asian lettuce wraps

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I try not to order dishes in restaurants that I can easily make at home, but PF Chang’s lettuce wraps had so many raving reviews that I had to get them the first time I ate there. They were just as good as I was hoping, but were also simple – too simple to pay someone else to make them for me. I made a mental note to try these at home.

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That was years ago, but I still hadn’t gotten around to making this easy dish that promised to be just as tasty as it was healthy. That is why this recipe, which requires no great skill or time-investment, no new ingredients or techniques, made the list. Sometimes I just need a little extra push, even if it’s from myself.

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I don’t think I’ll need that extra push to make these again. It will be hard to forget how well the savory filling compliments the crisp mild lettuce and sweet hoisin sauce. I can’t compare them to the restaurant’s version, since it’s been years since I’ve had theirs. I won’t wait so long before I eat lettuce wraps again, not after this reminder of how good they are, and how easy they are to make myself.

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One year ago: Stromboli
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar and, Scallions
Four years ago: Mandarin Pancakes

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Asian Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Serves 4

I used a combination of ground pork and lean ground beef, but many recipes call for ground chicken. Use whatever lean ground meat you want; I particularly recommend chicken or pork.

Marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 green onion, finely chopped
chile-garlic sauce (optional)

Filling:
1 pound lean ground meat
1 tablespoon oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 small head of Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed, and dried

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the ground meat; use a fork or your hands to coat the meat with the marinade, breaking up large chunks. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften. Add the chicken with its marinade and the water chestnuts; cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 6 minutes. Stir in the green onions.

3. Combine all of the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with the meat and lettuce leaves, filling the lettuce just before serving to prevent wilting.

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glazed pecans

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One of the hardest parts of making a full Thanksgiving dinner for two is dealing with the ridiculous amounts of food. Probably I could have made a course or two less than what people make for a huge group, right? But that would be too easy. I have to go the other direction and make every single course I would make for a crowd.

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If family and friends were coming over, I would want casual snacks set out to munch on while people sip their wine and wait for the appetizers to cool. With only the two of us, these little pecans were supposed to hold us over between breakfast and the big eating part of the day, but instead they became irresistible little nibbles whenever the pecan bowl was in sight.

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I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed these, because pecans aren’t one of my favorite nuts. I think of them as bitter, but once they were coated in a sweet herby glaze, the nut itself seemed almost meaty. Now I know that sharing them with a crowd is actually a bad idea – because I want them all for myself.

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Two years ago: Cranberry Orange Scones
Three years ago: Chickpea and Butternut Squash Salad

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Rosemary and Thyme Candied Pecans (adapted from Seven Spoons)

Makes 8 servings

I bought demerara sugar just for this recipe and have found other uses for it, but if you don’t want to buy it, I’m sure brown sugar would work just fine.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
¾ teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Scant ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 pound pecan halves

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the maple syrup and the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, spices, and salt. Add the pecans to the butter mixture; stir to coat. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan.

3. Bake, turning occasionally, until the nuts are glazed, shiny, and deep golden, around 15 minutes.
Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

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smoked salmon mousse

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Having friends with kids when you don’t have kids is tricky. I appreciate being invited to their house for dinner, but I’m not sure how best to reciprocate, especially with people who don’t have family in the area to be built-in babysitters. One solution a friend and I came up with is to have dinner at her house, but split the cooking. That way, we all get to hang out, she doesn’t have to do all of the hostess work, I get to cook, and the kids can still go to bed at their normal time and place.

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The last time we did this, we decided to each make a few small dishes rather than one big meal. I had lots of ideas, but nearly all of them were based on carbs, like green chile fettuccine alfredo (which I did make), empanadas, crostini, and California rolls. I settled on cucumber slices to replace the bread in crostini, not to mention add some vegetables to the menu.

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Salty smoked salmon is perfect with watery cucumber. Piping stars on the slices is so pretty, and what’s more, the mousse is extremely easy to make – it’s nothing more than blending a few ingredients together in the food processor. With these little bites, I didn’t miss carbs one bit. In fact, the only people who didn’t like these were the kids.

