Archive for the ‘hors d’oeuvres’ Category

h1

Beans, glorious beans!

August 10, 2009

DSC_0713.JPG
DSC_0564.JPG

I love, love, love green beans. Their snap. Their crunch. Their verdant, subtle sweetness. (The only form of green bean I can’t stand is, honestly, the canned variety. Such sadly abused beans make me sigh, not swallow.)

So when the husband concocted a salad that starred one of my favorite vegetables, I insisted that he make it again. And again. And again. This green bean salad elevates the slender green minxes to new heights. It features a tangy, sweet, light dressing that makes all the green bean’s best qualities stand out in relief. Think you’ve got some fresh, tender, delectable green beans from the grocery store? They’ll be even more mouthwatering when lightly dressed with this precocious concoction, and made lovely with a smattering of sweet, acidic grape tomatoes.

Doesn’t the humble green bean deserve some star treatment? (Especially after years of abuse at the hands of bean canners and cafeteria ladies?) I should say so.

DSC_0586.JPG
DSC_0640.JPG

And now, the husband’s take…

This salad was really just an idea I whipped together. Now, it’s become a staple and a frequent demand from the wife. A couple of months ago we were visiting family, and I decided to throw together a barbecue as a quick way to feed a good number of people. I found some great green beans and wanted to serve them cold, but needed a dressing. A few minutes later I put this together, and was surprised to hear the very satisfied, “Mmmms…” and “Can I have this recipe?” requests that started coming my way.

Of course, I hadn’t a clue at first what “exactly” I had done. I had made it thinking I wanted a sorta-vinagrette for the salad… but nothing too tangy, watery, or sweet so that the beans and tomatoes were still the focus. Once again, it took insistence by the wife to have me sit down, think about it, write it down and then of course make it “bloggable.”

A few notes about the recipe. First, when I originally made it, I had yellow wax beans in as well. I would have loved to have put them in this version and in the photos; I think they add a great variety in presentation and texture. However — and I don’t know why because they seemed pretty ubiquitous growing up in the Midwest — I cannot seem to find them easily in Northern Virginia. My family in North Carolina says they don’t see them much either. (So, bean farmers, what’s the deal?) Anyway, I’d recommend them if you can get them. Just use equal parts green beans and yellow wax beans.

Second — and this is crucial — you want the beans to be “al dente.” This salad is all about crunch. Better to slightly undercook the beans than overcook them. Therefore, it’s important to pull them from the boiling water and shock them in the ice bath or under cold running water. If you lose that satisfying crunch, I’m not sure even a good dressing makes it worth the effort.

Third, the recipe below produces at least twice as much dressing as you need. I simply keep the rest handy for people to add extra themselves or for a quick version later (currently, I’ve a batch sitting in the fridge in an old Dijon mustard jar). But, with all that extra dressing, use it sparingly. When I overdressed it once, I really felt the green beans and the tomatoes became lifeless and worthless. So, use a careful hand when preparing.

DSC_0675.JPG
DSC_0589.JPG
DSC_0718.JPG

DSC_0570.JPG
DSC_0602.JPG
DSC_0638.JPG
DSC_0665.JPG
DSC_0695.JPG
Green Bean Salad with Dijon Dressing
Ingredients:
2 lbs. green beans
1 cup grape tomatoes (quartered)

Dressing:
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring to a boil a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean).

2. Prepare an ice bath of equal parts ice and water.

3. Trim the ends off the green beans and then cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath. Once the green beans are cool, drain and allow them to air dry.

4. Whisk together the ingredients in the dressing and set aside. Note: The dressing should be just slightly salty. This allows the whole salad to be well dressed.

5. In a large bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes and dressing. Move to a serving dish and enjoy. Note: In dressing the salad, I typically put very little on the beans, but most along the sides of the bowl and toss the beans to coat. This recipe likely makes enough dressing for twice the number of the beans, but I always make extra and it keeps very well.

Advertisements
h1

Thoughts on Baby Food or Pea & Mint Crostini?

