Archive for the 'Appetizers' Category

Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic

Today’s recipe – Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic – has been in heavy rotation since I first discovered it back in August of last year. In its original context, it’s supposed to serve as part of an appetizer course for a Moroccan meal. I’ve been serving it alongside Roasted Beet Salad with Cinnamon and pan-seared chicken (occasionally with a green salad as well) for a perfect, easy, mostly make-ahead meal.

Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic
Serves 4

Ingredients:
5 large carrots (about 1 1/4 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (can cut to 2 tablespoons, if desired)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Peel or wash and scrape the carrots and trim off the tops and tails. Cut them in quarters lengthwise and then cut each quarter in half to produce sticks. Boil in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender but not too soft, then drain.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and put in the carrots, garlic, cumin, and some salt and pepper. Sauté on a medium-high heat, stirring and turning the carrots over, until the garlic just begins to color.

Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve cold.

Source: Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon

Carrot Salad with Cumin and Garlic

This is one of those “so simple but so good” recipes. I love the tender carrots mixed with cumin, lemon, and lots of garlicky goodness. While this isn’t first-date food (unless your date is into garlic!), this dish is perfect as part of a make-ahead meal or a picnic because it can be prepared days ahead and is meant to be served cold or at room temperature.

Speaking of garlic, I’ve done a fair amount of experimenting with the garlic in this recipe because I wasn’t initially sure what “crushed” garlic was. This time, I smashed whole cloves with the side of my santoku knife and stirred them in whole. That produces a milder garlic flavor. I’ve used jarred minced garlic in a pinch (works fine), but my favorite preparation in terms of flavor and texture is coarsely chopped garlic. The only less-than-great result I got was when I used my garlic press; with four cloves, the garlic flavor was totally overwhelming. If you want to press your garlic, I’d recommend cutting it back from four cloves to two.

Honey-Tomato Bruschetta with Ricotta

And I’m back! My blog absence is due, in large part, to the fact that my husband and I completed the Whole 30 in the month of January – no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, or dairy for an entire month. I really should have written about it on the blog, but all the recipe searching, planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning took just about everything I had. Honestly, it wasn’t all that difficult since we enjoy lots of home-cooked whole foods as it is, but it was challenging to cook every single meal, every day for 30 days. (I had a couple of bad days that month and really didn’t feel like cooking, but Chipotle just wasn’t an option.) We even survived a family visit/trip to the mountains; I just cooked everyone’s food, and we stared longingly at the red wine.

We did it as a digestive investigation (as opposed to doing it for vanity, which is fine, too!), and I think our investigative purpose certainly helped us stick with it. For better or worse, we discovered that we both function optimally eating within the Whole 30 parameters, and dairy really isn’t Dr. O’s friend. Thankfully, none of the foods we eliminated and re-introduced made us sick, per se; we could just tell a difference in our energy levels, digestive function, and yes, bodily appearance when we put them back in. Our plan for now is to stick closely to the plan at home (though I won’t pretend we aren’t having any wine or dark chocolate), and not to worry so much at friends’ houses or restaurants.

Not worrying so much at friends’ houses is a good thing, because what is perhaps the best appetizer I’ve ever made came out of my recipe search for this month’s gourmet club meeting. Our theme was aphrodisiac foods, and I chose this recipe because of the tomato, basil, and honey elements. With its lush, creamy texture, I figured the ricotta couldn’t hurt either. Here it is!

Honey-Tomato Bruschetta with Ricotta
Serves 6
Prep: 20 min. | Total time: 1 hr., 45 min.

Ingredients:
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons clover honey
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
12 baguette slices, cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 cup fresh ricotta (8 ounces)
1 tablespoon buckwheat or chestnut honey
6 basil leaves, thinly sliced or torn

Method:
Preheat the oven to 300°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, honey, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Scrape the tomatoes onto the prepared baking sheet and turn them cut side up. Bake the tomatoes for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, until they begin to shrivel and brown. Let cool.

Preheat the broiler. Spread out the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Broil for about 30 seconds on each side, until the edges are golden brown.

Spread the ricotta over the baguette slices and top with the slow-roasted tomatoes. Lightly drizzle the tomatoes with the buckwheat honey, sprinkle with the sliced basil and serve with additional buckwheat honey on the side.

Make ahead: The roasted tomatoes can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Source: Food & Wine

My notes:

  • Surely, part of the reason this tasted so amazing is because I made my own ricotta. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe with 1 cup of heavy cream and 3 cups of whole milk. Making ricotta is actually pretty easy and well worth the effort.
  • I made two separate batches of tomatoes over a couple of days, once with a light baking sheet and once with a dark one. The tomatoes on the light baking sheet were softer, and the tomatoes on the dark baking sheet were almost candied. Both were delicious.
  • Since I didn’t feel like tracking down buckwheat or chestnut honey, I used clover honey for the tomatoes and for drizzling (as did several of the recipe reviewers).
  • If you don’t want to make your own baguette toasts, baguette chips from the bakery area of the grocery store work just as well.

