I think the easiest thing for me to make (and eat) is any kind of dip or spread. Homemade nibbles are such a unique thing to serve at a party, and you can tailor them to the season or meal so easily. People always remember a good homemade appetizer — it’s like a magic trick.
If you look at my life (living with my boyfriend/fiance, not married yet and no near wedding plans, went back to school as an adult) I would not really look I am into rules, order or tradition. I think I’ve just realized that I am happy to figure it out, whatever it looks like.
If you invite me to go on a road trip with you, anything that is an hour or longer, I will bring snacks. I will also bring extra water, sunscreen and music.
This is what happened on a recent trip to Medford, OR with a couple of girlfriends. Nothing makes driving more enjoyable then munching on some homemade almonds! This recipe was also inspired by a hiking trip with my cousin. We were eating some snacks during a hike and she brought up the idea of cinnamon almonds. “Mmm” I thought, “What a great combination!” Thus, this recipe was born. These spiced nuts are also EGG FREE! (yep, some spiced nut recipes use egg-white to bind the seasonings to the nuts, but since I’m egg intolerant, I like to find better ways…)
I think we need a little party. Let’s shake it up, crack open some wine, and rip apart some really good bread. Oh yea, you know what I’m talkin’ about.
One jar of this stuff and you’ve got an instant party–anytime, anywhere! I first saw this at the farmer’s market in Corvallis. The party in the jar was first made by Alsea Acres, who makes some of the best goat cheese ever! While I did “borrow” the idea, you can make your own with Alsea Acres goat cheese, or the cheese of your choice. I took some of this up to visit family in Canada on an impromptu road trip (impromptu as you can get when you still need to renew your passport, eh?) and they loved it. It has everything included for a great appetizer.
You can put almost anything you want in this and it comes together so quickly, you could make it about an hour before you run out the door. I used 6 ounces of soft goat cheese for two of my jars, and chunks of feta for the other two jars. Other cheeses you could use include fresh mozzarella balls or shreds, feta cheese, goat cheese, even little cubes of parmesan would be good in this. You just marinate the cheese, garlic, red pepper, and herbs in olive oil and spices and spread it over bread or gluten free crackers. My mom is gluten free and even toasted up some Udi’s GF bread to smear with this cheesy concoction. I have to admit, that was pretty good too.
Here’s how to get the party started:
Layering is the name of the game with this.
Start with some garlic, peeled and crushed.
Add the first layer of cheese and some chopped peppers and spices.
Add more cheese.
Add more peppers, garlic, herbs and spices. You could add even more garlic if you want to.
Cover the whole thing with olive oil. You want to fill the jar with liquid. The oil becomes infused and is excellent along with the cheese on bread, pasta, more bread or even to saute chicken or fish in.
You can eat it immediately, but you can also let it marinate in the fridge for a couple days or even a couple weeks. It will only get better with time. The cheese is preserved in the oil, but you probably don’t want to leave it longer then 1 month.
When you are ready to start a party, take it out of the fridge and let it “thaw.” The oil will have solidified, so you need to set it out about 40 minutes before you want to partake.
Here’s how you eat it:
Rip off a piece of bread (or take a cracker out of the bag) and dig either a spoon, or a wide knife in the jar, cutting into some cheese and simultaneously getting some olive oil out. Spread onto bread (a soft, yet crusty, loaf). or cracker, with the olive oil dripping everywhere. Eat. Take a sip of wine. Yeeeees.
Best eaten outside on a balcony, in a quaint neighborhood in Vancouver, BC. If you can’t manage that, just find a lovely corner of your world. Share it with your friends and have a little party.
