Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Devils on horseback

These are fantastic. We had them in Key West last spring and I've been thinking they'd make a great holiday party appetizer ever since. They're simple as can be--dates stuffed with a bit of roasted garlic, then wrapped in salty/sweet brown sugar-rubbed speck. It's a good idea to roast your garlic ahead of time so you're not faced with the task right before assembling these little guys. I just roasted two heads, wrapped in tinfoil with a little bit of olive oil at 400 for an hour and 15 minutes. They should be very soft when done and easy to pop out of their peels. Then I stuck them in the fridge until I was ready to make them for a party.You'll need some salty pig as well. You could use bacon or prosciutto, but I used speck and was very pleased with the results. I guess proscuitto would be second-best if you don't have any speck in your markets.And some dates!When I was a kid my mom used to make me stuff dates with almonds for appetizers at parties. The process was pretty much exactly like this is going to be for you: slice each date open, stuff with goodness. Repeat. Pop out a soft roasted garlic clove...And tuck it in the date that you've sliced open.Now for the true decadence, where I part ways from my more abstemious mother. Pour some brown sugar into a little dish...And get a thin strip of your speck (or prosciutto or bacon). Rub it well with the brown sugar...Then wrap around your garlic-stuffed date. Adorable! Secure the cute lil bundle with a toothpick and arrange on a rack over a baking sheet. Pop them in a preheated oven at 425 for maybe about 15 minutes. Take a peek at them after about 10 minutes though--you don't want these little darlings to burn up.I served them with some manchego cheese on the side. They're heavenly little devils and should for sure be invited to your New Year's Eve party. Enjoy!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sweet potato and clementine biscuits

Here's some cute little biscuits--their natural sweetness is brought out by a bit of clementine zest. They'd be great alongside cold-weather soups, but I'm thinking they're particularly perfect for Christmas morning breakfast. You can make these sweeter by dusting the tops with cinnamon and sugar, or keep them on the savory side (they'd be great with slices of country ham).Get 3 cups of flour plus 1/2 cup cornmeal... Dump them together in a big bowl along with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Don't forget the chief! Add 3 teaspoons baking powder, mix well and set aside. This is the only annoying, do-ahead part of the whole thing, I promise. Bake one large sweet potato until very soft and mushy.
Scoop it out into a mixing bowl and mash it with 2 tablespoons honey plus the zest and a little bit of juice from one clementine. Now you'll need one stick of butter. One whole stick! Slice it into little pieces--you want the butter cold, straight out of the fridge, rather than at room temperature, by the way. And cut the butter, bit by bit, into the flour mixture. I do this by hand--just rub the flour with the butter pieces until it goes all flaky, like this. When you're done, your flour mixture should look granular and piecey. Here's my analogy--it's like putting in hair product. After you've incorporated all your butter, add in the sweet potato mixture. It will likely need a bit of help mixing, so measure out 3/4 cup of milk...And, very gently, blend it in along with the sweet potato. Do not over-mix--you just want to use the milk to barely bind everything together, rather than mixing it into a cohesive mass. Turn out your dough onto a floured surface and knead carefully just until it holds together, then pat it into a large square. Cut the square into squares... And those squares into more squares! I trimmed off the edges to make them more even looking, then re-rolled the scraps to cut a few more biscuits. Lay them out on parchment paper... There's actually quite a few here because I ended up cutting the last set of squares in half again. They were a bit too small though, in retrospect. Put them in a preheated, 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. They puff up a bit and get a lovely golden brown color. I brushed the tops with a mixture of brown butter and honey. They'd also be nice with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar.Now, who would like some biscuits? Of course. Taste testers welcome!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Festive favorites

It's the most wonderful time of the year...when end-of-semester duties and Christmas run head on into each other. I just have to accept that for a few years law school finals will coincide with the time when I most want to be in the kitchen, making delicious holiday things. For now, I decided it might be cool to put up some links to a few past favorites that I think are particularly suited to holiday time entertaining.

Fried Chickpeas with Rosemary. These are addictive little snacks that are perfect to set out in a bowl at a cocktail party. I think they're probably one of the most popular things I've ever made. Just crisp up your chickpeas in olive oil and toss with salt and chopped rosemary. Divine.

Black-eyed Pea Hummus with Sweet Potato Chips. So you used up all your chickpeas on the first appetizer recipe? Never fear, this is a delicious way to change up your standard hummus routine. And the sweet potato chips are amazing, but if you know a good brand that can stand up to dipping you could always buy them and save yourself some time that would best be used watching Rudolph.

