lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

Mini Vegetable Spring Rolls with Tahini Dipping Sauce

I’m a huge fan of spring rolls. They offer a delicious way to stuff lots of veggies into a small package and they can be paired with a¬†number of different dipping sauces. This recipe is basically just an appetizer-size of my previous recipe on spring rolls. What I do here is cut the rice wrappers in half after dipping them in water, making them more finger food friendly, while still packing huge flavor and a nutritional punch.

I also want to share my tahini dipping sauce recipe with you, not just because it’s delicious but because tahini, which is a paste made from sesame seeds, is full of nutrients that are good for you.

lola rugula mini veggie spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce

Miniature Vegetable Spring Rolls with Tahini Dipping Sauce

While it’s hard to say exactly the quantity of veggies and noodles you’ll need for rolling these, this is approximately what I used for 24 small spring rolls. A lot will depend on how much you stuff into each one of them. ūüôā

Try and slice your veggies thin and uniformly, keeping them about 2-3 inches long when possible. Don’t make yourself crazy here – they’re all getting stuffed into rolls, for Pete’s sake.

I like to make my dipping sauce ahead of the rolls, so it’s ready to go.

Tahini Dipping Sauce Recipe

  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup tahini – make sure it’s been stirred very, very well before using
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • Juice of 1 large lemon; about 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In a food processor, blend garlic until finely minced.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well blended, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. If sauce is still a little thick, add a tablespoon of water and blend well again.
  4. Transfer to a small ramekin or serving bowl and set aside.

Miniature Vegetable and Rice Noodle Spring Rolls Recipe

  • 10 spring roll rice paper wrappers (I find these next to the tofu, sprouts and egg roll wrappers at my local store). These are typically refrigerated but if you bring them to room temperature about an hour before using them, you’ll find they’re less brittle and easier to work with.
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice noodles
  • 6 medium asparagus spears, thinly sliced
  • 10 snow peas, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 1/2 medium sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced (I used an orange one here, but you can use yellow or red)
  • 3 scallions, trimmed to white and tender greens, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1/2 cup julienned zucchini
  • 1/2 cup julienned cucumber that’s been peeled and seeds removed
  • 3/4 cup cilantro leaves

Directions:

  • Cook the rice noodles, run under cold water until cool. Drain very well and set aside. (I heat boiling water, add my noodles, cook about a minute and then set aside for 10 before draining and cooling)
  • In a small pan or microwave steamer, add asparagus and 1/4 of water, cover and steam about 2 minutes
  • Add sliced snow peas to asparagus and steam about 1 minute more.
  • Drain asparagus and snow peas, run under cold water and drain well. Set aside.
  • Fill a bowl or large plate (I’ve found that a large plate works best for this) with lukewarm water, for dipping your wrappers in.

Here’s where you need to have everything ready to go.

  • Have all of your veggies, noodles and cilantro ready to go
  • Have a large cutting board or serving platter ready, to place your finished rolls on
  • Have your plate of lukewarm water ready for dipping the spring roll wrappers
  • Have a sharp knife and cutting board ready to use solely for the spring rolls

Are you ready? Let make some spring rolls!

  1. Dip 1 spring roll wrapper in the plate or bowl of lukewarm¬†water, swishing it around to make sure all of it’s moistened. Flip and do the same to the other side. Hold the wrapper above the plate for a couple of seconds, to let the excess water run off.
  2. Lay the dampened wrapper on a cutting board and, very carefully, using a very sharp knife, cut the wrapper in half.
  3. Add a few noodles and then a couple of each of the prepared veggies and a few cilantro leaves on top of the bottom third (towards you) of each of the 1/2 wrappers.
  4. Like you’re rolling a burrito, wrap one end around your fillings and use the end of the wrapper you’re holding to pull all of the fillings toward you tightly and then tighten your wrap around the filling. Roll once, fold up the round end and then continue rolling until complete.
  5. Place on serving platter and repeat with remaining rolls.

lola rugula mini vegetable spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce

Spring rolls are always best served fresh or at least within an hour or so. The wrappers tend to dry out and become crispy and weird again if left to sit too long. I’ve covered them with damp paper towels to extend their time and this works better than just leaving them to their own devices.

