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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

It’s that time of the year again, the pre-holiday rush, but it’s different this time. Very different. Many of are trying to figure out what to do in the midst of pandemic with increasing infection levels in every corner, particularly the Midwest. (WTF North Dakota?!) We want to celebrate with family, with big tables of abundant food and rounds of laughter, however, we’re aware of the current situation and certainly don’t want to put anyone at risk. So we’re wisely scaling down. Celebrating virtually. Maintaining our distance. Having BYO cocktails in backyards around makeshift fire pits. We’re doing what works to keep others safe and that really is a good thing. Remember that. Hang in there.

But oh boy do we need a good food celebration. Potlucks are out, individually served things are in. And snacks. God damn do we need snacks. I’ve been snacking on the regular since April and have no intention of stopping. Snacks for dinner is a regular thing around here. You definitely need a tasty nibble to offset that glass (ahem, or three) of wine with your social Zoom calls, right? I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, looking for ideas that used mustard and stumbled upon the most genius of snacks with only three simple ingredients. That woman is a wonder.

So here’s what you’re going to do for the easiest snack ever. Go to Trader Joe’s and buy a box of that great all butter puff pastry they only have at the holidays. Hell, buy four. Then dig around the fridge for a jar of Dijon mustard. If you have some cheese or a bit of prosciutto, fantastic, but it’s not necessary. Grab an egg while you’re in there. Preheat the oven to 400°F while you’re rooting around for these things.

Smear one side of the pastry with Dijon, fold it over, cut into strips and bake. A very simple yet delicious and surprisingly elegant cocktail snack in no time. If you want to fancy it up, sprinkle some finely shredded cheese (gruyere is perfection) over the full sheet. Or lay a few pieces of prosciutto over the lower half. I did all three on one pastry sheet, for a nice mix of each. A little egg wash, and a pinch of poppy or sesame seeds are nice. That’s it. The recipe can be doubled. Tripled. Halved. It can be assembled and frozen to bake off as you wish. Bake one; bake twenty. Do what you want. It is the ideal appetizer for these uncertain times and even when things go back to whatever normal might be. When you start having parties again, remember this one.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: WHO ISN’T STRESSED RIGHT NOW? Things suck. They just do. Chicago is going back on lockdown next week and I imagine, a lot of the country isn’t far behind. Which is why you might want to think about baking up a whole sheet of mustard puff pastry bâtons, pour yourself a glass of chilled crisp white wine and eat them all. Hey, just saying, it’s a thought. 

eleven years agoMultigrain BreadChicken Salad Full of Good ThingsLamb & Ale Stew

ten years agoClassic Wedge Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

nine years agoMaple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears

eight years agoKale & Squash Salad

seven years agoApple Cider Compote and an Orchard PartySunday Lunch Ramen

six years agoRoasted Delicata Squash – 4 Way

five years agoShaved Mushroom and Fennel Salad

four years agoChicken Wing Friday – Green Curry Chicken Wings,  Kale Salad with Crispy Salami & ChickpeasChocolate Malt Cookies

three years agoHomemade Sour Cherry Cracker JackFresh Apple FrittersPumpkin Cream Cheese BreadGjelina Style Roasted Beets with Spiced Lentils

two years agoCreamy Spinach Artichoke DipThe Original Kale Salad

last yearDate Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Caramel Glaze

MUSTARD BÂTONS – loosely adapted from this recipe

Makes about 20 bâtons

Be sure your Dijon really packs a punch as the spicier varieties tend to come through more after baking. If you like the pop and crunch of a mustard seed, the grainer varieties are nice too. 

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge (about 12 ½” x 9 ½”)

¼ cup Dijon mustard, more or less

Good pinch of kosher salt

1 large egg + 1 teaspoon of water

Poppy or sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

A bit of flour for rolling

  1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Have a ruler and a pizza cutter (or sharp knife) handy.
  2. Lightly flour the top of the pastry sheet, flip it and lightly flour the top.
  3. Roll out lightly to extend the size a bit, about an inch or so more on either side. You want to even out the dough and make it a bit thinner.  
  4. Turn the dough so that the longer side of the rectangle is closest to you. 
  5. Spread the mustard in an even, thin layer all over the pastry. An offset spatula works great but you can use a butter knife. 
  6. Sprinkle a good pinch of kosher salt all over the mustard.
  7. Optional: if you like, at this point sprinkle finely grated cheese in a thin loose layer over the pastry or lay prosciutto in a single layer on half of the pastry. 
  8. Fold the top portion of the dough over the bottom and lightly press to adhere. Trim the edges into nice, tight rectangle.
  9. Chill for 30 minutes to make the cutting easier and cleaner.
  10. Using the pizza cutter (or sharp knife for the prosciutto strips) cut the pastry from top to bottom into strips about ½” wide. 
  11. Carefully transfer the bâtons to one of the baking sheets and chill for another 15 minutes to get the pastry nice and cold before baking. (You can make all the strips to this point and freeze them on the baking sheets, then pack them airtight and keep them frozen for up to 2 months.)
  12. Lightly beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of cold water and brush the tops of the strips. If you like, sprinkle them with poppy and/or sesame seeds.
  13. Bake 8 minutes. 
  14. Rotate the sheets (top to bottom, front to back) and bake for another 7-8 minutes, or until the strips are puffed and golden brown. 
  15. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the bâtons rest for a couple of minutes before serving.
  16. Storing: Unbaked bâtons can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months and baked while still frozen. Brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle them with the seeds, just before baking.

