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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

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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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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