Party in a Jar
Recipe Type: Appetizer, Snack
Author: Sugar Pickles
Serves: 4 small jars
6 ounces soft plain goat cheese
6 ounces feta cheese, chopped into 6 or 8 rough squares/chunks
8 cloves garlic
1/3-1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped or cut into thin strips
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper
red pepper flake (optional)
4 small jars with lids (about 8 ounces)
about 2 cups of Olive oil for filling the jars
In each small jar, place two cloves of peeled and crushed garlic. Add a few pieces of roasted red pepper into each jar. Top that with a few (4-5) leaves of rosemary, a pinch of red pepper flakes if using, and a few grinds of pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Then add the first layer of cheese. You want about two chunks in the bottom of each jar. I did two jars of goat cheese and two jars of feta. For the goat cheese, I just crumbled it into the jar in large chunks as I added it.
Keep layering, cheese, peppers, herbs and spices, until you reach the top of your small jars. When you fill the jar with all the cheese goodness, slowly and carefully pour olive oil over it to fill the jar. The very top doesn’t need to be covered, but just fill as much as you can with out spilling it. You can serve right away, or store in the fridge for a few days or even a few weeks.
This is great with bread, crackers or even drizzled over pasta for a quick meal.
I think the turning point for my relationship with cooking was in college. I get asked this question a lot, and it’s something I’ve thought about carefully. I used to make cookies and brownies with my mom growing up, lick the beaters or the bowl and play with her pots and pans. But that was when I was 4 and 5. There was a departure from the kitchen, for me, between about 7 and 15. I think I always loved food and eating, but then again, who doesn’t? I don’t especially remember liking to make cookies when I was 13 and reading Cosmo Girl, searching for the perfect nail polish and taking quizzes about what my style was. No, cooking and I didn’t really get along again until about 18 or 19. I was in college, living at a girls co-op at Oregon State University, and eating most meals out of the kitchen at Azalea House.*
The cook at Azalea, or AZA as we called it, while I was there was named Kevin. He was a man probably in his 30’s (this was 2002 or ’03), with a booming voice that traveled through the small kitchen and out to the dining room. So many times I padded across that room to get something from the kitchen in the afternoon and could hear the voice of Kevin, long before entering the kitchen, chatting with someone, but it sounded more like a one-sided conversation. It is things like this that were a comfort to me in a way, when being away from home for the first time. Being on your own at 18 doesn’t feel so strange when you are in a house full of 50 girls and a guy like Kevin you could talk to like a big brother.
The dining room was really a white tiled room with a row of 6 foot by 2 foot tables put in a row down the left side. The front of the dining room, near a bank of windows, was where the food went, buffet style. When the food was put out, at 5pm every evening, is when Kevin’s work day would end. I don’t think I thought too much about the food beyond: me. hungry. brain. need food. But one night there was this salsa. I couldn’t stop eating it. I got seconds and thirds. The thought that kept going through my head was, what if I never have this again? I HAVE to know how to make it. I HAVE to eat this again. And that was it.
That’s where my love affair with cooking started.
The next morning I begged Kevin for the recipe. “It’s called Pico de Gallo” He said. He was pretty free with this recipes, but I don’t think very many girls asked him for them. So he told me the basics and I scribbled them down on a piece of paper. That weekend I went home and made the salsa for my family. I, again, couldn’t stop eating it. I think my parents were happy to have something made for them, but probably have eaten pico de gallo before. I was mesmerized. I couldn’t believe that I could make these flavors with just produce, and that the only thing standing in my way was a bunch of chopping. It was from there, that I started. I made more things, I discovered what I liked to eat and how it was made. I moved out of AZA in 2004, and in 2005 I was living in a small house off-campus with two other girls (who also lived in AZA with me). It was while living in the house that I really got the cooking bug. I started watching Food Network, reading Real Simple and cooking whatever meal they deemed “simple for a weeknight” and becoming obsessed with Martha Stewart.
It’s really funny, what one salsa can do to change the course of your life.
Through all that has happened, I never forgot about Kevin. He was a sounding board, a guy you could vent to, tell your problems to, commiserate with, and get advice from. He knew us. He could tell when something wasn’t right or when something had gone SO right we were beaming. Kevin probably got a little more then he bargained for when he took on AZA, but we were lucky to have him. And I am lucky to have this recipe. It brings me back to my roots and reminds me why I do this. For the love of food.
