Zucchini Bread with Walnuts and Golden Raisins

Zucchini.  The vegetable that people are always giving away after it has inexplicitly multiplied and grown to ginormous proportions in their gardens.  One can only make so many zoodles and side dishes with tomatoes and onions and zucchini boats stuffed with meat and cheese.  But everyone loves zucchini bread and cake and other sweets.  Zucchini makes for very moist bread and cake and no longer even tastes like a vegetable.  Not even a little bit.  That’s probably the appeal to many people.  This bread is an easy quick bread that is at least a little healthy.  The inclusion of nuts and raisins,  ground flax seed, and, of course squash, bolsters that claim.  And cinnamon.  Cinnamon is very healthy!  It is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.  You’ll feel so good after you have a slice or two of this tasty bread.

Ingredients:

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 T vanilla

3 cups AP flour

1/2 cup ground flax seed (or wheat germ)

1 tsp nutmeg

1 T cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 cups shredded zucchini

1 cup walnuts chopped

1 cup golden raisins

Preheat your oven to 325.

Beat white and brown sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla together.

Sift together flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, and salt.

Add raisins, nuts, and flaxseed.

Add shredded zucchini and stir until well combined.

Grease 2 loaf pans or 6 small loaf pans.  Use parchment paper if you’d like.  Divide batter evenly.

Bake for 40-60 minutes depending on the size of the pans,  Check for doneness using a tooth pick or cake tester after 40 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Slice and enjoy!!

NOTE:  Zucchini bread freezes well.  If it lasts that long.  If you prefer you can use dried cherries or pecans.  A little different flavor but it’s all good.

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Bologna Cake

We have a good friend who requested a bologna cake for his birthday.  He sent a photo of a bologna cake that was slice of bologna, cream cheese, slice of bologna, cream cheese and so on and so on.  The sides and top were “frosted” with more cream cheese and decorated with the cheddar cheese that you buy in aerosol cans.

I decided that rather than an ALL bologna cake I would make bologna sandwich spread and use bread for the layers.  Several years ago I made a sandwich cake for a Super Bowl party.  I made that “cake” with ham salad and chicken salad.  It was lovely to look at and tasted ok but I made a mistake and didn’t cut the crusts off the bread making it very difficult to slice. You nearly mangled the whole cake sawing through the crust.  I also learned that sandwich cakes are a real “thing” called smorgastarta, Swedish for sandwich cake.

Cake Ingredients:

2 loaves of a good sturdy bread

2 pounds of garlic bologna

mayo or miracle whip

sweet pickles

onion and celery

Icing Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds of cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 c mayonnaise

1 envelope ranch dressing seasoning

The shape of your bread does not matter.  Round, square, rectangular.  Just ensure that it is a good quality, sturdy bread so it doesn’t turn to mush when you add the filling.  Shave off the crusts with a serrated knife.

Grind your bologna and pickles in a food processor.

Small dice your celery and onion and add to the ground meat.   The vegetables give a little crunch to the sandwich spread.  Add mayo or miracle whip until the spread reaches your desired consistency.  Now you can begin assembling the cake.  Spread a thin layer of the icing on each layer and a generous amount of the sandwich spread.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Until you’ve used all of your layers.

When you begin icing the sides and top of the cake do just as you would with a real cake.  Start with a thin layer of icing to seal in the crumbs and then go back and add more icing and smooth out the sides and top.

Decorate your cake with garnishes of your choosing.  I used fennel fronds, carrots, green onions, radishes and miniature heirloom tomatoes.

Voila!  I think my bologna cake is quite beautiful and it was appreciated and enjoyed by the birthday boy and most of the other guests.

NOTE:  It isn’t necessary to use bologna.  Any type of sandwich spread, sliced deli meats, lox, or hard boiled eggs would work.  Adding sliced vegetables like seedless cucumber, radishes, or onion would add some crunch and flavor.  I wouldn’t recommend using tomato slices which would make the bread wet and mushy.

I used the bread crusts to make breadcrumbs which I bag and freeze and croutons for soup or salad.

 

 

Cucumber Mint Jelly

Some time ago I bought a Better Homes and Gardens magazine with jam and jelly recipes in it.   Lots of good stuff!  I love cucumbers and I love mint so this combination really intrigued me.  Interestingly, most of my brothers hate mint.  They won’t even use mint toothpaste.  And I think some of them probably don’t like cucumbers either.  My kitchen smelled wonderful while I was making this jelly.  A friend came in while it was cooking and the first thing she said was, “your house smells like cucumbers.”  This recipe was very easy and it’s something you can make year round.

