Kitchen Tip—Fun Individual Veggie and Dip Cups

Veggie and Dip Cups

Back in December I threw a little party for my son. We invited over a couple of his closest friends. Keep in mind this was a group of 4–5 year olds. I wanted to have kid friendly food that they would enjoy. I made mini burgers, little fruit kabobs with marshmallows, a fun neon green punch, and a couple of other things. Now being a mom who insists on a balanced meal I knew I needed to get some veggies in there. I wanted to do something different so that the kids would actually want to eat them. So here you have Individual Veggie and Dip Cups!

The kids thought they were awesome! They loved having their own little cups. I bought a pack of these small plastic cups at a local party store, did a little squirt of ranch in the bottom and added in sliced carrots, cucumbers, and celery. How great, right?!?! Not only were these fun to eat but it also prevents the kids from double dipping. Have you ever watched kids go to town on a table of appetizers? They will bite and dip and repeat. Heck, I have even caught adults doing that! So regardless of the age of your party guests this is a fun and great way to serve veggies as an appetizer. A crowd pleaser for all ages!

If you like this idea you should check out this one too!

DivaDiCucina_IceCreamScoops

Pre-Scooped Ice Cream—A Party Time Saver

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Kitchen Tip—How to Roast Peppers

Roasted Red Peppers

Roasting peppers at home is surprisingly easy. They are great in sandwiches, Mexican dishes, and even pasta. I use roasted bell peppers and jalapeños pretty frequently in cooking. They seem to hold up best since they have a nice thick flesh. If you have an abundance of peppers and you are unable to use them all before they spoil, roasting and freezing them is a great way to preserve them. This is what I did with my crop of jalapeños at the end of the summer. They will last in the freezer for 3–6 months depending on how you store them. I love always having them on hand ready for whatever flavorful dish I’m cooking up next!

INGREDIENTS
any type of pepper, washed and dried

STEPS FOR ROASTING PEPPERS

  • Put your oven’s rack on the highest rung possible and turn on the oven broiler.
  • If roasting small peppers, such as jalapeños, place them on a skewer for easy handling.
  • Place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet.
  • Broil the peppers for 10–12 minutes or until the skin is blackened.
  • Flip the peppers over and broil for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove the peppers from the oven and skewer and place them in a paper lunch sack. If you do not have a paper lunch sack place them in a small bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap.
  • Allow the peppers to steam in the bag or bowl for 15 minutes. This helps to loosen up the skin for easy removal.
  • Pull the stems out of the peppers and carefully peel off the charred skin.
  • Slice the peppers down one side filleting them open
  • Spread the pepper open and use the backside of the knife to scrape the seeds out.

Roasted Red Peppers

Roasted Red Peppers

Roasted Red Peppers

Roasted Red Peppers

STEPS FOR FREEZING ROASTED PEPPERS

  • Place your roasted peppers on a wax paper lined baking sheet making sure they don’t touch.
  • Place the baking sheet in the freezer and leave there over night.
  • Once the peppers are completely frozen place them in an airtight baggie or container. By freezing them on a sheet first it keeps them from sticking to each other once in a single container or bag.

Kitchen Tip—Produce Storage Chart

One of the biggest kitchen blunders I see is the improper storage of fruits and veggies. I frequently see tomatoes in the refrigerator and apples on the counter. These are big no-nos! Refrigeration is the enemy of tomatoes. It not only changes the flavor, but it turns the flesh mealy. By not storing your fruits and veggies correctly you are impacting their flavor, texture, and color. They also may not be lasting as long as they could.  I have compiled this little cheat sheet to help eliminate the guesswork. Feel free to print this out and hang it on the refrigerator or inside one of the kitchen cabinets. Hopefully, by properly storing your produce it will last longer and you will be tossing out less at the end of each week. Happy eating!

Produce Storage Chart

Kitchen Tip—How to Roast Beets

Beets are such a wonderful winter veggie but do you know what to do with them? I love mine roasted in salads. Beets are low in calories, are a good source of fiber, and contain a variety of vitamins and nutrients that can help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. I just love the vibrant color of beets. They are a beautiful addition to any dish and bring a unique flavor unlike any other veggie. Here are some step-by-step instructions on how to roast your very own beets.

Note: Roasting beets whole works great for beets the size of a tangerine or smaller but if you have large beets I recommend cutting them into quarters after peeling them. They will cook much faster that way.

