Tag Archives: party snacks

2014: The Year of the Empanada (first in an occasional series)

18 Jan

I love empanadas. The “pan” part of the word comes from the word for bread in Spanish, and empanadas are basically stuffed bread pockets. That’s basically…they have many permutations and depending where you are from they might be made with corn dough, wheat flour, fried or baked. They may be stuffed with meat or chicken or seafood or vegetables. We also call them pastelillos in Puerto Rico, pastel referring to pies, much like meat pies are hand-held dough pockets in other places.

Entry-level empanadas...premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.

Entry-level empanadas…premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.

Regular readers know that my son and I are not big sandwich eaters, but empanadas actually do the same job and we love those. You can pack them up for a picnic, grab them on the run and eat them in the car, have them for an afternoon snack after school, serve them as appetizers with an aperitif when your guests walk in the door.

Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly

Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly (photo: Ashley Fifer)

Every country seems to have a version of empanadas; Jamaican meat patties, Indian samosas, even Chinese dim sum (potstickers) could be called empanadas.



This year I want to explore the world of empanadas. My friend Ashley and my godson Sean have agreed to go on this journey with me (and calling them out here is my way of holding them to it). Ashley was my cooking buddy for this first go and took the picture of me rolling the dough. Continue reading


Almost Instant Bruschetta (Quickie tomato spread)

18 Oct

Got a tomato and some day-old bread?

Swirl around to soften and Bob's your uncle!

Swirl around to soften and Bob’s your uncle!

Use it up deliciously and look fab doing it.

A lovely way to start a meal (or grate some cheese over and call it a movie snack)

A lovely way to start a meal (or grate some cheese over and call it a movie snack)


1 tsp extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

A few ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 or two cloves garlic minced

Day-old bread, sliced and lightly toasted

Salt to taste


Heat oil in a skillet. Toss in tomatoes and garlic and stir around at medium until skins begin to separate. Spread on toasts. Sprinkle with salt. Serve.



Three Easy and Elegant Tapas for Your Holiday Table

15 Dec

Continue reading

Feta, Avocado and Sun-Dried Tomato Snacks — Use ‘Em While Ya Got ‘Em!

30 Jan

I’m in a Use-It-Up frenzy at the moment; bought more fresh food than Leandro and I could consume during a week in which we were unexpectedly invited to dinner at other people’s houses and even if I could afford the waste, I have a really hard time throwing out food.

(For more on the food we throw away  visit Jonathan Bloom at Wasted Food; or the E.P.A. — where you’ll find out that Americans generate 34 million tons of food waste each year; or this NYTimes article from 2008 which says “As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study” ).

So, no real recipe today, but a serving suggestion of flavors and textures that worked well in a “scrappy” snack…horrid pun intended.

I took half an avocado left over from the previous day, some slices of feta that needed using up, and some sun-dried tomatoes in oil that have been lurking in my fridge. I just sliced fairly thin, laid them on woven wheat crackers and called it a light lunch.

It was delicious and satisfying and effectively utilized my natural resources! Pretty too, don’tcha think?


Pear, Berry and Goat Cheese Hors d’ouevres ¡Que Chévrere!

16 Dec

Once again, I underestimated how much time I had to make food and how much time each item would take. Regular readers know that I am trying not to fuss when guests come over, but I got a bit ambitious for a Lucas and Amanda playdate and ended up slicing and cooking more than talking for a good part of the early evening.

However, my trip into the weeds of food prep was well worth it, if only for this one new, festive appetizer that looks so pretty and explodes with flavor.

Inspired by a holiday recipe I saw in a magazine last time I went to get my hair done, I picked up some Bosch pears. The original recipe called for Camembert, but I couldn’t find it during my very brave (or ill-advised or just plain crazy?) trip to the nearest Costco Warehouse in the middle of the holiday shopping season with its completely lawless parking lot with a just a half an hour before I had to pick up both little lunatics from the daycare. I cut my losses, grabbed some goat cheese, extricated myself from Costco without incident, and hit the refresh button on my recipe plans.

