Friday, October 30, 2009

kale chips

Have you ever eaten kale before? It used to remind me of the stiff green stuff used to line salad bars, but after experimenting with it a bit I've learned that it's actually really delicious, not to mention extremely good for you. Kale has an earthy flavor with a slight bitterness, a little milder than broccoli rabe. It's a nice way to replace your usual sauteed spinach side dish, or can be tossed into pastas.

But sauteeing and blanching is one thing. Kale chips are another. Until going to Jon and Lara's house for dinner, I had never eaten kale chips. While they may sound like bland hippie snack food, they're highly addictive--like crispy, dark green Lay's. I'm serious! Dan looked at the tangle of crispy green leaves skeptically but after one chip, I caught his hand returning to the plate again and again.

Try them for your next dinner party. Better yet, just make a whole bowl for yourself.

Kale chips
This probably isn't the exact recipe Jon and Lara used, but I think it's pretty close. Be sure to add the red pepper flakes like Lara did. They add the perfect amount of heat.
(Serves about 6 people)

large Tuscan kale leaves, rinsed, dried, cut lengthwise in half, center ribs and stems removed
Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Toss kale with oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange leaves in single layer on 2 large baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 30 minutes for flat leaves and up to 33 minutes for wrinkled leaves. Transfer leaves to rack to cool.Sprinkle with extra salt and red pepper flakes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

on being fed

Life has got me feeling a little burnt out lately. Some nights when I get home from work I just feel like curling up in a ball. My friend Mindi said something recently about wanting to hide under a blanket with a glass of wine, and that sounds about right too.

When you're going through a rough time, having someone put a plate of food before you is like slipping into a hot bath. It is one of the most soothing, comforting things in the world. Especially when the food is made by someone you know. Going to someone else's house for dinner can be even nicer than going out to a restaurant because it's personal. It's not some anonymous chef in a kitchen churning out your supper. It's something cooked for you by your friend, your father, your wife, your grandmother.

So when our friends Jon and Lara emailed to invited us over for dinner, I think it may have taken me all of five seconds to reply "YES!!!" They couldn't have asked at a better time.

Had I known what an impressive spread they were going to make, I would have replied even sooner. Wow, what a meal. The prettiest little vegetables and bright yellow aioli, perfectly roasted Cornish hens, lamb and rice stuffing spiced with nutmeg and coriander. If someone served you this meal on Thanksgiving you'd be completely wowed.

After a few glasses of wine and an extra helping of stuffing, I was as happy as if it was an actual holiday. I stopped worrying about work, stopped thinking about what I had to do the next day, stopped thinking ahead and just relaxed into the moment. Sitting around a table in Jon and Lara's apartment, laughing at YouTube videos, and eating ice cream may be the highlight of this whole difficult month. There's nothing like a home-cooked meal to make you feel good all over again. Or at least until Monday rolls around. Thanks, guys.

Dinner at Jon and Lara's
Crudite and homemade aioli
Cheese and crackers
Kale chips
Roasted Cornish hens
Lamb and rice stuffing
Roasted brussels sprouts
Ice cream with chocolate sauce

Monday, October 26, 2009

what's for dinner, luisa weiss?

Being obsessed with food, I read food blogs long before I had the idea to start my own. The first blog I remember reading and falling in love with was Luisa Weiss's The Wednesday Chef. And now, several years later, it is still one of my favorite places on the web. Luisa, a New York-based cookbook editor, consistently uncovers great recipes from newspapers, cookbooks, and her family in Italy and Berlin. But cooking inspiration is only part of what makes her site special. Luisa can turn a subject as mundane as pancakes into the most gorgeous prose. And I'm not alone in my opinion. This year, The Wednesday Chef ranked third on the Times of London's list of the world's 50 best food blogs. Highly deserved praise for a highly talented writer. Thanks for always inspiring us, Luisa.

