RECIPE: CHUNKY BLUE CHEESE and YOGURT DIP

Blue Cheese always reminds me of my mom. We never had blue cheese at home because she was the only one who liked it... but on the rare occasion that we'd get to go out to a restaurant, mom would always order a salad with bleu cheese dressing. Over the years, I've come to love it and I'm especially in love with the Smokey Blue Cheese from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon. You can usually find it at most Whole Foods locations. It runs about $9 for about 4 ounces. Yes, a little expensive for a dip but whoa... it is good. You can use whatever blue cheese you like- this is the best all-purpose, non-Ranch dip I know for chicken wings, veggies, and crackers.

My chunky blue cheese dip is the perfect dip for chicken wings, veggies, or crackers... this is even good spread on a slice of bread and toasted under the broiler!

My chunky blue cheese dip is the perfect dip for chicken wings, veggies, or crackers... this is even good spread on a slice of bread and toasted under the broiler!

CHUNKY BLUE CHEESE DIP

Difficulty: Easy    Category: Party Food

Prep Time: 5 minutes    Cook Time: non-cook recipe

INGREDIENTS 

½ cup chopped shallots

2 teaspoons minced garlic

3 Tablespoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon lemon zest

2 cups Greek yogurt (you can sub sour cream if you don't like yogurt)

8 ounces (1 cup) Blue Cheese (okay to use crumbles)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

1Tablespoon minced chives

 DIRECTIONS:

Add everything but chives to food processor. Pulse to combine. Pour into a bowl. Garnish with chives. Serve with veggies, chicken wings, chips, or crackers.

Yield: 2 cups

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RECIPE: MY MOM'S SPICY SOUTHERN CHEESE STRAWS

My mom would always make spicy cheese straws for the holidays and was sure to have them waiting for us for almost every celebration. A Southern staple for teas, weddings and showers, you can make these as wafers, as shown, or use a cookie press to shape them into straws. I find the wafers faster and easier-- plus I can roll the dough into a log and freeze. That way I can just slice and bake when guests pop in or when I am in need of a quick bite to serve with a glass of wine or Champagne.

I want to mention that this dough always looks like it is not "wet" enough once you mix it. Do not be tempted to add additional butter or liquid. It will come together. Just use your hands to form it. You'll see.

Baked cheese straws are always on the table for parties and celebrations in the South. This is my mom's recipe- one I've used for 30 years.

Baked cheese straws are always on the table for parties and celebrations in the South. This is my mom's recipe- one I've used for 30 years.

SPICY SOUTHERN CHEESE STRAWS

Skill Level: Easy

Prep Time: 15 minutes        Cook Time: 10-12 minutes

 INGREDIENTS 

1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes*

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Dash Tabasco or to taste

 DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Chill the cheese well and grate it using a food processor or the side with large holes on a box grater. Set aside.

NOTE: I make this recipe in a food processor because I find it easier but you do not have to use a food processor. My mom never had one. Just mix in a bowl.

In a food processor, add the flour, salt and pepper and pulse 10-12 times to blend. Add the butter. Turn the food processor to "run" for 10 seconds. The result should be like coarse cornmeal. If it is not, pulse a few more times. Add the cheese and the hot sauce. Pulse just until the cheese is incorporated. Turn the food processor to "run" for 5-6 seconds. 

*NOTE: If you intend to pipe the dough into straws, you may obtain a better/easier to pipe result if you melt the butter rather than use cold butter and leave the cheese at room temperature. See directions for piping into straws below. Many of the old school southern recipes call for melted butter.

(Note: If you do not have a food processor, mix the dry ingredients together. Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut the butter and the cheese into the flour. Add the hot sauce and mix well.)

For wafers: Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap for wafers. Shape it into a log using your hands and roll the dough up in the plastic. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap to secure and put into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. To bake, remove the plastic wrap and slice into discs, place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

(Note: Another option is to use a very small ice cream scoop to portion uniform balls onto the prepared pan. Using a fork, (which you may need to flour) press each one, creating the design shown above.)