June 6, 2008

IMG_5793.JPG
IMG_5706.JPG

I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.

That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.

Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).

It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.

Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.

It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.

IMG_5690.JPG
IMG_5695.JPG

And now, the husband’s take…

I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.

I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.

Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.

I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.

But I’m glad I did.

The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.

The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!

Click here for recipe.

IMG_5715.JPG

Pea & Mint Crostini

IMG_5699.JPG
IMG_5700.JPG
IMG_5716.JPG
IMG_5729.JPG
IMG_5748.JPG
IMG_5763.JPG
IMG_5784.JPG

Ingredients:
1 cup shelled peas
2 radishes
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Ricotta salata
Baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.

2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.

3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.

h1

They’re dynamite, Napoleon: Gosh-darned chicken quesadillas

May 14, 2007

IMG_1936.JPG
IMG_1873.JPG

It’s that time of year, and he’s been at the grill again. As far as I can tell, there has been only one instance when the husband inadvertantly left that gas-powered fire hazard on — and he beat me to the chore of turning it off, glaring at me menacingly as he did so. (Is it wrong to be a nag about an item that can burn your house down? I think not.)

You might think, then, that I would discourage firing up the barbie for an item like chicken quesadillas, which can be safely made indoors and without the risk of sirens. Well, think again.

These quesadillas rock because of the sooty flames licking their crisp skins. They rock because of the sear marks on the juicy chicken inside. They rock because they are crunchy and fresh and… well, grilled.

As you know, I am a huge fan of eating and of my husband’s cooking. Plus, I love any items that are chock-full of fresh ingredients — here, it’s salsa and avocado. (Yes, please!) Therefore, I yield to the siren song of these delicious chicken quesadillas and throw caution to the wind. When the husband volunteers to make these chicken quesadillas, I turn on the grill.

(And, of course, make sure it’s turned off again, too.)

IMG_1863.JPG
IMG_1879.JPG
IMG_1889.JPG

Click here to download the recipe for Chicken Quesadillas.

Backgrounder…
So, OK, not the most original recipe. But this is one that I’ve used a number of times in recent weeks with excellent success. You can serve these quesadillas as a meal or an appetizer. And let’s be honest: It’s starting to get hot out and it’s grilling season… So “Knock it off Napoleon, and make yourself a dang Ques-a-dilla!” (For those who have used their lives more efficiently than I have, that quote is from Napoleon Dynamite, a movie that I’ve grown to appreciate.)

Now that I’ve convinced you to make yourself a quesadilla, here are the keys to it. First, keep everything fresh. I know the temptation in life is to take that jar of salsa from New York City and mix it in, but it’s not worth it. Everything is coming into season now and you’ll be able to taste it in every bite.

Second, the wet rub is king in this recipe. In the last post I talked about a dry rub on the ribs. (I love dry rubs, too.) But this is a dish you want to turn out on the fly, like when you are exhausted by a 2-month-old and don’t want to order out for the third night in a row. So the wet rub — here very spicy — gives you a lot of kick, without taking hours to create flavors.

Finally, the grill is magic. Even my gas-powered grill can make all the difference in flavors. You can toast the quesadillas or broil them for likely the same level of doneness, but the grill marks and flavors brought on by sitting on those grates will make you crave this dish. If you can, grill. You will be rewarded.

IMG_1910.JPG
IMG_1937.JPG

IMG_1833.JPGIMG_1847.JPGIMG_1881.JPGIMG_1869.JPGIMG_1892.JPGIMG_1897.JPGIMG_1900.JPGIMG_1908.JPGIMG_1933.JPG

Chicken Quesadilla
Yield: 24 servings if hors doerves, 6 for main course
Time: 40 min

Ingredients:
1 dozen 4-inch flour tortillas
2 large chicken breasts (about 1 lb.)
2 cups cheddar, Monterey jack or similar cheese
1 avocado (diced)

Wet Rub:
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. fresh cilantro (chopped)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
juice of 1 lime

Salsa:
1 medium onion (diced)
1 pint cherry tomatoes (diced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (chopped)
2 jalapeños (finely diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 lime (juice)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1. This recipe uses direct heat while cooking over a grill. If using a gas grill, set to medium high heat. If using charcoal, over the coals will work.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the wet rub. Pat dry the chicken breasts and dredge them through the rub. Both sides should be well coated.

3. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 4 to 5 min per side with the grill lid on or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165-170F. Remove from the heat and let rest for at least 5 min, preferably longer. Once cooled, cut the breasts into half-inch or smaller cubes. Do not turn off the grill or snuff the flames once cooking is complete. You will be returning to the grill later.

4. While the chicken is grilling, mix together the salsa in a large bowl. Be careful with the jalapenos — if you are not inclined to spicy food, modify. Take a third of the salsa and set aside to serve along with the finished product. Add the diced avocado and cubed chicken to the remaining two-thirds of the salsa. At this point, if you are preparing for a party, you can stop. Simply cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It’s important that you press the plastic wrap down against the mix, to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, as apples do.

6. If your tortillas are refrigerated, remove from fridge and allow to warm to room temperature or until easily pliable. Once ready, take about two tablespoons of your chicken mix, and place it on one side of the tortilla. Add a healthy pinch of cheese and then fold the tortilla over in half. If necessary, press along the seam to keep the tortilla closed.

7. Time for the finishing touches. Place the filled tortillas on the grill. Toast them on both sides for about 2 min per side or until the tortilla becomes crisp and the edges begin to darken. Once cooked, remove from heat and let rest for at 2 minutes to allow the cheese to solidify slightly. Slice in half and serve with the remaining salsa, plus other condiments of choice such as guacamole and sour cream.

h1

Then we ate a little lamb… and tried to catch some zzs.

April 5, 2007

IMG_0249.JPG

IMG_0223.JPG

IMG_0093.JPG

There’s no need to count sheep with a newborn in your house. When I have a few moments to catch some zzs, I don’t need a winding down ritual… My eyes snap shut and I’m sawing wood within seconds. (And let me just say, the expression “sleeping like a baby” is a gross mischaracterization of newborn sleep patterns.)

So I’m not counting sheep… but that hasn’t stopped me from eating one. Er, sort of. A lamb is a sheep, right? (I’m too tired to look it up, so just go with me on this riff.) The point is: In between infrequent naps, I’ve been chowing on some lamb.

Generally speaking, I prefer my lamb in kabob or gyro form. But my husband, of course, has conspired once again to widen my horizons. His lamb is succulent and delectable, and while flavorful, it isn’t buried in the spices that sometimes mask the lamb flavor in gyros or kabob dishes. And in this case, that’s a good thing. The lamb sustains its unique character, but takes on subtle seasoning from my husband’s yogurt marinade and a wonderful, smokey char from the grill.

And now, at last, I can welcome my husband’s experimental cooking once again. That’s right: Many of the ol’ pregnancy dietary restrictions have been lifted! I’m back on sweets again. So, as much as I know you’ll enjoy this lamb dish, I think our dear readers should clamor for more sweets. Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?

IMG_0257.JPG

IMG_0242.JPG

IMG_0065.JPG

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Ringing in the Year of the Pig with Crab Rangoon and other old favorites.

February 18, 2007

IMG_5859.JPG

Happy New Year! (Any excuse for revelry is OK by us – especially if you can wish folks a happy new year twice within months.) For the Chinese, and many other Asian cultures, today is the first day of the lunar calendar. In some parts of the world, this occasion will be met with great fanfare and festivity. Personally, we feasted on Peking Duck with friends last night. And this morning, we offer some more festive dishes: A few old favorites and a new one, Crab Rangoon.

OK, we admit it, crab rangoon is not a traditional dish. It’s likely unrecognizable to any devotee to Chinese food. Like meatballs to Italian-Americans, crab rangoon is a derivative dish that probably seeks to satisfy American palettes more than others (um, cream cheese, anyone?). And we further bastardized it by putting a spicy twist on it.