1. Name, occupation, and city

Luisa Weiss, cookbook editor, New York City

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
I had six friends over for an Easter brunch in the spring and made an artichoke-ricotta torte with a recipe from my Sicilian uncle, an arugula-fennel salad, and a cornmeal cake with cherries in syrup from my mother's trees in Italy.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
Actually, it was one of the first meals I made after starting my blog. I had some girlfriends over for dinner and I made an herbed pork loin (from Barbara Kafka's wonderful cookbook on roasting), roasted zucchini tossed with mint and feta from a recipe Melissa Clark had published in The New York Times, and a savory plum compote that I served with the pork.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
For a dinner party, wine. For drinking on my own, beer. Cocktails are generally too sweet or too strong for my taste.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
It really depends on the meal and on the season. I love very old jazz standards as well as trip hop like Bonobo or Thievery Corporation.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
If there's a day's notice, does that count as "last-minute"? [Ed: hmm, good point.] Either I'll make spaghetti with a cherry-tomato sauce spiked with hot chile flakes, garlic and good olive oil, all of which is usually lying around my kitchen anyway, or I'll roast a chicken and some cubed potatoes with rosemary. To follow, a nice salad is easy and quick (I like soft lettuces, a few herbs and farmer's market tomatoes in the summer or in winter thinly sliced fennel, orange slices and toasted walnuts) and a good vinaigrette always impresses guests.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
I usually make everything myself, I'm kind of an alpha cook that way. Honestly, I like being alone in the kitchen. It's my meditative time.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
I buy bread for dinner parties since baking bread on top of making dinner party food is a surefire way to have a kitchen meltdown. And I've bought pre-made puff pastry without any shame (and a pie crust once, too, though that was just laziness). Other than that, I make everything myself. Well, except for the cheese.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
I love to bake, so if I'm feeling really ambitious on top of making dinner, I'll bake a cake or a fruit tart. But I'm also fine with buying a pint or two of premium vanilla ice cream and serving it with fresh berries. Or I skip dessert entirely and just serve cheese at the end of the meal.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama. I'd love to make them dinner and just sit around talking for a while. I'm kind of in love with the four of them.

[Photo: Courtesy of Luisa Weiss]

Friday, October 23, 2009


Fall fruits and vegetables are on my mind right now. Maybe it's all those enticing displays of pumpkins and apples at the grocery store and farmers' market? Here are a few ways to cook with autumn's bounty.

12 inventive fall salads: celery, pear and hazelnut; warm fennel and bitter greens; kale and squash with pickled peppers and shaved cheese [via Food & Wine]

Ways to cook with apples (fall Waldorf salad, spicy apple chutney) if you're sick of making applesauce [via Good. Food. Stories.]

Creamy-looking acorn squash soup with brown butter and maple yogurt [via Serious Eats]

Quince: what it is, and what to do with it, over at The Kitchn [via The Kitchn]

Pear butter to slather on toast in the morning [via Simply Recipes]

And for dessert, pumpkin doughnuts! [via Bon Appetit]

[Photo: Donna Cericola. Thanks, Mom!]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the moscow mule

Looking for an easy cocktail for fall? I recommend the Moscow Mule. It's light, spicy, and refreshing, and only contains three ingredients: ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice.

Like many other old-fashioned cocktails, the Moscow Mule was created by importers who had too much stock in something. In the 1940s, an importer named Jon Martin got together with Jack Morgan, the owner of Cock N Bull Tavern in Los Angeles and a struggling ginger beer franchise. It is said that the men combined Morgan's Ginger Beer with Smirnoff vodka, and christened the drink the Moscow Mule for Smirnoff's Russian origin plus the "kick" of the ginger beer. The cocktail was a hit and some say it was responsible for sparking Americans' taste for vodka.

Perhaps vodka drinks aren't that cool right now. Some mixologists say that vodka has gone out of fashion because it's characterless, unlike spirits such as gin or bourbon. But just because something is unfashionable doesn't mean it doesn't taste great. And for sheer ease, you can't beat a vodka-based drink.

Moscow Mule
From Imbibe magazine.
(Makes 1 drink)

2 oz. vodka
1 oz. fresh lime juice
4 oz. ginger beer (I like Reed's)
Ice cubes

Pour vodka and lime juice into ice-filled glass. Add ginger beer, stir and garnish.

