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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

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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Ok folks, last day of this cheese set of crackers. Today it’s the fourth and final one of the bunch and a classic combination at that: parmesan and rosemary. Yes, I did save the obvious one until last. It’s just that good.

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