach, sun dried tomato, pumpkin or almond butter are all wonderful additions. Serve with veggie sticks for a healthy option on game day.

This Creamy Chipotle Ranch dip is a crowd pleaser and good served with everything in Texas!

You know you have a good recipe when your friends request it by name. This Chicken Enchilada Dip consist of ingredients you probably have on hand and can be thrown together at the last minute and baked for just 30 minutes before football fans arrive.

For a crowd, this Spinach Green Chile Dip serves 10 to 12 hungry men and couldn't be easier to make. Directions include "combine all ingredients and refrigerate."

Not all dips on game day need to be savory. Try this sweet Toffee Apple Dip and serve with an assortment of fruit.

The use of a cuisinart blender eliminates chopping all these ingredients, and the end result is a fresh flavor explosion great on sliced baguettes. Get the recipe for my Antipasto Dip here with easy step-by-step photos.

I love to serve this Spinach Artichoke Dip in a hollowed out bread bowl. Smear this warm dip on a toasted baguette or homemade pita chips.

Now for a new dip recipe! Make this blue cheese and bacon dip this weekend and be the MVP of the party!

Warm Blue Cheese, Bacon and Garlic Dip

For this recipe you will need the following:
Bacon, half a package, chopped
1 package Cream Cheese, room temperature
1 small container of Blue Cheese crumbles
Garlic, minced
1/4 C Whipping Cream
4 green onions, chopped
3 ounces smoked almonds, chopped

I tried to choose a package of bacon with not much fat. Take the slab out of the package and slice in half, then chop into small pieces.

Over medium-high heat, brown the bacon until crispy but not burnt.

Add minced garlic, either fresh or jarred. This is about 1 heaping tablespoon of minced garlic. Stir around for a minute and then take this off the heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the softened cream cheese.

With the mixer running on low, add 1/4 cup of whipping cream.

Add the small package of blue cheese and let this mix until well combined.

I tried to drain the grease as much as possible off the bacon. Maybe this should have been done BEFORE adding the garlic? Note for next time.

Add the cooled bacon and garlic to the cream cheese in the mixer. stir to combine.

Chop the white and light green parts of the green onions then stir that into the mixture lightly.
Pour the cream cheese mixture into an oven proof dish, cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Before serving, top with a sprinkling of crushed almonds.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Caprese Chicken with Balsamic Drizzle

Insalata Caprese is a simple salad from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  When Jim and I were in Italy, it was usually served as an antipasto (first course), not a contorno (side dish). I ate Insalata Caprese nearly every day on our vacation because the flavors in this dish go SO WELL together.

When we returned from our honeymoon, I decided to take the idea of the salad, and make my own entree version: Caprese Chicken with Balsamic Drizzle

Prep the chicken: Rinse and pat dry the chicken breast. Season with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Put in a 350 oven for 25 minutes.

Prep the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook spaghetti as package directs. When al dente, drain and toss with olive oil, chopped tomato and season with salt and pepper. Ribbons of fresh basil would be perfect here but I didn't have any, so I used a pinch of dried basil.

Make sauce: I took 1 cup of balsamic vinegar and brought to a simmer in a small saucepan. I kept the simmer until the balsamic vinegar thickened into a syrup.

Plate: After 25 minutes in the oven, I placed a hearty slice of tomato on top of the chicken breast and topped that with a slice of mozzarella cheese. This cooked for 10 more minutes. Serve the chicken with the lightly dressed pasta and drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar for a burst of flavor!

Here is my first version of the salad I made back in 2008: Insalata Caprese

I also took a cooking class at Faraday's Kitchen store in 2009 and I loved Chef Dean Chambers presentation of this Caprese Salad.

I'm not going to post a printable recipe, because this is something I just made up. I took a dish I really love and "beefed" it up with baked chicken and some simple pasta. Be creative and bold in the kitchen!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Crunchy Chick Peas

Do you notice there are sometimes trends in the food blogging world? A recipe or food will be "in style" for a while and everyone makes it and posts about their version. I saw many crunchy chick pea recipes online a while back and bookmarked them to make sometime. I may be behind the curve posting these photos but you can get on the bandwagon too and whip these up in no time flat.

What appealed to me was that they were a healthy snack to satisfy that crunchy/salty addiction so many of us have. There are lots of recipes online for crunchy snacky chick peas, including one for Chickpeas with Thai Chiles from the Food section of the New York Times.

This is super easy to make. Start with one can of chick peas and pour into a colander and drain and rinse very well under running water.

Pat dry.

You’ll see that some of the beans have a thin skin on them…you can leave them on, or use the paper towel to rub them off.

Toss the chickpeas with the about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and spread out on a large cookie sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until brown and crispy. Turn and stir every ten minutes so they don't burn.

Take out of the oven and toss to taste with salt and spices.

The variations on spice combinations are endless. Here are some great flavor ideas I found online:
  • 1 tablespoon chunky sea salt and 2 teaspoons spice like garam masala
  • Sprinkled with Creole seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons of dry ranch dip
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon Asian Sea Salt or sea salt
  • thyme, pepper and lemon zest

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Count Your Blessings

I've learned a great deal about counting my blessings recently. On September 26th I received a phone call at 4:00 AM that my mom and dad were in a hit and run accident in Houston and were in critical condition.

It is hard to explain the way this news made me feel - as if I had put my fingers in a light socket and felt electricity shoot through my body. I was stunned and frozen in disbelief. Within 20 minutes of hearing the news I was in the car with my husband and my brother on our way from Austin to Houston.

My mother suffered minor injuries, a broken nose and 25 stitches on her forehead. My father was in the worst shape of all the victims. He arrived unresponsive to the hospital and they were reluctant to say whether he would live or not. I haven't prayed that hard my entire life. It was as if my heart was being ripped out of my chest and I couldn't bare to take another breath.

After spending 10 days in the Neurosurgical ICU with head trauma, seven broken ribs and a shattered wrist - he was miraculously released to go home. Doctor after doctor came by his hospital bed on his release date, all telling him how far he has come in such a short time. The road to a full recovery will be a long one, but the ROCK of our family is alive.

If you care to read the story of the accident, and the play by play of the 10 longest days of my life then you can visit Sorry, we've since taken the caring bridge site down.

Update 5/7/11: My dad is doing very well and continues to work to fully rehabilitate his crushed left hand. My mother's "minor" injuries turned very serious in February of this year when she had emergency spinal surgery to remove a large infection and replace vertebrae with a metal rod. She is currently wearing a halo brace, but all our spirits are up...and we continue to count our blessings.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
count your blessings, see what God has done!

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.