Monday, October 19, 2009

conquering my fears, and pie crust

We all have irrational fears, thoughts that we can't shake even though we know they are completely crazy. My irrational fears are things like Dan divorcing me for leaving long blonde hairs in the sink, catching herpes, or polio, or bed bugs (or all three!) on the subway, and making pie crust.

I know, I know...pie crust. I've heard it all: it's not so hard, I make it all the time, store-bought crusts are made of chemicals and Crisco, I can't believe you've never made your own pie crust. Well, until last weekend, I hadn't, okay?? Sheesh.

I've baked bread and made pizza dough. But when it comes to pie, I usually reach into a freezer case at the grocery store and call it a day. Something about pie crust just seems so intimidating. In my mind it involved butter, and possibly lard or Crisco (which I couldn't bring myself to buy and watch it collect dust until my next pie-baking attempt), ice water (but how cold? almost frozen?), and something called pie weights that I don't have. And all the ingredients had to be at just the right temperature, and you don't want to bake an all-butter crust too long because it might burn, and making pretty, crimped edges seemed really hard.

But then I saw the chocolate pudding pie on Smitten Kitchen and I thought...maybe. It looked so amazing, so decadent, so...perfect, that I couldn't even bear the thought of using a frozen crust. You just know Deb would frown at that. And that made me sad.

So I decided to go for it--make a real pie with a REAL crust for our party for Vanessa. Her birthday was a few days later and if your birthday doesn't deserve fresh pie crust, what does? I found a recipe on Epicurious that didn't seem so hard. It was called "Best-Ever Pie Crust," which sounded promising enough.

The day before, I freaked out a little and sent my friend Casey, a certified pie crust maven, a terrified email. It was titled "scary, scary pie crust" and full of anxious questions about Crisco and whether the recipe I found was good enough. And in her usual lovely, reassuring way, she told me everything would be fine.

On the day of the party, I procrastinated. Instead of tackling the crust first, I made two dozen stuffed mushrooms and deviled eggs, a bowl of dip, three dozen sausage rolls, got the house ready, called my parents, rearranged a vase of flowers, sent some emails, and did everything else I could possibly do before facing down the beast.

With a little more than an hour to go before people arrived, I got out my food processor, mixed together the flour, salt, and sugar, dropped in the frozen cubes of butter, poured in a little ice water, processed the ingredients, gathered the dough into a ball, refrigerated it, rolled it out, put it in a pie pan, trimmed the edges, pricked it with a fork, and baked it off. Before I knew it, it was done. I had made pie crust.

Vanessa said that the hassle involved in making a pie crust is easier than dealing with the guilt that comes from people complimenting you for a pie you made with a store-bought crust. And you know what? She is right. It was not hard. AT ALL. Sure, taking a pre-made crust out of its plastic container is easier. But not nearly as satisfying, ego- or taste-wise.

The crust was pale golden, adequately crimped around the edges, and most importantly, flaky and cooked through. And the pudding, oh, the pudding. It was deeply chocolatey with a silky texture. It wasn't the prettiest slice of pie in the world, but I didn't care. In my mind, it was like making a wedding cake.

And now I can make room in my mind for a new irrational fear. Maybe the squirrel-infested roof of our apartment caving in in the middle of the night?

Best-ever pie crust
I halved this recipe, from Bon Appetit, because I was only baking one pie, but the original yields two crusts. I also, upon Casey's blessing, used all butter, instead of half butter, half shortening. Additional baking instructions and tips via Smitten Kitchen.
(Makes 2 pie crusts)

2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup chilled lard or frozen nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 Tbsp. (or more) ice water

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter; using on/off turns, blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add 5 tablespoons ice water and mix with fork until dough begins to clump together, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough together. Divide dough in half; flatten each half into disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. If necessary, soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.

When you're ready to make the crust, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork (I used my fingers), then freeze the shell for 30 minutes. While shell chills, preheat oven to 375 degrees with a baking sheet on middle rack.
Instead of using pie weights, press a piece of buttered foil, buttered side down, very tightly against the frozen shell and bake on baking sheet until the pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil, then bake shell on baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.
Chocolate pudding pie
Adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen. SK's amazing tip for baking the pie shell without pie weights really saved me. Many thanks to you for that, Deb!
(Makes 1 pie, serves about 8 people)

For the filling:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream
Bittersweet chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)

To make the pudding:
Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth. Set aside to come to room temperature.
Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper (if you want to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least two hours.
Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings.

