Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus

FullSizeRenderWith the holidays in full swing, you can’t leave your house without a plate of something to share at a gathering, and most often it’s an appetizer involving a brick or two of cream cheese. Here’s a recipe that strays from that formula, yet tastes rich and creamy sans the cheese. This sweet potato hummus was posted on Yummly, sent in by cookieandkate.com (a food blogger who gives top billing to her dog…go figure!). I made several adjustments to her spice amounts, most notably to the cayenne pepper. The 1½ teaspoon suggested seemed excessive. I preferred to up the smoked paprika and cumin, so there were other flavors and less heat. 

Now let’s talk about the blessed sweet potato we’re all so obsessed with, and give credit where credit is due! Admit it. We’re all guilty of it. Lumping yams in with sweet potatoes, that is. Truth be told, most of us have never even tasted a yam, but since our grocery stores use the names interchangeably, we think yams are darker orange versions of the sweet potato. But true yams have black or dark brown skin, white flesh, and are drier and starchier. You have to go to a specialty grocery store to find them, if they can be found at all in the USA. Sweet potatoes come in two categories: firm sweet potatoes (with golden skin and paler flesh, sometimes even close to white), and soft sweet potatoes (with red or copper skin and orange flesh). We tend to prefer the soft sweet potato, which cooks up moist and creamy. The soft sweet potato that’s prevalent in our stores closely resembles the true yam, so that’s why they are often labeled as such in the bins. 

Enough with the food source education! Let’s get back to this delicious dip! It’s awesome with Simply Naked pita chips, corn chips, or the gluten-free “Food Should be Good” brand cracker-chips (sold at Costco and other stores). I made this for a couple parties over the weekend, and was told it was quite tasty. I myself have yet to verify that, as I’ve got a nasty cold and can’t taste a dang thing. But I trust my taste-testers. They wouldn’t lie to me. Although one of my taste-testers (and son) Justin said there was zero heat in the dip. The guy who practically puts Sriracha sauce on his Cheerios thinks I’d say mayonnaise has “kick.” So consider the source.

Serves 8-12

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can garbanzo beans (aka: chickpeas), rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, peeled, and quartered
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼–½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used ½ teaspoon. Add ¼ first and taste!)

Preheat oven to 375° or 400°. Place 2 potatoes on a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until tender when pressed. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop sweet potatoes out of the skins, and place in bowl of food processor or blender. Add garbanzo beans, olive oil, tahini paste, garlic, lemon juice, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Process until smooth. Serve with chips or cucumber slices and carrot sticks. Store in airtight container and refrigerate any leftovers.

Basil Pesto

FullSizeRenderBasil is bountiful at farmer’s markets this time of year, so what can you do with this most fragrant of herbs? Pesto is a versatile sauce, and making it yourself fills your kitchen to the brim with fresh summertime smells. We love this recipe (from an older Better Homes & Gardens cookbook) stirred up over a a pound of prepared pasta, with cubes of grilled chicken, and cherry tomatoes. Delish!!! I love wide, flat noodles with pesto. Trader Joe’s lemon pepper pappardelle pasta works really well (pictured here), but you can use anything your little heart desires—penne, spaghetti, linguini, farfella (aka: bow tie pasta) or those little cup shaped ones I can’t remember the name of. I draw the line at lasagna noodles, though. That would just be silly, people.

This is also great slathered on a tortilla and sprinkled with grated parmesan, and then baked in a 375° oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until edges or tortillas are crisp. Cut like a pizza and serve with your meal. (If you use corn tortillas, this could be a gluten-free snack.) Or spread on think chunks of sourdough bread and top with fresh mozz and a slice of tomato, then broil in the oven for a few minutes. These make fabulous appetizers. 

I’ve also done a mixture of half real mayonnaise, and half prepared pesto for a sandwich spread. You want to wake up your boring old lunch, this will do it! So is that enough ideas to get you going?

IMG_1038I’m super excited because my basil is actually doing great in my mini herb garden this year. In the past, it’s grown rather sparse in my pots, but my plant is going gang-busters right now—it’s yielded enough to make 3 jars already! But when I’ve not had basil right out my back door, I’ve bought bunches from the farmer’s market, and spent a morning making multiple recipes of pesto, putting each batch in an 8-ounce container (pint jars work great). Then I use one batch fresh for dinner or appetizers, and freeze the others for use all year long. There is nothing like a batch of pesto over pasta in the dead of winter—it’s a reminder that spring will come again.

