Wild Rice Casserole

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After a month-long hiatus, I’m finally resurfacing with this wild rice casserole recipe. April was a bit of a blur with birthdays, a trip to Tennessee, and some home projects. I’ve really missed giving the blog some attention and I have a lot of new recipes to share in the upcoming weeks. For starters, this casserole comes from a new cookbook I recently purchased, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. It’s not really a typical, canned soup type of casserole that we are all used to. It’s made with simple kitchen staples and topped with a nutty Gruyere cheese. It makes a great side or main dish and it tastes great reheated the next day.

The original recipe called for cremini mushrooms, but I just used the white cap mushrooms I had on hand and the dish was still scrumptious. This is a very adaptable recipe and it can be made ahead of time and popped in the oven whenever you are ready for some grub.

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Wild Rice Casserole

Printable version

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms (I used white cap)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups cooked wild rice (or brown rice)
  • 1/3 cup Gruyere (or swiss) cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, optional

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (with butter or oil) a 9×13 inch or 10 inch round baking dish.

2. Whisk together the eggs, cottage cheese, sour cream, mustard, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan over high heat. Add in the mushrooms and stir to coat with oil. Allow the mushrooms to cook, without stirring further for about 5 minutes. Then, continue to stir and coo until the mushrooms are browned. Add in the onions and cook until translucent, for about 2-3 more minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional 1 minute. Next, add in the cooked rice and stir until evenly mixed in.

4. Remove the pan from heat and add the rice mixture to the cottage cheese mixture. Pour into the baking dish and top with the gruyere cheese. Cover with aluminum foil.

5. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and the casserole is hot throughout. Serve sprinkled with fresh thyme, if desired.

Source: Super Natural Every Day, Heidi Swanson

Robert’s 27th Birthday Party

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This past week, Robert officially joined the “late twenties” club. To celebrate we had a group of friends over for homemade pizza, final four basketball (still sad the Buckeyes weren’t there), and birthday cake. The menu was pretty simple and highlighted some of Robert’s favorite foods- pizza (with sriracha sauce and jalapenos), chips and salsa, caramelized onion dip, Jess’s German potato salad, chocolate chip cookies, and dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate buttercream frosting. I noticed that the parties we throw tend to encourage heartburn. Sorry, friends. I think a vegetable party is on the agenda for this summer.

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As usual, the company was the best part of the night; but I unfortunately got swept away in the fun (and wine) and didn’t get a chance to take many pictures. We are truly so thankful for the wonderful people we call our friends.  Our lives are enriched because of with whom we have the honor of sharing life’s experiences.

Jonah and Kate- lovebirds.

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Athena was in heaven with all of the loving Chelsea was giving her.  DSC_8381

Alex and Catie- two of the smartest people we know. Just look at them being so intelligent.

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And then there’s Greg. A father-to-be!

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Athena was exhausted from her late night of partying.

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**Sap-filled paragraph warning**

And, of course, I can’t go without mentioning the birthday boy himself. Robert and I have been married for over 5 years and together for more than a decade. There is no one I love or respect greater. Sure, we drive each other crazy sometimes. Like when he doesn’t make the bed or when I drive a freshly-washed and waxed car in the rain; but with each passing year, I grow to love him even more. He’s loyal, genuine, kind, and driven. While I can be riding high on an emotional roller coaster from day to day,  he is always calm and level-headed. I’m honored to call him my life’s companion. I just pray that he doesn’t wake up one of these days and realize he got the raw end of the deal. Happy birthday, Robert. I love you. Here’s to many more chocolate-filled years.

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Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies

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Last Friday night I was procrastinating and not cleaning our house before Robert’s parents arrived, so I decided to make some homemade Easter Peeps from a recipe I found on Pinterest. It was a gloriously fun time. I was singing my own made up songs (“Everybody Chunk Out Tonight,” sung to the tune of “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight,” is my current personal chart topper) and life was grand. Then I became a little impatient. Instead of letting the candy fluff cool, I decided to just keep things moving along and pipe it. It didn’t go well. My visions of beautiful, hand-crafted Peeps turned out looking like neon blobs of dog excrement in reality.

Nailed it. 