Ingredients:

3 large cucumbers

7 cups of sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

1 6-oz package liquid fruit pectin (both envelopes)

1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves

a drop of green food color

Peel and cut the cucumbers into chunks.  No need to remove the seeds.  Purée them in a food processor or blender.

Press the purée through a fine mesh sieve over a bowl.  You want to recover 1 1/2 cups of cucumber juice.

You pretty much waste most of the cucumber.

In a heavy saucepan combine the cucumber juice, sugar, and vinegar.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar.

Quickly stir in both packets of pectin and the mint.  Bring to a full rolling boil stirring constantly.  Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat.  Use a metal spoon and skim off any foam and remove the mint.  Add a drop of green food color.  The “natural” color is not appetizing.  While I was making the jelly I had this bright idea that a mint leaf in each jar would be really pretty.  As you remove the mint from the pot you realize, as I did, that this would not be a good idea.

Ladle hot jelly into hot sterilized half pint jars leaving a 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe rims, adjust lids and screw on the bands.  Process jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Start the timer when the water comes to a boil.  Remove jars and allow to cool completely on a heavy towel or wire racks.

Makes 6 half pints.

I love the finished product!  The day I made the jelly we had lamb chops for dinner so I could showcase the cucumber mint jelly.

NOTE:  Try a spoonful of cucumber mint jelly, some tonic water and good gin or vodka for an amazing cocktail.  Zap the jelly for a few seconds in the microwave, add the alcohol, ice and stir in the tonic.

Cheers!

Potato Salad

Today is our friend Joyce’s annual 4th of July party.  She loves to entertain and is a natural at making people feel welcome and comfortable.  And she LOVES feeding people.  She makes the main dishes…her famous lemon breaded chicken, meatballs, and sauerkraut with several different kinds of sausage.  People bring dishes to pass and today I’m making potato salad.

I have never been a big fan of potato salads.  But I do like this recipe.  This is not the traditional mayonnaise, mustard and egg potato salad most of us are familiar with.  This salad is perfect  for hot days when we all worry about having to keep mayonnaise based foods adequately chilled so as not to poison our guests.  Actually this salad tastes best served at room temperature.  Lots of veggies make this salad colorful and marginally healthier.

Salad Ingredients:

5# Yukon gold or redskin potatoes

1# green beans

3 sweet bell peppers (one each red, yellow and orange)

2 bunches green onions

4-5 stalks of celery

Dressing Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

2 T whole grain mustard

2 T Franks hot sauce

2 tsp salt

I leave the skin on the potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into potato salad size pieces.  Rinse them well and cook until tender.  Blanch the green beans and set aside.  While the potatoes are cooking rough chop all of the vegetables.

You want to dress this salad while the potatoes are still warm so they absorb the dressing.

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together.

Put all of the rough chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl.  Add the drained, still warm potatoes to the mixing bowl and pour on the dressing.  Gently toss all the ingredients together.

While this salad is good cold it is really best served warm or at room temperature.  It’s a bit reminiscent of German potato salad.  Make sure you sample a bite.  Or two.

NOTE:  If you’d like to serve this as an entree cut some spicy smoked sausage or polish sausage into bite size pieces and brown them in a little olive oil.  Stir the sausage pieces into the potato salad and serve with a fresh green salad.

Enjoy!

Steel Cut Oats with Chia Seeds

My dad is going to be 90 in a few months.  His conversations with same age and even younger cohorts frequently revolve around health issues.  Comparing blood pressure, cholesterol readings, everyday aches and pains, medications.  And, as the oldest child of that nearly 90 year old, I realize I’m getting older as I start thinking and talking more about things like colon health, good and bad cholesterol, heart health, etc.  when shopping for groceries and preparing our meals.

I have always liked hot cereals like cream of wheat, oatmeal, and remember malt-o-meal??  I was watching an episode of The Chew a few weeks ago where Michael Symon prepared what he called The Worlds Greatest Oatmeal.  I got online after the show and saved the recipe.  A “simple” breakfast which contained nearly 30 ingredients.  Michael Symon’s recipe uses steel cut oats, chia seeds, coconut oil and coconut milk.

