I generally make a cheeseball for holidays and gatherings and I have posted some recipes on these pages. For Easter this year, I decided to go with a dip/spread, and I made it several days early so that the flavors would mellow.
You can vary it to suit the tastes and your dietary needs and of those around you. Nuts and seeds can be changed, or left out altogether. I’m making this one a little bland because I will be serving it with flavorful crackers and snacks.
Here is the recipe I made; variations in taste and vegan substitutions will be listed below:
7 oz of Neufchatel cheese (low-fat cream cheese)
1 Tbs cream
¼ -1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese,(or other moderate-to-mild white cheese)
A few drops sesame oil (no more than 1/8 tsp; sesame oil is very strong)
Mix the cream cheese and cream (or substitutes) together until smooth. Add the shredded cheese and mix. Add the sesame or other oil. Add 1 Tbsp. sesame or other seeds, (if using); mix well.
Add the lemon juice and minced garlic, the herb blend and blend well. Add the black olives. Mix well. Place in a small covered bowl or container, sprinkle seeds around the edges and garnish with added olive or ? Chill thoroughly or for several days before serving.
This can be served with any type of cracker. Since I need to go gluten-free for relatives, I like Trader Joe’s Three Seed Beet Crackers .I am also going to offer Harvest Snaps Red Lentil Tomato Basil snack crisps, available in many major markets.
Vegan “Cream Cheese” is made with cashews. I am told that it is easy to make one’s own, but it is fairly readily available in healthier-food stores and even supermarkets. With this, you can use 2 tsp. cashew, almond or other plant-based milk instead of cream. You may add vegan ‘cheese’, or leave it out.
Finely chopped nuts can be substituted for sesame seeds, or left out completely. Walnuts, cashews, pecans and hazelnuts, (filberts), are good choices; almonds are a bit bland to stand up in this recipe.
Other oils, such as walnut or almond, or even avocado, should be substituted for sesame oil if you aren’t using sesame seeds; use 1/8 tsp.
Avocado bits make a nice addition if you leave out nuts; fold in at the end.
Pimentos, green olives, or bits of mild chilies can be used in addition to, or instead of, black olives.
I hope that you try this for your friends and family.
A long-overdue overview of herbs and spices. This will be far from all-inclusive. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
With the prices climbing drastically, I have been buying herbs and spices in bulk, and grabbing them on sale. Several teachings which came into vogue a few years back are false and most people pay them no heed now. One is that dried herbs are wrong to use. That is ridiculous. Fresh herbs have their place in some presentations and recipes, but for the most part, dried herbs are on easily kept hand and give you a great deal of flavor for the amount used. Too many fresh herbs ruin the texture of many dishes.
Another useless idea was that you should change out your dried herbs and spices every six-months-to-a-year. Harvesting for most is done once a year, so six months is foolish. Since the harvesting, drying, processing, packaging, shipping, warehousing, stocking and the like take many months, one year is also unreasonable. Kept in cool, dry places, most herbs and spices last for a number of years. And even if they degrade a bit after a while, you can use a bit more.
Avoid “dollar” any kind of herbs and spices in stores; they are the poorest quality. You can do better online and in bulk, or in smaller amounts from specialty shops.
Keeping herbs and spices cool and dry when buying them in bulk can be a challenge. Save large and small jars for these, use vacuum sealers, and/or share with family and friends to keep your supply usable. Some specialty stores, (ethnic or health food), sell repackaged herbs spices which they buy in bulk. Some have containers where you package your own in plastic or paper bags; discard any flimsy packaging these come in and repackage them yourself. Some stores sell in larger bags. Once opened, repackage and keep them closed.
I have purchased many herbs and spices online and for the most part, have been very pleased. Read the reviews, don’t just look at the number of stars. Many people have no idea how to rate items; great products can get one star from some people, some poor items get four-to-five stars. Read why the people gave the ratings to the items. You can save a lot, but if you get the poorest quality, you are wasting your money.
Price does not always reflect quality. Online prices for the same brand can differ greatly between companies and differ from store prices.
The only bulk problems I have had is with onion and tomato powders; they want to clump. I have some in vacuum sealed bags and some in jars on my kitchen shelves to use regularly. I have to use fork tines scrape enough to use the tomato powder, but the quality is still good. I have rectified the onion powder problem by never sprinkling it over cooking food to avoid steam entering the bottle and always using a dry spoon to carry it to the food.
A little onion powder does wonders for boiled/steamed vegetables, rice, grains and many foods, especially if you wish to avoid or cut back on salt. Sprinkle a small amount in the water of any that you boil or during cooking. A tiny amount in mashed potatoes is wonderful.
There is also another good reason for buying and mixing your own herb blends: you can adjust them to fit your own tastes, the needs of your family and to change things around a bit.
If you do not know a “Mrs. Dash”-type seasoning blend, they started out for low-salt/salt-free diets, however, I love it for many uses.