I had just got the litle guys into a groove at home (which involved unforeseen complications, like my son’s grumpy mood, and taking out the old-fashioned spiral corer and peeler for them to prepare their own apples and other such mommy activities) and Amanda was already at the door! But no harm done – the fizzy stuff was cold and all I had to do was some quick assembly for the starters.

Later I bunged Lucas’ favorite Flex-Mex Shredded Chicken chicken in to a pot and all was well (although admittedly the kids were moaning for food by the time I had it all together – why, why, why do kids decide to get hungry EARLY just when you are overwhelmed? And is there any sound more grating — and distracting — than the whine of your little emperor child when you are trying to concentrate on getting him what he wants anyway? Sheesh!)

So, for the holidays, try this with a dry sparkling wine – we had Frexienet, but I might go with a dry prosecco the next time. Amanda, my colleague, Maryanne, and I loved this up and I think you will too!

Pear, Berry and Goat Cheese Hors d’ouevres (makes a light appetizer for two)

1 Bosch Bear, core removed and sliced into thin wedges (I used a push-down apple core-and-slicer and then sliced each segment in half)

1 tsp lemon juice

2 Tbs creamy goat cheese (chevre)

2 Tbs walnuts, chopped fairly fine

1 Tbs lingonberry jam (raspberry or red currant would also work)

Arrange pear wedges on a plate. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add a dollop of goat cheese. Top with walnuts and a bit of jam. Serve immediately.

Mango Tango Salsa!

16 Nov

It was almost too late for that poor mango, bought in a frenzy of nostalgia for the tree my grandmother planted in her backyard in Mayagüez, a Puerto Rican town celebrated for its delicious, juicy, juicy, sweet, meaty, fiber-free mangos. In June, those suckers drop out of the sky and plop heavily onto the ground where you have to get them before the other critters do. They fall in such quantities that I spent many mornings cutting, slicing, peeling and freezing – you can’t possibly eat them all as they ripen. Friends in San Juan used to love to see me arrive with freezer bags full of Mayagüez mangos; they’d have the blender, booze and ice ready for action before I could even lock my car and get to the front door.

No such welcoming committee for this mango, even after its long journey from Brazil or Mexico or somesuch warm place, after its boring days in a chilly supermarket produce aisle next to a basket of equally foreign avocados, after too many days in the pale fall light of my southern exposure window, defended from attackers by its only company: several very busy spiders and a valiant Venus Flytrap. No, this poor mango was in dire need of attention and accessorizing, as its best days were behind it.

So, Mango Salsa it was, quick and dirty. Good excuse to eat blue corn tortilla chips, which are a weakness of mine (Waterloo to any attempt to get bikini ready) and to further prove that the Spanish love for fruit and cheese is grounded in pure genius and has infinite possibilities. The salsa sweet-tartness and the tortilla crunch just beg to be completed with some salty squeaky cheese – Queso Blanco (the firm kind of Latin white cheese) and Monterey Jack are my choices, but salted mozzarella would likely work also.

So here it is – a one bowl operation, served up in a margarita glass, a neglected mango finally loved up the way it should be.

Mango Tango Salsa

1 cup mango, chopped into small chunks*

1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded (or not) and chopped into small chunks

3 Tbs red onion, minced

1 Tbs mango-orange juice (or mango or orange)

2 tsp chipotle in adobo paste (spoon it off the chipotles, but don’t include the peppers themselves)

3 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice

1 pinch salt

Put all ingredients into a small bowl. Mix thoroughly, add seasonings to taste, cover and refrigerate until chilled. Serve with sliced Caribbean white cheese, salted mozzarella or Monterey Jack and tortilla chips.

* To cut up a mango, hold it on its side lengthwise on a cutting board and choose a spot about a third of the way in. You want to slice down on either side of the seed so you have two bowls.  Score the flesh of each bowl like a checkerboard and turn it inside out (we call this a porcupine). Slice off the chunks and dice as needed. Yo can also cut flesh off the seed (or just eat the flesh off the seed yourself- you are the cook after all and deserve the treat!)