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So instead of putting peeps on the blog today, I made carrot cake whoopie pies. Fortunately, these cookies are a delightful spring treat. They’re chocked full of shredded carrots and a great spicy blend of cinnnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Because my Peeps were an utter failure, I am bringing these bad boys home for Easter instead. When one door closes, another opens.

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Happy Easter, everyone!

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Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies

Printable Version

Yield: About 16 cookie sandwiches

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots

For the filling

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Set aside 3 cookie sheets lined with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. Place the butter and sugars in a bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, spices, soda, powder, and salt in a separate medium bowl. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn it back on at low speed and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla. Carefully add the dry ingredients, about 1/2 cup at a time,  and beat just until combined.  Lastly, add in the grated carrots and mix until just mixed.

3. Using a small 1.5 inch cookie scoop to place the batter evenly onto the cookie sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart.  Use your fingers to lightly press down on the dough to ensure a smoother cookie. Bake for about 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies spring back when gently pressed. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to parchment paper to cool completely.

4. To make the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the milk and vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the powdered sugar until the frosting is well mixed.

5. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the flat side of one of the cookies. Place the flat side of another cookie on the icing and store in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer.

Source: Cookies- Tracey’s Culinary Adventures; Filling- Old Thyme Cookbook

Jack’s Funfetti 2nd Birthday Cake

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I can’t believe it’s been 2 years since I got an early morning phone call from my sister telling me her water had broken and she was at the UVA hospital. She was 5 days overdue and we were all anxiously awaiting the baby’s arrival. After I hung up from the call, I was so excited I could barely sleep. It was going to take me 6 hours to get to Virginia and I contemplated just leaving then. Robert eventually convinced me to go back to sleep, but I only lasted until 5am. I made record-breaking time (whoops!) and rolled into Virginia before noon. Little did I know, Selby’s labor would go several more hours. We waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, the physicians made the decision to perform a C-section after Selby had been in labor for 24 hours and developed a low-grade fever. I was lucky enough to get to go into the operating room and see the whole procedure… errr- make that some of the procedure. I stayed behind the curtain after I saw just what was happening to my sister’s lower abdomen. My sister and Kevin designated me to be the one to shout out the gender; and, after a few long minutes, the doctors exclaimed “here’s your baby!” They pulled out little plump ball of pink, we heard loud baby cries, and I peeked around the corner to reveal, “IT’S A BOY!!!” Selby cried. Kevin cried. I cried. It was such an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. What a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day it was.

This past week,  we were so excited that my sister, brother-in-law, and Jack were able to drive up from Virginia and spend a few days with us to celebrate Jack’s 2nd birthday. In honor of this little firecracker turning into a full-blown toddler, I made homemade pizza and a funfetti cake  decorated in Buzz Lightyear colors (one of Jack’s favorites).

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I had an awful time making my normal swiss meringue buttercream frosting the day I was assembling the cake. After a few frustrating hours, I ended up “calling it,” as Kevin so aptly described, and made a regular buttercream that tasted and looked much better . Oh well. When the time came for the birthday boy to blow out his candles, he got a little shy and seemed to be hypnotized by the firery glow. His mom and dad helped him and then he was able to dive right into his cake. The cake was a tasty hit and I sent the leftovers home with the happy family.

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It’s amazing how much love I have for my little 2 year old nephew. I am looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays with my favorite lucky charm.

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Funfetti Cake

Printable version

Yield: Two 9-inch round cakes

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 4 egg whites from large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/3 cup multi-colored sprinkles

For the icing:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.  In a small bowl mix the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk, vanilla and almond extract. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl,  whisk together  the cake flour,  baking powder, and salt. Mix for 30 seconds or until well-combined.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, alternately add in the flour mixture and 3/4 cup of buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides to ensure batter is evenly mixed. Gradually pour in the egg white mixture, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. Mix for one more minute. Gently fold in the multi-colored sprinkles.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back after being gently pressed on.

4. Remove from the oven and place the pans on baking racks to cool for about 10 minutes. Turn the pans over onto the rack. Flip the cake layers over and let them cool completely before icing.

5. Make the icing: in the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about 3 minutes. Carefully mix in the powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add in the extracts and salt, followed by the milk or cream and mix until well-combined. Tint with desired food coloring and decorate away.*

*To decorate with the “cloud” method:

Frost the cake with a thing layer of icing. This is the crumb coat. Put the cake in the fridge and allow to chill for 20-30 minutes until the buttercream has hardened. Meanwhile, place icing in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used a Wilton #12). Pipe large dots in a vertical row.