Honey-Tomato Bruschetta with Ricotta

This is one of those appetizers where people moan while they eat it. Seriously. The combo of crunchy bread, fresh and creamy ricotta, and sweet slow-roasted tomatoes is beyond delicious. The basil adds brightness, and the honey drizzle takes everything over the top. Plus, it’s totally gorgeous on the plate (far more than my photo shows).

I served this twice over the course of two days – once at gourmet club and once at my Downton Abbey supper club – and everyone raved. I’m going to make this again and again, but only when others are around for sharing.  It’s dangerously good!

Recipe link: Honey-Tomato Bruschetta with Ricotta

Ceviche Pescadero

Dr. O and I usually get an itch to travel in the summer, and this summer was no exception. Last month, we packed up and headed down to Rancho Pescadero, a hip slice of paradise on the Pacific coast of Baja California.

While I was awfully excited about spending time at the pool and the beach with my sweetie, I have to admit that I was most excited about the food. I had heard amazing things about the resort chef, Rodrigo Bueno (yes, really, his name is Chef Bueno), who had moved on to Rancho Pescadero after a stint at One & Only Palmilla (which we visited in April, coincidentally). His dishes center around super fresh local seafood and produce pulled from Rancho P’s on-site organic garden, so I knew we were in for a treat.

We sampled a number of amazing dishes in the restaurant, including an unforgettable corn and panela cheese salad, shrimp risotto, halibut in coconut-tamarind broth, rib eye with salsa verde, roasted chicken, and Thai curry. While dinners were divine, some of my favorite food at the resort came poolside. Fish tacos, chicken tinga stew burritos, shrimp quesadillas, guacamole and salsa… All were beautifully presented and beyond delicious.

How’s this for a view from the dinner table?

As Dr. O and I were lounging the afternoon away at the pool with yet another order of the best ceviche either of us had ever had, Chef Bueno came around with samples of a mango-chile sorbet. While we enjoyed our frozen treat, Dr. O told Chef Bueno how much he enjoyed the ceviche and that he wanted me to try to make some after we returned home. On the spot, Chef Bueno offered us a cooking class at 5 p.m. that day so I could learn just how he does it. Pretty cool, right?

Making ceviche with Chef Bueno

We showed up and I got to work under Chef Bueno’s gentle guidance. (Dr. O decided to take on the all-important job of photographer and chief taster.) As a perfectionist, I’ll admit to being mildly frustrated by the process of making ceviche. My knife skills are less than perfect, and there was quite a bit of intricate knife work. (With all the slicing and dicing, Chef Bueno says to give oneself 90 minutes to make ceviche for 10 people.) Also, I tend to be a by-the-book recipe follower, and making ceviche is more of an intuitive process. Still, I had a great time in Chef Bueno’s kitchen; the cooking class was a highlight of the trip for sure. And my ceviche might not have been gorgeous, but it sure was delicious.

After we finished our class with Chef Bueno, Dr. O and I took notes about what we learned. This is the recipe according to my notes and memory. (Chef Bueno, if you read this, feel free to correct me!) Go with the flow and adjust ingredient quantities to taste… The end result will be worth it!

Ceviche Pescadero
Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:
8 oz. fresh, firm white fish (we used halibut)
4 limes
3 – 4 Roma tomatoes
1/2 medium white onion
1/2 serrano pepper
1/2 medium cucumber
Leaves from one small bunch cilantro
Olive oil
Clamato
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 avocado
Tortilla chips

Method:
Cut the halibut into 1/4-inch slices. Cut each slice into 1/4-inch strips and then cut crosswise to finely dice the fish. Place the fish in a small bowl. Squeeze the limes over the top of the fish. Transfer the fish and lime juice to a plastic bag. Seal and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely dice the tomatoes and onion and place in a large bowl. Using your knife, remove several wide lengthwise strips of skin from the cucumber. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices, avoiding the center (seeds). Cut each slice into 1/4-inch strips and then cut crosswise to finely dice the cucumber; add to bowl. Gently stir the mixture to combine, checking for balance of ingredients. (If you need more red, add tomato; if you need more green, add cucumber, etc.) Chop the cilantro and mince the serrano pepper and add to the bowl. Add a splash of Clamato, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

At the end of the 30 minutes, add the fish and lime juice to the ingredients in the bowl. Season again with salt and pepper to taste. (This step is important since the fish was not previously seasoned.) Transfer ceviche to serving dish.