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Have you discovered chili crisp yet? That crunchy, spicy, umami bomb of a Sichuan condiment everyone has been talking about for the last year or so? Oh my friends, let me tell you. Whoa. Get on it. It started with Laoganma’s brand, found in Asian markets, and branched out into homemade recipes and variations. I even posted a recipe in early 2019 and have made it numerous times since. Its dried chili based and spicy, but not overly so, and packed with crunchy shallots, garlic and peanuts, a ton of ginger, Sichuan peppercorns and umami rich mushroom powder and yes, msg. Let me tell you, that msg is key. I’ve tried versions without, and they are not nearly as good. They just aren’t. Embrace the msg.

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Even before this pandemic began, I was a bean hoarder. You see, I’ve got a real thing for Rancho Gordo, those utterly delicious heirloom beans. They are fantastic and live up to all the hype. I’ve bought them in stores, I’ve ordered them online, I’ve received them as gifts. I even went to the home base in Napa, CA … and bought more beans. Back in October, I received an email that their Bean Club was open to new subscribers. This rarely happens. There’s a 5,000 person waiting list and somehow, I had the golden ticket. I’d passed on it once, years ago, and wasn’t going to let it happen again. On a whim, I quickly joined and a month later, a box with 6lbs of beautiful beans arrived in the mail. It was glorious. A few months later in the midst of a nationwide lockdown when everyone was clamoring for beans, and these beans in particular, my little whim seemed pretty damn smart.

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There’s no question we are in strange times. Sheltering at home, 6-foot social distancing and working from home are the very least we can do right now to flatten the curve, protect the vulnerable and get through this. As they say, stay the $%*& home people. And for crying out loud, be kind to the working people you encounter. Do you really think they want to be there listening to you bitch about how they don’t have the rigatoni you want? (Something I actually witnessed. Don’t be an asshole.) I’ve been self-isolating for over a week and have been on lockdown orders since Saturday and I’ve been strangely busy. It’s weird. I’ve discovered live dance classes and concerts on social media to keep me moving and entertained. I’m blasting through my various ques – podcasts, Netflix, Hulu, you name it. Some educational, some absolute crap, all very satisfying. I’m working on my mediocre watercolor skills, for better or worse. I’ve rediscovered the joy of finishing a book. I’m immensely enjoying virtual happy hours with my friends and family for much needed social interaction and belly laughs. I nap every day. Not surprisingly, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I’m going to cook, what I’m going to eat. Now that I have the time, I kicked my sourdough starter into gear and I’m taking on other time intensive projects – made ravioli yesterday in fact. But here’s the thing with self-isolating as a single person … it’s a lot of food and I don’t like leftovers. I give away some but that’s harder than usual right now. So, I’m creatively repurposing. Or trying to anyway.

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This is it: Day 12 of The 12 Days of Crackers and the final in the olive oil cracker series. When I was coming up with ideas for flavoring all these crackers, I took stock of my spice selection. To put it bluntly, it is a vast assortment; the accumulations of multiple development projects, travel adventures and an irresistible urge to buy interesting things. Digging through a cabinet, I noticed I had 4 or 6 different bottles of Japanese seasonings, the majority in the togarashi family. I should probably use them.

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Got the hang of an olive oil cracker? Good. Because now we’re getting interesting. This one has za’atar, that cornerstone seasoning of Levantine cooking. If you’ve cooked from any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books, chances are good you’ve got a jar sitting on your spice shelf. (Probably some sumac too, right?) So let’s use it, shall we?

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Part Three … here we go. We’ve done four cheese crackers, we’ve done four savory shortbread crackers and now, for the final installment in the 12 Days of Crackers, we have the most crackery of the bunch: Olive Oil Crackers and the first one is a particular favorite … Everything Spice Olive Oil Crackers.

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Alright. We’re at the end of phase 2 of this series, the fourth savory shortbread recipe and eight of twelve down. Next up we’ll move onto rolled olive oil crackers but for today, we’re using one of my very favorite herb combinations: herbes de provence. It’s a blend of dried herbs considered typical of the Provence region of southeast France and typically includes savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano and for some reason only in the United States, lavender. Personally, I like the lavender addition here as it’s such a slight, complimentary flavor and in no way tastes like potpourri or soap as can often happen. Add some salt and pepper and maybe a little lemon zest and you have the best lamb dry rub ever. But I digress.

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Continuing on this cracker journey, and more specifically this savory shortbread journey, today we’ll take that base shortbread dough and add some fruit and herbs. First up was a spiced, salty olive version, today is dried apricots and tarragon.

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So we’re moving onto the next phase of the 12 Days of Crackers. The first four posts were cheese based; a buttery pie dough type of base with cheddar, blue, goat or parmesan cheese mixed in. Did it, done, in the freezer, right? Ok, moving on. Today and for the next four posts, we’ll explore savory shortbread. Buttery, crumbly, just a touch sweet and utterly irresistible. And we’re starting off the bunch with a Mediterranean olive version.

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