Archive for Appetizer

A Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad

smoked duck & blackberrry salad

Blackberry time is here. The canes in the garden have started to produce, and should all go well, continue to produce for another 4 weeks. Which is good, because blackberries (and eggplants) are one of the consolations of a typical Virginia summer, especially the kinds we’ve been seeing the last few years: hot, hotter, no rain, and yet muggy. Ouch.

But at least we have blackberries. That means blackberry sorbet, blackberry sourcream sherbet, creme de blackberry, blackberry shrub. But not blackberry gastrique nor blackberry jam, of which we still have plenty. We eat them. We freeze them. Me make juice. We sell them. It’s blackberry time, I tell you.

It’s also hot. So, preparations with minimum applications of heat are ideal. And blackberries, with their sweet-tart flavor, lend themselves well to savory dishes.

Recently, I prepared a smoked duck salad as an appetizer for a 32-guest lunch  (inspired by this recipe from the James Beard Foundation). I simplified the James Beard Foundation recipe by using smoked duck breasts prepared by The Whole Ox Butcher Shop in Marshall, VA (which sliced paper-thin with their meat slicer); changed the sauce a little bit… and reduced the plate to appetizer size.

An easy dish and attractive that’s great for a crowd, as all the components can be prepared ahead and assembled up to 30 minutes before serving (because we are using robust greens that can stand to the sauce).

So there, Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad – Appetizer for 12 Read more

A Perfectly Pretty Watermelon Salad

 watermelon salad, small

It took me a long time to accept the idea of fruit in my salads. Too gimmicky, if you had asked me! As a properly raised French child, the only acceptable fruit that was not dessert was an appetizer of charentais melon with port (or maybe Jambon de Bayonne, the French Basque version of Prosciutto).  But now? Now… I toss blueberries in massaged kale salad; I mix cantaloupes, canaries, and honeydews with purslane, shallots & jalapenos; I love peaches everywhere, including in salsa, or sliced thinly on a goat cheese open sandwich with black pepper & a drizzle of honey… and when it comes to watermelon, there is almost no limit.

Not only is this particular salad pretty, you can prepare all the ingredients ahead, keep them refrigerated in separate containers, and assemble at the last minute.. which makes it perfect for entertaining or even for potluck. Imagine the exclamations! Edible flowers bring a nice touch to the dish – in fact they are part of the WOW factor, something we can all relish occasionally. Read more

Beet-root Pesto and Beet-leaf Pesto

beets colorful IMG_1605

As one who loves beets, I have yet to find something made with beets that I don’t like. Raw beet salad, roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich, borscht, pickled beets (a favorite), beet ice-cream, savory beet tart, sweet beet tart (see Bar Tartine, by Courtney Burns and Nicolaus Balla), and, of course (thank you Nigel Slater) beet and chocolate cake – yep, over here, please!

It’s possible that this love for beetroots goes back a long time…. As kids, when we had a cold/sore throat, my mother would thinly slice beet root, layer them with sugar, let them sit until the sugar dissolved and the beets released their juice and give us spoonfuls of the most delicious medicine one can imagine. Cold, unctuous, sweet, and beet-y. In fact, something good enough to feign a cough! Totally unlike cod liver oil!

And although homemade kvass has not been a success (it got to be pretty sticky and literally oozed out of the jar), I have not yet given up on that.

Yet, beet seems to be one of those polarizing flavors – one loves them or hates them. Over several trials and error (and the desire to serve beetroot as hors d’oeuvre without a mess), I came up with a recipe that many people who told me they don’t like beets have enjoyed: Beet root pesto (no cheese). Read more

Winter Tomato Soup

winter tomato soupAs far as I am concerned, I grow tomatoes for winter eating. In fact, this year, I am mostly growing paste tomatoes: Roma, Amish Paste, San Marzano, and Grandma Mary’s Paste

Tomatoes in summer? oh, sure, I like a good tomato sandwich as much as anyone (they are a summer staple lunch in fact). And roasted tomatoes, fast or slow, as well as tomato salad or gazpacho or the occasional tomato sorbet.

But in February nothing beats a lasagna redolent with garlicky and rosemary tomato sauce (unless it’s one with mushroom & bechamel) nor homemade pizza with thick red sauce. Or a piping hot tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwich. All perfect comfort food that’s warming and delicious. A pleasure to eat when it’s gray and cold. And that is why I bother and can tomatoes.

The soup is easy, comforting and delicious. Read more

Leeks & Goat Cheese Crostini

Leels, beautiful leeks....

Leeks, beautiful leeks….

Leeks, one of my favorite cold weather vegetables, are the stars of many slow-cooked comfort dishes. They are however often used in combination with other vegetables, where they silkiness and mellowness have a supporting role: think soup, especially leek & potatoes. But they are superb as the main vegetable as in leek tart or as in this recipe,  slow-cooked with plenty of butter and finished with fresh tangy goat cheese.

Do choose healthy thick specimens with the longest possible shaft – the white part. I can’t help laughing when I see thick leeks in the store –  with a puny 2 or 3 inches of white and all leaves!!!! Good leeks have long sturdy stems: that’s the part you want.  Sure the blue/green leaves are perfectly edibles: treat them like any strong-flavored greens – myself, I like to cook them with kale. But for this recipe (as with most recipes you are likely to find), the shaft, not the leaves, are what you want. That’s where the mellowness is. If you grow leeks, look for varieties which naturally grow a long stem. Also hill them up throughout summer and fall

Leeks are in season now until late winter. They are biennial, meaning they go to flower (and produce seeds) their second year. So, in early spring, the leeks planted the prior year, start to develop a woody core – they are making a flowering stem. And it is woody – fine to flavor soup, but way too hard to chew. Beware of March leeks!