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One year ago: Roasted Vegetable Bean Soup
Two years ago: Applesauce Snack Cake
Three years ago: Spinach Artichoke and Red Pepper Strata

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Smoked Salmon Mousse (adapted from Annie’s Eats and allrecipes)

Makes about 25 appetizers

3 ounces smoked salmon
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh minced dill
Black pepper

Place the smoked salmon in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and blend to desired consistency. To serve, pipe the mousse onto cucumbers slices or crackers, or serve as a dip.

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greek yogurt dill dip

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I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record – “OMG OMG Greek yogurt is soooo awesome!!!” It’s just that I’m finding so many places where the similarities between Greek yogurt and sour cream give me opportunities to enjoy some of my favorite used-to-be-indulgent foods. Creamy white dips are my newest revelations.

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Most white dips are nothing more than dressed up mayonnaise and sour cream; in other words, they are a bowl of fat. But even though Greek yogurt is the same thickness and color as sour cream and it tastes tart like sour cream, per ounce, it has one-third of the calories, one-tenth of the fat, and three times the protein of sour cream.

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And it isn’t just the sour cream you’re replacing. I love mayonnaise, but I’ve found that its flavor stands out even when there’s seven times more yogurt in a mixture than mayonnaise. That means that now I can mix up a creamy white dip as an afternoon snack to serve with whole grain bread, instead of saving it for a special occasional splurge. I suspect this dill dip, a childhood favorite of mine, it just the start of experimenting with used-to-be-fat-laden dips.

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One year ago: Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Two years ago: Mushroom Salad
Three years ago: Kung Pau Shrimp

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Greek Yogurt Dill Dip (I got this recipe from my mom, but I’m guessing it’s originally a Spice Islands recipe)

Serves 6 to 8

Beau Monde seasoning is a Spice Islands spice mix. I keep some around just for this dip, but it can be hard to find. Fortunately, it looks like you can make up your own.

My dip in the pictures is a little soupier than it should be because not only did I grate the onion instead of mince, but I doubled the amount of it.

Feel free to use whatever fat level of Greek yogurt you like best. I always use 2% Greek yogurt.

1¾ cups Greek yogurt
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup fresh minced dill (or 1 tablespoon dried dill leaves)
1 tablespoon Beau Monde seasoning
3 tablespoons minced onion
1 loaf seedless rye bread, unsliced

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the yogurt, mayonnaise, dill, Beaumonde seasoning, and onion. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or up to two days.

2. Tear bite-size pieces from the center of the loaf of bread until the cavity is large enough to hold the dip. Spoon the dip into the hole; serve on a large platter with the torn bread pieces.

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scampi fra diavolo

I remember last semester, when I was teaching in the evenings, I had all these plans for what I wanted to do once the semester ended. I was going to organize my recipes and study photoshop and learn Italian and basically rule the world. Instead, I’ve been cooking.

So if you’re in my little town on a Saturday night, the best meal in town is at my house. There’ll be appetizers, there’ll be wine, there’ll be some sort of meaty main course, there’ll be a dessert you have no room for but can’t resist anyway. There’ll probably be bread. In between courses, there’ll be live music courtesy of Dave. You’re all invited! Just keep in mind that I live hundreds of miles from a major airport. Plus Dave thinks you’re all secretly rapists. Okay, I take it back, you’re not invited.

Which is too bad, because you’ll be missing out on some good food, the best of which I believe was this shrimp. A cross between the bright flavors of shrimp scampi and the heat of shrimp fra diavolo (“shrimp of the devil”), this fresh spicy dish was the perfect opening to a evening of cooking and eating. Around these parts, that’s just an average Saturday night.

One year ago: Whole Wheat Brioche
Three years ago: Almost No-Knead Bread

Scampi fra Diavolo (tweaked from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

3 tablespoons butter, divided
⅓ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
1¼ pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left intact
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups thinly sliced red onion
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
⅔ cup dry white wine (preferably Sauvignon Blanc)
Lemon wedges

1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the panko and stir until it’s golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl; mix in 2 tablespoons of parsley. Wipe out skillet.

2. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with the olive oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and sauté until it’s beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper and sauté 1 minute. Add the shrimp and sauté until barely opaque in center, about 1 minute per side. Add the white wine and simmer until the liquid is slightly thickened and reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the remaining parsley. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Top with the sautéed panko and serve with lemon wedges.

baked reuben dip

You don’t have to make this the way I made this. Making things more difficult than necessary is the way I do things, but I understand that I am a weirdo. Feel free to buy corned beef at the deli instead of brining and boiling your own brisket. I’m sure you can also pick up some perfectly respectable rye bread. I draw the line at using Thousand Island salad dressing instead of mixing up a few ingredients for the traditional Russian dressing (which is similar, but not identical, to Thousand Island).

I make mayonnaise-based baked dips exactly once a year, for the Super Bowl. Because I love them, but they are, after all, a bowl of fat that you spread on carbs.  This was our third-quarter snack, and even after a quarter of chips and dips and another of vegetables with dip, we scarfed down a considerable amount of this dip.

My biggest worry with this recipe was that it was not a sandwich, as reubens are one of Dave’s favorite foods. I was fully expecting Dave to consider this “good…but I’d rather just have a reuben.” He said nothing of the sort. Now that’s a good dip – fully worthy of being my one choice this year, and, it goes without saying, of the time I spent obsessively making most of the components from scratch.

One year ago: Honey Ginger Pork Tenderloin
Two years ago: Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones
Three years ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

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Baked Reuben Dip
(adapted liberally from allrecipes and epicurious)

Serves 4

See that thick layer of swiss cheese on top? Don’t do that. Let the mixture itself brown, not just the cheese. There’s no need to have a layer of cheese armor on top of the dip.

I used the food processor to shred the cheese, chop the meat, and mix everything. All that mixing probably accounts for the uniform grey-ness of my dip. Another factor is that my home corned beef is more of a muted purple color than storebought version because it doesn’t have the nitrates that keep the meat red.

I just actually read through that allrecipes recipe for the first time, and apparently it doesn’t call for mixing all of the ingredients together anyway, just layering them. That might make this more attractive too. Although sometimes taste trumps looks, and ugly food is okay.

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced parsley
8 ounces sauerkraut, rinsed and squeezed dry
4 ounces corned beef, shredded
6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise, cream cheese, ketchup, onion, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and parsley until evenly combined. Stir in the sauerkraut, beef, and cheese. Spread the mixture in a 1-quart casserole dish. Bake 20-25 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Serve with rye bread.

shrimp canapes a la suede

I don’t live the kind of lifestyle that includes a lot of canapés. Maybe that’s because canapés went out of style fifty years ago. Or maybe I need to start labeling any “toasts topped with stuff” as canapés, because I’ve eaten plenty of those. More precisely, canapés are “toasts fussily topped with stuff”. And since when do I not appreciate fussy?

These particular canapés include the unbeatable combination of bread, salted butter, shrimp, dill, mayonnaise and lemon. While there’s no cooking (assuming you buy pre-cooked shrimp), the assembly may take a while, because remember, fussiness is an essential aspect of making canapés.

Since I apparently don’t go to enough events where canapés are served, I will make them for a virtual event – a bridal shower for my fellow desert blogger (although her Sonoran desert trumps my Chihuahuan desert), Kelsey, who’s getting married next week. Kelsey is one of the most kind and beautiful women I know, and I wish every happiness upon her. I would love to shower her with well wishes in real life, but this virtual bridal shower will have to do.  The advantage of a virtual party, of course, is that I got to eat all the canapés myself. The disadvantage is that I didn’t get to eat everyone else’s contributions.

One year ago: Roll-out Sugar comparison
Two years ago: Roasted Kale
Three years ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

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Shrimp Canapés à la Suede (tweaked from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

The slivers of lemon tucked under each canapé are very cute, but not entirely practical. The brightness of lemon was important part of this flavor combination, however, so it might make more sense to forget the wedges and simply squeeze some lemon over the shrimp before adding the mayonnaise and dill.

