Last Minute Dip

Are you searching for a tasty dip or appetizer for last minute company or a get together? This dip is only three ingredients and literally can be made in seconds. All you need is a softened brock of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese, a packet of Sazón, and some basil pesto.

Ingredients:

1 block of cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese

1 packet of Sazón (found in the Latin foods isle)

1/4 cup of basil pesto

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Adjust to taste by using more or less pesto. Serve with crackers or veggies.

Orange Bourbon Chocolate Brownies

These moist, indulgent brownies are the result of not being able to find my “good vanilla” and having to find suitable substitutions…

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups white sugar

1 cup butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 tablespoon bourbon

The juice of 1/2 of a small orange

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

DIRECTIONS:

Ceasar Dill Pickle Pasta Salad

I had the freedom to experiment a bit on the 4th of July with some of the recipe trends I’ve seen floating around social media lately. A couple of these ideas that have sounded good to my family are the pasta salad with dill pickles and the one with ceasar salad. Since I didn’t have everything to make either complete recipe, I combined elements and used what I already had. I think the result was pretty tasty.

Ingredients:

1 pound of cooked pasta, such as elbow macaroni or shells

1 bottle of ceasar salad dressing

1 cup of dill pickle juice

1 cup of chopped dill pickles

1 small chopped red onion

1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Add the warm, drained cooked pasta to the pickle juice and allow to soak approximately 10 minutes before stirring in the ceasar dressing. Add salt, pepper, onion, and dill pickle pieces. Blend together carefully and refrigerate before serving.

Optional: add freshly grated parmesan cheese and/or olives.

Farmer’s Market Salsa Fresca with Homemade Baked Tortilla Chips

As we are heading full swing into the summer farmer’s market season here in Southern Illinois, I am sharing a staple of sorts from my house: salsa fresca. I prefer somewhat of a kicked up pico de gallo. When time allows, I prefer to bake my own tortilla chips.

Salsa Ingredients:

2 to 3 large tomatoes

2 to 3 peppers

1 large onion

handful of basil

2 garlic cloves

a pinch each of sea salt, sugar, cumin powder, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder

a dash of freshly cracked black pepper

the juice of one lime

Salsa Directions:

1. Chop the tomatoes, peppers, and onion into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.

2. Finely chop the basil and mince the garlic.

3. Add all ingredients together in bowl and mix together.

Tortilla Chip Ingredients: One bag of flour tortillas.

Tortilla Chip Directions: Cut or tear tortillas into chip size pieces. Bake at 350 degrees F on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet until they reach the desired crispness. You can also get fancy and cut them into special shapes to fit whatever theme you desire. Be creative.

Note: Cilantro and parsley work just fine too. Use as hot or as mild of peppers as you prefer. Mix it up a bit! Have fun and enjoy!

Corn, Ranch Dressing, and Giardiniera

Contestant Robyn opened her cooler on this Sunday night’s episode of “Worst Cooks in America” and found the following three ingredients: corn, ranch dressing, and giardiniera. These foods had been chosen to represent Illinois. (Technically, the dart she threw at the map to choose her state landed in Southern Illinois –more specifically, Southwestern Illinois… ) I spent commercial breaks researching how ranch dressing and giardiniera were indicative of Illinois. Since the official state vegetable is sweet corn, the official state snack is popcorn, and as of this New Year’s Day, the official state grain is corn, I get that one.

An internet search revealed that giardiniera, a pickled vegetable condiment, is reportedly very popular in the Chicago area served with foods such as Italian beef and pizza. Guess what. Southern Illinois has some pretty great Italian food too (Can you say, “Herrinfesta Italiana?”) We also have locally made giardiniera. Louie’s Seasonings in Johnston City makes both hot and mild giardiniera as well as muffaletta and olive salads.

As for the ranch dressing….well, that one was more of a stretch for me. The best I could determine is that it was perhaps a veiled nod to Miracle Whip. Although it is not mayonnaise, it has similar color and appearance. Ranch dressing often has mayonnaise in it. As for the Miracle Whip connection to Illinois, it has been reported to have been developed in Salem. Originally, it was said to be Max Crosset’s X-tra Fine Salad dressing as used in Max Crosset’s Cafe. He reportedly sold its recipe to Kraft Foods for $300 in 1931. As with other things (like internet and sticky notes…) there are some conflicting reports regarding the invention of the famous salad dressing.

Whether or not she was familiar with Illinois or the three ingredients, Contestant Robyn did win the burger creation challenge for the Red Team. In fact a couple of the ingredients she chose to incorporate into her burger creation had elements that are representative of Southern Illinois: pepperjack cheese and barbecue sauce. Peppers seem to grow well here. Darn Hot Peppers has a wide variety of products featuring them. Good BBQ is also readily available in Southern Illinois. 17th Street Bar & Grill, Smoked to the Bone, Pat’s BBQ, The Wylde Hog, and Southern Que are just some of the options. Chef Anne seemed impressed with the Illinois burger, and it did look delicious.

Dark Chocolate Carrot Cupcakes 

Since this is National Chocolate Cupcake Day, I am sharing my own recipe for dark chocolate carrot cupcakes. The spices tend to add some warmth and a unique flavor and depth to them. Enjoy!

Cupcake Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:

One bag shredded carrots, finely grated in the food processor (approx. 2 cups)

2 Cups flour

1/3 Cup dark chocolate cocoa powder

1 Teaspoon baking soda

1 Teaspoon baking powder

A pinch of garam masala (indian spice mixture)

A pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients:

2 Cups of sugar

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper or foil liners. Mix dry ingredients together and add the wet ingredients.  Fill cupcake liners 1/2 to 1/3 full and bake approximately 17 minutes.  Baking time may vary with oven and altitude.  Allow to cool before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients:

1/4 Cup heavy whipping cream

5 Tablespoons sugar

1 Medium container of whipped cream cheese

Approximately 3 cups of powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder

A sprinkle of chipotle powder

A sprinkle of powdered cayenne pepper

Directions:  Beat cream and sugar until peaks form.  Add remaining ingredients one at a time, beat each one into the frosting.  Add more powdered sugar if necessary for desired sweetness or texture.  Fill parchment triangle bag with frosting and pipe in spirals beginning at center of cupcake. 

Optional Garnish:

Use a vegetable peeler to create curls from chocolate candy bark/almond bark and top each frosted cupcake with chocolate curls