I use it on simple canned, frozen or freshly cooked vegetables. It does wonders for a side of green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, (together or separately), and good over any roasted vegetables, including potatoes. It is good in or on any type of potato dish and over grains,(rice, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, any and all).
It can be used on simple pieces of fried meat, (especially chicken or pork), fish, (baked or fried), and is great on quorn, fried tofu, tempeh, seitan or many plain, plant-based entrees.
It adds a nice element in tuna, chicken or potato salads.
I love it sprinkled on lite cream cheese or vegan substitute on a bagel, toast or an English muffin. Mix it with cream cheese, sour cream or vegan equivalents for easy dips and spreads. Try sprinkling it on garlic or cheese bread warmed in the oven. It makes cheese sauce a little more special.
Here is a good, basic recipe for a nice herb blend. If and when you are more comfortable with flavors, you subtract some herbs and add others:
BASIC NO-SALT HERB BLEND
2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp. each:
¼ – ½ tsp Cayenne Pepper
1-2 tsp. Black Pepper
2 tsp dried Lemon Zest
2 tsp Savory
1 tsp Celery flakes or Celery Salt
Dehydrated Vegetables, [SEE BELOW]
Bend all well. If you have a small processor or grinder, (even a cleaned coffee grinder), use these, or you can place the mix in a plastic bag and pulverize it with a rolling pin, a heavy round bottle or a meat tenderizing mallet. Place is a sealed bottle.
Lemon zest is a nice addition to this. It is a good help when you don’t use salt and it is also very good sprinkled on fish before cooking, in or on muffins and cupcakes and in vegetable dishes. Consider having it on hand.
Savory can be hard to find. In fact, I could not find it anywhere locally or even in our next big city. I had not thought to check at the Penzey’s Spices store,(although it would have cost the amount of gas money to get back home. Again, I mail-ordered it.)
You can make your own Latin blends, too.
Basic Chili Powder Mix
2 Tbsp. ‘sweet’ paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. oregano
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 ½ Tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp salt-(Optional)
1 ½ tsp tomato powder (Optional)
½ tsp Cilantro (Optional)
Mix well. Keep closed tightly.
Options: Add flakes or powder of Ancho, Chipotle, or Mesquite. (It’s better not to mix these since they have good, distinct flavors.) Any one of these is particularly good as a rub for meat or vegetable-based protein with olive oil and then slow-cook them to be made into dishes, such as Cantina Bowls .(Recipes in upcoming posts.) These are also good on roasted corn, mixed with cheeses or sour cream, silken tofu, or any type of yogurt for dressings and sauces for rice, meat and vegetables.
Basic Italian Herb Blend
1 Tbsp. Parsley
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp. Marjoram
1 Tbsp. Basil
½-1 tsp Ground Rosemary
1 tsp. Oregano ½ tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
(Grind or pulverize and store as above.)
Oregano is a Greek spice. It is used more in Southern Italian cooking than in Northern Italian dishes. It does have its place in Italian cuisine, but can be overused, as can Rosemary, which is also quite strong. Play around with the flavors for different applications. Add more Rosemary to chicken or beef. Add more Oregano to fish or vegetables.
Try different combinations with basic meatless tomato-based sauces, (what is commonly, though erroneously, called “marinara” sauce.)
I hope that you look into bulk herbs and spices. Dehydrated vegetables are also available and can be ground to add to your own blends. I keep green pepper, celery and carrot on hand to add to some of the herb mixes. There are mixes of flaked vegetables on the market, as well. Use these as toppers for potatoes and other vegetables, or to stews for extra flavor without added salt.
I hope that you try to keep herbs and spices on hand, and make combinations. They pack a great deal of flavor and if you have them ready, you can make great food in a short amount of time.
Hello all! Despite the order in the name of this blog, family comes first, hence the long hiatus since my last post.
I nearly simply ended my series on appetizers, but since the last was ready and the most simple, I decided to go with it.
I personally prefer to use Neufchatel, which is “light” cream cheese, but you can use any cream cheese or ‘vegan cream cheese’ made of tofu, “Go Veggie” and “Follow You Heart” which is a mix containing soy, “Daiya” brand non-dairy, non-soy alternative, (to name a few). Any of these can be easily used for any of these recipes, or in any ideas of your own to make vegan or gluten-free appetizers.
Commercial cream cheese spreads come in very many flavors. You can find sweet versions mixed with strawberry, honey, honey and nut, pineapple and even chocolate. Savory versions include chive, dill, garden vegetable and salmon, which is more versatile than you might imagine.
Along with prepared cream cheese, dips, such as spinach and bacon-and-horseradish, can be used sparingly in appetizers. These have a looser consistency and must be contained within an appetizer or spread thinly.
Of course, you can mix any flavors of your own preference into a plain base, or use the pre-made ones on their own. However, these are so simple, a little imagination added along with a few unusual flavor combinations will make a big hit with family and guests.