So, the recipe is simple. I think you could even just throw everything in to a bowl and lightly toss it and it would turn out as good as that day in the dining room. But here I’ll offer you a little more instruction then that.
This one is what I like to call a bachelor favorite. Joel used to eat this at least once a week before we moved in together. He made it one night during the first few months we lived together and I was hooked! Though we don’t eat it as often now. We were both kind of thinking about it the other day, so I totally had to bring it back.
I’ve gotta say, it makes a great lunch (or even dinner) stand-in for a hectic night or when I’m working.
Here’s his tricks:
Put the Sriracha sauce on before you add the tomato so that your lips don’t get hit with the spicy burn.
Use good peanut butter! Joel loves to make his own, but if we don’t have any of that good ol’ homemade stuff laying around I prefer to buy organic peanut butter. The brands I like are usually the ones that are on sale. I grew up with Adams peanut butter, so I’m used to stirring.
Wheat toast is his favorite (for this), but probably any toast would work in a pinch. I used an english muffin here, which is also one of his favs.
Add whatever kind of onion you like. Green onion is great on this, but red or white is perfectly fine too. Remember, this is “bachelor” food… so there’s not many rules here. As far as I’m concerned, these are just general guidelines. Maybe next time I’ll add sweet chili sauce. You know how much I love that stuff!
Sriracha and Peanut Butter English Muffin
1 english muffin or 1 piece of toast
4 slices of onion or 1 green onion
2 slices of tomato or 5 cherry tomatoes, sliced
handful of cilantro leaves
Toast the bread/english muffin and spread with peanut butter. Add the Sriracha, in drops or squirts, to your taste. Top with onion, then tomato, and finish with cilantro.
With freelancing and working from home, you’d think I have time for lunch. Actually, most days go by too fast, with a to-do list that is longer then I can accomplish and chores stacking up around me faster then I can tackle them. You’ve been there, right?
I often will launch head first into a day full of food photography shoots, design work, or house projects that are somewhat spontaneous or start innocently enough. “Oh, I’ll just make some almond milk real quick” or “Oooh I should get that bread going before it gets too late in the day” and suddenly it’s 3pm, I haven’t eaten lunch or showered (this real life is not glamorous) and I’m running around with pie dough on my hands and flour on my face. It happens. When the day gets away from me and I need something to eat that takes two seconds to make, I reach for this easy and healthy snack.
It’s so simple, I can make it in between dough rising and doing the dishes… because there are a lot of those around here too. And usually, let’s be real, I eat it standing up in my kitchen over the sink.
Here’s what it is:
Acovados! I try to keep one or two around in the event of an emergency such as this. Just halve it, remove the pit and slice it into chunks while still in the peel.
Ak-mak crackers. I’ve only really seen these at Trader Joes, and they are usually less then $2.00 a box, but I’m sure they are available other places too. Check the ethnic food section of your grocery store. If you can’t find Ak-mak, try another whole wheat flatbread style cracker.
Sweet chili sauce. This, along with a couple green onions sliced up, is my favorite topping for brown rice. Sriracha would be excellent too if you want more heat and less sweet! I put some in a squeeze bottle here to “control the flow” of the sauce on my avocado.
Remember those little slices you put in the avocado halves? Here’s where you take a piece of cracker, and with the edge of it, dig into the avocado and scoop it out, getting some sauce on it along the way.
Now eat up! You’re probably starving!
Avocado Snack with Chili Sauce and Akman Crackers
Recipe Type: Snack
Serves: 1 snack
1 ripe organic avocado
4-6 Ak-mak crackers, or other similar flatbread cracker
2 tablespoons sweet chili paste or sriracha
Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit, leaving the flesh of the avocado in the peel.
With a pairing knike, slice the avocado into a diamond pattern while it’s still contained in the peel.
Drizzle the sweet chili sauce on the avocado.
With the edge of a cracker, dig in to the avocado where the flesh meets the peel and scoop out a bite using the cracker.
Crackers are very important in my house. Crackers and cheese can be a meal, a snack, a late night writing/blogging source of fuel. I can not resist a good cracker! With a slice of cheese or a dip, I’m powerless.
