Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

If you want a simple, yet tasty and impressive snack, then you want a tomato and feta phyllo tart.  I must caution you though, this snack is only as good as the quality of its ingredients.  So if you have nice looking tomatoes, good quality olive oil, and real feta cheese with some flavor (nothing packaged in plastic from the grocery store…think cheese shop), then I encourage you to try this.  The reason being is that the phyllo is rather tasteless.  It is the topping that provides the real flavor.  If your tomato and feta are bland, then this entire thing is bland.  You have been warned.

Next time I would make the tarts smaller and with more topping, thereby eliminating the wide phyllo edges.  When I took my first bite, all I got was phyllo…not very tasty.  So I would make the topping go all the way out to the edges.  

Tomato and Feta with Olive Oil Phyllo Tarts

1 package phyllo dough

1 large tomato

2 cups feta cheese crumbles

2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for brushing onto phyllo

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thaw phyllo dough, and brush a sheet with a light coat of olive oil, and set aside.  Then brush the rest of the sheets, and place one on top of the other. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo into squares-two rows, four squares in each row.  Chop tomato and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese on top of each square, covering the entire square.  Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until phyllo is golden brown.


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We have many favorites out there that we would never think to try to cook at home.  Mozzarella sticks, sushi rolls, spring rolls, etc.  There are many reasons why we have not attempted these things at home:  they appear more complicated to make than they look, the experts on the outside probably will do it better, and why go through all the effort when these things are easily accessible for purchase.  Empanadas are also on this list, but since we do not see empanadas all that often, deciding to bring empanadas home was a wonderful plan.   Cooking homemade empanadas seems adventurous, but I decided to try it out, and although it may be a flop, I wanted to see what went into making these delicious little pastry pockets.  I also thought that if it went well, there could be empanadas on the regular!


Choosing a filling for our empanadas was the first step.  I had several ideas, but settled on turkey piccadilo.  I found a recipe for this Latin dish in a Weight Watchers cookbook.  I eliminated the raisins, bell pepper, rice, red pepper flakes, and tomato sauce, and instead added carrots, cayenne pepper and diced tomatoes. This yields a slightly warmed spiced filling with the added sweet texture of the diced tomatoes.  Using a food processor to chop the onion and carrot finely took seconds, so I recommend this.  Other fillings I may try in the future include black beans with cheddar cheese and chicken with picante sauce slow cooked for 4 hours.

Now for the adventure…empanada dough.  I wanted to blend the butter into the flour with my food processor, but the food processor would not fit the 4 ½ cups of flour and 2 sticks of butter cubes.  So I split the flour and butter in half and blended it in the food processor separately.  Then combined the two batches back together in a large bowl and used my fingertips to blend together.  When I finished, I still had a little flour remaining that had not blended with the butter, but I kneaded that flour back into the dough.  I attempted to roll out even piece of dough to make my empanadas.  In the end I had a mix of sizes, but relatively in the same category of not too small and not too big.  I even changed up my decorative crimp for the edges, sometimes using my finger  to seal the empanada and then rolling the excess dough inward to create an edge, and other times using a pie pastry cutter to get a crimped edge. 

These were relatively simple to make, and I think they will be making another appearance in our kitchen.  I would love to try the different fillings.  The dough is slightly buttery, slightly flaky and slightly crunchy.  The filling could be a little spicier (maybe some more cayenne pepper), but it was delicious. 

Turkey Piccadilo Empanadas (adapted from Weight Watchers)

For the dough:

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs
2/3 cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

For the filling:

1 pound ground turkey

20 ounce can diced tomato

1 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

1 carrot (or handful of baby carrots)

1 ½ onion

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp cayenne pepper

Egg Wash:
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Dough:  Sift flour with salt into a large bowl.  Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some very small butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. In the large bowl (or lightly floured surface) knead the dough mixture gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into two flat disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 6 hours total.

Filling:  In a food processor, chop onions and carrots until very fine.  In a large pan, cook ground turkey with salt and pepper.  When the meat is almost cooked add the chopped onions and carrots.  Mix onions, carrots and turkey together and cook until meat cooks in to crumbles.  Stir in spices, and cook about 2-3 minutes.  Then add diced tomatoes.  Turn heat down to low-medium, and allow meat, tomatoes and spices to cook for 5-7 minutes.

Empanadas: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Break off a piece of dough, about 2-3 inches in diameter, and roll out the piece of dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-6 inch round that is 1/8 inch thick.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling into the center, and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together around the filling to, and crimp or roll the edges with your fingers for decoration.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place empanada on the baking sheet. Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash. Repeat the process. 

Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Allow empanadas to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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Who doesn’t love latkes?  Well maybe you are not a fan, but we especially love potato pancakes when they are hot, crispy and dipped in sour cream and/or applesauce.  Something about zucchini replacing potato convinced me that these are a healthier version of the beloved potato pancake.  However, this is a lie since they are also fried in oil, and there is some potato still involved. 

I revised Ms. Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, removing the baking powder, replacing red onion with shallots, and adding feta cheese, which melts into the pancake and adds a salty kick.  These were definitely lighter than the potato version, but be sure to squeeze out any extra liquid from each patty before cooking so that they will stay together better.



Zucchini and Feta Latkes (adapted and revised from Barefoot Contessa)  

3 medium zucchini

1 small potato

1 shallot

2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

6 to 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup feta cheese crumbles

5-6 tablespoons vegetable oil  

Peel zucchini, potato, and shallots.  Shred zucchini, potato, and shallots against the large grating side of a box grater into a large bowl.  Stir in eggs. Then stir in flour, salt and pepper. Stir in feta cheese.

Roll vegetable mixture into small patties.  Add vegetable oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat..  Once the vegetable oil is hot, carefully place in latkes and cook for 5-7 minutes on each side until brown and crispy.  Remove latkes from pan and place on a paper towel lined plate.  Serve hot with sour cream or applesauce.

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My husband found an article on a variation of the traditional cucumber yogurt sauce using beets instead of cucumber.  Beets?  I would have never thought to interchange cucumber for beets, but I was very interested in this new concept.  What really sold me what the color of the tzatziki sauce-bright purple!  Since we are trying to incorporate beets in more of our dishes (chicken with beets), I thought this would be a great way to do it. 

I have to admit that I was skeptical to change my classic tzatziki sauce that has been working out pretty well, but I was excited to see if the beet tzatziki could beat it.  (ha!)  So here we go.  First, you roast the beets and then let them cool.  This process can take about 2 hours, so you may want to prepare the beets the day before.  Then you shred the roasted beets and stain your hands purple in the process.  Then you combine all the rest of your ingredients, and watch as the color changes from light pink, to purple to bright purple (or “hot purple” as I thought to name it while snapping photos of this jazzy sauce). 

Although it looks wonderful, and I was eager to dip a piece of broccoli in to taste this colorful sauce, we found it necessary to add more ingredients.  This recipe leaves out some essential pieces that I think add that extra zing to my traditional tzatziki sauce, and the lack of these ingredients really decreases the flavor of the sauce.  So a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of wine vinegar, and an extra clove of garlic should find their way into the sauce  I was especially happy to use the dill I have been growing in a planter in a third floor window of our house.  The delicate green color looked great against the purple, but as I stirred it into the sauce, the color got lost amidst all the purple. 


Beet tzatziki sauce is its own thing.  It is not the cucumber yogurt sauce that we are familiar with, but it definitely has flavor.  The minute you taste it you will identify that there are beets in there.  The beet flavor establishes itself in the yogurt.  Next time I may try half beets and half cucumber just to see which flavor will stand out more, and see more variations in color.  This dip will definitely be a conversation piece as you place the purple yogurt sauce onto a plate, and watch as your guests try to figure out what it is.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the greens away from the beets, leaving about 1/4 inch of stems. (Later this week, we’ll show you how to sauté the greens.) Scrub the beets and place in a baking dish (or lidded ovenproof casserole dish). Add 1/4 inch of water to the dish. Cover tightly. Place in the oven and roast small beets (three ounces or less) for 30 to 40 minutes, medium beets (four to six ounces) for 40 to 45 minutes, and large beets (eight ounces or more) for 50 to 60 minutes. They’re done when they’re easily penetrated with the tip of a knife. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the covered baking dish. Cut away the ends and slip off the skins.

Beet Tzatziki Sauce (adapted and revised from the New York Times)

3 medium beets

3 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 container low-fat Greek style yogurt (or full fat)

Black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped dill

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  First, roast the beets.  To do this, cut the greens away from the beets, leaving about 1/4 inch of stems. Wash and scrub the beets, removing any dirt.  Place beets in a baking dish with lid, and add 1/4 inch of water to the dish. Cover tightly. Place in the oven and roast small beets (three ounces or less) for 30 to 40 minutes, medium beets (four to six ounces) for 40 to 45 minutes, and large beets (eight ounces or more) for 50 to 60 minutes.  Test to see if the beets are done by piercing with a fork.  If the fork goes in easily, then they are done.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the covered baking dish. Once cooled, cut the ends of each beet and pull off the skins.Then, grate the roasted beets on the large holes of a grater. Chop garlic cloves finely, and place in large bowl with salt and lemon juice.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  Add the yogurt and stir the garlic into it.  Add black pepper, olive oil and wine vinegar.  Then stir in the beets and dill.  Watch as the color explodes.

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