Steel cut oats look more like rice than the rolled oats most of us are accustomed to.  They are less processed, take longer to cook, and have a chewier consistency and nuttier flavor.  Nutritionally they are not significantly different than rolled or instant oats.   Chia seeds are one of nature’s superfoods.  They come from a flowering plant in the mint family and date back to the Aztecs.  They are rich in antioxidants, fiber, iron, calcium and contain more omega 3 than salmon.  They also absorb as much as 10 x their weight in water so they help us feel full and satisfied.  All of that makes this a heart healthy, colon healthy breakfast.

My modified version of The World’s Greatest Oatmeal  uses some of the process and ingredients in Michael Symon’s recipe.  And, to be fair, his 30-ingredient recipe included a blueberry compote and a streusel topping which I omitted.

Ingredients:

1 T coconut oil

1 cup steel cut oats

3 cups water

1 cup full fat coconut milk

3 T brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 T chia seeds

Because steel cut oats take much longer to cook than even the old fashioned rolled oats it works best and is most efficient to start this before going to bed.

Heat 1 T of coconut oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and toast the oats for a couple minutes stirring constantly.

Add 3 cups of water and bring the oats to a boil.  Cover the pan and remove from the heat.  Let the pan sit overnight.

In the morning uncover the oats and stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and 1 cup of coconut milk.

Bring the oats up to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.  About 8 minutes into the simmer stir in the chia seeds.

Ladle into bowls and top with fresh fruit and a little granola for extra crunch.  (My granola recipe is on my blog.).  I used blueberries but you can use your favorite berries, banana, or diced peaches.

Add a little milk at the table and you have a very satisfying, tasty, stick to your ribs breakfast.

NOTE:  If you prefer not to use coconut milk you can substitute an additional cup of water, milk, or half n half.  You may also want to stir in some coconut flakes or chopped walnuts or pecans.

And yes, the chia seeds in this recipe are the same chia seeds that sprout “hair” on the clay heads sold as Chia Pets.

 

Chicken Soup with Vegetables and Orzo

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I baked a roasting chicken one night and used the rest of the chicken for soup the next.   You could also shred half of a grocery store rotisserie chicken.  In less than an hour you will have a perfect comfort food that is hearty and full of vegetables and chicken.  And it can be easily modified based on your personal preferences and/or what you have in your refrigerator.  We all know that chicken soup cures what ails you no matter what’s in it.

Ingredients:

1 cup of onion rough chopped

1 cup of celery rough chopped

1 poblano pepper diced (seeded if you want to keep the heat down)

1 cup of carrots sliced

2 cloves of garlic minced

2 T olive oil

6 cups of chicken broth

1 can hominy drained and rinsed

2 cups baby spinach

1/2 cup each of fresh parsley and fresh cilantro

zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 cup uncooked orzo

salt and pepper to taste

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In a heavy kettle or dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sweat the celery, onion, carrots and pepper for about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic.  Reduce the heat, partially cover the kettle and cook until the carrots are tender.

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While the vegetables are cooking bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orzo according to package instructions.

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Drain and rinse the hominy.

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Add the broth to the vegetables and bring it to a boil.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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Drain the orzo reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the orzo, chicken and hominy to the soup.  Simmer until the chicken is heated through.

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Stir in the lemon zest and juice, parsley and cilantro and the spinach.

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Stir until the spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  If the soup needs more liquid add in some of the pasta water.

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Ladle into bowls and serve with toasted tortilla strips.

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Enjoy!!

NOTE:  I love the lemon in this soup but it’s really a matter of personal taste.  You could substitute peas and mushroom for the pepper and hominy.  Serve with a good crusty bread or your favorite crackers.  Cooking the pasta (or rice) prior to adding it to the soup helps to avoid pasta that is overcooked and absorbs all of the broth.

 

Smoked Fish Spread

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For those of you who have visited the Upper Peninsula  of Michigan (the UP) you know that smoked fish is a “thing.”  As soon as you cross the Mackinac Bridge you start to see little shops with signs hocking smoked fish.  Smoked whitefish, Menominee, salmon, and my personal favorite, smoked trout.  You can buy a whole fish or a slab.  It’s great to eat just as is.  Your fingers get a little greasy and they smell a little fishy but we don’t care.    The fish also makes an excellent spread.  Easy to make.  And you won’t smell as fishy!  My Dad used to make us smoked fish from his fresh catches and I will always remember his as being the very best.  My very favorite.  But Dad is nearly 89 and isn’t fishing much anymore.  So when I visit the UP I frequently get fish for our family and for friends from one of the little shops.

