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Hummus definitely falls into that category of foods where you ask yourself, “Is it worth making this or should I just buy some?”  There are plenty of good brands of hummus to purchase, especially if you doctor it up with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkling of zatar spice.  The thing is you can never quite buy yourself the super smooth, fresh tasting, garlicy punch of your own homemade hummus.  There are a zillion of hummus recipes out there and once again I have practically tried them all to try and find the right combination of teqniques.  Most purists will tell you to start with dried chickpeas, soak them over night, cook them with baking soda etc etc but at that point, for me at least, the scales of why can’t I just buy this and dispense with the hassle starts to tilt into convince’s favor.  So canned chickpeas it is.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be some work involved.  I found the somewhat tedious task of taking the skins off of the canned chickpeas makes for a substantially smoother and better tasting hummus.  It’s not as easy as just dumping the can into the food processor but at least it’s not a multi day effort.  To peel them, drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.  Then take the chickpea between your fingers and gently squeeze – you will find the weird white casing comes right off.  For a can of chickpeas it took me about 15 minutes – just turn on your favorite cooking show and get lost in the mindless task.

From my research I learned that the other benefit of cooking your own chickpeas was that when they are warm they take on the other ingredients better.  Well here we can easily cheat that by quickly nuking the skinned chickpeas in the microwave for a couple of seconds before adding them to the food processor.  After that its just a matter of taste with the amount of tahini, lemon juice and garlic.  The recipe below is how I like it but play around and see what you like best – some people really want more of that sesame tahini flavor, others really hate lemon juice and replace it with water.  The method is the key and once you have that down the sky’s the limit.  Hummus away!


  • 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained with the skins removed (see above)
  • 5 -6 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil and zatar for serving (optional)

Once all the chickpeas are peeled (see above on how to remove the skins) place them in a  microwave safe bowl and microwave them on high for 20 seconds.  Add the warmed chickpeas to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.

If its not as smooth as you would like add more warm water.  Chill for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld – serve room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar (optional).


Chicken Salad Canapes


I often have a hard timing figuring out what sort of canapés I can serve at parties that are filling.  Most meat based appetizers require them to be warm or are really expensive (think lamb lollipops) but if you are going to be drinking all night I want my guests to have more in them than just cheese!  Here little mini phyllo cups really come into handy.  You buy them in the frozen section of your grocery store and they are already cooked so all you have to do is fill them.  I decided for a recent party to go with chicken salad, most specifically chicken salad veronique, which is a French version with grapes.  It is really delicious as a regular chicken salad served alone or in a sandwich but for this application I cut the chicken and the grapes really small so they would fit neatly in the cups and be easy to eat.  These things went like hot cakes and I am sure your friends will appreciate the “heavy ap” at your next party.

Chicken Salad Canapes

  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts (or roast your own)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 3 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 20 green grapes, quartered
  • 60 phyllo cups – I used the Athens brand

Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl wish together the mayo, sour cream, white wine, tarragon and salt and pepper.

Add 3/4 of the mixture to the chicken along with the grapes.  Stir to combine and then add as much of the remaining dressing as necessary.  The salad can be made several days in advance and stored in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve, use a teaspoon to fill the cups with the salad.

Portuguese Dinner Party

Patrick and I recently took an incredible class on Portuguese wine at our favorite local wine shop, DCanter.  Neither of us know a ton about wine, basically just what we like and don’t like, but wine classes are a great way to learn more about certain regions and what they are known for.  One you know you like certain varietals from a certain country it makes shopping a lot easier!  We love the classes at DCanter (what a cute name right??) and this one was no exception.  We stopped in Portugal over our honeymoon and drank some great wine while we were there so the class really helped us identify different labels that we like.  Of course we brought several bottles home that were part of the class (the Marcolino Sebo QP Colheita Seleccionada Red and the Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Alvarinho white).  I decided that a dinner party was in order with Portuguese foods to match the wine.  I already had some great Portuguese olive oil on hand and Spanish chorizo sausage which is very close to the chorico that they serve in Lisbon.  I found these great almonds from a region called Douro (that also makes great wine) at Whole Foods so I was on my way to a menu!

