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Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

Chicken Lettuce CupsHappy new year to all my Asian friends! It is the year of the rabbit and Plucky finds that she will be attending–not one–but two lunar celebrations this week.

To celebrate, I’ve developed a lighter version of one of my favorites. Since I am thousands of miles away from my favorite Chinese food place (Gary Lee’s Asian Star in Salt Lake City), this quick recipe for chicken lettuce cups comes pretty close to the “real deal.”

For my friends at Weight Watchers: This recipe serves 8 entree portions and much, much more as an appetizer. Figure on about 6 points per each entree-sized portion. To keep the calories down, I have made it with chicken, but you could also try it with a pound of ground pork.

Chicken Lettuce Cups

In the morning: Wash and core one head of iceberg lettuce. Let drain and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

2 oz. rice sticks, fried until golden, drained on paper toweling and set aside.

Whisk sauce together in small bowl and set aside:
1 tablespoon Mirin (Chinese rice wine) or sherry
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

Prepare as directed and set aside:
3 scallions, minced
4 oz. mushrooms, rough chop
2 oz. bamboo shoots, rough chop
2 oz. water chestnuts, rough chop
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, rough chop

In wok or fry pan, heat 1 teaspoon peanut oil on high heat until just smoking. Add 1 pound ground chicken and stir until halfway cooked. Add mushrooms and keep stirring until mixture is cooked through and liquid from mushrooms is nearly evaporated. Reduce heat to medium. Add scallions, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and heat through. Add sauce and stir to thoroughly incorporate. Just before serving, add salt and pepper to taste, add peanuts and rice sticks (crumbled). Serve on platter with lettuce cups and extra hoisin sauce.

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If you are like me, you are thinking ahead to Super Bowl. What to bake? What to serve? What to make and take? For those of us trying to stick to our New Year resolution, the Super Bowl ritual can be a veritable caloric minefield. So many dips–so little Weight Watcher points.

One of the tried and true dips at my place is hummus. There are some Greek ladies who work in the kitchen at the place I used to work and they make the best hummus. Both named Eleni; they were cagey about giving out the recipe (probably because it is in their heads–not written down anywhere) but I kept asking for hints. I made many a batch until I got it right.

So now that I trying to cut back, what is a girl to do when she has a schmeck for hummus?! Answer: Cannellini dip!


My husband and I were over at Damon and Terri’s for the New Year and were served (among several yummy things) a simple cannellini dip with the antipasto. The next day, as I was journaling my food intake, I discovered that cannellini beans have almost half the points as chick peas. When you figure you aren’t adding the tahini, the following recipe I developed has about 27 points in total. If you exercise restraint and eat in teaspoon increments, the cost in calories is very palatable.

Cannellini Dip (makes 1 cup)

One 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, (from 1/2 a lemon)
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano (can use dried in a pinch)
1/3 Cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons pignoli (pine) nuts, toasted

Drain and rinse beans. Place in bowl of food processor or blender. Add garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Process until completely pureed. Stop once or twice to scrape down sides of the bowl. While processor is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Place in serving bowl, garnish with pine nuts and a pinch of minced parsley. You can serve with crudites or go with pita wedges.

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Bacon Wrapped Scallops

Summer is winding down. We’ve scheduled the pool closing and now we look at our grill with renewed interest. During the next few weeks, it will be the only thing between us and winter.

My husband was jonesing for bacon-wrapped scallops last night. It has been a long while since we’ve indulged ourselves in these tasty little morsels. These are great for a main dish, or you can serve them up as an appetizer.  We served them up with a nice salad and called it a meal.

The nights are getting cooler. Get your grill on while you can!

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops

Marinade:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup minced scallion
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
dash Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all in a bowl, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add 15 large sea scallops. Marinate one hour.

You will need one pound of thin-sliced bacon. Wrap each scallop with one slice bacon. Thread on to l8-inch metal skewer. Grill the threaded scallops over medium coals for 15 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Slide off metal skewers onto heated platter and serve.

Note: I ran out of regular Dijon and had to use whole grain Dijon with great results.

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Spicy PeppaBites

Wasn’t the Fourth of July just yesterday?!!

Life has been crazy here at Casa de Plucky. I won’t bore you with the details but it involves two very cute dogs with the runs and several deposits to our vet’s bank account.

Before I get into this week’s post, I must tell you the fate of Yukon Jack. He went to the great tuber farm in the sky with several friends as part of a pot roast dish. I would have loved to honor him with a luxurious fry but the poochies have made it a habit to stand at my feet when the cast iron Lodge pan comes out of the drawer. They love to lick up any possible spot of grease that pops on to the floor and this, my friends, COULD be one reason for their recent tummy troubles. (They have incredibly sensitive stomachs.) So Jack was boiled, along with a few of his friends, and served with a very nice Angus beef roast. Not terrifically food-sexy, but it tasted good.

Picked up a jar of Peppadew piquante peppers at my local Shoprite. Wondered if I could turn these cute little guys into a quick appetizer that you can serve when friends unexpectedly come to visit…  Here is the result:

Quick, Spicy PeppaBites

1 jar Peppadew piquante peppers (mild or spicy)
4 oz. fresh mozzarella balls (Get the tiny ones at your deli bar.)
small bunch fresh basil
balsamic glaze for garnish (I use Blaze)

Drain the peppers. With a scissors, snip a tiny portion off the bottom of each pepper so it will stand upright. Stuff with the mozzerella and place on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake at 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Plate on service dish and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Garnish with a small basil leaf.

Like I said… easy.

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Jersey Tomato: Two Ways

I’ve read a bunch of cooking publications recently and several times I’ve noticed the word terroir has been used. Typically used by wine makers, the term terroir means “of a place.”  Many different things contribute to the taste of produce that is grown in a particular area. This is why grapes grown in the Burgundy region of France can have many different appellations–even down to a specific valley.  Terroir appears to be the latest trend in locally grown produce.

Soil and climate also gives fruits and vegetables their own unique taste.  If you are from Idaho, it’s their famous potatoes. Where I grew up, if you are lucky enough to be around the end of August, you can buy the most delicious Green River watermelons. Here in New Jersey, it’s the tomato.

I recently made a trip to the Trenton Farmer’s Market and stopped by the Russo’s Orchard Lane Farm stand. Nikki Russo was busily packing the most gorgeous strawberries and tomatoes for display. She recommended the strawberries (thanks, they were delish) and I also picked out a box of tomatoes as I was jonesing for a healthy snack.

June is upon us and that means the venerable tomato will soon be aplenty.  Sharpen your knife and get chopping with these two fresh menu staples.

Pico de gallo

6 small tomatoes
1/3 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of one lime
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped fine
1 large jalapeno, minced (can add more or less depending on your personal heat index)
1 tsp. kosher salt

Seed 5 of the 6 tomatoes. Reserve seeds and juice in a blender and process with 6th tomato until pureed. Finely dice seeded tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients. Add puree from blender. Stir and serve with favorite brand of tortilla chips.

Guisippina’s Bruschetta

2 Cups Roma tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 Tablespoons diced red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, snipped chiffonade style
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Teaspoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all in bowl and refrigerate several hours before serving. Stir occasionally. Serve with toasted baguette slices. My daughter spreads cream cheese on sliced baguette and tops with a spoonful of bruschetta.  Mangia Bene!

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