So why choose an inauthentic dish on this day? Because it’s a crowd pleaser – and if you don’t have crowds to please today, you may tomorrow or perhaps next Thursday. If you are looking for other dishes to make to celebrate the day, or at least add a bit of Asian flavor to your table, we also offer you a trio of our favorite old recipes.

IMG_2535.JPG

Sui Mai: This is a classic dim sum dish and Wife’s favorite. They’re dumplings filled with pork and shrimp.

IMG_4593.JPG

Potstickers: A family favorite filled with the intense flavors of beef, ginger and soy.

IMG_2088.JPG

Char Sui Bao: Our take on another classic dim sum dish. Filled with sweet pork swaddled in steamed bread, it’s truly delicious.

Click here to download the recipe for Crab Rangoon.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Sombreros, the Super Bowl, and Sugar and Lard: the Road to Chicken Flautas!

January 30, 2007

IMG_5120.JPG
IMG_5117.JPG

There are so many reasons to love Mexican/Southwestern food. The generous portions. The fact that refried beans come standard. The toppings: fresh salsa, sour cream, cheese. Guacamole (a reason unto itself). Pulled and stewed meats, cheese sauces, hot spices and fried things. The list goes on…

So when my husband declared that he was going to make flautas — my go-to order at all Mexican/Southwestern restaurants, I pulled on my sombrero, tucked in my napkin and readied my utensils.

Flautas are delicious. They combine the best of so many cooking methods: Slow cooked, pulled meat nestled inside a crispy, crunchy deep fried tortilla. You get that satisfying crunch and then a moist mouthful of well-cooked, juicy, shredded meat. Heaven. I like my flautas mounded with fresh ingredients like homemade salsa and guacamole, sour cream and cheese. All those fresh veggies have to make the fried object they’re obscuring healthy, right? Of course I’m right.

But could my husband pull this off? Were his culinary skills up to the task? My sombrero and I waited in breathless anticipation.

Not to worry… the flautas were more than edible; they were delicious. The technique is a bit tricky, only because the hot oil can easily dry the meat that you’ve worked so hard to season and stew. (I should know, being a flauta connisseur.) But after a few flauta soldiers perished (being merciful, I helped to finish them off), golden and delicious flautas began exiting the cook top.

Yes, you can have good Mexican food at home… now all that’s missing is the refried beans.

Click here to download the recipe for Chicken Flautas.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Wanna see your guests drool? Pancetta-Ricotta Crostini.

January 19, 2007

IMG_4622.JPG
IMG_4616.JPG

Bacon, cheese, bread…. drool. Wait, don’t add drool.

But, honestly, it will be hard not to salivate over these particular hors d’ouerves. Just looking at images of these beauties is causing me to have to mop up my keyboard. One of the hazards of blogging about food, I guess.

It is a truism among all non-vegetarians that bacon — or in this case, pancetta — makes everything better. (Sort of like butter.) If that were a “theory” in science terms, this particular experiment would elevate it to a “law.” Like gravity.

I think these simple, bite-sized little offerings will be a hit at any party. They have a terrific crunch from the parmesan-seasoned toast points (or crostini), a tang from the bit of ricotta and basil filling, a sweetness from a carmelized onion and, of course, that unmistakable crispy, salty goodness of pancetta. Even guests with unfortunate overbites (such as myself), who normally avoid the embarrassment of attempting to chomp two-bite hors d’ouerves, will hazard taking discrete — oh, six or seven — helpings of this pancetta-ricotta crostini. (The trick? Try to jam the whole thing in at once and avoid conversation for the 30 seconds you’re noshing it. Feign fascination with the host’s house plants and photographs, and avoid all eye contact while your squirrel-like cheeks are filled with food. Works nearly every time. If interrupted, hold your hand up over your giant mouth and look apologetic. Repeat.)

The other great thing about these crostini? They make your house smell like good cooking… Come on: first caramelized onions and then frying bacon? Your guests will only have to be careful they don’t slip on their own drool. (Which really is the only drawback to this recipe.)

Enjoy!

Click here to download the recipe for these Pancetta-Ricotta Crostini.

Read the rest of this entry ?