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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

3.14159265, the ratio of the distance around a circle to the circle’s diameter. Guess what? Today, March 14th, is “Pi Day” the day to celebrate math and science, very important things we need to understand the world around us. Quite clever, I think. We bakers also celebrate Pi Day though we tend to think of it as Pie Day. We are funny people. Pastry dough, a sweet or savory filling and most of the time, a little heat to crisp the whole thing up. No surprise, this can go in many directions. Today, I chose to celebrate Pie Day with lovely little hand pies.

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Humble ingredients often make the best dishes and onions are the secret weapon in everyone’s pantry. What is not improved by adding an onion? I start nearly every dinner with a diced onion, some olive oil and a hot pan. Every culture’s cuisine has a similar starting point – mirepoix, Cajun trinity, sofrito, battuto, recaíto – a starting base of onions and a mix of other vegetables that create a flavorful base. There may be carrots and celery, or green pepper, or include chilies or maybe herbs but it always starts with the humble onion. Cook onions nice and slow and entire dishes can be built around those deeply caramelized, flavorful strands. French Onion Soup is just one example that illustrates the magic of a caramelized onion. This is another one of those recipes.

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I made cheese boereg over the weekend, delightful phyllo pastries filled with a mix of delicious, slightly salty cheeses. They were wonderful, perfect in this cold weather, but to make them a meal I needed something else. I’ve been trying to stick to a healthy eating regimen to start the new year and though these little pastries didn’t necessarily fit that bill, if I made a salad I could scoot it into that category with a little creative rationalization. So I made a good, chunky greek-type salad to go along with those little golden triangles. The salad, filled with fresh summery vegetables, may not the best choice for this time of year – it’s definitely more of a warmer season type dish – but I needed a little crunch, a little brightness in my gloomy day.

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I picked up this recipe from Chef Carrie Nahabedian, from a class I took years ago. I was attempting to “organize” my office recently to no avail and came across a thick stack of papers, recipes from classes I’d taken pre-culinary school. Most held little interest now but this one stuck out … as I recall, they were quite good. Crispy thin layers of phyllo filled with creamy, slightly salty cheese. No spinach, no vegetables just that gorgeously salty cheese with a little parsley for a bit of color. She called them Phyllo Cheese Triangles but being of Armenian descent, I suspect she calls them boeregs at home. Many Mediterranean cultures have something similar; the Greeks call them tiropitakia. Salty cheese wrapped in layers of crispy pastry have universal appeal.

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I am an unabashed condiment queen. It used to be that the extent of most of America’s condiment repertoire was the trinity of ketchup-mustard-relish with maybe mayonnaise and horseradish thrown in for good measure. But go take a look at the inside of your refrigerator door right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. I bet you have a much wider variety than that. My refrigerator door is so packed with jars and bottles it actually groans in protest every time I open it. Sure, I have the basics but also: ginger paste, oyster sauce, two kinds of thai curry pastes, a few kinds of nut butters, fish sauce, kimchi, teriyaki, hoisin, sriracha, sambal, tubes of tomato and anchovy pastes, chutneys, key lime juice and various hot sauces. It’s a very Asian influenced assortment and reflects my eating/cooking style rather accurately. This doesn’t even take into consideration the large tub full of jars of pickles, jams and even more chutneys that lives on one of the shelves. And let’s not discuss the tower of miso containers residing in one corner. I have a lot of condiment type things. An ungodly amount.

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A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a New York Times article on cheese balls titled “To Find Out Who You Are, Peer Into the Cheese Ball”. I was delighted. One sentence in particular resonated with me, “December is the Olympics for cheese ball fans.” Truer words have never been spoken. Oh how I love a cheese ball, a cheese log or those wonderful tubs of crock cheese anytime really but especially around the holidays. On a cracker, or better yet a Triscuit, there are few better snacks. While I certainly favor some flavors over others, I’ve yet to meet a cheese ball I don’t like. That pink “port wine” crock cheese? One of my favorites. A cheese ball makes a party, my friends. True story.

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It’s Chicken Wing Friday! Time for something new though looking back on my last two chicken wing posts, they’ve been Asian of some sort. Chinese, Japanese and now Thai. Huh. It makes sense, as these are flavors that I love, and they do say to cook what you love. One of these days I’ll choose a different part of the world for inspiration but for now, this is what you get. This idea sort of came together over the last two weeks. You see, it’s been a bit crazy in Chicago with a certain sports team. Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of time in bars eating some pretty mediocre bar food and some especially forgettable chicken wings. Mediocre hot wing after mediocre hot wing, I longed for something different, something to mix it up. Then I came home from a particularly stressful game, opened my refrigerator and a tub of green curry paste with a fondness for flinging itself off the shelf with great force made its presence known. Ok, I got the message. A green curry chicken wing was in the works. Hot wings with a Thai twist.

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