Makes 12 appetizers

12 (2-inch) rounds of bread, sliced ¼-inch thick
Salted butter, softened
12 medium shrimp, cooked and sliced lengthwise (to make two symmetrical spirals)
Mayonnaise
12 small dill sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
12 small lemon wedges

Toast the bread until lightly browned; let cool. Butter the toast rounds and top each with two shrimp halves. Garnish the canapés with mayonnaise stars pressed from a pastry bag (or just dollop a scant ½ teaspoon on each). Top with the dill springs and season with pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.

eggplant rollatini

The only thing I can remember cooking for the last several years that turned out so badly that not only did I refuse to eat it, but even Dave did, is grilled eggplant. I don’t remember what went wrong – cook time too long? cook temp too low? too high? salt, don’t salt, cut thicker cut thinner, I don’t know – but the resulting mush of eggplant goo is all too vivid still.

I hadn’t eaten eggplant since. I’ve seen recipes in which every other component sounded like something I would enjoy, but as soon as I spotted that nefarious eggplant in the ingredient list, I scrolled right on past. I knew I’d have to try eggplant again someday. But I wasn’t ready then.

Now I am. Cheese and tomato sauce is never a bad way to ease into an ingredient. Each grilled slice of eggplant is rolled with a slice of cheese, then topped with a quick marinara sauce and heated until the flavors meld and the cheese softens. For me, they were too messy to serve as a hand-held hors d’œuvre, but instead made for a very nice plated first course. That’s right, a recipe with eggplant was very nice. I’m one step closer toward liking eggplant again.

One year ago: Pasta with Baked Ricotta and Sweet Tomato Sauce
Two years ago: Vegetarian Chili
Three years ago: Salmon Pesto Pasta

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Eggplant Rollatini (adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

I just stick a pair of kitchen shears into the can of tomatoes and chop away a bit. It’s coarser than a puree, but still just fine for sauce. If you want it smoother, puree the tomatoes in the food processor.

We grilled the eggplant; I haven’t personally tried the roasting technique recommended in the original Gourmet recipe.

4 small Italian eggplants or 2 regular eggplants
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, chopped, undrained
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
16 thin slices provolone cheese
½ ounce (¼ cup) finely grated parmesan cheese

1. Peel 2 opposite long sides of each eggplant. Cut each eggplant lengthwise (to form long skinny ovals) into 1/4-inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of the slices with kosher salt; set aside for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted; add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 8-12 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the basil.

3. Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over moderate heat (or line a large baking sheet with foil and heat the oven to 450 degrees). Brush any remaining salt crystals from the eggplant; pat the slices dry and spray both sides with nonstick spray. Grill the eggplant, turning once, until tender, about 4 minutes total (or bake for 20 minutes, turning once). Transfer to a work surface.

4. Top each slice of eggplant with a slice of cheese; starting at a short end, roll the eggplant and cheese into a spiral and seal with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and cheese. Arrange the eggplant spirals in a shallow baking pan and top with the sauce; bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

butternut squash and pancetta phyllo cigars

I’m always a little disappointed that, living 300 miles away from my family and half a country away from Dave’s, we’ll always be traveling for Thanksgiving and I’ll never get to host. So when the grocery store offered me a free turkey just for doing my normal shopping, I got to thinking that maybe instead of donating it to a food bank or cooking it to shred for leftovers, I could make a full turkey dinner just for me and Dave. I had a grand ol’ time choosing recipes, and then I went through each and tweaked them until they hardly resembled the originals.

This one was originally a pizza, but I wanted cute little individual servings. Scallions didn’t seem like a good match for the squash, and when I thought on it more, neither did the crunch of red onions, but sweet caramelized onions sounded good.  Then I needed something tart to counter the sweetness, and goat cheese was the answer. I exchanged the bacon for pancetta because pancetta’s hint of fall spice would compliment the squash.

Obviously, the main reason I make turkey dinners just for the heck of it is because it’s fun. But it doesn’t hurt to get practice, because someday, one way or another, I know I will get a chance to host. And practice is important when you’re talking about cooking a huge finicky chunk of meat, and, speaking of finicky, how about phyllo. Phyllo takes practice, but, due to its association with lots of butter and with a delicious squash goat cheese pancetta filling, it is never bad; it is always very, very good.

