1. Secret Ingredient: Yogurt
Tangy Fruit Kebabs
For a simple dip to serve with fruit kebabs, stir together 1/2 cup strawberry yogurt, 1/4 cup sour cream, and 2 tablespoons strawberry all-fruit spread. Alternately thread 2 peeled and thickly sliced kiwifruit, 8 pineapple chunks, and 8 strawberries onto four skewers (6-inch). (Or any combination of fruit that's in season.) Serve the kebabs with the sauce for dipping.
2. Secret ingredient: Vinegar
The Best Shrimp Cocktail
To give shrimp cocktail just the right amount of acidity, combine 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, 1 bottle (12 ounces) beer, 2 tablespoons crab boil seasoning, such as Old Bay, and 1/2 teaspoon hot-pepper sauce in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and add a pound of shrimp. Simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain the shrimp and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Serve cold with cocktail sauce.
3. Secret Ingredient: Salsa
Fast Black Bean Soup
For super-easy black bean soup, mix together 2 cans (15 ounces each) chicken broth, 1 rinsed and drained can (15 ounces) black beans, 1 box (7 ounces) instant black beans, and 1 cup chunky salsa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add more broth if you like a thinner soup. Sour cream and chopped scallions make nice garnishes.
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4. Secret ingredient: Canned pumpkin
Super-Quick Pumpkin Ravioli
To make pumpkin ravioli, mix together canned pumpkin puree, toasted chopped pecans, grated Parmesan cheese, an egg, some melted butter, chopped fresh sage, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Use to fill wonton wrappers. Moisten the wrapper edges with water then fold over the filling and pinch the edges to seal. Cook the ravioli in salted boiling water until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
5. Secret ingredient: Pickles
Last-Minute Party Pinwheels
To make last-minute party pinwheels, mix chopped sweet pickles, seeded and chopped bell peppers, chopped pimientos, and a little chili powder into cream cheese. Spread on tortilla wraps, then roll up and slice crosswise.
6. Secret Ingredient: Chickpeas
To do something different with chickpeas, roast them as a snack. Drain 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas and toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning. Bake at 375°F until dry and golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely so they get crisp. For a Mexican flavor, replace the Cajun seasoning with 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
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7. Secret ingredient: Hummus
Quick Party Dip
For an outstanding hot dip that will keep guests noshing, combine hummus and cream cheese or another flavorful semisoft cheese (such as Brie or Camembert) and microwave just until the cheese melts. Serve with crackers, bread, or cut-up vegetables.
8. Secret ingredient: Horseradish
Zesty Deviled Eggs To make zestier deviled eggs
, hard cook 6 eggs. Halve the eggs lengthwise and cut a slice from the bottom of each half so that the eggs sit flat. Remove the yolks and mash them with:
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mound into the egg white halves and dust with paprika.
9. Secret ingredient: Kalamata Olives
Quick Olive Dip For an exquisite dip for crackers or bread
, combine in a food processor:
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 cups fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 garlic clove
1 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Process until finely minced but not quite smooth.