It was a lovely night out so we decided to do the first course out on the deck.  The chorizo thinly sliced served along with some Spanish cheeses (no luck on Portuguese cheese!) and those lovely Douro almonds.  I also marinated some green olives and set those out which went really nicely with the crisp white wine.


Saveur Shrimp Mozambique

In addition to the cheese board I knew I wanted some seafood on the menu.  Portugal has gorgeous fish markets all over and the influence on their food from global trading is really evident.  These shrimp are the prefect example – they get their name and flavor profile from Mozambique which used to be a Portuguese colony.  This recipe is incredibly easy to make and actually comes from a restaurant in Fall River, Massachusetts where there is a huge Portuguese community.


Portuguese Style Garlic Roasted Pork

Arguably the most famous person to come out of Fall River, MA is Emeril Lagasse.  Most people assume that he is from New Orleans but actually he is a proud son of Massachusetts.  Listen to his cooking shows and every once and a while you will hear his accent!  While he became famous for his Southern cooking, he has many family favorite Portuguese recipes that he has made very accessible.  This pork dish is unbelievably flavorful.  It takes forever to make but it’s really hands off and the smell of your house will be incredible.  Also the left overs made an amazing sandwich.  I served this along fluffy white rice.


NYT Sauteed Kale

Kale is ubiquitous in Portuguese cooking, especially their famous kale soup.  This quick side comes together at the last minute and is a good foil to the rich pork dish.


Bon Appetit Strawberry Marscapone Tart with Port Glaze

If you are having a Portuguese dinner party then you have to end it with port right?  We had a great time when we were in Lisbon trying out different ages and styles of port at their Solar do Vinho do Porto, an actual institute of port.  To serve with a nice glass of port this dessert also makes use of it in the sauce drizzled over the strawberries.  Absolutely delicious and the perfect way to end a tour of Portuguese wines and food.  Where to next??


Spinach and Artichoke Dip

In honor of the University of Maryland Terrapins starting their football season 4-0 (Fear the Turtle!!!) I am posting one of my favorite snacks from college.  I have already spoken about my love for the wings at Cornerstone in College Park but another important component of those happy hours was the spinach and artichoke dip.  Just another “healthy” college snack (oh how I miss my 19 year old metabolism) to knock back with some cheap beer and good friends.  Cornerstone’s was fantastic, though I am sorry to say since graduation it seems like they have changed their recipe and not for the better.  Anyway it is way easier just to make it at home and that way I can class it up a bit with nutty grueye cheese.  I can assure you the College Park version didn’t include creme fraiche either.

Because this version uses frozen spinach and canned artichokes it is extremely easy to pull together – just make sure to squeeze out as much water from the frozen spinach as you can otherwise it will end up soupy.  I like to make this ahead and then just pop it into the oven when folks get hungry.  LET’S GO MARYLAND!!!!!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 10 ounces canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 6 ounces cream cheese – room temperature
  • 4 ounces creme fraiche – room temperature
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • tortilla chips and crudites to serve with

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the shallots and garlic until softened, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the spinach (make sure to really squeeze out all the water you can) as well as the nutmeg and red pepper flakes.  Cook for another 2 minutes or so until all the water is gone.

Remove from heat.  In a large bowl combine the spinach mixture, artichoke hearts, cream cheese, creme fraiche, mayo and gruyere cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and pour into a baking dish (I used a 7 by 10 dish but 8 by 8 or really any medium to large size will do).  Top evenly with the grated Parmesan.