The spread can be prepared several days ahead and gently reheated before putting it on freshly toasted crostini.  In winter,  I like using lard to crisp the crostini – lard rendered from the fat of a pastured pig, not hydrogenated. Feel free to use extra-virgin olive oil if you prefer.

Leeks & Goat Cheese Crostini Read more

Spring Salads

 

Greens, Herbs & Edible Flowers

Greens, Herbs & Edible Flowers

A wonderful spring for salad!

Tom Thumb Lettuce, Red Sail Lettuce, Red and Green Oak Leaf lettuce, Lamb’s Quarter, Johnny-jump-ups and other violas, lemon balm, monarda leaves, anise hyssop leaves, arugula flowers, mustard flowers, chive blossoms, Bachelor’s Button petals,  dill, purple basil, thyme blossoms, cilantro blossoms, dried cherry tomatoes (from last year’s harvest – marinated in olive oil)… and the ones that make the plate “pop”: Shirley poppy petals.

Mushroom & Crème Fraiche Pizza

Homemade pizza is one of the simple pleasures of life. Make dough. Let rise (as many as 4 or 5 days in the fridge if needed). Roll out dough. Spread toppings. Put in a very hot oven. Open a bottle of beer or pour a glass of wine. Patient 10 minutes. Enjoy.

PS – use a pizza stone: it will immensely increase the quality of your pizza. One word: perfect crust!

PPS – neither tomato nor pepperoni necessary (although sometimes they have their use!)

Mushroom & Crème Fraiche Pizza Read more

Winter Swiss Chard

Lard crostini, with spicy Swiss chard & fresh farm cheese

It got down to 5F (-15C) last week and the high for a few days reached low 20sF ( -4 to 66 C) —  cold by our standards, especially with no protective snow covering. especially after the mild fall and winter to date. And yet! yet, how is the Swiss chard doing in its rustic cold frame (the one made with reclaimed storm windows)? Good enough to pick from.

It was even a late planted Swiss chard (that was started in the fall, sat too long in their containers and where finally transplanted in the cold frame in late October (see how it looked back then)

Newly transplanted Swiss chard back in November

But today? today after a really cold week? A very pretty bouquet!

Pretty good looking Swiss chard for January 29, after a long week of a very cold spell

It founds it way into a split pea, sausage and Swiss chard soup – a riff off the classic Tuscan cannelloni, sausage & kale soup (although when I made it, I was not conscious of the riff… this is how one cook after all when cooking without recipes – from memory or from unconscious influences).

I don’t like raw Swiss chard (I never use its baby leaves in salad for example), but I like it a lot cooked. It’s very versatile for one:

  • quick wilted in the frying pan with lots of chopped garlic, then thrown into a soup, with pasta or served as a side vegetable;
  • blanched, refreshed and squeezed dried, they can be tossed with a bean salad, with pasta, into a tart or quiche, in a gratin or on top of crostini.

I don’t really like the ones with all the brighter colors either. They might be pretty raw, but they don’t look so appetizing cooked (the red ones bleed all over!), their texture is rougher, sometimes vaguely unpleasant. I prefer green Swiss chard, and I am always on the look-out for new cultivars to try in the garden.I also really like the ones with a very thick stems – I use them as a separate vegetable. They are perfect in a garlicky cream-based gratin with a sprinkling of hard cheese and bread crumbs.

The recipe below is ideal for a quick lunch or appetizer as you can prepare the Swiss chard (and the cheese if using homemade) well ahead and refrigerate it – bring back to room temperature before using. All that’s needed is to toast the bread, before topping it with cheese and the greens.

Lard Crostini With Fresh Farm Cheese & Spicy Swiss Chard Read more

Parsnip Soup

Parnip roots

I love parsnip. Don’t you?

I don’t grow parsnips (not that I have not meant too…): mostly it’s because I run out of garden-bed space when I would need to direct-seed it. And parsnip holds on its real estate for a long time as it requires a long growing season — so do I grow parsnips? or do I grow a crop of lettuce? followed by bean? followed again by fall & winter greens? oh, and did I mention voles?

So until I have a special parsnip growing box like Deirdre Armstrong ( who has a “parsnip palace” built out of corrugated metal, hog panels and a few feet of compost), I will buy parsnips. They are fairly easy to find, inexpensive and like carrots, keep well in the fridge. A creamed-colored sturdy and homey root, parsnips look like white carrots (to which they are related). Their natural sweetness makes them a favorite for roasting (chunks roasted by themselves or mixed with other root vegetables) or for cream dishes (slices layered in a potato gratin or mashed with potatoes).

Parsnip particularly shines in soup. I offer here the “rich” version with chicken broth and cream. Water can be used and cream omitted for a leaner (but still flavorful) soup (that then becomes vegetarian or vegan). The soup freezes beautifully, so don’t hesitate to make a big batch.

Parsnip Soup Read more

A Different Kind Of Pie

French Réunion Island where I grew up has a multi-ethnic population, hailing from France, the West coast of Africa, the East Coast of India (Malabar coast), Pakistan (people came when Pakistan was part of the British empire), and Indochina. Its cooking reflects the diversity of its population, each group’s culinary traditions enriching the common cooking pot.

An example is Paté Créole, a savory meat pie probably of French and Indian origins served on feast days, particularly at the beginning of the Christmas or New Year’s Eve meal.

So I think it’s an appropriate pie for Thanksgiving. Read more