Tortilla española (Classic Spanish potato and egg frittata)

14 May

For parties, picnics or brunch!

One of my favorite dishes ever, tortilla española, is picnic and party portable, light yet filling, subtle yet hearty and includes just four basic ingredients (plus salt). It also looks beautiful in a sturdy, wholesome farmhouse way. I eat it warm or cold, for breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch (or a midnight raid on the fridge). It keeps — refrigerated – for a couple of days, but honestly, tortilla española never lasts that long in my house!

Spanish people (from the Iberian peninsula) are quite — and rightly — proud of their culinary traditions. Serving your home-made tortilla to a Spaniard is kind of like serving your spaghetti marinara to an Italian from Italy: there is a good chance you will be damned with faint praise, or met with an unsuccessfully concealed sniff of a European nose that tells you you just don’t get it. But I have served my tortilla to Spaniard after Spaniard and the invariable response has been a request for seconds and a lot of praise, so I think it’s a winner. ¡Olé!

This is a pretty easy dish, but does require some derring-do for the flipping (unless Rosaria turns up with her fancy tortilla flipper one day soon!). I am including a list of equipment here so that you can set yourself up for success without scrambling for stuff. Thanks to Ashley for chopping and for writing down the exact proportions while I measured and stirred.


non-stick pan and lid (the pan should be at 9-10 inches across; the cover doesn’t have to be the exact fit. I like an oversized lid myself)



large mixing bowl

bowl to catch drained oil

large flat plate for filling


1 Cup olive oil (or half olive oil, half neutral vegetable oil)

2 baseball sized onions, peeled and sliced into 1/8 inch rings (rings may be halved)

3 medium potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into relatively uniform 1/2 inch slices (Russett or Yukon Gold preferred. New potatoes should not be used)

8-10 fresh eggs (a bigger pan requires 10)

Heat oil until liquid and fragrant and layer potatoes and onions in the oil. Lower heat to medium and cook vegetables until tender (if they start to brown, lower the heat more), turn occasionally.

Open bottle of prosecco or other refreshing white wine and begin drinking (This is Ashley’s contribution to the recipe).

In a large bowl, gently beat eggs. When vegetables are tender, drain into colander, reserving oil. Put drained vegetables in egg mixture and stir to cover, adding 1/4-1/2 tsp salt. Allow to rest for five to ten minutes.

Clean pan and heat a small amount of the reserved oil into pan (non-stick pans should require little more than a rub of oil) at medium-high. Save reserved oil for another dish.

Pour egg mixture into pan and allow to cook at medium high until a crust forms on the art of mixture that is in direct contact with the pan. Cover and lower heat to medium low, shaking occasionally. When mixture is relatively firm CAREFULLY lay plate face down on pan and turn tortilla onto pan (this is where liquid can come out; I do it over the sink). Slide tortilla back into pan, uncooked side down. Continue cooking until it slides easily in pan.

You may flip a few more times to improve shape, then flip onto plate, allow to cool for at least ten minutes, slice pie-style and serve with salad or cut into squares for a buffet or appetizer (stick with toothpicks for hors d’oeuvres).


myPod: Edamame (soybeans in pods)

8 May

A beloved bean

Boiling up a bag of edamame is even easier than making ice pops, so you could say this is something of a lame thing to post about, but I’ve really been meaning to share my appreciation for this useful food item for a while now. And today, Mother’s Day, when it happened to save this mom a lot of trouble over dinner, seemed like the right time.

At under $3 per bag of frozen (even organic!) edamames make for a reasonably priced appetizer or T.V. snack for two to four people. Soybeans are full of fiber and anti-oxidants and contain no animal fats (but do contain those all-important omega-3 oils). They are tasty and quick to get on the table, and shelled, can replace lima beans (which I hate) and peas (which I quite like) in many recipes.

