Posts Tagged 'Entertaining'

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.

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

My cousin has a daughter who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, in addition to the nut allergy the family has been aware of for years. She’s adjusting well, and there are lots of great gluten-free products these days, but it’s still not easy for a kid to have to be so careful about the things that she eats.

Easter sugar cookies were our tradition previously, but this year, I wanted to make a dessert that everyone could enjoy. After carefully checking my list of potential ingredients to make sure there wasn’t any risk of gluten cross-contamination, I decided to pull out a marshmallow recipe I’ve used previously and then dip the marshmallows in chocolate and toasted coconut. They were a great hit with the children and the adults (and would have been with the family dog, had he succeeded in his quest) – a perfect mix of sweet, chewy, and crunchy.

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut
Makes about 60 (depending on how you cut them)

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 packages unflavored gelatin (or 3 tablespoons)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (use unsweetened, if desired)
6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate

To make marshmallows:
Brush a 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom of the dish and to overhang the longer sides. Place the parchment in the dish, brush with oil, and set dish aside.

Pour 3/4 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let stand 5 minutes.

Place granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan. Set saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer, and cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238° at sea level, 228° at my house at 5900 feet, about 9 minutes).

Using the whisk attachment, beat hot syrup into gelatin on low speed. Gradually increasing speed to high, beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Set dish aside, uncovered, until marshmallow becomes firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Place 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar in a fine strainer, and sift onto a clean work surface. Invert large marshmallow onto the sugar-coated surface, and peel off the parchment paper. Lightly brush a sharp knife with vegetable oil, and cut marshmallow into 1-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, and roll marshmallows in sugar to coat. Set aside.

To dip marshmallows:
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake coconut until toasted and golden brown, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully because coconut will burn quickly!) Place toasted coconut in a bowl and set aside.

Melt chocolate in a small bowl in microwave according to package instructions. (You could also melt chocolate using a double boiler, if desired.)

Dip one side of each marshmallow first in chocolate and then in toasted coconut. Place chocolate-side up on a rimmed baking sheet.

Once all the marshmallows are dipped, place baking sheet in refrigerator for 15 minutes to allow chocolate to set. Cover loosely with foil until ready to serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to one week.

Marshmallow adapted from MarthaStewart.com

Homemade Marshmallows with Chocolate and Toasted Coconut

Holy cow, are these ever good. What really makes them awesome is the combination of the soft marshmallow with the crunchy, sweet coconut – it’s textural heaven. I love chocolate, so that certainly doesn’t hurt things either. They’re the perfect little size – just a bite, which is great for kids or adults who struggle with dessert guilt.  (I am not one of those adults.)

The dipped marshmallows are definitely best day they’re made, before they’ve spent any time in an airtight container. As we discovered in the backyard fire pit, they’re good toasted, too, though you have to be careful about the coconut catching fire. Never fear if you have leftovers… Even though the coconut lost its crunch in airtight storage, Dr. O still couldn’t stop eating them.

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

Chocolate Panforte Candies

Our gourmet club theme was really fun this month: lucky foods for the new year. We met last night and had a wonderful spread filled with all kinds of foods that should bring good fortune in 2013, including bacon jam (pigs symbolize progress and “the fat of the land”), smoked salmon dip (fish represent abundance), roasted grapes with rosemary (grapes are part of a Spanish tradition), Hoppin’ John risotto (black-eyed peas represent coins/prosperity), cooked greens (greens look like money), and honey cornbread (cornbread is the color of gold).

I was on dessert duty, and since there aren’t too many sweet foods that fall on the lucky list, I decided to explore the “round” theme for dessert. Round or ring-shaped foods represent prosperity (coins are round) and the idea of coming full circle. Bundt cake was a natural choice since it’s a popular ring-shaped dessert (I went with Martha’s Tangerine Cake with Citrus Glaze), but I wanted to add another element. Since chocolate and orange go so well together, I knew I wanted to make some kind of chocolate candy. Today’s recipe – Chocolate Panforte Candies – fit the bill perfectly. They pull together chocolate, orange, and several other unexpected flavors that work together wonderfully. Everyone liked the cake, for sure, but I think they loved these.

Chocolate Panforte Candies
Active time: 40 min. | Total time: 2 hours
Makes 14

Ingredients:
1/2 cup quartered dried black Mission figs
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 teaspoons grated orange peel, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup (scant) hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
14 standard paper muffin baking cups

Method:
Cook first 5 ingredients and 1 teaspoon orange peel in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until liquid forms thick syrup that coats figs, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat; mix in cinnamon, remaining 1/4 teaspoon orange peel, and nuts.

Melt chocolate in microwave-safe bowl on medium power until melted and warm to touch, stopping once to stir, about 1 1/2 minutes. Arrange paper cups on rimmed baking sheet. Spoon 1 mounded teaspoon chocolate onto bottom of each paper cup. Tap baking sheet on work surface to spread chocolate over bottom of cups. Top center of each with about 1 mounded teaspoon fig mixture. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Peel off paper. Let chocolates stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Source: Bon Appétit, December 2008

My notes:

  • I chopped the figs instead of quartering them and chopped the hazelnuts instead of leaving them whole.
  • I found hazelnuts in the bulk section at Whole Foods. I roasted them for 9 minutes at 350°F and then rubbed the skins off before chopping them. Some skins didn’t rub off entirely, which wasn’t a big deal.
  • The recipe makes about twice the amount of topping that you need, so I would recommend halving the topping or doubling the chocolate.
  • The microwave instructions in the recipe won’t completely melt the chocolate. Just stir, stir, stir until the chocolate is smooth.
  • I’ve made these with both semisweet and bittersweet chocolate; Dr. O and I like the bittersweet the best.