Peel, pit, and thinly slice avocado; arrange over ceviche. Serve with chips, preferably poolside!

Finished! (And we still let Dr. O hold it like he made it…)

This ceviche is heavenly. It’s fresh and limey, with great texture from the onion and cucumber, and a hint of heat from the serrano. I could eat it every day (and practically did during our time at Rancho P). Thanks, Chef Bueno, for tasty food and a great experience!

The quality of the fish you use plays a huge part in the recipe’s success. All you coastal people have a definite advantage. In Colorado, our best shot at fresh fish is river fish; Chef Bueno said this recipe definitely would work with trout. He also suggested having fun with the ingredients based on what you have and what’s in season. Adding mango and coconut milk (and subtracting the Clamato, I assume) is one variation we discussed.

TIPS: Don’t over-marinate the fish, as it will become chewy. Also, once the fish is marinated and the ceviche is assembled, be sure to serve it within about four hours for best taste and texture. Curious about how ceviche “cooks” and how to select the best fish? Check out this helpful article.

Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad

I got sucked in by Costco’s goat cheese again. (Why buy 5 ounces for $4.99 when you can get two 10-ounce logs for $5.99? Plus, their goat cheese is super creamy and delish.) In my quest to find ways to use it, I came across today’s recipe: Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad. I love peaches, adore prosciutto, and am crazy about goat cheese, so how could I go wrong?

Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/3 cup walnut oil (I used olive because that’s what I had)
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 cups curly leaf lettuce (I used baby spinach since I had a giant Costco container)
2 ripe peaches, peeled
8 thin slices of prosciutto
4 ounces soft goat cheese

Method:
Combine oil, lime juice, shallots, honey, pepper, and salt in a jar; cover tightly and shake vigorously to combine. Let stand 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.

Meanwhile, cut each peach into 8 wedges. Halve prosciutto slices lengthwise and wrap each peach slice in prosciutto. Thinly slice goat cheese using unflavored dental floss or a warm knife (wiped clean after each slice).

Toss lettuce with dressing. (You may not need to use it all.) Divide lettuce among four plates and top with goat cheese, peaches, and prosciutto. If you have extra dressing, drizzle some over the top of each salad.

Adapted (mostly because I think they wrote the lettuce and goat cheese quantities incorrectly) from The Dallas Morning News

Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad

What a fun and delicious salad! The goat cheese, peach, and prosciutto combination is fantastic, and I love the amount of lime and shallot in the dressing. I’ll make this one again and again this summer.

That said, this salad would be even better with nuts. Adding a crunchy textural element would definitely take this over the top. I plan to make this recipe with a sprinkle of chopped, toasted walnuts next time (a natural choice since the original recipe calls for walnut oil in the dressing).

TIPS: Not sure about the best way to peel a peach? I learned this trick from Martha a few years back. Also, if you want to make this salad ahead (I know I will at some point!), you could make the dressing, slice the goat cheese (place wax paper squares between each slice for easy separation later), and wrap the peaches in the prosciutto beforehand. Just store everything in airtight containers in the refrigerator. When it’s time to eat, toss the lettuce with the dressing, assemble the salads, and top with the chopped walnuts. (That’s much easier than slicing goat cheese with dental floss in front of dinner guests, right?)

White Bean Dip with Lemon Sage Olive Oil

Let me introduce you to my current favorite appetizer for entertaining: White Bean Dip with Lemon Sage Olive Oil from Peace Meals.  It’s absolutely delicious and looks really sophisticated, though it’s super easy and can be made ahead.  I originally made it for a gourmet club meeting a few months back, and then re-made it this past weekend when we had friends over for dinner.  It was a hit!

White Bean Dip with Lemon Sage Olive Oil
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 bay leaf
30 ounces canned white beans, drained and rinsed, with 3 tablespoons whole beans reserved for garnish
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
Fresh pita bread or crackers

Method:
Warm 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and bay leaf, cooking gently for about 1 minute (do not overcook). Discard the bay leaf. Pour the oil and the sautéed garlic into a food processor or blender, setting the sauté pan aside for later use. Add the white beans, lemon juice, and salt to the food processor, and purée the mixture until smooth. Transfer the puréed dip to a serving bowl and top with the reserved whole beans. Heat the remaining 1/8 cup of olive oil in the sauté pan over medium. Add the sage and lemon zest, cooking just until the sage begins to curl and the zest begins to turn golden. Remove from heat and drizzle the infused oil, sage, and lemon zest over the bean dip. Serve warm or at room temperature with pita bread or crackers.

