Appetizers

Homemade Yogurt Cheese

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Chef John from Food Wishes recently vlogged a homemade cream cheese recipe using the Labneh method. It’s actually yogurt cheese. It takes three days to make and costs more than regular cream cheese (can’t beat that combination: takes more time and money), but the results are well worth it. I used a non-fat Greek yogurt (Fage Total 0%) which was an excellent choice and worked great. High in protein, no fat, lower sugar and carbohydrates: Wow, this cheese is actually good for you!

Greek yogurt already has much of the whey removed. Hanging for 24 hours really did not extract much more. I did find that I needed to put a shallow bowl under the mold. Pressing did extract additional whey which had no where to go but over the side.

I added Chives and Green Onions to the mixture before molding and used more salt than Chef John. I served mine with some hot fish pepper jelly I made a few weeks ago on some bruschetta toasts. The tanginess of the cheese, the bite of the onions and chives, the sweetness and heat of the jelly and the crunchiness of the toast was a fantastic combination.

I highly recommend this recipe. Experiment with the yogurt and with any additives. The process is long, but the results can be fun and delicious. There is still time to plan some for that holiday party to impress your friends, relatives and/or co-workers and let them know, as Chef John said, you really are better than them.

Pumpkin Hummus

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Homemade hummus is easy to make and far better than its store-bought cousin. It is also very versatile from a flavoring perspective. You can add all sorts of spices and flavor ingredients to give it the perfect profile for your event.

I came up with this hummus as an appetizer to a Thanksgiving dinner. The addition of the pumpkin and spices gave it a subtle pumpkin flavor. I served it with apple slices and pita chips. For the chips, I cut the pitas into wedges, sprayed them with olive oil and baked them at 350 F. for 10-15 minutes.

I always use dried chickpeas. The taste is far superior to the canned variety. If you do not have time to soak them overnight, simply bring the water to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, remove them from the heat and let them sit for 1 hour. You can also reserve your water when the chickpeas are done and use that water in the recipe.

For Thanksgiving, I was using Pomegranate Molasses as part of the turkey’s dry brine and roasted pumpkin seeds were used across the menu. I used both to top the hummus before serving.

Hummus can be made the day before and refrigerated to save some time on the day of your event. In fact, I would recommend doing so even if you have loads of time on the day of use. Sitting overnight helps the flavors meld.

Ingredients:
8 oz. Dried Chickpeas
1/2 cup Water
1/3 cup Pumpkin Purée
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/2 Tsp. Cumin, ground
Juice of one Lime
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Direction:
1) Soak Chickpeas in 2 cups of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well.
2) Place chickpeas in a food processor with 1/2 cup of water and purée until smooth.
3) Add Pumpkin Purée, Garlic, Olive Oil, Cinnamon, Cumin and Lime Juice. Process until smooth. Add Olive Oil and/or Water, as needed, to achieve the desired consistency.
4) Salt and Pepper, to taste.

Spicy Avocado-Cucumber Soup

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Summer is waning and I picked the last 16 cucumbers off my shriveling vines yesterday. Today, I was challenged with using them or facing the prospect of eating Cucumber Benedict for breakfast, cucumber sandwiches for lunch and sautéed cucumbers for supper for days to come. The solution was 4 quarts of Spicy Avocado-Cucumber Soup (3 quarts in the freezer), 2 quarts of refrigerator dill pickles and a large bowl of Cucumber Salad with Red Onions and Mint.

Below is the recipe for the soup. A couple of replacements make this low fat and healthy. The avocado replaces any butter and adds to the creaminess. The Greek yogurt replaces sour cream. I partially peel my cucumbers to reduce the amount of thick skin. You could kick up the heat with some cayenne pepper (Chef John at Food Wishes would) and/or using the Jalapeño seeds.

Add the water as necessary. I have seen many recipes calling for 1 cup of water. I found 1/4 cup plenty. It will depend on the water content of your cucumbers. Start with a little and adjust to your desired consistency.

I garnished the dish with some fresh chives. You could use some mint, cilantro and/or avocado cubes. The dish is quick, simple and tasty.

Spicy Avocado-Cucumber Soup

Ingredients:
Flesh of one medium Avocado
2 cucumbers, partially peeled and seeded
1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
3 scallions, white and pale-green parts only
1 Jalapeño pepper, seeded
Zest and juice of one lime
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Direction:
Blend all ingredients in a blender until very smooth.
Serve chilled.