Ingredients:

2 cups (approximately) of smoked fish flaked

4 oz cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

3-4 green onions sliced thin

2 T capers

2 T lime juice

2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (1 tsp if you want more kick)

Cracked pepper

Salt to taste

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Use a hand mixer and beat the cream cheese and sour cream together until it is smooth.

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Add the capers, lime juice, black and cayenne pepper, and paprika to the cream cheese, sour cream mixture and stir well to combine.

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Slice the green onions and flake the fish.

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Add the fish and onion to the creamed mixture and blend well.

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Taste before you salt.  Some smoked fish is saltier than others.

This spread is excellent on crackers or served with raw vegetable like celery and carrots.  Great with bread and butter pickles.  You’ll also love it served on another UP tradition.  Finn Crisp.  Rye bread is the most traditional bread in Finland and in some areas of Finland it is baked only a few times a year, then dried and enjoyed year round.  It is baked with a hole in the center allowing the loaves to be hung on dowels to dry.  I’m sure that Finn Crisp is modeled  after those loaves.

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Enjoy  the smoked fish spread and enjoy the Finn Crisp if you can find it.

NOTE:  You could add some fresh dill to this recipe or substitute some minced dill pickles for the capers.

 

Dog Biscuits

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Dog Biscuits.  For the very handsome, lovable canine member of our family.  I recently bought a bone shaped cookie cutter and it came with this recipe…from the Cookie Cutter People from Vermont.  The biscuits actually smell great!  Humans might even like them.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup powdered milk

1 tsp brown sugar

1 T wheat germ

1 tsp granulated bouillon (I used Better than Bouillon)

6 T bacon grease

1 egg

1/2 cup ice water

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Preheat oven to 350.

Combine dry ingredients.  Measure out the bacon fat and cut it in to the dry ingredients.  I used my food processor.

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Mix in the egg.  Add ice water until the dough comes together into a ball.  On a lightly floured surface pat the dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness.  It doesn’t need a rolling pin.

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Use a cookie cutter to cut out your dog treat shapes.  Work the scraps together and continue cutting until you’ve used all of the dough.

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Bake for 25-30 minutes.  I think mine were a little thicker than suggested so I baked them for an additional 10 minutes.

Our dog loved them!  As soon as they came out of the oven he somehow knew that they were for him!

NOTE:  Your dog won’t really care if the biscuits are not bone shaped.  I’m going to look for a cookie stamp with a paw print on it and make smaller biscuits.

There are lots of reasons to save your bacon drippings.  This recipe is one of them.  Growing up there was always a metal container in the cupboard that said Grease on the front.  My mother kept bacon grease in it along with a pastry brush.  She would use bacon drippings on the top of loaves of bread hot out of the oven, to grease a pan (there was no PAM), to sauté onions or to fry an egg.  I keep my bacon drippings in the refrigerator.  Growing up, they were not refrigerated.  And we all lived to tell about it.

Blintzes with Cheese Filling

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About a month ago I brought my Dad home to Michigan’s Upper after he spent the Thanksgiving holiday with me.  A friend came along for the ride and she and I went to Marquette to check in at some of the local breweries and do a little shopping.  Marquette has some great little shops with locally made jewelry, pottery, wood crafts, art, and candy. We made lots of stops.  A candy store called Donkers that’s been in business since 1896.  A favorite restaurant that serves organic and locally sourced foods called Sweet Water Cafe.  A unique grocery called the Flying Moose that sells UP Sushi with venison.  I have never been a mall shopper so I really love the small, locally owned stores in Marquette’s downtown area.  I know this is a convoluted trip to my blintz recipe.  But while we were at a little shop called Touch of Finland I purchased a new sauna stove, a box of rocks, and a great iron crepe skillet.  The sauna stove replaced our old stove that died a few months previous.  The new stove was installed a few weeks ago and is working great!  I seasoned my new iron skillet yesterday morning and decided to make blintzes for brunch.  The skillet is working great!

