Doeden: Spread the heat

I'm beginning to think I've become a senior citizen. I'm sure I'm not old enough for that title. But the thought hit me a couple of weeks ago as I was enjoying my last happy-hour adventure. During the excursion I realized that restaurant happy ho...

Red Pepper Spread in cucumber cups
Red Pepper Spread can be piped into hollowed-out cucumbers and topped with dill to make an impressive presentation for your own happy hour. Sue Doeden / Forum Communications

I'm beginning to think I've become a senior citizen.

I'm sure I'm not old enough for that title. But the thought hit me a couple of weeks ago as I was enjoying my last happy-hour adventure.

During the excursion I realized that restaurant happy hours might be the baby boomer's version of the early-bird specials my mom and dad used to go to after they retired to their home at the lake. They'd plan all day to arrive at their favorite early-bird restaurant around 5 p.m. to take advantage of lower prices for slightly smaller portions of some of their favorite entrées.

I went along with them once or twice and distinctly remember looking around with my much younger eyes and noting most of the diners had gray hair and looked "retired" like my parents. Definitely senior citizens.

And now, here I was sitting in the Town Talk Diner in Minneapolis during happy hour (right around 5 p.m.) eating great food at special happy-hour prices. I was making supper out of it. And I wasn't alone. Everyone around me was probably my age or younger. Retired? Couldn't be. They looked way too young. Gray hair? Well, never mind about that.


It was a platter of spreads and pita chips that I made note of at Town Talk. A mound of creamy, mild-flavored red pepper spread was situated on a serving dish with salty olive tapenade and a feta spread that was so full of spicy heat, my lips felt as though they were on fire. But after each bite of pita chip smeared with feta spread, I wanted another bite. Soon I was making "hoo-ha" sounds, desperately trying to soothe my burning mouth.

I asked the server how this feta spread was prepared, hoping to make some when I got home. After a check with the chef, she informed me it was simply feta, olive oil and jalapeno peppers.

Hoo-Ha Feta Spread is my version of that fiery appetizer. You determine its degree of scorching power by the amount of jalapenos and cayenne pepper you mix in. The recipe as printed is not as hot as the one that practically blistered my lips at Town Talk. But you'll definitely notice the heat.

Mild Red Pepper Spread offers cool relief from Hoo-Ha Feta Spread. Red bell peppers become even sweeter when roasted to tenderness. Roasted garlic is like adding candy to the spread that is held together with garbanzo beans, also called chickpeas. Pipe Red Pepper Spread into cucumber cups for some very refreshing small bites to nibble on before dinner.

It's easy to toast and season your own pita triangles. Round pita is available in most grocery stores these days. When they are cut in half, each half forms a pocket to fill with whatever you might put into a sandwich. To make chips, I slice each pita through the middle, forming two thin rounds. Once each round is cut into six or eight triangles, I brush them with olive oil and sprinkle them with some seasonings before toasting them in the oven for a few minutes. They keep well for days in a tightly sealed container.

Finish off the platter with some olive tapenade. Purchase it from the grocery store or make your own. You can find my recipe for olive tapenade on my blog this week.

No, I'm not a senior citizen. And for the happy hours, I've decided I'm a thrifty spender who likes a good meal without having to wash any dishes. Yes, that's it.

Oh, and just an FYI: The early bird gets the best happy-hour seat.


Red Pepper Spread

2 red bell peppers

4 cloves garlic

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

Juice of 1 lemon, 2 to 3 tablespoons

3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut peppers into quarters and remove seeds. Place pepper pieces on foil-lined baking sheet. Place unpeeled garlic cloves on the same baking sheet. (This is when I add 2 extra garlic cloves to have enough for the feta spread.) Drizzle all with olive oil. Use your clean hands to toss peppers and garlic to coat with olive oil. Roast in preheated oven until peppers are tender and garlic is soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.


Put garbanzo beans into food processor or blender. Add roasted peppers. Squeeze roasted garlic from the skins and add to beans and peppers. Add lemon juice and salt. Process until mixture is smooth. Taste and season with more salt, if needed.

Transfer to small bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate until serving time. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Hoo-Ha Feta Spread

8 ounces feta, crumbled

2 cloves roasted garlic

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup pickled sliced jalapenos, minced


Put crumbled feta into a large mixing bowl. Squeeze roasted garlic into bowl and add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Use an electric mixer set on low speed to start blending the ingredients in bowl. When the feta begins to become smooth and creamy, slowly drizzle olive oil in to the bowl while continuing to beat. When all olive oil has been added, increase speed of mixer and continue to beat until smooth. Add minced pickled jalapenos and mix just to blend. Taste and add additional cayenne if you prefer more heat.

Transfer feta spread to small bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Home-Toasted Pita Chips

6 whole pitas

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Split each pita into 2 thin rounds. Cut each round into 6 to 8 triangles. Lay the triangles on a baking sheet with the rough side (the inside of the pita) up. Brush the top of each triangle lightly with olive oil.

In a small bowl, mix salt, garlic powder and black pepper. Sprinkle over the pita triangles. Bake pita chips in preheated oven for 6 to 7 minutes, or until they just begin to turn brown. Remove from oven. The pita chips will get crisp as they cool. Makes at least 6 dozen Pita Chips.

Tips from the cook

  • The Red Pepper Spread has a very light, mild flavor. If you want something more robust, add 1 teaspoon of ground cumin and 1 or 2 teaspoons of tahini, a thick sesame paste.
  • I like to use three white and three wheat pitas when making the chips.

Sue Doeden is a food writer and photographer from Bemidji, Minn., and a former Fargo resident. Readers can reach Doeden at

Red Pepper Spread in cucumber cups
Red Pepper Spread, Hoo-Ha Feta Spread and Olive Tapenade make a colorful appetizer platter. They are perfectly paired with Home-Roasted Pita Chips, which can be cut into different shapes. Sue Doeden / Forum Communications

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