If you want to save yourself the trouble of wrapping these, turn them into a fun party appetizer by creating a spread and letting your friends roll their own. Maybe not so appropriate for a formal dinner but great for a casual get-together and definitely a conversation starter.

lola rugula spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce appetizer

Crunchy, antioxidant-packed, delicious and fun! If you’ve ever wondered how to make spring rolls, now you’re a pro. Don’t be discouraged if your first roll or two don’t turn out – this still happens to me sometimes and I make these pretty often. Just keep pushing on and you’ll get the hang of them in no time.

And of course, don’t be afraid to play with these – mix up your veggies and herbs for a new flavor every time you make them. The prep work in these is really most of the work, so it’s easy to have fun with changing them up.

Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

i don’t think you’re ready for this hot pepper jelly recipe

Break out the cream cheese and crackers because I’ve got on an old-school¬†classic for you that I just can’t resist sharing. This is an easy¬†holiday appetizer recipe and guess what – it also makes a great gift! If you want to fancy it up a bit, you can swap out the cream cheese for goat or feta cheese but, no matter how you serve this, I promise that almost everyone will love it. Hot pepper jelly or jalapeno jelly is a silly-simple thing to make but it’s something I love and this is a perfect time of year for it.

This is an unprocessed hot pepper jelly recipe, as most of them you’ll find involve water-bathing or steam canning and honestly, as much as I enjoy canning, this stays just long enough to enjoy a batch without the extra work. I hot pack my jelly, so the jars seal and that, along with the vinegar in this, will be enough for a lot of people to tell you that you can put it up and preserve it without any refrigeration. Though I clean and dry my canning jars for this, I don’t sterilize them, so I refrigerate mine after processing. I have no problem keeping this batch for a month or more in the fridge and again, that’s thanks to the vinegar and hot packing process.

lola rugula canned hot pepper jelly

hot pepper jelly (aka jalapeno jelly) recipe

  • 2 large bell peppers – I typically use red, yellow or orange for the color. Remove stems and seeds and discard.
  • 4-8 jalapeno peppers or other hot peppers. Remove stems and discard. Remove the seeds if you want to tone down the heat.
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1.75 oz. package less or no-sugar needed Sure Jell

For me, this makes 5  of the 1/2 pint canning jars. Wash and dry your jars and lids and set aside.

Cut the bell peppers into quarters and the jalapenos in half and place in food processor. Pulse a couple of times and then scrape the sides of the bowl. Pulse again a couple of times until all of the peppers are minced. Be careful not to liquify the peppers – you just want to chop them until they’re minced. There may be a tiny bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, but that should be all.

Here’s what they should look like:

lola rugula peppers for jelly

  1. Scrape the minced peppers out into a large saucepan.
  2. Add vinegar and sugar to the pan and stir well.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 7 minutes.
  4. Add package of pectin, stir well with a fork or whisk and bring back to a boil.
  5. Make sure all of the pectin is fully incorporated and there aren’t any lumps.
  6. Boil 1 more minute.
  7. Be careful here to not let the mixture boil up and over the pan.
  8. You should actually start to see or feel with a spoon the mixture start to thicken and gel a bit.
  9. Quickly and carefully pack the hot mixture into clean canning jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace, wipe the rims of the jars clean, and seal with lids and bands.
  10. Let cool at room temperature. Typically, my lids will seal in about 35-45 minutes.
  11. When completely cool, refrigerate.

Tada! You’ve achieved simple no-canning-required hot pepper jelly. Easy, right?

The heat of this totally depends on you and the peppers you want to use. Want to make ghost chili or Carolina Reaper hot pepper jelly? You can, but you probably should only use one of them and not six, as my recipe calls for. You’ll need to taste your peppers first, to gauge the heat, although peppers often get hotter when cooked so only let this be your guide.

Serve with softened cream cheese (or goat or feta) and some crackers. People are going to love you for this, I promise. ūüôā

lola rugula hot pepper jelly and cream cheese

As I mentioned earlier, this can also make a really nice little gift by simply putting a jar of it into a gift basket or bag, along with a brick of cream cheese or tub of feta, and some nice crackers.

I’ve read where people add food coloring to their hot pepper jelly and I just don’t think it’s necessary. I mean, look at the beautiful colors in this:

lola rugula hot pepper jelly preserves recipe

I also consider this a low-sugar hot pepper jelly recipe, as a lot of recipes call for twice the amount of sugar that I do. I think the sugar in this is more than sufficient and provides just enough sweet foil to the heat of the hot peppers.