Makes 8 ounces

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves (washed and rinsed)
½ cup fresh parsley springs (without stems), or 1/4 cup dried parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup slivered almonds*
1 large clove garlic, quartered
¼ teaspoon salt

In a blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, almonds, garlic, and salt. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until paste forms. Stop machine to scrape down sides as needed.

If not using immediately, store in airtight container and refrigerate up to a week, or freeze for 6-12 months.

*NOTE: I used to make this with pine nuts—the traditional nut for this recipe—but they are crazy bonkers expensive, so I use almonds now and they work just as well. Pine nuts also have a tendency to go rancid if not refrigerated, and I’ve wasted those little gold nuggets unintentionally. So I quit buying them and stick with almonds.


IMG_0959With my fresh mini herb garden pots going wild, I’ve been looking for ways to use the abundance of mint threatening to take over the deck. The Good Earth restaurant makes a fabulous tabbouleh, and after ordering it recently, I thought it looked easy enough to duplicate at home. I tried Ina Garten’s recipe found on foodnetwork.com, and I liked her process, but found the recipe had too little bulghur in ratio to the herbs and tomatoes, too much pepper, waaaaaaay too much salt (even with using only 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt instead of the kosher salt she recommended*), and far too many scallions. Then I looked at Ellie Krieger’s recipe, and ended up using my own amounts based on the two recipes. Ina puts the dressing into the bulghur wheat while it’s soaking, and Ellie pours in on after the fact. I tried it Ina’s way, and it seemed to have great flavor, with my adjustments to amounts below. I’m sure it would work fine to add the dressing after soaking the wheat, too.

I know this traditional Lebanese dish usually has more herbs and less bulghur than you see here, but we preferred a little more of the ancient grain to temper all the mint and parsley. And my son Justin said that 1 cup mint was over-the-top, and I needed to back off a bit. I liked it, but I love mint so much I want to marry it, so take that into consideration.

This is a versatile dish. It can be served as an appetizer along with toasted pita triangles and spicy hummus, and some sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. Or it can be a salad or side to a meal. Shred or cube some grilled chicken into the bowl, and it’s a meal. The ease of the dish, plus the fresh herbs, make it perfect for warm weather, no matter which part it plays in your meal.

*NOTE: I did some research on kosher salt/sea salt/table salt, and found that you need more kosher or sea salt than table salt if substituting one for the other in a recipe. See this handy conversion chart for your own reference.

Serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups bulghur wheat
2 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2–1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (1 bunch)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (1 bunch)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2–3 tablespoons mined red onion
2–3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the bulghur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, and add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and lemon zest. Stir, then allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour. (You can also just pour the boiling water over the bulghur, and add the dressing ingredients later.)

Add the mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, chives, and the pepper; mix well. Season with salt, if necessary; cover and refrigerate. Flavor improves if the tabbouleh is made a few hours ahead of serving time.

Spicy Hummus

IMG_0899We used to think Trader Joe’s hummus was da bomb, until we tried this recipe from Rachel Ray’s website. Now we mix up our own fresh hummus whenever we have a hankering for a dip to use with pretzel flats, pita chips, or cukes, carrots, and pea pods. This is also great on fajitas, and it keeps in the frig a couple weeks, so no need to make it when you’ve got a bunch of other stuff to chop and saute. (Note: You will need a food processor or blender to get the desired smooth consistency.) I’ve tweaked the recipe each time I’ve tried it, and those changes are reflected below. Turns out tahini (a sesame seed paste found in either with the olives, or in the ethnic food aisles) is the secret ingredient that gives hummus it’s creamy texture and slightly nutty taste.

(Hey Judy! Here’s another recipe that uses the coriander you bought to make the Savory Sweet Potato Biscuits.)

Makes 6-8 servings

1 (14.5-ounce can) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (also called chickpeas)
2 rounded tablespoons tahini paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Course salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor bowl and pulse until mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer to small bowl and serve with pita chips or veggies. Or store in airtight container in frig for 2-3 weeks.

Peanut Butter Protein Balls

IMG_0905Great for packing in a school lunch, taking camping, or simply for snacking, these peanut butter balls have been a family favorite of ours for years. This simple recipe was published in Family Fun magazine a bazillion years ago, part of an article on school lunch boredom-busters. Super easy to make—mom or grandma can measure, and kids can mix and shape balls. If spheres are too boring for your bunch, shape into snakes and spirals, or whatever your little heart desires.