DIY crackers could also be a fun project for kids; they can totally handle rolling them out using the pasta roller (it’s something they can crank and move! That’s like the requirement for all the fun kids toys, right!?)
These crackers are also something you can whip up when you don’t have much around except the basics! A little butter, a little milk, and you’re in business. I bet these would be good with flaked roasted garlic or onion too, and the seeds could be changed up to suit your mood or what you have on hand.
In the food processor (what would I do without this machine? It’s one of my most used kitchen appliances) put in some flour, a little salt, sugar, some poppy seeds and a little cubed butter.
Slowly add in milk until it’s a cohesive dough.
Form into a disk and put it in the fridge. I left mine in their overnight, but as long as you give it an hour it’s fine. Leaving it in their overnight was an experiment, and it worked! So if you want to make this dough a day (or probably even 2 days) ahead, go for it!
Also, this little guy is my favorite for measuring small amounts of liquid. I got it in the baking aisle at Winco, but here’s a similar one.
When you are ready to roll out and bake the crackers, preheat the oven and get out the pasta roller. You could also just use a rolling pin and a large area of counter/table and some flour on the counter and rolling pin to make sure it doesn’t stick.
Cut into 8 pieces…..
Shape into little discs…..
And here’s why this recipe is genius! I might just make all my crackers using the pasta maker from now on.
You start the dough disc going through the pasta machine at level 1 (or the widest setting) and then with each pass through of the dough, gradually set it smaller and smaller. I went from a level 1 down to a level 5. I was worried this dough would stick, rip, tear and otherwise be difficult… but it wasn’t! It worked like a dream and behaved very well as far as cracker doughs go.
And look how thin!
Put 3-4 long pieces of rolled out dough onto a large baking sheet. Spritz or brush lightly with water and sprinkle more poppy seeds and some kosher salt on top, lightly pressing them in with your fingers so the seeds and salt stick.
Bake 10-15 minutes. CRUNCH!
Recipe Type: Snacks, DIY
Serves: 32 crackers
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons poppy seeds, divided
4-6 tablespoons milk
Kosher salt for sprinkling
In a food processor, combine the flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of the poppy seeds and sugar. Pulse to mix them together, then top with the butter pieces. Pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. With the machine running, pour the milk slowly through the feed tube until the dough comes together in a clump. Add a little more milk, teaspoon at a time, if necessary until the dough is roughly in a ball. Transfer the dough to a piece of plastic wrap, form into a small disc and refrigerate for at least an hour, or until you are ready to proceed with rolling and baking the crackers.
When you are ready to roll them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set up your pasta maker or clear a large space on a counter. Take the dough out of the fridge and on a lightly floured counter, cut into 8 wedges. Form each wedge into a small ball. You can either roll them into long ovals or rounds with a rolling pin on a floured counter until 1/8 of an inch thick, or use the pasta maker.
If using the pasta maker, roll each small disk of dough through the machine, starting with the widest setting and gradually going smaller. For my Atlas machine, I started at 1 and decreased the thickness to 5, passing the dough through once or twice at each setting.
On a parchment lined baking sheet, set each piece of rolled out dough and lightly brush with water or use a spray bottle to spritz lightly with water.
Sprinkle with the kosher salt and remaining tablespoon of poppy seeds (you may not use all the poppy seeds, just sprinkle the amount that looks good to you). Press them in a bit with your hands on the surface of the dough. Prick with a fork all over each piece of dough.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crackers are lightly browned and crisp. Let cool. Break each cracker into about 4 pieces. Serve immediately or store in a plastic bag for up to 1 week.
This dip is so simple and comes together in minutes. It’s great for a last minute appetizer or to take to a backyard cookout. My friend bought the stuff to make this dip, came over, and made it while I opened the wine – THAT is how easy and fast this dip is. It’s herby, it’s peppery, and it’s a little sweet, so bread or even seeded crackers.
All you do is chop up some fresh rosemary. We have some in the garden going right now. It grows everywhere here in Oregon, and it overwinters well too.