Source: Peace Meals

White Bean Dip with Sage Lemon Olive Oil

Yum, yum, yum.  The texture of the dip is just like hummus, but the sage and lemon create a really distinct flavor profile.  I usually feel like hummus is a bit tangy, but this is smooth, bright (from the lemon), and herbaceous (from the sage).  It’s at its absolute best right when you’ve poured the warm oil, sage, and lemon zest over the top, but it’s still amazing made ahead.  Just allow the oil on top to cool to room temperature, cover your dish with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and then set the dip out 30 or 45 minutes before serving to allow it to come to room temperature.  You (and your guests) will love it!

Homemade Soft Pretzels

Those of you who are lucky enough to have spouses or partners who love to join you in the kitchen, I envy you.  Dr. O is wonderful (really!) and has many redeeming qualities, but he does not cook.  He does not slice, he does not chop, he does not stir.  He rarely even toasts.

So you can imagine how good Alton Brown’s soft pretzel recipe must be if it’s the one thing that gets him in the kitchen.  He asks for them again and again, knowing that I’ll only make them if he helps.  (These pretzels are so amazing that I might make them even if he didn’t help, but I’ll never tell.)

Here’s the recipe if you want to give them a try:

Homemade Soft Pretzels
Makes 8

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm (110° to 115°F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

Method:
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.  Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.  Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil.  Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.  Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.  Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel.  Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds.  Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.  Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.  Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Source: Alton Brown, FoodNetwork.com

Soft Pretzels

This recipe produces absolutely amazing results.  This is the best soft pretzel I’ve ever had – at a stadium, a bakery, anywhere.  If you’re a pretzel person (and I am!), we’re talking ecstasy.

We tried honey mustard and spicy brown mustard as dipping sauces; the spicy brown won, hands down.  The pretzels would be fantastic with cheese as well.  We had a few leftover pretzels (hard to believe!); some were sliced horizontally for sandwiches, others were reheated in the microwave for 25 seconds on high.  The reheated pretzels weren’t quite as good as fresh out of the oven, but they still beat the heck out of a SuperPretzel.

TIPS: If you don’t quite get how to form the pretzels, watch Alton do it here.

Recipe link: Homemade Soft Pretzels

Simplest Fried Green Tomatoes

I participated in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program for the first time this summer.  I’m so accustomed to choosing recipes based on what I feel like eating or which ingredients are on sale that I thought it would be a nice challenge to force myself to use whatever showed up on my doorstep.  I ended up with some beautiful produce and had a number of “firsts”; what I didn’t anticipate, though, is that my CSA participation would fundamentally change how I like to cook.  Since I had oodles of vegetables to use each week, it made sense to cook them simply (usually on the grill or in the oven, with olive oil, salt, and pepper) and then serve some kind of meat (often grilled pork chops!) on the side.  No long ingredient lists, no labor-intensive recipes, just simple and delicious food.  For better or for worse, I now have a very low tolerance for lots of prep work and long cooking times.  We’ll see if I have a surge in cooking energy as fall fades to winter.

Anyway, I received my last CSA delivery of the season on Saturday and it included a whole pile of green tomatoes.  Though I rarely fry anything, I decided that fried green tomatoes were a must.  Most of the recipes I found online had lots of ingredients (egg, cornmeal, flour, spices) – too much work.  I was intrigued, though, by a comment on an Allrecipes recipe where a woman said she just dredged them in self-rising flour and fried them.  That comment was the beginning of this super simple recipe.

Simplest Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients:
Firm green tomatoes
Self-rising flour (I prefer White Lily)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil

Method:
Pour vegetable oil into a cast-iron skillet until it’s 1/2 inch deep.  Heat over medium heat to 350°F.

Meanwhile, slice tomatoes 1/4 inch thick.  Season on both sides with salt and pepper.  Place flour (measurement depends on how many tomatoes you plan to fry; start with 1/4 – 1/2 cup) in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.

When the oil is hot enough, dredge enough tomato slices in the flour to fit in the skillet without touching; carefully drop them in the skillet.  Fry until golden brown (about 2 – 4 minutes per side, depending on the size of your tomato slices and any variations in the oil temperature).  Drain on paper towels.  Repeat with any remaining tomatoes and serve warm.

Simplest Fried Green Tomatoes

For something so simple, these were amazing.  The tomatoes were tender (but not mushy), the coating was light and crisp, and the flavor was fantastic.  I had some fried green tomatoes with a thick cornmeal crust at Second Home in Denver a couple of months ago, and I have to say I enjoyed these more.  I think the key to success with this one is seasoning the tomatoes and flour with confidence; don’t be shy.

You know how much I love make-ahead things, so I just had to try reheating these in a 350°F oven (with a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet) the next day to see what would happen.  Fries can be re-crisped, so why not tomatoes?  Because of their high water content, that’s why.  The coating was too sogged out after a night in the refrigerator to bounce back.  At least I tried.




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