INGREDIENTS
raw beets
olive oil
salt and pepper

STEPS

  • Preheat the oven to 400º.
  • Cut the stalks and the roots from the top and bottom of the beets.
  • Using a vegetable brush scrub the beets making sure to get off all the soil.
  • Peel the skin off the raw beets using a vegetable peeler.
  • Place the peeled beets in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat
  • Line a small baking dish with foil and place the beets in it.
  • Using a second sheet of foil “tent” the beets.
  • Place the baking dish in the oven and roast the beets for 35–45 minutes or until they are fork tender.
  • Beets can be eaten right away or you can place them in an airtight container once they cool and kept in the refrigerator. I slice mine right before serving so they don’t dry out.

Kitchen Tip—Reusing Green Onions

I love to garden! I don’t have much of a garden, but every summer I grow my own tomatoes, herbs, and peppers. There is nothing better than walking out your back door and picking fresh vine ripened tomatoes for your salad or some aromatic rosemary to go with your grilled pork chops. I recently read an article on reusing and growing food. I was shocked at what I read about green onions and I would love to share my findings with you.

How many times have you chopped up your green onions and just tossed aside the leftover white bulbs? After reading this and seeing pics you will never do it again. A bundle of green onions can cost a couple of dollars. If you do this trick, one of those bundles can last you a very long time. And it is so easy! Just take those leftover white ends, roots and all, and drop them in a cup of water with the tops sticking out. Place in a sunny window and within 10 days, yes 10 days, they will grow right back to their full size. I will admit, I was amazed! I saw growth within 1 day! Next time you need green onions you take them out cut away and drop the bulb right back in the water to regrow again. Just be sure to change out the water on a regular basis so it remains clear and clean. You can also plant your bulbs in soil and just cut them, as you need them. Make sure to keep your soil really moist.

While green onions may not be something I cook with on a regular basis I can guarantee you I will be using them much more often now. Dice them up and toss in a green salad, on top of a bowl of soup, mixed in with your scrambled eggs, add them to your favorite mexican dish, top your baked potato with them, or mix them with butter and garlic for some tasty garlic bread. You can even dry green onions and add them to your collection of seasonings. They are a quick and easy way to add some flavor to almost any dish. The possibilities are endless and with green onions always at your fingertips.

Kitchen Tip—Asparagus

You know spring is right around the corner once your grocer’s produce aisle is filled with fresh asparagus. Asparagus is readily available from March–June every year. Since this is the time of year that asparagus is at its peak I thought I would give you some tips on how to select it, as well as some cooking methods to try. Next time you head down to your local market be sure to pick up some of this delicious vegetable.

Where does asparagus come from?
According to the California Asparagus Commission, California produces close to 70% of the United State’s asparagus supply. Together Washington and Michigan grow approximately 30% while small quantities are also grown in a few other states. Asparagus grows very quickly. On a warm California day, asparagus can grow as much as 7” in a day.

How to select good asparagus:
When picking out asparagus, look for long, blemish-free, bright green spears with closed, compact tips, and no flowering. Try to find bunches with similar sized spears. Spears of a similar size will cook at a more even rate. Select a size, which best suits your cooking method. Thicker spears are perfect for throwing on the barbie or roasting in the oven. Thinner spears are great when added to stir fry or an omelet. Tenderness relates to color, not size as one might think. You may find that thicker stalks can be woody, so peel the skin at the base to remove the outer layer.

How to store asparagus:
Keep fresh asparagus cool and moist until you intend to use it. Asparagus may be stored for a longer period of time by placing the bundled stalk upright in a dish with enough water to keep the stalks moist (about an inch). You can also wrap the cut ends in a wet paper towel, then cover the paper towel with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in ice water for 15 minutes before preparing.

Cooking Methods:
There are several ways to prepare asparagus steam, grill, sauté, you name it! You can even pickle asparagus and store it for several years. My favorite way to eat asparagus is to marinate it in Italian dressing and grilling it. Here are a few other recommended cooking methods

Note: Cooking times may vary. Thinner spears require less cooking time while thicker spears may take a little longer.

