Monday, August 30, 2010

fried chicken friday

For some reason, I got a serious hankering for fried chicken last week. It's not the kind of thing I make at home very often, probably because it's a lot of effort for just Dan and me. If you're going to go to the trouble to fry chicken, you might as well do a whole bird, and then that's quite a bit of chicken for two people to eat. Dan would probably disagree with this, but still.

The craving persisted so I invited some friends over to make a Friday night of it. Now, which recipe to choose? Choosing a recipe for fried chicken is like choosing a recipe for chocolate cake. Thomas Keller, the chef behind fine dining establishments The French Laundry and Per Se, is well-known for the fried chicken he serves at Ad Hoc, his more casual place. It is so beloved that he now sells fried chicken kits at Williams-Sonoma for $14.95. (Cough! Ripoff! Cough!)
For the more budget-conscious, the actual recipe is on Food & Wine's website, and you can make your own mix out of things you probably already have in your pantry: garlic and onion powder, cayenne, salt, pepper, and regular old flour. The real secret to this chicken is that it is brined overnight in an aromatic bath of lemons, peppercorns, garlic, honey, bay leaves, and fresh rosemary, parsley, and thyme sprigs. Again, most stuff you've probably got on hand. The rest is pretty straightforward: brine, dip in buttermilk, dredge in flour, then fry to crispy gold perfection.
Fry up some herb sprigs and strew them on top of the chicken, which you have decoratively mounded on a platter. Place the platter in the middle of the table and watch everyone's eyes get a little big as they take a seat. Drink some cold beer, put some Springsteen on the stereo. Eat fried chicken. That's pretty much the best way to spend a Friday night in my book. 

Friday night chicken dinner
Lemon-brined fried chicken
Corn with thyme and butter
Peach and blueberry cobbler a la mode

Lemon-brined fried chicken
From Thomas Keller via F&W. For four to six people, you can easily cut this recipe in half.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

1 gallon cold water
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
12 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, smashed but not peeled
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
3 large rosemary sprigs
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of parsley
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
Two 3-pound chickens
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups buttermilk
Vegetable oil, for frying
Rosemary and thyme sprigs, for garnish 

In a very large pot, combine 1 quart of the water with 1 cup of the salt and the honey, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Add the lemon zest and juice and the lemon halves and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Let cool completely, then stir in the remaining 3 quarts of cold water. Add the chickens, being sure they're completely submerged, and refrigerate overnight. 

Drain the chickens and pat dry. Scrape off any herbs or peppercorns stuck to the skin and cut each bird into 8 pieces, keeping the breast meat on the bone. 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne and the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Put the buttermilk in a large, shallow bowl. Working with a few pieces at a time, dip the chicken in the buttermilk, then dredge in the flour mixture, pressing so it adheres all over. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet lined with wax paper (or foil). 

In a very large, deep skillet, heat 1 inch of vegetable oil to 330 degrees. Fry the chicken in 2 or 3 batches over moderate heat, turning once, until golden and crunchy and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of each piece registers 160 degrees, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to paper towels to drain, and keep warm in a low oven while you fry the remaining chicken pieces. Transfer the fried chicken to a platter, garnish with the herb sprigs and serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

blt pasta

Last Saturday we had a small window of perfect summer weather: sunny, breezy, and cool under the shade of a tree. To celebrate this rare occurrence, I spent the afternoon in Prospect Park with my friend Jamie and this little guy, who is staying with us for awhile.
I wanted to bring BLT sandwiches but didn't think they would travel well, so I decided to incorporate the flavors into a pasta salad. (Plus a few extra summery ingredients like basil and corn, and some goat cheese because...well, I like goat cheese.)

Bowties and fusilli seemed a little corny, so I picked up a box of dried orecchiette instead. While the pasta boiled, I crisped up some diced bacon, then removed it from the pan and sauteed the corn in the bacon fat. I tossed the bacon and corn into the pasta with a handful of chopped tomatoes, some basil, goat cheese, and a handful of arugula--for the "lettuce."

I wasn't really hungry when we got to the park, but one bite of pasta turned into to several, and then I found myself going for a second bowl. Feeling full and happy, I sprawled out on the blanket, shut my eyes, and listened to the breeze in the trees above me. Which is what any good picnic will cause you to do.
BLT pasta
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
1 box
6 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
2 ears corn kernels, removed from the cob
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 handful basil

2 handfuls arugula, torn into pieces
1/4 cup chevre, crumbled
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to the package's directions. While the pasta is cooking, fry your bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Put the corn in the pan (in the still-hot bacon fat) and saute for a few minutes. Turn off the heat. Drain the pasta and add the corn and the bacon fat. Stir until combined. Add the cherry tomatoes, basil, and arugula and toss. Sprinkle in the chevre and toss gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, August 23, 2010

what's for dinner, sweet paul?

Paul Lowe is best known to his fans as Sweet Paul, the name of his always-inspiring style blog. On his site, he describes himself as a "food and prop stylist and crafter who packed his Louis and moved from Oslo to New York to live and love." Paul's site covers everything from food, to craft projects, to design objects that caught his eye. And if that weren't enough, he recently launched a digital magazine that is every bit as well-curated and styled as anything on the newsstands today. The fall edition comes out September 10. Here, Paul--a man of view words, at least for this Q&A--shares his thoughts on entertaining.

