Finger Foods

As much as it may be frowned upon, I love snacking and finger foods. I enjoy the meticulous nature of arranging bite-sized pieces, but also putting together a big bowl of something I know people will come together around, sharing stories, experiences, and their love of  good food. And while most chefs broke out their favorite snacks for the SuperBowl, my sporting event of choice is the Olympics, particularly the winter Olympics. Something about the combination of speed, skill, and snow, plus national pride, makes me want to make something special to celebrate!

These very different recipes can bring together even the most diverse people over your amazing (meat-free) kitchen skills, but won’t also keep you in the kitchen all day. Make them for a crowd of friends or share with someone special on the couch – you’ll be a game day hero!

soft pretzels surrounding a pool of cheese- what could be better?

soft pretzels surrounding a pool of cheese- what could be better?

Soft Pretzels with homemade cheese sauce

-1.5 cups warm water
-1 TBSP sugar
-2 tsp salt
-1 package dry yeast
-4.5 cups all purpose flour
-2 oz unsalted butter, melted
-vegetable oil or oil spray
-10 cups water
-2/3 cups baking soda
-1 large egg yolk, beaten together with 1 TBSP water
-2 TBSP large-grain salt, such as Kosher salt or sea salt (not table salt)

Set oven to warm setting, or if not available, the lowest possible temperature setting. Combine water, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until the mixture foams and starts to smell ‘yeasty’. Turn mixer on and slowly add flour and butter, mixing on low until the dough is combined. Increase speed to medium then mix 4-5 minutes until dough forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl.

Transfer dough to a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the warm oven and let it sit for 50 minutes–it should double or triple in size. While the dough is rising, heat 10 cups of water and the baking soda in a large stock pot until boiling. Remove dough from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

Pull off a piece of dough about half the size of an adult fist and roll into a long snake. With the dough horizontally in front of you, pull the ends away from you, making a U-shape. Bring the ends back down to the bottom of the U, crossing them into an X to make a pretzel shape. Continue to make pretzels until the water is boiling rapidly, or make all at once and turn on the water to boil once you get to the end of the pretzel forming.

Drop the pretzels into the boiling water one at a time for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, gently remove them from the water (a slotted spoon or spider work well) and put them on a cooling rack to drain. You should have enough time to roll and form each pretzel while the prior one is cooking. When all of the pretzels are formed and boiled, set them on a greased cookie sheet (allow some space in between each, but they won’t rise much) and brush with the egg yolk mixture, sprinkling with salt. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the pretzels develop a crust.

Cheese Sauce
-2 TBSP butter
-2 TBSP flour
-1/2 cup milk (we used Almond Milk, which works just as well as dairy milk)
-1 cup of cheese, preferably mostly cheddar (we added some Gruyere in too)
-pinch of cayenne
-1 tsp of dried mustard

Make a roux by melting the butter on medium-low heat in a small pot and whisking in the flour, allowing to brown slightly (this will get rid of the raw flour taste).  Add in the milk, whisking to combine with the roux– the milk creates the volume of the sauce, so feel free to adjust depending on how much sauce you want. Add the cayenne and mustard, stirring to incorporate in. Slowly add in the cheese in about 3-4 installments, incorporating it fully into the warmed milk before adding in the next bit of cheese.

These are better than any soft pretzel I’ve ever gotten in a bar or arena and since you know exactly what goes into them, I promise they’ll even be better! They’re a fun, interactive project to do as a date or with friends but also easy enough to do alone. No one will miss the buffalo wings, chicken fingers, or ribs when these are on the table, and they freeze well so you can break them out anytime you’re in need of a snack. If there’s any cheese left (it’s SOOOOOO good) store it in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so. We use leftover cheese on nachos, with black beans, and anywhere else you’d otherwise buy one of those pre-made cheese dips in a jar.

tangy, sweet, and creamy-- the best combination for a healthy finger food

tangy, sweet, and creamy– the best combination for a healthy finger food

Marinated Mushrooms with Herbed Goat Cheese
-6 to 10 baby portobello mushrooms per person, cleaned and de-stemmed
-balsalmic vinegar
-Worchestershire sauce
-minced garlic
-2 oz goat cheese per person
-zest of 1 lemon
-minced parsley
-slices of your favorite baguette

Mix together a 50:50 ratio of balsalmic vinegar and Worchestershire sauce, then add in minced garlic and salt/pepper to taste. Pour over the mushrooms and marinate for at least 30-40 minutes, tossing periodically. Meanwhile, mix together the goat cheese with lemon zest and parsley and set aside-season with salt and pepper if desired.

When the mushrooms are soft and are easily punctured with a fork, remove from the oven and let cool. Serve with crustini and goat cheese– either spread the cheese on the bread and top with mushrooms and the residual sauce, or pipe goat cheese into the center of the mushrooms and sop up the leftover sauce with the bread. Either way, it’s a fun activity that’ll have you eating with your fingers, enjoying a great meal, and thinking of mushrooms in a whole new way.

Whoever said finger food has to be greasy, fried, and messy clearly hasn’t eaten in our house! Whether it’s a quiet dinner for two mid-week or a night with friends to watch your favorite Olympic event, these snacks are sure to please and will have you out of the kitchen before the food is gone!

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The best laid plans…

We’ve been on a roll this week, sticking to our meal plan and chugging through the first week of school (if you think it’s easier as a teacher then think again….) The good news is that B has adjusted much better to the end of summer this year than he did in 2012 😉

A mopey puppy on the first day of school 2012

A mopey puppy on the first day of school in 2012, waiting for D to return home!

By the time Wednesday rolled around, we’d hit a wall. We were both exhausted and the 90 degree humidity didn’t put either of us in the mood for roasting vegetables (not to mention the sweet potato was a tad older than I’d thought…) so we threw caution to the wind and improvised based on what was around. Breakfast-for-dinner has never been so good!

Carrot Pancakes with Breakfast ‘sausage’

Looks like any other sausage and pancake meal, right??

Looks like any other sausage and pancake meal, right??

We followed this recipe for our pancakes, halving it for just the two of us. They were moist, sweet, and healthy!! A coworker had a maple scented candle burning all day in the office, so I had been craving pancakes all day…or really just syrup! The excess number of carrots (CSA bag carrots, leftover grocery store carrots, 2 separate bags of baby carrots….) in our fridge was getting out of control so we found a way to hide some vegetables in this. D literally looked at me mid-bite and said “we should make these for our [hypothetical, one day in the next 5 years] kids to trick them into eating more veggies!” If that’s not a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is! Next time I may try experimenting with replacing some of the flour with whole wheat, because I think the carrots lend enough moisture to do so, but we will see!

My genius D also figured out a way to manipulate what we had in the house to be the perfect accompaniment to our pancakes. Frozen veggie burgers (MorningStar Grillers are the best, but any ‘fake hamburger’ product will do–just don’t try a vegetable-based patty!) are cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed with a sprinkle of sage and some smoked paprika in PAM or oil in a skillet on the stove. The sage and paprika flavors imitate the seasonings in most breakfast (meat) sausages and the house truly starts like a wonderful breakfast feast. By crisping up the burger in a pan, you get the texture of sausage — admittedly I think I’d only had it once in my life before becoming vegetarian (sorry mom!) — but try it for yourself and let me know what you think. I was completely satiated and thrilled that breakfast-for-dinner veggie-style is fantastic!

Purple potatoes make this one visually interesting!

Purple potatoes make this one visually interesting!

Potato Hash and Egg Scramble

Have too much leftover ‘sausage’? Whip up this great veggie-friendly breakfast the next morning to enjoy this newfound treat in a whole new way!

-leftover ‘veggie sausage’ (see above)

-potatoes, diced into small pieces- we used purple potatoes from our CSA bag but red, Yukon, or anything small works too

-diced onion and bell peppers

-eggs

-cheddar cheese (or your favorite egg accompaniment!)

Toss diced potatoes, peppers, and onions with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees in the oven until crispy and brown. Meanwhile, prepare veggie breakfast sausage using above directions or throw leftovers in a skillet to warm with some oil. Whisk eggs in a bowl and add whatever preparations you normally would for scrambled eggs (milk, Almond Milk, cream, salt, pepper, hot sauce, whatever you please!) When sausage is warmed, add the eggs to the hot pan and scramble to your desired consistency/dryness so that the sausage is incorporated with the sausage pieces. About 1 minute before completion, top with shredded cheese and mix into the egg to melt. Serve with crispy potatoes and ketchup!

YUMMMMM. We may start going through a lot more veggie burgers in this house–breakfast for dinner for all!