Easy homemade Southern cheese straws

For straws: Place the dough into a cookie press or pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Push the dough into one corner of the bag and press the air out. Snip the tip and pipe them into 3” long strips about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom and edges.

Yield: 2- 4 dozen depending on the size and shape. You can get 55-60 wafers from this recipe using a small ice cream scoop or melon baller.

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RECIPE: ARANCINI (ITALIAN RICE BALLS) WITH HOMEMADE MARINARA SAUCE

I have to tell the story of this recipe. During taping for Food Network Star, my cast mate, Michele Ragussis made her mom's Arancini for us one night and let me help her make it. A few days later when my team had to create a food court restaurant with an Italian theme, I asked Michele if it was okay if I made it for the competition but with my own twist. Yes, she gave me her blessing but choked back a laugh since I'd only watched it made once and had never actually made it myself. It came out pretty well, I guess. We won. And I even got a marriage proposal on set from an Italian guy in the audience who told me these arancini and the marinara I made to accompany it was better than his Italian mother's. That made me pretty proud. Thank you, Michele and Mama Phyllis, for sharing your family tradition with me.

Arancini is the perfect party dish. If  you use ground beef, it is very inexpensive to make for a crowd and you can easily double the recipe. I make them early in the day and just drop them into the fryer right before serving. You can even make them in advance and freeze them- just thaw and fry just before guests arrive. These are cheesy and delicious. Try them and let me know how you do.

ITALIAN RICE BALLS --ARANCINI WITH SPICY MARINARA

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

5cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground veal (optional- you can sub ground beef or pork)

1 cup Italian flat leaf parsley minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ cups tomato sauce

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese grated

2 cups cooked and cooled Arborio rice

5 eggs

3 cups breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning (I make my own but store brands are good)

Canola oil for frying

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Marinara Sauce (see recipe below or use store-bought)

Special equipment: #10 (small-medium) ice cream scoop

DIRECTIONS:

Cook the rice according to package directions but you want the rice to be sticky so I cook a bit longer than I should and don't add butter or olive oil to the water. You don't want it to be mushy. Set aside.  

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic for 2 minutes until softened. Add meat and cook until browned, breaking up large pieces as it cooks. Strain off excess fat from the pan. Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add thyme, oregano, and pepper, and salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Keep in mind that rice and cheese contain salt so be careful not to over salt the meat mixture. Let the meat mixture cool a bit. Add the tomato sauce. Combine rice with cheese but be careful not to mash the rice. Add the rice mixture to meat mixture and stir gently to combine. Check the seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use ice cream scoop to shape the balls so they are a consistent size, then hand roll the balls as tightly as you can.

Pour enough canola oil into a deep skillet or Dutch oven to reach 5”. Heat oil over medium heat to 350-degrees. Use a thermometer to check the oil temperature.

Whisk eggs in a small baking dish. Place breadcrumbs in another baking dish. Roll rice balls lightly in the eggs then immediately roll in breadcrumbs to form a coating. Shake off the excess breadcrumbs. Place them on the baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fry.

To fry:

Carefully drop rice balls into the hot oil a few at a time, taking care not to overcrowd and lower the oil temperature. Cook until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes per batch. Bring oil back up to 350-degrees before cooking each batch. Drain rice balls on paper towels before serving.

Serve with homemade or store-bought marinara for dipping. Garnish with the basil leaves.


SPICY MARINARA SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 large cans (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, including liquid

1 cup fresh whole basil leaves, loosely packed

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (about 1/2 tablespoon dried)

1/2  cup fresh whole oregano leaves, loosely packed (about 1 tablespoon dried)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

big pinch granulated sugar (optional)

½ teaspoon black pepper

pinch cayenne pepper

splash Balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Use some of the liquid from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, and then add the remaining ingredients. Use an immersion blender to puree, taking care to leave the tomatoes slightly chunky. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add everything to a blender or food processor)

Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning on the bottom. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or longer so that the marinara thickens as some of the liquid cooks out. Check seasoning prior to serving. Add salt or a pinch more sugar as necessary.

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