Friday, October 16, 2009

green goddess dip

What could be more retro than green goddess dressing? Doesn't it sound like something Betty Draper would serve at one of her totally sad dinners? She would put the bowl of dip on the coffee table on some sort of kitschy, Matthew Weiner-approved tray and Sally Draper would come barreling into the room and spill the dip all over her fainting couch. Betty would get that scary, unhinged, Betty Draper look on her face and say, "You ruin everything. Go to your room. NOW!" The fainting couch would always have a faint green stain, a reminder that Betty's fantasy adult life would be forever marred by children and domesticity.

Sorry. Something about green dip with potato chips sounded perfectly Mad Men to me.

But, as it turns out, I'm completely wrong and the dressing may date all the way back to the 1920s. According to various food historians, it was first made at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco as a tribute to actor George Arliss who stayed in the hotel while performing in the popular play The Green Goddess. According to Wikipedia it's a story "of three English people who crash land in an Indian kingdom in which the Raja threatens to execute them if the British execute his half-brothers." Sounds fun! And totally makes me think of salad dressing!

Whether it's used as a dip or salad dressing, green goddess is traditionally a mixture of mayonnaise, anchovies, tarragon vinegar, parsley, scallions, garlic, and other spices. My recipe, which I whipped up for our cocktail party last weekend, had several differences, mostly the addition of sour cream, an avocado, and basil. Rich, tangy, and flecked with herbs, it lived up to the image I had in my mind, kind of like a creamy, herbal version of guacamole. It might not have been from the right decade, but it had just the right amount of retro appeal.
Green goddess dressing
From Bon Appetit
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 anchovy fillets
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, quartered
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine lemon juice, anchovies, shallot, vinegar, and garlic in processor. Blend until shallot and garlic are finely chopped. Add avocado, sour cream, parsley, tarragon, and basil; blend until almost smooth. With machine running, add olive oil through feed tube in thin stream. Transfer dip to small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. Serve with chips, vegetables, or poached, chilled shrimp.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

a retro cocktail party

You may have noticed that I don't throw too many cocktail parties. Which is weird, because I love cocktails and little finger foods. In theory. Making an entire meal of appetizers seems like a whole lot of work.

It all sounds like a nice idea at first, but then you get to work and suddenly your kitchen turns into a factory gone wrong, and you're up to your neck in gougères and there's bruschetta all over the floor. And then everyone eats everything so fast that you have to make even more tiny food, and by then all your pretty platters are dirty. Whew! I'd rather place a big bowl of steaming pasta or a platter of roasted chicken on the table and be done with it, you know?

But then again, there's something fun about letting everyone graze instead of having a sit-down meal. Who doesn't feel fantastic with a deviled egg in one hand and a glass of something bubbly in the other? Cocktail parties are cool in a throwback kind of way. And when thinking about what to make for a party we were throwing for our friend Vanessa (yes, the Vanessa who canceled on us last time) that's the direction my mind went for some reason. Maybe because she's also a deviled egg and champagne-loving kind of girl?

So I considered the cocktail party. Maybe I could do things more simply this time and actually enjoy myself? Orr...maybe I was functionally insane? I'd let this be a fun experiment.

Starting with the deviled egg, my favorite member of the canape family, I came up with a menu of retro-ish finger foods that wouldn't leave all five of us hungry. And wouldn't turn my kitchen into hors d'Ouevre hell.

Retro cocktail party
Moscow mules
Rosemary-lemon cashews
Deviled eggs
Green goddess dip with potato chips and crudite
Stuffed mushrooms
Sausage rolls with mustard and pepper jelly
Blue cheese-stuffed peppers
Chocolate pudding pie

By 4:00 p.m., after I had filled 20 deviled eggs, stuffed a whole jar of tiny peppers with blue cheese, and made dozens of sausage-filled puff pastry rolls, I did feel the crazies coming on. I was jittery from not eating all afternoon even though I was surrounded by food. Can't eat! Too busy! Cooking! And I hadn't even tackled the mushrooms. I was like a machine, cranking out all of this food and there was still so much left to do. Small food is annoying! Why didn't I just make pasta?