Chocolate Panforte Candies

These candies are ridiculously good. Who knew figs and chocolate went so well together? The crunch of the hazelnuts is pretty special as well. Like one of the recipe reviewers, I was worried that the clove and nutmeg might be overwhelming, but everything blends together beautifully in the finished product. And I do mean beautifully… Both times I’ve served these, people wondered how I created such a gorgeous edge on these chocolates. Muffin cups work wonders!

These probably aren’t going to satisfy a crowd that wants Oreo balls and peanut butter fudge, but they’re perfect for foodies, adventurous eaters, or anyone who enjoys a little something unexpected. I’ll be making them again next December (if not sooner!) for sure.

Recipe link: Chocolate Panforte Candies

Roasted Beet Salad with Cinnamon

Today’s recipe is one where you might take a look at the ingredient list and wonder if the elements can possibly work together. Beets and cinnamon? Really?

REALLY.

I’m a beet lover to begin with, but the marinade in this recipe takes them to another level. I first made this dish for a Moroccan-themed gourmet club meeting back in July (it was a hit!), and I’ve been making it a couple of times a month since. I served these beets to my mom during her last visit, and she said she could eat them every day (and then went home and made them for herself because she loved them so much).  The baking time is long but prep is really minimal, plus this is one of those dishes you can make a couple of days ahead for less stressful cooking and entertaining.  Give it a try – I’m sure you’ll love it!

Roasted Beet Salad with Cinnamon
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 pound beets (3 to 4)
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Large pinch of ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt to taste

Method:
Rinse and thoroughly dry the beets, being careful not to break their skins. Cut off the tops, leaving about 1 1/2 inches.

Tightly wrap the beets, with the salt, in foil or parchment paper and set in a shallow baking dish. Bake at 325°F for 2 hours. To check for tenderness, open one end of the packet and test a beet with the tip of a knife to see if the flesh has softened.

Peel the beets, cut into bite-sized pieces, and put in a bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients, pour over the beets, and let marinate for 1 hour before serving.  Serve at room temperature.

Source: The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert

roasted_beet_salad_w_cinnamon

This is one of my favorite salads, hands down. The beets are perfectly tender, slightly sweet, and bright from the lemon and parsley. The hint of warmth from the cinnamon really elevates the dish as well.  I like to serve this with grilled pork chops, a Moroccan carrot salad (I’ll blog one soon!), and a green salad for a nicely balanced meal.

TIPS: You read that right: two tablespoons of salt. The thing is, in order to use that amount of salt, you absolutely must not puncture the skin of the beets. The “top” of the beet is the stalks of the beet greens, not the beet itself.  If the beet flesh is exposed, that amount of salt will render your dish inedible. (I know this from experience!) If this makes you nervous, just put about a teaspoon of salt into the foil packet with your beets, and then pay special attention when seasoning the marinade later.

Also, I often double this recipe so we have more on hand for snacking. I’ve had success with doubling the amount of beets and using a single portion of the marinade.

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.

Tzatziki Potato Salad

Is there anything better than entertaining out on the deck or patio in the summer? I just love sharing a meal outside with friends while we sip, nibble, and chat until the sun goes down. For me, though, an essential element of this experience is being able to do most of the dinner work long before any guests arrive. That’s where today’s dish – Tzatziki Potato Salad – comes in. It’s delicious, it pairs beautifully with several of my favorite grilling recipes (including Grilled Greek Chicken Kebabs with Mint-Feta Sauce and Greek-Style Pork Chops), and it can be made up to two days ahead.

Tzatziki Potato Salad
Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3/4 cup Greek-style, plain, fat-free yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use light)
3 Kirby cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook over high heat until tender, about 9 minutes. Drain, gently shaking out the excess water. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze for about 10 minutes, just until no longer warm.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the yogurt with the mayonnaise until smooth. Add the cucumbers, chile, mint and dill. Fold in the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Source: Grace Parisi, Food & Wine

Tzatziki Potato Salad

I just love the flavors in this salad, particularly the freshness of the mint and the mild heat of the serrano chile. The cucumbers add coolness and crunch, and the yogurt and mayonnaise lend just the right amount of creaminess. This salad is the perfect accompaniment to any Greek-themed menu, but it would be right at home next to burgers, brats, or whatever else you’re grilling up this summer. Give it a try!

TIPS: Depending on how accurately sized your potato cubes are, you may need a few more minutes of cooking time. Just make sure the potatoes are tender before you drain them. Also, if you can’t find Kirby cucumbers, substitute a medium English cucumber (and feel free to skip the peeling and seeding, since English cukes have thin, tender skin and their seeds are less bitter).

Recipe link: Tzatziki Potato Salad




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