My now 20-year-old son still loves these, and I’ll make him a stash to store in his dorm room, where he can enjoy them after a brutal physics exam. So these aren’t just for wee ones! We’ve also served them in little petit four cups along side chocolate truffles, and they hold their own with the fancy foods. They keep their shape best if you freeze them, and then they’re perfect for packing in a lunch or bringing on a picnic—they thaw quickly and are ready for consumption by the time you reach your destination.

Makes 12-15 balls

1 cup super chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup raisins (optional—they make these more challenging to shape)
1/4 cup honey
2 graham crackers, crushed into crumbs

Combine peanut butter, dry milk, and honey (and raisins, if desired), and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Scoop out teaspoonfuls of dough, and roll into balls. Put graham cracker crumbs in small bowl, and roll balls in crumbs to coat. Serve as is, or refrigerate or freeze in airtight container. (We prefer to freeze them.)


FullSizeRenderSo easy, so fresh. The biggest challenge to making this delicious guacamole, is finding avocados at the perfect stage of ripeness. Too hard, and they won’t mash. Too soft, and they’ll have gone bad. It’s kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You have to look for avocados that are juuuuuuust right—when the leathery green skin yields slightly to pressure from your thumb. My son Mitchell likes freshly made guac so much, he says it’s his “chocolate,” meaning he craves it the way those with a sweet tooth crave the cocoa bean. We created this simple recipe when we couldn’t find a satisfactory ready-made version in the grocery store, and Mitchell’s been a happy camper ever since.

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups

2-3 ripe avocados
2-3 slices yellow onion, minced
Half of lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, optional
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

In small bowl, combine all ingredients and mash. Serve with tacos, or dip guacamole with tortilla or pretzel chips. (Do I really need to tell anyone how to eat guac? I don’t think so!)

Haystack Taco Dip

Haystack Salad IMG_0608So many appetizers rely on a brick of cream cheese as base, but this taco-flavored dip is chock full of fresh ingredients like tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts—and no cream cheese! And it’s probably the best thing you’ll ever dip with a chip. It’s a great appetizer for graduation open houses or other buffets as it doesn’t need to be kept hot, or cold. In fact, that’s where I first tasted this concoction, at my friend Laurie’s open house for one of her daughters. Laurie called her recipe “Haystack Salad,” but my family has always called it “that taco dip.” Laurie’s directions were to use a can of Hormel no bean chili as the base, or refried beans in a pinch. It seems Hormel has quit producing that item—I’ve not been able to find no bean chili for several years now, and the refried beans work perfectly well instead.

One way to make this dip extra great, is to get some Penzy’s taco seasoning. It has less salt and more flavor than the stuff you get in the foil packets at the grocery store. You can order the taco seasoning through Penzy’s website, and hey, grab some cinnamon and vanilla while you’re at it! (Last time I ordered, they shipped free with a $50 order, so you might as well stock up on other spices and seasonings.)

The other thing you’ll like about this appetizer, is that it goes together in about 15 minutes (or less if you enlist the help of someone to shred cheese) and requires no baking. Have I convinced you to try this one yet?

Serves 10-12

1 – 16 ounce can of refried beans
4 tablespoons Penzy’s taco seasoning or 1 package of other taco seasoning
3 ripe avocados
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 – 4 ounce can of diced mild green chilies
1 – 4.25 ounce can of chopped ripe olives
1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 4 scallions)
1 cup shredded monty jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tomatoes, diced
1/3 to 1/2 container of alfalfa sprouts
Tortilla or corn chips

Combine refried beans and taco seasoning in a small bowl. Spread on the bottom of a glass 9″x13″ baking dish. In another small bowl, add avocados, sour cream, and lemon juice together and mash until combined. Spread on top of the refried bean mixture. Drain the green chiles, and sprinkle on top of the avocado layer, followed by the chopped ripe olives, then the scallions. Next sprinkle monty jack cheese, and then cheddar cheese. After dicing the tomatoes, strain them to get rid of the extra juice. Add tomatoes on top of the cheeses, and finish with the alfalfa sprouts. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Serve with tortilla or corn chips. But remember, no double-dipping!