One year ago: Sopaipillas, Cranberry Nut Dessert, Mashed Potatoes with Root Vegetables, Pumpkin Yeast Bread
Two years ago: Chocolate Chip Cookie comparison, Lime Meltaways, Chanterelle Salad with Speck and Poached Eggs (ugh, I’m trying not to dwell on the days when I was able to buy ingredients like chanterelles and speck – or when I had time to post every day for a month, for that matter), European-Style Hearth Bread

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Butternut Squash and Pancetta Phyllo Cigars (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Makes about 16 appetizers

6 ounces pancetta, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 onion, chopped fine
1 small butternut squash, peeled, diced into ½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
4 ounces goat cheese
8 ounces phyllo, defrosted
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan, grated

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crisp, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a large bowl. Drain the fat in the pan into a small bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon of fat back to the pan and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned around their edges, about 8 minutes. Transfer the onions to the bowl with the pancetta. Add another 1 tablespoon reserved pancetta fat to the pan; add the squash. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Use a potato masher to lightly mash the squash, then transfer it to the bowl with the onions and pancetta. Add the rosemary and goat cheese to the bowl; stir to combine.

3. Unroll the phyllo and place it between two damp dishtowels. Lightly spray a second baking sheet with nonstick spray. Lay a sheet of phyllo on the oiled pan; brush lightly with butter and sprinkle with parmesan. Fold the phyllo in half parallel to the short end to form a 7-by 9-inch rectangle; spray with nonstick spray. Scoop 2 generous tablespoons of the squash filling onto the phyllo; spread the filling about 1 inch from the folded edge, leaving ½-inch free on either end. Roll the long end of the phyllo over the filling; fold the edges in; continue rolling to form a cigar shape. Transfer the cigar to the lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining phyllo and filling, including spraying the baking pan work surface with nonstick spray, spacing the cigars about 1-inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving.

prosciutto-wrapped, neufchatel-stuffed jalapenos

I think it’s about time to pack up my garden for the year. The last month has felt like borrowed time. Homegrown tomatoes on Halloween? Well, yes; in fact, the last few months have been the most successful in my garden because the grasshoppers who I’d been sharing my tomatoes with all summer have flown the coop. But our night lows are starting to drop to near freezing, so I’ll be lucky to get some nice red tomatoes for my burgers tonight.

It’s no problem to use up tomatoes. If I found myself with more than I’d expected, I just made some sauce and froze it. But what easy solution is there for at least ten jalapenos per week? Jalapenos are rarely a primary flavor, and even a good batch of pico de gallo only uses a couple.

Bacon-wrapped cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos certainly use up the jalapeno bounty, but I can’t be eating a plate of cream cheese and bacon every week, even if there are vegetables hidden under all that fattening flavor. But is the fat necessary?

It turns out it isn’t. Well, some of it is, but by replacing the bacon with prosciutto and the cream cheese with (American, not French) Neufchâtel, these snacks lose a lot of fat but very little of the flavor. In fact, I preferred the prosciutto to the bacon; it’s easier to work with and bakes up crisper. I’m already looking forward to next year’s gardening season – and not just for the tomatoes this time!

One year ago: Pork Chops Loco Moco, Pumpkin Mushroom Soup, Cranberry Orange Scones, Buttermilk Scones, Pumpkin Scones
Two years ago: Chickpea and Butternut Squash Salad, Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake, Gratin Dauphinois

Prosciutto-Wrapped, Neufchâtel-Stuffed Jalapenos

Makes 24 appetizers

If you keep gloves in the kitchen, use them when handling jalapenos.

12 jalapenos
4 ounces Neufchâtel
6 ounces prosciutto, sliced lengthwise into 24 strips

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place an oven-safe baking rack on a baking sheet.

2. Cut the stems off the jalapenos; slice them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Divide the cheese evenly between the jalapenos, then wrap strips of prosciutto around the jalapenos. Arrange the stuffed jalapenos on the prepared baking pan on the rack.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is browned in places and the prosciutto is crisp. Cool slightly before serving.