The real beauty of this is that if you make some now and have some cream cheese and crackers on hand, you can whip up an easy appetizer in no time at all. I can’t tell you how nice this is when you’ve got people dropping by unexpectedly, not only at the holidays but all year round.

lola rugula hot pepper jelly photo

This is so much fun to serve to guests – most just aren’t’ expecting the heat but enjoy it, once they’ve tasted it. And you know if there’s anyone who loves an easy holiday appetizer recipe, it’s this girl. I’ve got enough things to do this time of year, so this just makes life a little bit easier.

I hope you try this and love it. Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

spicy honey sesame wings

If you’re looking for a great chicken wing recipe with just a hint of heat but a ton of flavor, these are your wings. And, if you don’t subscribe to the¬†“wings have to be nuclear” line of thought, you might also love my spicy apricot wings, because they’re pretty delicious without being crazy hot, also. And don’t be tied down to doing this recipe with wings, because it’s a great sauce for legs, thighs, and even chicken breast, you’ll just have to adjust your cooking time accordingly.

I happened to have hung with a crowd from the Buffalo, NY area during the original Buffalo-style chicken wings heyday back in my New Haven days, and I can tell you they didn’t actually involve much more than deep frying the wings and then tossing them in Frank’s Red Hot, butter and (shhhhh) a shot of Amaretto while they were still hot. True story.¬† Not very exciting but that’s my story. I still swear by Frank’s Red Hot if you want hot wings because it’s a great, flavorful base to making a tasty hot chicken wing.

I’ll state here that I’m not in the camp of breading chicken wings or deep frying them; I like roasting mine in a hot oven and, if needed, crisping them up for a¬†couple of minutes under the broiler. Less grease, less mess and a wee bit healthier. I also can’t stand a soggy-skin chicken wing. Char it a little and crisp up the skin or don’t bother giving it to me.

Chicken sauces¬†are fun to play around with, as you can do so much in the way of flavors, so I try and mix things up once in a while. The sliced scallions and sesame seeds are key toppings with these wings because they add a huge burst of flavor and crunch to the overall dish. Mostly though, these are just chicken wings…have fun with them for Pete’s sake.

lola rugula sesame chicken wings

spicy honey sesame chicken wings recipe

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Thai hot chili garlic paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3.5 lbs chicken wings, cut at the joints, wing tips reserved for making stock at a later time. (about 3 lbs wing and drumettes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (garlic through rice vinegar) and whisk together well.  Add chicken wings, toss well and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 425¬ļ

  1. Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil.(for easy clean-up, line with aluminum foil first)
  2. Place wings on baking sheet, skin side up. Reserve any extra marinade.
  3. Roast wings for 10 minutes. Turn wings over and brush with some of the reserved marinade.
  4. Roast 15 minutes, turn wings over and brush with remaining marinade.
  5. Roast for about 10 more minutes, until wings start to char a bit on the edges.
  6. Remove from oven and transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and sesame seeds and serve.

lola rugula spicy honey sesame chicken wings

These are just about the perfect chicken wing recipe. Spicy, crunchy and full of sweet, hot flavor. If you want more heat, just add some more Thai garlic chili paste. If you don’t have the chili paste, feel free to add some minced jalapeno, habanero or other hot pepper.

lola rugula sesame honey chicken wings

Of course, if you want to lessen the heat, don’t add any chili paste or hot peppers at all..it’s just that simple.

lola rugula sesame honey chicken wings recipe

These babies are sticky, so be sure and serve them with plenty of napkins. ūüôā¬† And if you have to have a dipping sauce with your wings, these will still do just fine alongside your cup of ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Another variation on these is to do them with chicken tenderloin pieces on skewers. They still make a great meal or appetizer this way, but without the mess of bones.

Never, ever be afraid to play with your food.

Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

ajvar recipe

One of the beautiful things about growing your own vegetables is that you’re able to grow¬†so many more varieties than what you can find at the supermarket. ¬†Farmer’s markets offer a better variety than the stores but even then, your selection can be limited. One of my favorite places to discover new vegetables is Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. They always have an incredible variety of heirloom veggies and I’ve had very good results with most of their seeds.

This year, I discovered ajvarski peppers which, after a bit of online searching, appear to be bulls horn peppers, a variety of peppers traditionally used in making ajvar (pronounced AY-vahr).

lola rugula ajvar peppers

Ajvar is a Serbian roasted red pepper sauce (I read where some call it Serbian Salsa). ¬†Basically, it’s a¬†roasted red pepper sauce with eggplant, garlic, vinegar, and oil added. It’s great on fresh bread, toasted bread and crackers, so it’s an easy appetizer recipe to make.