  • To boil, place whole trimmed asparagus in a large skillet with 1 1/2 inches of water. Bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3–5 minutes.
  • To steam, place asparagus on a steamer rack in a large saucepan over rapidly boiling water. Cover saucepan and steam for 6–8 minutes.
  • To microwave, arrange asparagus in a microwave safe dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap, turning back one corner to vent steam. Microwave on high for 3–6 minutes. Let stand 3–5 minutes.
  • To stir-fry, cut asparagus spears in to 2 inch diagonal slices, keeping tips whole. In a large skillet, heat 1 to 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Add asparagus pieces and stir-fry for 5–7 minutes.
  • To grill, marinade extra large asparagus in Italian dressing for at least 30 minutes. Place directly on the grill turning several times and grill until brown and tender, about 8–10 minutes. I then like to toss the asparagus in the Italian dressing before serving to soak up some extra flavor.
  • To roast, toss extra large asparagus spears with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic. Preheat oven to 375º. Arrange on cooking sheet and place in pre-heated oven for 6–8 minutes.

Nutritional Info:
Asparagus is low in calories and sodium. It’s a great source of vitamins B6, A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, magnesium and zinc, dietary fiber, protein, folic acid, iron, potassium, and much more.

What’s your favorite way to eat asparagus?

Kitchen Tip—Party Time Saver

When I host a party I like to have as much done in advance as possible. This allows me extra time for visiting with my guests. I found this timesaver online and loved it.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted my son’s second birthday with over 25 people. That is a lot of ice cream to scoop while people are anxiously waiting for desert. To cut down on that wait I prepped my ice cream scoops in advance. The day before the party I removed the ice cream from the freezer and allowed it to soften for a few minutes before scooping. Working with softened ice cream made scooping a breeze and saved some wear and tear on my wrists. I lined my muffin pan with paper cups and scooped the ice cream directly into the cups getting perfectly formed scoops. I then put the entire muffin pan in the freezer so that the scooped ice cream could harden back up over night. With this time saver, serving desert at the party was such a breeze! This was not only convenient and easy, but it was also a nice presentation for a simple scoop of ice cream. Nowadays you can find muffin cups in so many colors or fun prints that you can really have fun with this and get something to match your color scheme or theme.

Kitchen Tip—Measurement Conversion Chart

Sometimes when trying to double or triple a recipe all that math makes my head hurt. And who wants to measure out 12 teaspoons when you can just do 4 tablespoons or 1/4 cup instead? This handy measurement conversion chart is a must have for anyone that cooks. Yes, something like this is probably in one of your cookbooks, but do you really want get it down off that top shelf? Print this cheat sheet out and put it on your fridge or tape it inside one of your cabinet doors for a quick and easy reference. Hope this helps you out in the kitchen!

 

 

Kitchen Tip—Olive Oil

Olive oil is something that I cook with on a daily basis. Yesterday I discovered that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought about this wonderful ingredient. Did you know that extra virgin olive oil is not the best type of olive oil to cook with? I thought I would share some of my findings with you.

Today olive oil is primarily produced in Spain, Italy, and Greece. Together these three countries produce more than 70 percent of the world’s olive oil supply. The flavor of the olive oil can vary dramatically depending on the source, the variety of olive, the soil conditions, weather, etc., just like wine. Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means.

Olive oil for consumption is broken down in to four categories, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), virgin olive oil, pure olive oil, and lite olive oil. You should have at least one bottle of each in your kitchen as they are all intended to be used very differently.

  • EVOO is the most flavorful and considered the finest. The word “virgin” indicates that the olives have been pressed to extract the oil; no heat or chemicals have been used during the extraction process. The flavor of EVOO is best when uncompromised by heat. It is intended to be used in salad dressings, marinades, or to finish off a dish. For example, drizzle it over your caprese salad, bruscetta, or pasta. Note: Look for bottles that say “cold press” on the label. If it’s not cold-pressed, the heat from the extraction process changes the chemistry and quality of the olive oil.
  • Virgin olive oil is perfect for garnishing and is great hot or cold. It’s essentially a low grade EVOO with a more mild flavor.
  • Pure olive oil is intended for your every day cooking. It has a mild flavor and is perfect for anything cooked over heat. It is actually a blended oil product of refined pomace oil and virgin olive oil. Pomace is produced by processing the leftovers of the virgin olive oil.
  • Lite olive oil is the least flavorful of the olive oils. It is not lower in fat as one might assume. It can withstand heat up to 470º and has a high smoke point. This makes it ideal for frying and baking as it can withstand high temperature cooking and the flavor is not compromised.

Regardless of the type of olive oil you use, be sure to find one with a green tint to it, not yellow. Good quality olive oils should appear green in color.

To delay spoilage of olive oil, be sure to store it in a cool dark place.

Use this chart to convert the quantity of butter called for in a recipe to the required quantity of olive oil for easy substitutions.

Conversion table