Arancini. Here my mother teaches us all how to make a Sicilian classic: stuffed, fried rice balls. I always thought of them as a snack but lately I have seen them pop up as starters in restaurants--they look quite chic served in little paper cones and would be a cute thing for a party.

Tortilla Soup. It's red! It's green! It should be in your family photo Christmas card this year, it looks so perfect for the season. A great way to start off a small holiday dinner party, or eat the whole batch yourself because it is spicy, tangy and addictive.

Red Cabbage with Prosciutto and Pine Nuts. This is a really pretty side dish that hits all the right sweet-savory-salty-sour notes at once. Who knew cabbage could clean up so well? Great for alongside a pork loin or another big holiday centerpiece.

Sweet Potato and Roasted Beet Confetti. With a name like "confetti" how can it be anything but fun? I do think this might be the most lovely looking side dish (or maybe it's a salad?) I've ever made. The beet and sweet potato have totally different textures and types of sweetness, but the crumbles of goat cheese give a nice tangy balance and they all go together like best friends.

Potluck Pineapple-Cheese. OK, this one might not be such a classy dame like the other recipes here, but she sure is fun to hang out with. I can eat this whole pan all by myself and I am not ashamed of that fact. I have brought this to every single holiday work potluck ever since I became a grownup and it is a hit every single time.

Simplified Life Roasted Chicken. You're having a "come and see the tree" party with the neighbors or a couple good friends are coming by to have dinner and drink Baileys by the fire. Here's my favorite roasted chicken that means you won't have to do a single thing once you have it in the oven besides pour yourself another glass of wine. You gotta get away from the complicated life!

Sugared Cranberries. They shimmer like little jewels in a bowl--not too sweet and just right to pass around after dinner. Or they'd be so pretty with the cheese plate for appetizers. And super easy too! There's only three ingredients, I think. You're welcome.

Eggnog Martini. Definitely a greatest hit. Shake up a few and go walk around the neighborhood to look at everyone's lights.

And this is just a start--I've got some cool new ideas that will be up soon and just right for 2010 holiday fun.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Clementine-olive fish: pesce alla dicembre

Here is a lovely, light fish dish to kick off the month of heavy eating around the holidays. The relish is quick and so festive looking--it uses those pretty tiny clementines that are ubiquitous in the market right about now. Add the unexpected tang of green olives with some creamy pistachio or almond and get ready for a warm winter night.This is the correct amount to make a topping to serve 2--use 2 clementines (or just one big orange) and double the olives, etc of you have more people for dinner. And you should because this is tasty! You'll want roughly the same proportions of everything, but don't stress too much about the exact measurements. Get about 2 tablespoons of pistachio or almonds (slivered or sliced is best) and chop them roughly. Pistachio definitely is the better of the two to use by the way. I just happened to make this using almonds recently, but of the two, I recommend pistachio.Zest the clementine...And cut in half then into small chunks, being sure to remove any white membrane.Add the clementine pieces, all the zest, plus two tablespoons chopped green olive (do not use the kind that are stuffed with pimentos! just plain green olives are best) and one chopped, small garlic clove to your mortar to smash it up. Is it just me or has this tool featured a lot lately? I think it's because I had it packed up ever since we moved and throughout the kitchen renovation--almost a whole year! I'm just happy to be able to be able to use it again, maybe? Also it's in a really convenient place n the new kitchen so maybe I can just get at it easier now. Who knows. Anyway, you can just stir/mash it all together in a bowl if you like instead.Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and go find two nice pieces of firm, skinless, thick-cut fish. I used cod, but halibut or any other thick white fish will work beautifully. These one were actually just a little bit too thin--you can get ones that are 1 inch thick or so and this will work better. Dry them well and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle just one side evenly with a very light dusting of sugar. This sounds odd, but it's Cook's Illustrated's method of getting a nice browned sear without overcooking your fish and I've found it works like a champ. Use just a wee bit--only 1/8 teaspoon per fillet.Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot and put in your fish, sugar side down for just one minute or so.Flip them over carefully to the other side, remove from heat and pop them into the hot oven for just about 8 minutes to finish cooking.Meanwhile, stir in a tablespoon of olive oil into your relish plus a pinch of cayenne pepper.Go get your fish out! You don't want them to overcook. These, like I said, were too thin of fillets, so they buckled somewhat, but if you use nice thick ones, they should look really pretty.Set them on a plate...And top with a tablespoon or so of the sweet, tangy relish.The co-stars here are lemon potatoes and some shredded brussel sprouts, by the way.So pretty! I think you'll really like this one--enjoy!