I added some pink sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
I’m a little obsessive about my honey. I like it raw and unfiltered. My favorite honey right now is Heavenly Honey. But Hanna’s Honey is also really good! The biggest thing about honey is to find raw honey and to buy it locally. You’ll get the best flavor, support the bees, and it will be the best for you. Raw honey has a deep and rich flavor-nothing like the filtered and heated commercial honey. I have also had good luck finding lovely honey at the Corvallis Brew Supply store. Yup, that’s right! Beer brewers and mead makers use honey all the time, and I just purchased 3 pounds for less then 14 bucks! Plus they sell it in Mason jars. I’m powerless to anything sold in a Mason jar. Their honey comes from Corvallis too, from the Queen Bee Honey Company. If you are looking to use honey to aid you in summer allergies, be sure to use a local honey. It will contain more of the pollen that come from your area, which means you’ll have a greater chance in combating those seasonal summer allergies.
Using raw honey isn’t only good for you, but in case you haven’t heard, the bees need our help, folks! They are still in danger and reducing in numbers. This week, Whole Foods shared an article on Fast.Co that basically said, without changes, our salad bar would look like this.
I try to be healthy. Really I do. Sometimes I’m all cake and ice cream, and other times I’m like, GIVE ME MORE SALAD! It’s just a weird balance I try to maintain. These nuts help. I love to snack on a little something in the evening or before dinner. I love that these have ginger, and a little Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (in place of soy sauce) to give it some deep savory flavor. Almonds are so tasty! They are healthy for you too, check out this article: 9 Health Benefits of Almonds.
So you may be wondering about the Bragg’s Liquid Aminos… well it’s a great soy sauce alternative. I use it because it has way less sodium then soy sauce, and it’s non-GMO. Did you know that just 1 tablespoon of soy sauce has almost 40% of your recommend daily intake? Last year, my doctor told me that my blood pressure was a pretty high. I started to make some lifestyle changes (I still struggle with consistently exercising, but I’m getting better!) That’s when I started really watching my sodium last year I was reading labels like crazy. I even looked up how much sodium our favorite Papa Murphy’s pizza has… and guess what? We never got Papa Murphy’s again, it was THAT bad. (also, if you click the link to look at the nutrition facts of PM Pizza, keep in mind the serving size… I don’t know think I’ve ever seen anyone cut a pizza into 12 slices, and often when we had pizza for dinner I usually had 2-3 slices, which is maxing out the daily recommended sodium amount of 2,300mg for those under 51. You can read more here.)
But the good news is it all paid off and my blood pressure levels are now back within the normal range. It taught me SUCH a valuable lesson though, read the labels, look at the serving sizes, and as always, make what you can from scratch with less salt. Your taste buds adjust and after awhile, you actually don’t even want all those high-sodium things anymore-they start to taste too salty! One more low-sodium tip: watch out for one of the biggest culprits–canned soups and stocks.
So just because I had to cut back on salt doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy some delicious snacks! Alton Brown made these during is “Good Eats” episode, “Live and Let Diet”. If you are trying to lose a few lbs. check out this episode! He is full of great tips.
I love how the ginger coating stays on these almonds… no egg white or corn syrup involved! I served these as an appetizer to some discerning eaters, and they loved them!
Ginger Almonds, slightly adapted from Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” episode “Live and Let Diet”
Recipe Type: Snacks, Appetizers
Author: Sugar Pickles
Serves: 4 cups
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 small dried arbol chile, broken into small pieces
Combine the ginger and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium-low heat add the arbol chile and cook, stirring frequently, until the chile begins to give off an aroma, 30 to 45 seconds. Put the chili pieces in a large mixing bowl and add in the almonds, olive oil, sesame oil, Braggs or soy sauce, and the Worcestershire. Mix until all the almonds look shiny and coated, then sprinkle over the ginger and salt mixture and toss thoroughly, until the nuts look evenly coated with the ginger mixture.
Spread the coated nuts into a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the pan to a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes or until completely cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.