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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

Oh Thanksgiving! I love Thanksgiving. It’s the only holiday that is solely dedicated to eating. How great is that? Secondarily, I would say enjoying time with family is maybe a bit more important and watching a few football games is up there too but no other holiday has such focus on food. It is the best day of the year for that very reason. The menu is fairly set – turkey and stuffing of course and cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy. From there we’ve got some leeway – sweet potatoes probably, some kind of green vegetable is nice and then probably pumpkin pie for dessert. Anything beyond that is up for discussion but we all pretty much know. Where there is really room to stretch is with the appetizers. With the exception of family traditions, there’s no set ideas here. You need something to start the day, welcome your guests, take the edge off and lay a base for the delights to come. Appetizers.

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The summer of 2011, I was in Southwest France for the first time, about to start a stagiere at the Michelin stared restaurant of Chef Dany Chambon, Le Pont De l’Ouysse. I’d met him the previous fall at a food and wine event in Bangkok and when he offered to come work in his restaurant, I did. It changed my life. For the first few days, I stayed in a little b&b in the tiny town of LaCave. The owner was a very opinionated woman, who proceeded to tell me much of what I knew about French cooking, particularly that of the Dordogne Valley, was wrong. I kept my mouth shut and let her lecture me because I found it amusing but one morning she proudly presented a cookbook with a strange padded cover and declared it the best thing ever. It was by Yotom Ottolenghi, a strange name I’d never heard of and couldn’t pronounce. I took the book up to my room that night and never looked back. That book was Plenty.

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I haven’t done a Chicken Wing Friday in a while and with football season starting, I think its time. Chicken wings and football are a natural pairing. The only thing that would make it better is a cold beer. Today’s wings are sticky and sweet, tart and tangy and utterly messy. They’re perfect. And a cold beer only makes them better.

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A few weeks ago David Lebovitz, the Paris based American born pastry chef and cookbook author, wrote a post about pork rillettes. I’m never sure how I feel about rillettes. They are essentially shredded meat of some kind, often pork or duck, slowly cooked in their own fat and pressed into a dish or ramekin to be enjoyed on a crispy baguette. I’ve encountered them countless times on my travels through France, brought home a zillion tins from the local market and I want to like them. I really do. But something about them doesn’t quite do it for me.

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Last week while I was thinking about what to cook for Cinco de Mayo, I remembered something I used to make frequently when I taught cooking classes. Often, particularly around this time of year, you need a good snack to go with those endless rounds of margaritas. After a lifetime of tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole something different is desperately needed. While I love a good empanada, they’re a little too filling to be a drinking snack. So I’ve got just the thing for you today. Plantain chips. Just as delicious and addictive as tortilla chips and with a great cilantro dipping sauce – a welcome change from boring salsas and heavy guacamoles. This sauce is something else – bright, tangy, a little spicy, super fresh. It’s fantastic.

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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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