¬†I started my peppers inside in February and they were about 10-inch tall plants when they went into my garden in early May. They’ve done well in my home garden, taking a while to turn red as most colored peppers do but they’re reaching their stride here in zone 5 in September. ¬†I currently have multiple peppers turning red on my plants, even though they were a bit slow-going at first.

These are gorgeous peppers with a thick skin and fragrant smell, especially when roasting. I’m not exaggerating¬†on this – these are really, really fragrant peppers.

lola rugula ajvar bulls horn peppers

If you want to speed up the ripening of colored peppers, simply put them in a paper bag with a few ripe tomatoes and seal the bag with a clip. Leave at room temperature until fully ripened. Ideally, the peppers should be starting to turn already and then they’ll take anywhere from 3 to 7 days to ripen. Never refrigerate them until they’re ripe – refrigeration will stop the ripening process immediately. I have great luck with quick-ripening my peppers this way. If you’re a home gardener, you know how long it can take (and how much plant energy it takes) to ripen peppers on the plant.

I admit my ajvar here is a small batch recipe, as I only had 3 peppers to start and make this with. As it turned out though, 3 peppers were just enough to make a good-sized appetizer plate for Sunday football for two. This recipe made enough ajvar to fully pack one ramekin and help us devour a small loaf of French bread. ūüôā In all, this makes about 1 healthy cup of ajvar.

lola rugula ajvar

homemade ajvar recipe

  • 3 red bullhorn or bell peppers
  • 1/3 large eggplant, cut in half
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, gently smashed
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon for brushing eggplant
  • 4 oz. feta cheese
  • 1 small loaf French bread, sliced (I toasted mine)

Preheat broiler. Place peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Brush the eggplant on both sides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Broil, turning occasionally until peppers and eggplant are well charred on all sides. The eggplant will likely cook the fastest and, if so, remove it to a plate and let cool until the peppers are done cooking.

When the peppers are well charred, use a pair of tongs to pop them into a paper bag, roll the bag to seal and let the peppers rest at least 10 minutes. What this does is steams the skins from the peppers, making the skins easier to remove. Remove the skins, stems, and seeds and discard. (I add mine to our compost bin)

In the meantime, scoop out the innards of the eggplant and place it in a food processor. Discard (or compost) the skin.

Add the garlic, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the processor.

Add the peeled peppers.

Pulse until well-blended but still a bit coarse – it should still have a little texture to it. If too dry, add more olive oil until a smooth, spreadable mixture is formed.

Serve with feta cheese and fresh or toasted bread (or crackers).

lola rugula ajvar 2

This is so, so good! Very garlicky and the vinegar adds a brightness and tang to it, while the olive oil smooths it all out.

If red bell peppers are all you can find, by all means, use them. You can also add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you want a little spice to your ajvar.

Of course, you can also char the peppers and eggplant on the grill; whichever method is easiest and most convenient for you.

There’s something just so rustic and satisfying about schmearing roasted deliciousness on bread and devouring it. Ajvar does not disappoint. Make yourself a batch and dig in.

Enjoy!

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

charred shishito peppers

If you’re a home gardener, shishito peppers are an easy-to-grow, heavily-producing plant that bears fruit earlier than a lot of other types of peppers. These peppers are fast growers too; two plants easily produce about 10-20 peppers every week or so during peak growing season.

Because these aren’t easy plants to find, I start seeds indoors, typically in mid-February. This gives me about a 6-inch plant to put into the ground come early May, which jump starts the growing season here in zone 5 Northern Illinois.

If you’re not much into growing your own peppers but lucky enough to come across these delights at your grocery store or farmer’s market, I suggest you scoop some up. These are mild peppers packed with great flavor. People will tell you that every so many of these peppers are hot and that’s true but “hot” here is not anywhere near a jalapeno. Yes, some peppers have more heat than others but it’s not anywhere near an unbearable or uncomfortable heat, at least in my experience.

lola rugula how to grow shishito peppers

One of the easiest and most typical ways to cook these peppers is to roast them or char them with a drizzle of oil and some coarse kosher or sea salt.  This method brings out their flavor and makes it easy to eat a couple of handfuls in one sitting.