But what I really love about them is how companionable they are. They remind me of an leisurely, chatty evening shelling pigeon peas around a hurricane lamp in the mountains of Dominican Republic when I was doing a little humanitarian work. They remind me of dining at an Asian restaurant in San Juan with my dear, departed friend, Frances Borden, in the early days of our friendship.  They are how my son and I might start a meal…popping beans right out of the pod and into our mouths (and laughing when the beans shoot across the room instead), or how we might sit around watching the news with my parents, the pile of full pods getting lower and the pile of empty pods getting higher. Farmer Steve got Leandro to try the fresh garden peas we were picking at our C.S.A. last year, because they look like edamame pods.

So get a bag and keep it in the fridge for the next time you don’t know what to do for dinner and need to buy some time, or you want something more virtuous than chips to accompany your favorite show or a movie night.

Boil up a quart or so of water and add 1 lb. frozen edamame in the pods. When the water returns to the boil, cook for three minutes, drain and serve.

Leftover beans can be added to salads (including rice and pasta salads), stir-fries and soups.

5-minute Meatless Chorizo Quesadilla? Try this!

7 Apr

 My book club has reunited after a winter hiatus. Our first get-back-together was at mine after work and while I wanted to put on a nice spread for these women I adore, I also didn’t want to work too hard. I remembered a puff pastry snack I learned from a Spanish friend, Rosa Cassano. The combination of smoked mozzarella and sundried tomatoes in a melty package tasted astonishingly like Spanish chorizo with pimentón. I didn’t have time for puff pastry, but I figured I could melt them together in a flash on the stovetop in flour tortillas. It worked deliciously as a finger food, as the smoked mozzarella firms up very well after melting. And there truly is no meat in them, though no one will believe you…

 ¡Sabroso! ¡Olé! 

Sundried Tomato and Smoked Mozzarella Quesadillas

Four 8-inch flour tortillas

8 oz smoked mozzarella cheese sliced thin

4 oz sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

Spritz of olive oil or cooking oil spray.

Heat a small amount of oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet. Place a tortilla in the skillet. Cover half the tortilla with a layer of cheese and a generous sprinkling of tomatoes, leaving a bit of a margin at the edge. Fold the empty half over, press down and heat through, turning several times during cooking. When the tortilla is just turning golden and stiffening, it’s done. Repeat with remaining tortillas and allow to cool just enough for the melted cheese to firm up for cutting into triangles. Serve with guacamole/salsa/sour cream.

Delusional – Why am I hosting a jewelry party? For the snacks!

21 Nov

A do-the-best-you-can jewelry party snack table. White cheese and grapes are on the far left

It really was a great idea.



I decided to host a jewelry party at home, with the help of my mom, on the eve of Veteran’s Day since I and most of my friends had the next day off. Super.

Then my parents scheduled a trip and wouldn’t be around. Not-so-super.

Then the day actually came. Oh…sugar.

I don’t have time for this…

But, thankfully, Amanda, another mom at Spanish school, had just asked me for a quickie interesting recipe she could take to an outdoor party. “I know! Dominican white cheese and red grapes.”

All you need is cheese, grapes, toothpicks and a knife. Really.

Here’s your clever answer when someone wants to know where the idea came from (after you mention Hot, Cheap & Easy, of course).

Spain’s classic fruit and cheese combo of Manchego sheep cheese and membrillo (quince) is probably what inspires New World Latinos to try other pairings of fruit with local cheeses. Caribbean white cheese – sort of like firm mozzarella with more salt and muscle – goes unbelieveably well with tart-sweet red grapes. But to convince your guests to pop both in their mouths at the same time, skewer each block of cheese with a single grape and force the flavor explosion.

White Cheese and Grape Cocktail Skewers


16 oz block of Queso Blanco (Latin white cheese, firm. It is available at Latin grocery stores, but my Costco also sells it in economy size bricks)

bunch seedless red grapes (the firmer the better)


Cut cheese into 1/2 inch square blocks. Skewer each block with a red grape. Arrange artfully on a tray. Enjoy the expressions of startled pleasure on faces.

Addendum: Amanda reports that she took it a step further and shredded parmesan cheese on a foil covered baking sheet at 300 or so, until browned and crisp. She then put the skewers on it for an edible (and therefore disposable) tray for her potluck. ¡Gracias amiga!

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