If you are making this in advance let the dip cool then cover with saran wrap and store in the fridge for a couple of days until you are ready to bake.  Once ready to cook it, remove any covering and bake in the 400 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes (the length will depend on the size of pan you use and how brown you want it to get, just make sure its bubbling before you take it out).  Let cool for several minutes and serve.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

Want people to think you are fancy?  Go ahead and call toast crostini.  Somehow by using the Italian word you can make slapping goat cheese on a piece of bread sound totally difficult and high end.  Because that’s basically what this is and it’s delicious!  Perfect for a Thanksgiving ap this crostini has soft goat cheese, sweet caramelized onions and a sprinkle of fresh thyme – and it all comes together super quickly.  If you followed my post last week on caramelized onions then you are ahead of the game because you have some sitting in your freezer already.  If not, no worries, just whip up a batch this weekend and then take out 1 mound from the freezer Wednesday night and put it in the fridge to defrost.  I would serve these and maybe one other bite like nuts or a nice hummus.  Don’t load people up with a ton of food, otherwise you are going to end up with more leftovers than you know what to do with (though if you do make sure to log in on Friday the 27th for an amazing idea for your leftover turkey).  These would also be a great addition to a holiday party buffet or a potluck, as they are served room temperature and can hang around for hours with no ill affect.  I love these paper leaves to dress up a simple appetizer, and they are on sale right now at Williams Sonoma.  A really easy and cheap way to make something this simple look even better – cause you’re so fancy.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini 

  • 12 slices of a white or whole wheat baguette, sliced on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup of caramelized onions, defrosted over night in the fridge (about 1 mound from the recipe, or a 1/6 of the total)
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out the baguette slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle both sides of the bread with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 5 minutes, then flip and bake for 5 minutes more (if you want to make the crostini in advance go ahead, just let them cool and store in an airtight container up to 24 hours in advance).

While the bread is toasting, place the caramelized onions in a small saute pan over medium low heat to warm through.  Once warm (a couple of minutes) splash in some balsamic vinegar and stir it around.  You can leave the onions on low while you work on the rest of the dish.  Take the leaves off of the thyme sprigs (best way is to hold the top of the stem and run your fingers down to the bottom, ripping the leaves off as you do).  Once the toast is ready and cool enough to handle, spread the goat cheese on each slice.  Then remove the onions from the heat and using a fork (found this was easiest) cover the cheese with the onions.  Sprinkle with thyme leaves and serve.

Spiced Nuts

Coming up with a good hostess gift isn’t always so easy.  Sure everyone loves a bottle of wine but some occasions or some hosts really demand more effort.  I like to mix homemade things with store-bought things so going to parties doesn’t turn into a chore.  Spiced nuts are the perfect thing for this as they are super quick to make, as well as a perfect accompaniment to that bottle you lug along.  Best of all the host can whip them out and toss them in a bowl if they run low on supplies or keep them for themselves later.  The key to making a homemade gift like this special, is the wrapping.  They taste just as good from a ziplog baggie but something about a nice cellophane bag and a pretty bow really elevates them.  I have lots and lots (and lots) of different ribbon on hand – I suggest checking out the dollar section at your local craft store or Target and picking up colorful ribbon when it’s super on sale.  As for the bags, ones like these are perfect to have on hand.

These nuts are adapted from the Union Square Cafe, an amazing spot in NYC where Patrick and I had an unbelievable meal.  It’s eponymous cookbook has tons of amazing recipes so you can recreate their meals at home, including their addictive bar nuts.  My friend Ali requests these at every party I have and I always make extra for her to bring home.  I actually just made these for her housewarming party and since today is her birthday I thought it was the right time to post them.  Congrats on the new house Ali and happy birthday!!

Spiced Nuts

  • 2 cups of unsalted mixed nuts (I like cashews, pecans, and walnuts but use whatever you want or have)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toast nuts on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then mix them with the melted butter in a large bowl.  Add the spices and toss.  You can make these ahead of time but not too much – I would say 24 hours.  Eventually the butter makes the nuts a little smooshy and the spices don’t have the same pep.

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