Chips and Dip … Revised

From book clubs to movie nights to prayer groups, I love inviting people to come into my home, drink wine and be together. While there is something profoundly delicious about the standard “chips and salsa” fare for such occassions, I have added a few additional dips and and dippers to add color and diversity. This is not so much “cooking” as it is an idea for a quick way to create a vibrant, colorful spread for a party.

Book Club Chips & Dip

DIPPERS:

  • Tortilla Chips (look for the 3 – 5 ingredient chips: corn, oil, salt, touch of lime)
  • Mini Bell Peppers, halved with the tops cut off
  • Jiama, skinned and cut into flat strips, spritzed with fresh lime and chili powder

DIPS:

  • Guacamole (fresh avocados, garlic, salt and pepper, and some fresh salsa)
  • Fresh Salsa
  • Cowboy Caviar (available pre-made at Trader Joe’s or Costco; bell peppers, black beans, and corn)

Eggplant Caprese

As the cool spring sunshine gives way to a warmer summer blaze, the really good tomatoes are returning to us. The gritty, hard tomatoes in the winter are hardly satisfying, but those sweet juicy summertime tomatoes are just delicious! This is one of my favorite summer recipes, bringing the delicious open-faced caprese sandwich to a veggie-loving palate, offering a grilled eggplant disk in lieu of a crusty bread.

Eggplant CapreseINGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Eggplant, cut in discs, 1/4″ thick
  • 2 Beefsteak Tomatoes, cut into discs
  • 4 oz Soft Mozzarella
  • Fresh Basil leaves
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • Balsamic Vinegar, drizzled

PESTO INGREDIENTS:

  • 1-2 Tomatoes (chopped to 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup Fresh Basil Leaves
  • 1/4 cup Pine Nuts
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lime, juiced

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Combine all the pesto ingredients and puree in a blender until smooth.

2.  Heat olive oil on grill (or in a flat bottom pan on the stove top.

3.  Fry eggplant on both sides in the olive oil. Season with salt.

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4.  Spread pesto on the eggplant, then top with tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil.

5.  Top eggplant stacks with freshly ground pepper and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.


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Cheesy Vegetable Polenta

My Texas-bred Uncle Ron has this incredible recipe for  Jalapeno Cheese Grits, an ultimate comfort food. My version captures the same delicious cheesy texture with lots of vegetables and without all the extra cream and butter.  This recipe is one of my favorite plan ahead meals, particularly as a filling, easy breakfast for early mornings before work.  It also works well as a side dish for dinner, doing double duty as the starch and vegetable. I have experimented with all sorts of vegetables (including spinach, mushrooms and asparagus). All of the variations have been delicious, though I am particularly fond of the zucchini bell pepper combo that I have laid out here because it provides some great color contrast to the yellow polenta.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium zucchini, grated (a large tooth cheese grater works well)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 sweet (or yellow) onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cups of boiling hot water
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup polenta (dry corn grits)
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Chop the vegetables and lay them out in a 13 x 9 oven safe casserole or glass dish.

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3.  Add boiling water to polenta and sea salt.  Mix together well, then pour over vegetables.

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4.  Bake in oven for 40 minutes.

5.  Take casserole out of the oven and add the sharp cheddar cheese. Mix well and return to the oven for 20 more minutes.

6.  Remove casserole from oven and let it cool at least 10 minutes before serving. If you are making this for later, I scoop out the warm polenta and put into individual microwave safe dishes so that it is easier to grab and go during the week

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Recipe makes four hearty servings, 240 calories per serving.

Bell Pepper Nachos

Whenever I am craving a cheesy indulgence that I can eat with my fingers and top with creamy guacamole and chunky salsa, nachos would be the obvious choice! Enter in Mini Bell Pepper Nachos: they are super quick and easy to prepare and you are indulging in all your cravings while essentially just eating veggies and a little cheese. Yes!

Bell Pepper Nachos

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 – 10 Mini Bell Peppers
  • 1/2 cup of Cowboy Caviar (black beans, corn, and mini red peppers)
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese

Optional Toppings:

  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
  • Sour Cream
  • Fresh Cilantro

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cut off the stem of the mini peppers, then cut them in half longwise
  2. Stuff each of the open peppers with Cowboy Caviar (shredded chicken or pork also works well)
  3. Microwave the stuffed peppers for 2 minutes
  4. Sprinkle the peppers with sharp cheddar cheese and return to the microwave for 1 – 2 more minutes (until cheese is melted)
  5. Let the nachos cool for a couple minutes, and then add your favorite toppings

Recipe makes one serving, 260 Calories (without optional toppings)

Egg White Summer Vegetable Frittata

The skills needed to create a perfect omelet has eluded me for quite some time. Over the past several years, my travel work schedule has given me the opportunity to observe many skilled omelet makers at work in hotel restaurants. I can now report back the secret ingredient to making a great omelet: lots of oil. While a bit of olive oil is great, I try to avoid it in large doses, especially just for the purpose of a perfect looking omelet. And that is why I love this method for making a frittata: it is quick, easy, and looks beautiful when you’re done!   I also strongly recommend experimenting with different veggie fillings, such as asparagus, spinach and mushrooms.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Medium Sweet (Walla Walla) Onion, chopped
  • 2 medium zucchini, grated (large tooth cheese grater works well)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp ground sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 – 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (1 tsp)
  • 1/4 cup of sharp cheddar cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Preheat the oven to broil

2.  Saute the onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes. Add the bell peppers and zucchini.Add the fresh spinach, and put a lid on the sauce pan (the spinach only takes a minute or so to steam and cook down). Put veggies in a separate bowl to cool.

Frittata (1)

3.  Mix together the egg whites, cheese and seasonings in a separate bowl or Pyrex pitcher. Add the vegetables. Poor the mixture back in the frying pan over low-medium heat, making sure the veggies are evenly dispersed. Cook for a couple minutes, or until the edges start to turn brown. Put the frying pan directly in the oven and broil until the top is slightly brown.

4.  Slice the frittata into 4 wedges.

Frittata (2)

This recipe yields 4 servings, 150 calories each.