Blintzes are my sister-in-laws go-to dish for Christmas brunches.  She buys them frozen and heats them up.  Don’t get me wrong, they are good.  But homemade from scratch is better.  Blini is the Russian name for crepes.  Blintzes are crepes that are filled with cheese or fruit and then sautéed or baked.  I’m filling mine with cheese filling and baking them.

Crepe Ingredients:

4 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

1 cup AP flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 T butter melted for brushing the skillet

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Filling Ingredients:

1 cup cottage cheese

6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

4 T honey

1 egg yolk

1/2 lemon juiced

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Prepare the batter by first whisking the eggs.

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Add all the other ingredients to the eggs and whisk until the batter is smooth.

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Refrigerate the batter for 30-45 minutes.  Heat your skillet over medium heat.  Brush the skillet lightly with melted butter and put about 1/3 cup of batter on the skillet.  Swirl the skillet to distribute the batter evenly and cook for 30-60 seconds.  Flip.  Slide the crepe out of the skillet onto wax or parachment paper and start the process over again.  Repeat until all the batter has been used.  (Makes about 12 crepes.)

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Preheat the oven to 350.

Now it’s time to prepare the filling and assemble the blintzes.  Beat all of the filling ingredients together with a hand mixer.  Brush a casserole dish with butter.  Put a couple tablespoons of the cheese filling on one end of the crepe.  Fold once, then fold the sides in like an envelope and roll.  Place the blintzes in the casserole dish seam side down.

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Continue filling and rolling.  Brush the tops of the blintzes with a little butter.

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Bake for 45 minutes.  I served ours with homemade apple sauce.

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Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can make fruit blintzes with an apple or cherry filling similar to what you’d use in a pie.  You can top your cheese blintzes with fresh berries or sliced banana.  Dust them with powdered sugar.   If you want to make a double batch, crepes freeze well.  Separate the crepes with wax paper and store in a zip lock freezer bag for use later.

The new crepe pan I got is a de Buyer.  It’s iron so it’s an excellent heat conductor.  Best used over medium heat.  I love my new sauna stove and I love my new crepe pan.

7 Layer Taco Dip

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Several years ago we started hosting or going to house parties with a small group of good friends on New Years Eve rather than going to restaurants or bars or large organized galas.   Maybe it’s the iffy Michigan weather that makes us not want to be on the roads.   Maybe it’s because we are getting older.  Whatever the reason, it’s been a good choice.  We all bring appetizers and beverages and enjoy each other’s company, some singing and picking, and all the good food and drink.  It’s the best way to bring in the New Year.  This year I made a 7 Layer Taco dip as my passing dish.  As always we had lots of amazingly good food.

Layer 1

2 15-ounce cans of navy or pinto beans drained and rinsed

1 large sweet onion rough chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic minced

1 cup chicken broth

jalapeños and cilantro to taste

salt to taste

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Heat a couple tablespoons of canola oil in a heavy saucepan.  Cook the onions over medium heat until they are caramalized.  Add the beans and broth to the skillet and heat through mashing with a potato masher.

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If necessary add additional broth to get a nice creamy consistency.  Stir in jalapeño and cilantro.  Season with salt to taste.  This is the way I prepare beans for any Mexican dish I serve.

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Spread the bean mixture out on a large platter or pizza pan.

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Layer 2

1-2 cup(s) sour cream

Taco seasoning to taste (I used 2 T)

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Combine the sour cream and seasoning mixture well and spread over the beans.

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Layer 3

1 jar of homemade salsa or your favorite store brand

Spread over the sour cream.

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Layer 4

Pico

1 cup diced tomatoes

1/2 cup diced sweet onion

1-2 jalapeños diced (with or without seeds)

1/2 cup cilantro

1/2 lime juiced

salt to taste

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Toss the vegetables together.  Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and season to taste with salt.

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Spread vegetable mixture over salsa.

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Layer 5

2-3 Avocados peeled and diced

1/2 lime juiced

Salt to taste

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Squeeze the lime juice over the avocado and season with salt.  I love avocado but everyone does not feel the same.  So I put my diced avocado around the outer edge of my platter.

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Layer 6

Black olives and/or pickled jalapeño.  I only used the black olives.

Layer 7

Shredded cheese.

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Garnish with additional cilantro.  Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can add a meat layer if you choose by cooking ground beef or turkey and adding some tomato paste and seasonings to the meat.