But, as always, somehow everything gets done just in time. And by 9:00 p.m. I was mentally patting myself on the back for making appetizers. We had a really fun time. Maybe it was the Moscow mules I made or the sparkling wine Julie brought. Maybe it was the fact that we hadn't seen Vanessa in so long. Or maybe it was the menu.

Not having a three-course meal was kind of liberating. When one person came an hour early, there was food to eat, and when one person came an hour late there was food to eat--no worries either way. People moved around the room, even switching seats throughout the night. We drank a little more, relaxed a little more. And suddenly it was one in the morning and we were eating chocolate pie and still carrying on. Like I said, maybe it was the company, but I think the food had a little bit to do with it too.

Stuffed mushrooms
A totally improvised recipe, based on the stuffed mushrooms I used to make all the time for parties in college. Yeah, I was a totally wild and crazy chick.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

24 medium-sized baby portobello mushrooms (also called crimini mushrooms), wiped clean
1 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 stalks celery, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. dried sage
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup white wine, vermouth, chicken stock, or water
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus a little extra for garnishing

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stems from the mushrooms by gently pulling them out with your fingers. Reserve the stems in a bowl. Place the mushrooms cap-side down on a baking sheet and drizzle with with about 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, rubbing it in with your fingers. Roast for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the caps are cooked through but still firm. A little liquid may collect in the caps. When the mushrooms are cool enough to handle, pour out the liquid in each one.

To make the stuffing, mince the mushroom stems. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Toss in the celery and onion and saute until soft. Add the garlic, mushroom stems, and spices, and saute for a minute more, sirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and add the liquid and the breadcrumbs. The liquid should make the mixture damp like stuffing but not mushy. Stir for a minute more, then remove from the heat and add in the cheese. Fill each mushroom cap with a spoonful of stuffing and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more (at 350 degrees) until the mushrooms are hot and the stuffing is slightly browned. Sprinkle with extra cheese before serving.

Monday, October 12, 2009

what's for dinner, eric ripert?

Today's Q&A subject is Eric Ripert. (I can't believe I just typed that.) Born in Antibes, France, he is the executive chef and part-owner of New York's Le Bernardin, which has been awarded three Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times, among many, many other accolades. Ripert also oversees restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Caymon, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. You may have seen him guest-judging on Top Chef, or on his new PBS show, Avec Eric, where he finds culinary inspiration through his travels around the world. To encourage more people to cook at home, he also runs a refreshingly down-to-earth website with recipes and demos (some using only a toaster oven), challenging readers to recreate his menus and email photos of their meals. The thing about him that appeals to me the most (other than his dreamy accent) is how humble and genuinely nice he seems, even though he truly is a master chef. I am beyond excited to share this window into his entertaining philosophy.

1. Name, occupation, and city
Eric Ripert, Executive Chef/Co-Owner, Le Bernardin, NYC

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
Last weekend in my country house and I invited close friends.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
I actually don’t think like that, I create the menu depending on the season, who the company is, what my mood is…I will cook something different
so [there is] no such a thing for me as the best menu I’ve ever done. In the summer I love to cook paella and in the winter I love to cook capon stuffed with black truffle.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
Wine by far.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
Again, it depends on what kind of a party I am organizing and the time of the day—to me the soundtrack is not very important during the length of the meal itself. I want to hear the conversation more than the music. It becomes important after—if it becomes a late dinner and we are in the mood to dance.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?

Grilled steaks with whatever vegetables that look beautiful at the farmer’s market.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

If I know I can trust my help I definitely delegate a lot, if not I have no problem to cook myself which is usually more efficient anyway.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

Everything is made from scratch except desserts. I love to eat them but hate to make them. Therefore I buy [dessert] at a good pastry shop.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert? I love rustic pies in the summer – like peach or berry pies or berries with whipped cream and ice cream.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

The Dalai Lama.

[Photo: Nigel Parry]

Friday, October 9, 2009


Looking for cozy fall dinner ideas? Here are some links for inspiration.