You can accomplish cooking them this way in a number of ways, via a hot grill, a hot, heavy skillet or under a broiler. All you’re looking to do is char the skins a bit and give them a beautiful roasted flavor. If your peppers are large enough, you can actually place them directly on the grill, just keep a close eye on them. You can char them a little or you can char them a lot but, either way, I think you’ll like the end result.

lola rugula charred shishito peppers (2)

All you need to make these are:

  • Shishito peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse kosher or sea salt

When I cook these on the grill, I toss them in a small pan or sheet of foil with the olive oil and salt and spread out into a single layer. Place the pan on a preheated grill and cook for about 7-10 minutes, tossing them around occasionally, until they’re browned a bit on all sides. Use this same method if cooking under a broiler.

lola rugula grilled shishito peppers

To cook them on the stovetop, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add oil and heat the oil for a minute or so – do not let the oil become smoking hot.

Add peppers in a single layer and let brown slightly on one side then, using a pair of tongs, flip them over and let brown on the other side.

lola rugula how to cook shishito peppers

These are perfect for cookouts and parties and are always a huge hit. The bonus is that there isn’t a simpler dish to make.

To really kick them up a notch, toss in some minced garlic and shallots before cooking; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve ever seen these and wondered how to cook shishito peppers, now you know how easy it is. Now get out there and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

lola rugula how to make easy pasta carbonara

chicken liver pate’

Liver. You either love it or hate it; there’s rarely an in-between.¬†I grew up with parents who liked liver and onions so it was an occasional dinner of my youth and one I’ve always enjoyed. And it wasn’t just liver and onions we ate, but liverwurst and (American) braunschweiger, too. Ahh, what was better than a braunschweiger sandwich with raw onion slices piled onto Wonder bread?

When I started cooking on my own, chicken livers became my new favorite. They’re small and tender and cook pretty quickly. I love them sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I totally lucked out that my husband likes liver too, so it’s an occasional treat for us. I say occasionally because liver is high in cholesterol, although it’s also a good source of iron and B vitamins. I’ve told you before I”m a big believer in enjoying a variety of foods and not overindulging in any of them. Variety is the spice of life, no?

Over the holidays it’s become a tradition for me to make chicken liver pate’. Smooth, creamy and packed with flavor, and yet I’m still pleasantly surprised at how many people actually enjoy it. It’s typically one of the first things to disappear¬†from the array of appetizers.

After making it for so many years, I’ve discovered just how easy and flexible making liver pate’ can be. Sometimes I add a little bourbon. Sometimes I add a bit of heavy cream. Sometimes I change up the spices and herbs. The basic idea here is chicken livers cooked with garlic, onions or shallots, a bit of spices and/or herbs and a touch of water and/or liquid. Puree it all up, chill until firm and you have liver pate’.

As an interesting gardening side note, the fresh sage pictured here was all harvested from one of my sage plants that was buried under snow in the middle of December. Amazing, right?

lola rugula how to make homemade chicken liver pate

chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken livers, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large skillet. When it starts to foam, add onions and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add livers, herbs, spices and water and stir well.

Cook at a simmer for about  10-12 minutes, stirring often, until the livers are cooked through.

Add bourbon, stir well to incorporate and then remove from heat.

Add heavy cream and stir well. Let cool at least 5 minutes.

Place the entire mixture into a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. If the mixture seems too thick, add just a bit more water or cream.

Smooth the pate’ into a dish or ramekins and chill. I love this best when it’s made a day ahead of time…it’ gives the flavors time to meld. I use ramekins and this recipe makes about 3. It will also freeze well for a week or two, which I discovered by necessity one year when I made a double batch of it. Serve with a selection of crackers and/or small appetizer breads, such as rye and pumpernickel.

lola rugula chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

Liver pate’ may not make a gorgeous picture to everyone, but to me and those who love it, it’s a beautiful thing.

If you want to make a particularly nice presentation, line your ramekins in plastic wrap and place some fresh sage or thyme leaves in the bottom of the dish.

lola rugula chicken liver pate recipe

Spoon the pate’ in over the leaves and then refrigerate. Before serving, pull the whole ramekin of pate’ out by pulling the plastic wrap out of the ramekin and then invert on a dish before serving. You’ll end up with a small batch of pate’ with a beautiful presentation of herbs on the top. Not necessary but it makes things pretty, if you so desire.

Never be afraid to try new things and never, ever, ever, be afraid to play around with your food.

Liver. Do you love it or despise it? I’d love to hear your comments. Here’s to a fabulous, amazing, delicious New Year. Cheers.