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Using a small cake spatula, carefully smear the dot to the right. Pipe more dots to overlap the smeared dot and repeat until the cake is covered.

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Source: Cake-  Adapted from The Kitchn; Frosting- Lolly’s Sweet & Savory Treats

Zesty Quinoa Salad

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As glorious as it may be, meals can’t always revolve around meat and potatoes. In an effort to modify our eating habits, I’ve started experimenting with more “main dish” grains. So far my two favorites are farro and quinoa. Robert has been a little nervous about these vegetarian dishes, but he is starting to come around. As long as we have a safety net of meat in the fridge, he can usually keep his cool. He’s a good sport.

This particular dish highlights two of our favorite seasonings- chili powder and cumin- and it’s great served with cheese quesadillas or roasted vegetables on the side. I think it would also be a tasty filler for a burrito.

Other grains I have on my list of “to try” include: millet, bulgur, and barley. I lead an exhilarating life, I know. :)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Zesty Quinoa Salad

Printable version

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 5 green onions, finely chopped

Directions

  1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes together in a bowl.
  3. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, black beans, and green onions together in a bowl. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Stir in cilantro; season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator.

Source: Adapted from All Recipes

Olive Oil Pizza Dough

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What food do you associate with weekends? For us, it’s pizza. We have our local favorites, but those versions aren’t always economically friendly. Especially after I spend like a drunken solider on my trips to Target. It’s kind of a budget buster.

Robert and I have been on a quest to make the ultimate homemade pizza for a few years now. We have a pizza stone, a pizza peel, and we use our homemade pizza sauce. What we’ve been missing is the right dough. I’ve tried a variety of recipes, but they’ve always fallen a little flat. Finally, we stumbled across this recipe and we are thrilled with our results.

The other important part of making a great homemade pizza is the temperature of the oven. The best temperature, in our experience, is 500 degrees. This allows the dough to bake quickly and get a nice chewy crust. I was a little weary of how our oven would do at such a high temperature, but it does just fine (and our house is not a pile of ashes).

Now that we’ve found our favorite dough, our biggest problem is resisting the urge to make pizza every night. Oy vey.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Olive Oil Pizza Dough

Printable Version

Yield: About 4 large pizzas worth of dough

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions

1. Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a large bowl or lidded (not airtight) plastic container.

2. Add in the flour without kneading. Stir with a large wooden spoon to incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients. Do not over stir!

3. Cover (not airtight) and allow the dough to rise for approximately 2 hours and up to 5 hours.

4. The dough can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

5. When you are ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven (and pizza stone if you have one) to 500 degrees. If the dough was in the refrigerator, it needs to rest until it reaches room temperature so the dough can be stretched easily. To do this, take a grapefruit-sized hunk of dough and gently cover it with flour. Place the hunk on parchment paper and  let it rest for at least 20 minutes.

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6. After the dough has rested, carefully stretch the dough out using both hands. If you’re feeling frisky, you can toss the dough in the air. Allow the dough to be a little thicker around the edge if you would like a more defined crust. Keep the dough on the parchment paper. Next, top the pizza with sauce and your desired toppings.

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7. Using a pizza peel or a cookie sheet, place the pizza (still on the parchment paper) directly on the pizza stone. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cheese is toasted brown. Remove the pizza from the oven and enjoy!

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Source: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

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My in-laws recently returned from a sunny vacation in Florida and with them, they brought back some delicious strawberries. Fresh berries in Ohio grocery stores are usually pretty tart and tasteless this time of year, and the Florida produce is just another reason to love this buckeye state we call home.

I’ve made this dessert a few times before (this time for dinner at a friends’ house) and it now ranks up towards the top of Robert’s favorites. If you’re looking for a way to jazz it up even more, you can add a drizzle of  hot fudge sauce for all the chocolate lovers in your life; or you can make the tart into tartlettes for individual treats. Any way you decide, you can’t go wrong.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

Printable version

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients:

For the crust

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the filling

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream

Topping

  • 16 ounce container of strawberries, sliced

DIRECTIONS

1. Prepare the crust: Whisk together the egg yolk, cream, and vanilla. Set aside. Place the flour, salt, and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add in the butter cubes and pulse until mixture is crumbly and the size of peas. With the food processor running, slowly add the liquid mixture to the butter/flour mix until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mold into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

2. Place the dough in the tart pan:  Take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Unwrap and place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 13-inch round.  Carefully place the dough into a 9-inch tart pan.  Press the dough to the sides of the tart pan, removing the excess off the top as needed.  Put the tart pan on a large plate and freeze for 30 minutes.