Food & Wine has 20 recipes for warming soups (corn and cod chowder, gingered butternut squash soup with spicy pecan cream, tangy tomato soup with tarragon croutons). [via F&W]

Sarah of Pink of Perfection makes a hearty beef goulash with egg noodles. [via POP]

Three tasty-sounding fall recipes from Melissa Clark: tomato eclairs with creamy ricotta and basil filling, fig tart with caramelized onions, rosemary and stilton, and ratatouille and sausage potpie with cornmeal biscuits. [via The NYT]

Smitten Kitchen has a Lebanese-style stuffed eggplant with lamb (I bet you could make this vegetarian, too). [via Smitten Kitchen]

And for dessert, spiced applesauce cake with cream cheese frosting. [via Gourmet, R.I.P.]

Or apple-cheddar turnovers? [via Bon Appetit]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

dinner party on shelterrific

Today I've got a post over at Shelterrific on a hearty pasta that's perfect for this time of year: ziti with butternut squash, radicchio, bacon, and ricotta salata. All this dish needs is a green salad and a bottle of red and you've got a cozy fall dinner that's totally dinner party-worthy. Click here for the recipe!

Friday, October 2, 2009

fried liver and pepper jelly crostini

So now that we have a dozen jars of homemade pepper jelly on our hands, what are we doing with it?

When writing about our encounters with pepper jelly in New Orleans restaurants, I mentioned eating fried rabbit livers with spicy pepper jelly from Cochon restaurant. It was by far the best bite of food I had the entire trip--totally memorable. The spiciness of the jelly cut the fattiness of the livers, a small herb salad on top added a bright note, and the toast was the perfect crunchy vessel. After Dan and I tried it, we looked at each other with our mouths full and said 'wow'. More accurately, "Mmmmargugh, woowumaugh."

The real reason I wanted to throw a Southern-themed dinner is because I wanted to try this recipe for myself, using easy-to-find chicken livers instead. Even with a few tweaks, this recipe totally lived up to our vacation memories.

At Cochon, chef Donald Link serves this as an appetizer, with about four liver-topped toasts per person. I decided to make lots of little bites and serve them on a big platter. The effect was slightly more messy, but also slightly more impressive.

The recipe calls for buttered slices of white bread that you toast in the oven. I didn't want to buy a whole loaf of bread that we wouldn't finish, so I opted for premade toasts instead. Any crackers would work for this, really. You could also buy a jar of spicy pepper jelly if you don't want to go to the trouble of making it, even though it really isn't that hard and makes great gifts.

I recommend serving this immediately so the livers don't get cold and lose their crunchy texture. Even though I made the crostini by myself while everyone was having a drink in the living room, it's the perfect recipe to recruit an extra set of hands to help you out. While one person fries up the livers, the other can make the herb salad and top the toasts with jelly. Before you know it, you'll have a plate of deliciousness on your hands.

Fried Chicken Livers with Hot Pepper Glaze
Adapted from
Real Cajun by Donald Link
(Serves about 6 people as an appetizer)

1 lb. chicken livers (about 12 to 15), trimmed into bite-sized pieces
1 cup buttermilk

1 Tbsp. hot sauce

black pepper
Peanut oil or lard, for frying

*4 slices white bread, crusts trimmed
(or storebought crackers, optional)
*1 tablespoon melted butter
(or storebought crackers, optional)
2 cups all-purpose flour

2 mint sprigs
Leaves from 3 or 4 flat-leaf parsley sprigs

1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)

3/4 cup hot pepper jelly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken livers, buttermilk, hot sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and marinate at least 1 hour or overnight in the fridge.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pot to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, cut each bread slice into four equal squares, brush with butter, and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

Place flour in a shallow dish. One at a time, lift the livers out of the marinade, shaking to remove excess buttermilk, and coat in the flour, shaking off excess.

Fry the chicken livers in small batches for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown and just cooked through; transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. To serve, place the toasts (or crackers) on a platter and top each one with a dab of pepper jelly and a fried liver. Toss the mint, parsley, and onion with the oil and vinegar. Spread another dab of pepper jelly over each liver and top with some of the salad.


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