Cream cheese and vegan cream cheese based appetizers are so easy and versatile!
Pictured above are: Salmon Cream cheese on toast round with sliced olive, dried cranberry and a pear wedge [Dip white-fleshed fruit, such as pear and apple, in lemon or other citrus-based soda, or pineapple juice to slow discoloration] Salmon cream cheese in mission figs topped with smoked almond, pear piece and dried cranberry Chive cream cheese on crackers, topped with sliced, jarred sweet pepper and nut (A candied walnut is shown, but a pecan, hazelnut or almond, whether plain , spiced or candied would work) Chive cream cheese in celery topped with black olive, cranberry, nuts Pepperoni roll with chive cream cheese or spinach dip Baby spinach leaves with spinach dip, with or without nuts,(plain almonds, walnuts or pecans)
A recipe that was requested but that I hesitated to add was for my Liver Pâté. I will also add my vegan Mock Liver Pâté recipe. These can be a nice addition to any appetizer plate, be they spread on crackers, (topped with sour cream, cheeses or vegan alternatives, put into fresh spinach or romaine leaves slices of apple or stuffed into mission figs! Try it!)
Liver Pâté/Mock Liver Pâté
8 oz chicken liver, sautéed until just done OR 10 oz walnuts simmered until tender, either cooked with ¼ cup sliced onion
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp turmeric (optional)
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp garlic granules or powder, (NOT garlic salt)
Adjust all flavorings to taste. Chill before use.
One final word on appetizers: remember to keep the few hot appetizers I mentioned in the series as warm as possible, on a hotplate or in an electric skillet if possible. Keep all cold appetizers as cool as possible. Place some out at a time while leaving other refrigerated, or place them on plates or trays on larger trays of ice.
I do so hope this series has whetted your appetite for appetizers and that you will serve them with confidence, whether they be some of the recipes or suggestions that I offered, or some that you were inspired to make on your own.
I invited my friend, author Edith Maxwell, to do a guest post months ago and she agreed to help me with the appetizer,/party foods I have been offering. So here is all the info you need to whet your appetite not only for the wonderful recipe she has graciously shared with us, but for the other recipes and stories in her Local Food Mysteries, as well as her many other stories, written under several pseudonyms. I turn the blog over to Edith Maxwell. Please welcome her.
Guest:: Author Edith Maxwell
Garlic Pesto Rice Crisps
My fictional farmer, Cam Flaherty, might make these next time there’s a potluck on her farm for the volunteers, even though brown rice isn’t particularly local to New England.
This is an easy and tasty gluten-free party appetizer. Makes about fifteen crisps.
Garlic Pesto Rice Crisp ingredients
1 local egg
1 cup cooked medium or short grain brown rice
1 tablespoon basil pesto made with local basil and garlic
½ cup grated Parmesan (can be pre-grated)
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl.
3. Add the rice, pesto, and first cheese.
4. Oil a baking sheet with olive oil.
5. Drop a tablespoon onto the baking sheet, flattening into a round.
How to make Garlic Pesto Rice Crisps
6. Sprinkle each round with fresh Parmesan.
7. Bake about twelve minutes, until light brown underneath and on top.
8. Serve hot.
Easy, tasty Garlic Pesto Rice Crisps
Autumn has descended on Westbury, Massachusetts, but the mood at the Farm-to-Table Dinner in Cam’s newly built barn is unseasonably chilly. Local entrepreneur Irene Burr made a lot of enemies with her plan to buy Westbury’s Old Town Hall and replace it with a textile museum–enough enemies to fill out a list of suspects when the wealthy widow turns up dead on a neighboring farm. Even an amateur detective like Cam can figure out that one of the resident locavores went loco–at least temporarily–and settled a score with Irene. But which one? With the fall harvest upon her, Cam must sift through a bushelful of possible killers that includes Irene’s estranged stepson, her disgruntled auto mechanic, and a fellow CSA subscriber who seems suspiciously happy to have the dead woman out of the way. The closer she gets to weeding out the culprit, the more Cam feels like someone is out to cut her harvest short. But to keep her own body out of the compost pile, she’ll have to wrap this case up quickly.
Bio: ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part is the latest in best-selling author Edith Maxwell’s Local Foods Mysteries series (Kensington Publishing, 2014). Her new Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day (also from Kensington), will debut with Flipped for Murder in November, 2015.
Maxwell writes the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries under the pseudonym Tace Baker, which Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau solves small-town murders (Barking Rain Press). The second book in the series, Bluffing is Murder, released in November, 2014. Edith holds a doctorate in linguistics and is a long-time member of Amesbury Friends Meeting.
Maxwell’s Carriagetown Mysteries series features Quaker midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 with John Greenleaf Whittier’s help. Maxwell also writes award-winning short stories.
A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, Maxwell lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors: (wickedcozyauthors.com),
and you can find her at http://www.edithmaxwell.com, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest,