Chef Juje

A messy adventure in learning to cook

Archive for the category “Appetizer”

Zucchini Sticks and Onion Dip (Sans Zucchini)

I was really, really excited to share this recipe for baked zucchini sticks today. I was even a good (fine, improving) food blogger, took lots of pictures for each step along the way and was stockpiling advice for how to make such an excellent veggie dish even better.

I took the zucchini out of the oven, prepared a nice little plate of  vegetables, bit into a zucchini and…

I did not like.

The zucchini, that is. I’m starting to think that I’m not a squash person, given past experience with butternut squash in the fall.  If you’d like to try, by all means go for it and report back.

The onion dip, though,  was FANTASTIC.  I gave up on the zucchini and started eating the onion dip with all sorts of vegetables I could find.  Delicious!

Caramelized Onion Dip

This dip is pretty simple – mayo with caramelized Vidalia onion, natural honey, mustard, cider vinegar. The only tricky part can be caramelizing the onions, and I once again refer you to Simply Recipes for spot-on directions and insight into the process of caramelizing onions. Low and slow, stirring infrequently so as to not inhibit the caramelization.  In fact, I only discovered her instructions in the middle of cooking my dish in a panicked “Mr-Chef-Juje-I-think-the-onions-are-burning!!!!” moment.  Apparently this is a relatively common problem among newbie chefs, as Cooking Light even lists it as one of their “most common cooking mistakes.

What are your tips and tricks for caramelizing onions?  And, for moral support, what do you do when you encounter a recipe dud?


  • 2 small to medium Vidalia onions
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp mustard (I used Dijon)
  • 2 tbsp natural honey
  • 1 tbsp butter (for onions)
  • 1 cup mayo (Greek yogurt can be substituted)
  • tiny bit of sugar (to aid caramelizing process)


  1. Caramelize Onions.  Heat 1 tbsp butter, add sliced onions, keep on low to medium low, stirring occasionally, until onions brown.  Add a tiny bit of sugar if you would like.
  2. Add onions, vinegar, mustard, honey and mayo/Greek yogurt into food processor and blend.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Life Lessons in Risotto {plus a basic risotto recipe}

Oh, Risotto.

My first attempt at risotto was a giant, giant, GIANT fail. I thought I was doing everything right but an hour into the process the rice was  still not absorbing any of the liquids. Frustrations grew high, patience grew short and our stomachs growled louder and louder. I didn’t get it. I tried SO HARD to do this well and all I got was tough rice in chicken stock.

For better or for worse I am not one to let things go so the following evening I embarked on my second adventure in risotto.  Future Mr. Chef Juje was away so I slyly headed back into the kitchen, computer and Arborio rice in tow.  I studied my rouxbe video, took copious notes and totally psyched myself up for this next attempt.  I’m nothing if not passionate.

Risotto Notes:

Guess what??  For as much as the first attempt was a fail the second attempt was a big success!  I just used onions, rice, stock and garlic, then finished with mascarpone at the end.  I actually ate it so fast that I forgot to take a picture while it was still in its prime (riosotto doesn’t hold well for long).   The future-Mr. even brought it for lunch the next day.  It says a lot when something I cook is better than the smorgasbord — plus milk — he can get for $2.50 at work.

I posted this to my facebook but I think it’s worth restating here.  Somewhere along the line in becoming a grownup I got the strange idea that things should come easily. That if you try your best the first time you should succeed.  I’m glad that’s not the case.  As I learned here, sometimes – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you study the recipe or read blogs or consult with others — you’re going to need to just try it again. And maybe again and again and again.

{By the way, for those of you wondering, it was the HEAT!  My heat was too low the first time.  Make sure the rice is simmering.}

Swiss Cheese Bread

Last week I found myself leftover good-quality Swiss cheese from both a successful attempt at cheese twists and a completely failed attempt at butternut squash soup.

I find myself in this predicament quite frequently as a newbie chef. I’m constantly torn by the desire to reduce waste and save cash AND the desire to create deliciousness. I am sure that one day those goals will not be at odds with each other and that I’ll be able to whip up meals using exactly what I have in my pantry and fridge. Until then, though, I find myself searching “recipes that use Swiss cheese” only to find hundreds of recipes that require a zillion additional ingredients I don’t have or equipment I don’t own.

Finally I stumbled on this recipe for Swiss Cheese and poppy seed bread from Rouxbe. Fresh French bread and a compound butter make this an easy and unusual treat. The recipe below features much less butter than the original recipe and real Swiss cheese, but feel free to try it their way and compare!

1 loaf french bread
8 to 10 slices swiss cheese
1/4 cup green onions, finely sliced
1/2 tbsp mustard powder
1/2 tbsp poppy seeds
1 stick butter, room temperature
salt, to taste

1.) Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2.) Make the compound butter – last five ingredients well
3.) Slice the french bread into 1 inch slices. Don’t cut all the way through- leave the bottom in tact.
4.) Slice cheese into triangles or small squares. It should fit inside of the slices of bread.
5.) Spread the butter mixture in between each of the slices. In this recipe, use the butter liberally to ensure rich flavor. If you follow the original recipe, you may have extra butter left over.
6.) Wrap the loaf tightly in foil. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve.

Helpful hints/What I’ve learned:
Compound butter – Compound butter is basically butter that’s mixed with other ingredients (in this case, mustard powder and poppy seeds) to enhance flavor of a dish. I look forward to trying out a compound butter with garlic or other spices.

Serve and eat immediately – This was very unsuccessful re-heated in the microwave. Perhaps re-baking would have been better. Ideally, though, eat it right away.

Source: Rouxbe

Foolproof Spinach Dip

Editor’s note: This recipe is brought to you by Chef Aud, my sister and aspiring home cook. I love the addition of horseradish to this dish!

The final product. Bon app!

So, the AFC championship games are on tonight… or whatever they’re called. Not terribly invested in any of the teams, but tonight afforded me the opportunity to prepare game day nosh. I’ve made variations of spinach dip through the years. Rarely can you mess this one up. When enough cheese is added, it becomes foolproof. Here’s my take on the goods.

10 oz. frozen spinach, drained

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
I cup light sour cream
small onion, chopped
parmesan  cheese
1-2 tbs. horseradish (depends on how much kick you want)
1 can of artichokes, chopped
3 tbs. butter, softened
pinch of salt, pepper
1 tsp. minced garlic

Preheat oven to 350. Thaw the spinach. I microwaved it. Remove all of the excess water. There will be a lot of water. You’ll be surprised how much water escapes. Drain all of it.

Meanwhile, sauté  the onions until browned. Combine the onions with the drained, chopped artichokes. Add the mixture and garlic to the spinach. Slowly fold in the cream cheese and butter. Add the horseradish, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture in a pie dish and top with parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes.

Serve with toasted whole wheat bread or chips. Enjoy the game!

Smoked Salmon Spread

There have been plenty of famous and successful inventions that were created by accident…penicillin, coca-cola and Teflon, to name a few.  You know what is noticeably absent from that list? My attempt at meatloaf last night.

I was trying this new and still-potentially-delicious recipe that combined ground chuck with Italian sausage. However, I bought the wrong quantities at the grocery store AND failed to read the recipe correctly, so I ended up with a giant Italian sausage and ketchup meatloaf.  At first I was so excited to share my new recipe with you.  This was going to be great! Finally! My own creation! Created all by mistake!

But no.  It is edible but not share-able.

So instead I’m going to pivot (see what I did there?) and share with you a modified Ina Garten recipe for a salmon dip that WAS successful. I made this for a party but we ended up eating most of it at home since it was so “Chipotle-like addictive,” to quote my husband-to-be.

It needs an extra kick of sorts — the recipe below includes more horseradish than was initially included and some additional lemon juice.  You can add whatever kick you like as well.   Pepper? Hot sauce? Capers? More salmon? Try and let us know what works.

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice (go generous on this!)
1 tablespoon dill
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish, drained
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound (4 ounces) smoked salmon, minced (typically one package)
red and green peppers, whole wheat crackers, anything to eat the dip with

Cream the cheese until just smooth — you can use either a fork (like I did) or the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, horseradish, salt, and pepper, and mix. Add the smoked salmon and mix well.

Chill and serve with sliced peppers, crackers, or the dipping vehicle of your choice.

Source: 2002 Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Ease:  Fail-proof.  Even if you just did nothing but eat all these ingredients at the same time, it would still be tasty.

Parmesan and Swiss Cheese Twists

Appetizers are nice for trying out new recipes and techniques. If a recipe is a success, hey, nice surprise. If it fails, it’s not like you and your family are going to be left scrambling for alternative dinner plans.

I liked these twists because they use simple ingredients, are tasty, and are perfect for parties or cocktail hours at which a carbohydrate treat might be a nice complement to the beverages consumed.

This recipe came from Ina Garden in Food Network Magazine, November/December 2011.  Gosh, I’ve started reading that magazine like a textbook with all my highlights and scribbles and post-it flags.  But I digress.

Parmesan and Swiss Cheese Twists

2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm, available with frozen desserts), defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
Flour, for dusting
1 extra-large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup finely grated good (read: not Kraft singles) Swiss cheese. Use Gruyere {accent grave} if you are feeling fancy.
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Roll out each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured board until it is 10- by 12-inches or just a bit more wide than the sheet itself.
  • Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the pastry.  Sprinkle each sheet evenly with 1⁄4 cup of the Parmesan, 1⁄2 cup of the Swiss or Gruyere, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the thyme, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt, and some pepper.
  • With the rolling pin, lightly press the flavorings into the puff pastry.
  • Cut each sheet vertically with a floured knife or pizza wheel into 11 or 12 strips. Twist each strip and lay on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed. Turn each straw and bake for another 2 minutes. Don’t over bake or the cheese will burn.
  • Cool and serve at room temperature.

Helpful Hints

Puff Pastry:  It may be tempting to treat puff pastry like cookie dough.  However, restrain yourself from forming a ball and starting over.  Try to keep the sheets in their original shape only flattened out a bit.  The thicker the puff pastry layer, the more puff pastry-heavy each twist will be. Also, if you can’t defrost the puff pastry overnight, leave it at room temp for about 30 or 40 minutes.  Try not to over defrost.

Roll:  I, too, read the directions all the way through.  I, too, read the part that says “lightly press ingredients into puff pastry.”  I, too, forgot the first time and ended up with a bunch of bland puff pastry curls.  Lightly press! Lightly press!

The Twist:  Someday I’ll make a video about how I’ve done these. The hardest part is the twist. I started on one corner and kind of curled each strip so it made an L-shape.  The tighter the twists, the better the particular twist turned out.

Parchment paper:  Parchment paper is NOT, as I had previously thought, the same as wax paper.  Use parchment paper. Unless you like cursing with a spatula.

Presentation:  These are delicious but can easily be missed at a cocktail party.  If you bring these in a Ziplock bag to a New Year’s Eve party, they may end up underneath the appetizer table to make room for fried mozzarella sticks and pizza rolls. If you put them on a nice dish and display them in an area where, say, nuts or crackers might be placed,  they will be gobbled up.

Ease: Tasty the first time but gets better with practice.

Source: Food Network Magazine, November/December 2011

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