3.  Bake the crust: While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled dough/pan from the freezer and mold tin foil into the shell and over the edge of the tart pan. Place pie weights on top of the foil (I used dry beans). Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time.  Take out of the oven and gently remove the foil and weights.  Continue to bake until deep golden brown, 5-8 minutes longer.  Allow to cool on a baking rack.

4. Make the filling: Place the cream cheese into a bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium high until smooth and no lumps remain. Add in the powdered sugar and mix until well-comibined. Add in the vanilla and cream and mix 30 seconds longer.

5. Assemble the tart: Spoon the cream cheese filling into the cooled tart shell. Spread out evenly. Place strawberries in a circular pattern and serve within 2 hours of preparing for best results.

Source: Slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

Valentine’s Day Sugar Cookies

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I adore Valentine’s Day. The colors, the excessive hearts, the candy. It’s all glorious. But I don’t just view this as a holiday for couples, I see it as a day to celebrate all of the people you love in your life (I know, I know- it sounds sickeningly cloying, but it’s really how I feel). I decided to celebrate by baking these cookies while listening to my eclectic Pandora radio stations. It was a good Saturday, folks.

I first eyed this marbling method with royal icing last year, and I’ve been waiting to try it ever since. I’ve had some practice with decorating sugar cookies (with my favorite sugar cookie and royal icing recipe), but I still have a lot to learn. What I have picked up so far is that it’s most important to plan ahead.  Most sugar cookie doughs require at least some chilling time and the royal icing is stable enough to be made a few days in advance. It’s also helpful to have all of the tools you need ready to go to make the process as efficient as possible.

Here’s what I like to use:

  • Disposable piping bags
  • Round piping tips
  • Good quality food coloring (I use Wilton or Americolor)
  • Plastic squeeze bottles (for flooding icing)
  • Toothpicks
  • Plastic containers with lids (for icing storage)
  • Baking racks

And here is how I decorated the cookies:

1. Outline the cookies

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2. Thin the icing with water and flood

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3. Pipe dots

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4. Drag a toothpick through the dots

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5. Allow cookies to dry completely and enjoy :)

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Source: Decorating method vis Annie’s Eats

Hummus

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I recently had a life-changing experience in the realm of Mediterranean food. There is a lovely gem of a restaurant in our neighborhood called The Olive Tree and Robert and I had never given it a chance up until a few months ago. I’ve always been a bit underwhelmed by the Greek food I’ve made and/or ordered at restaurants. That is, until we decided to try something different for a quick weeknight dinner. I ordered the chicken shwarama with hummus, Robert got the spicy chicken and mushroom dinner, and the rest is delicious history. I now frequently crave their hummus and pita bread after a long day at work. More so, I dare say, than pizza (!?!). The Olive Tree has made a Mediterranean convert out of me and I am not ashamed to admit it.

I decided to make a homemade version of hummus myself and was quite pleased with the outcome. While I still am forever loyal to our beloved Olive Tree, this hummus is a budget-friendly and delicious alternative. It’s also a healthy snack for this weekend’s Super Bowl.  I have to admit, though, that I don’t follow NFL football at all, but I enjoy the social aspect of the game. :)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Looking for other appetizer ideas for Sunday’s big game? Here are a few of my favorites:

Cajun-roasted shrimp

Baked jalapeno poppers

Buffalo chicken dip

Baked garlic fries

Hummus

Printable Version

Yield: About 2 1/2 cups hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup tahini, stirred well
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

1.Put the chickpeas, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor (or blender). Pulse for 15 to 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse for another 15 to 20 seconds. Add the lemon juice, tahini, and water. Pulse for about 20 seconds longer. Scrape down the bowl; and, with the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Serve with pita bread, vegetables, or eat straight from the bowl.

Source: Alton Brown