1. Name, occupation, and city
Paul Lowe, stylist and editor-in-chief of Sweet Paul magazine

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

One week ago. Had 3 friends over for a Friday night dinner.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company? 
My maple and apricot roasted chicken is always a smash hit.

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

Cocktails. My fave right now is Pimms.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

Something smooth like jazz. Not loud. 

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make? 
Beef salad with avocado, feta cheese, grilled corn, and balsamic. Takes me 10 minutes to make.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help? 
No help.

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

9. What do you like to serve for dessert? 
Right now I'm all about rhubarb and strawberry crumbles with homemade vanilla gelato.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be? 
Marie Antoinette, Donna Hay, Tim Gunn and my friend Frances Janisch.

[Photo: Courtesy of Paul Lowe]

Friday, August 20, 2010


We've got about one month of summer left this year. Crazy, I know. Time to squeeze in all those picnics you've been planning to have since April. Here are some ideas for outdoor-friendly fare.

Triple beef cheeseburgers (brisket, short ribs, and skirt steak) with spiced ketchup and red vinegar pickles [via Bon Appetit
10 ideas for veggie burgers [via Cooking Light]
Tuna and vegan pan bagnat [via Pink of Perfection]
Summer squash couscous with sultanas, pistachios, and mint [via Food52]
Broiled eggplant with tomatoes and feta [via Goldilocks Finds Manhattan]
13 takes on potato salad [via Food + Wine]

Cherry-almond yogurt cake [via The Kitchen Sink Recipes]
One bowl everyday chocolate cake [via Smitten Kitchen]

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

tomato risotto

I love tomato season and I usually get a little greedy at the farmers' market. It's hard to stop grabbing up all the various sizes and colors and shapes, each one with its own little personality. But then you end up with a pile of overripe tomatoes on your hands. Or maybe you have a garden and this happens every summer. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you need to make tomato risotto. Actually, tomato risotto is so good you probably should just go and buy a bunch of tomatoes to put yourself in this situation.

I know, I've said bad things about making risotto for dinner parties on this blog before. It takes too long to make. All that stirring keeps you away from your friends. It will make you sweat. But if you have an open kitchen where everyone can gather while you are cooking, or if you can enlist a friend or two to help you stir and drink wine, it's not a bad way to go at all. Central air conditioning helps too. This recipe is so good, I will gladly confine myself in the kitchen and sweat it out.
 The recipe, from Andrew Carmellini's Urban Italian, requires a few steps, like most chef-created recipes. It calls for a lot of tomatoes, which can be expensive, but if you can score some less-than-perfect ones from the farmers' market on a discount, they will do nicely.
 First, you roast beefsteaks and garlic in the oven until they are soft and fragrant. Then you make the risotto, with all the usual suspects: stock, butter, Arborio rice, wine, an onion. The roasted tomatoes get folded into the mix, along with parmesan, and, if you're feeling decadent, some marscarpone cheese. The whole thing is topped with a garnish of halved cherry tomatoes, and I like to add a bit of basil as well.
When ripe, tomatoes are one of those things that are pretty much perfect as-is. There is nothing quite like eating a slice of a mid-summer heirloom with a sprinkle of salt, juice dripping down your chin. This risotto is the next best thing.

Tomato risotto
Adapted from Urban Italian
(serves 4 to 6 people)

For the baked tomatoes:
1 lb. tomatoes (8 small beefsteaks)
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1 tsp. rosemary
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

For the tomato topping:
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
pinch of salt

For the rice:
5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, or water, or a combination)
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine

To finish the dish:
2 Tbsp. marscarpone cheese (optional)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary
1 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 handful basil, julienned (optional)

To make the baked tomatoes:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the beefsteak tomatoes in half and lay them face up on a sheet pan. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary. Lay a slice or two of garlic on top. Bake uncovered until they are a bit grilled-looking and soft, about 1 hour. (You can do this way in advance.) Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. Chop them roughly and reserve them and the juices in a bowl.

To make the tomato topping:
Carmellini suggests cooking the cherry tomatoes in olive oil in a small pot over low heat for about 20 minutes, creating a chunky sauce. I like serving them raw, sliced in half and tossed in the olive oil and salt. Either way works.

To make the rice:
Put the stock or water on to boil. Melt the butter and olive oil together over high heat in a large pot or skillet. Add the onions and sweat them until they are soft, about 2 minutes, stirring to keep them from browning. Add the red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Add the rice and mix well so the grains are coated, about 1 minute. Add the wine and continue cooking, stirring constantly to ensure that the rice does not stick, until the wine has been completely absorbed and the rice is soft but not sticky, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups of the hot stock (or water) and the chopped baked tomatoes with their juices. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the rice is al dente, just beginning to cook through and the stock has evaporated, about 7 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups of stock and continue to cook, stirring well and often, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and become a thick, liquidy stew, another 7 or 8 minutes or so.

To finish the dish, remove the risotto from the heat. Add the marscarpone, if using, parmesan, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Mix well, so the risotto becomes rich and well combined. If the risotto is too thick for your taste, add a little leftover stock or water. 

Serve in bowls with the tomato topping, extra parmesan, and basil.

Monday, August 16, 2010

come dine with me

I know I'm a little late on this, but have you guys watched Come Dine With Me on BBC America? It's a competition where four home cooks take turns throwing three-course dinner parties for each other. Kitchen mishaps ensue, everyone gets awarded points for their efforts, and one person wins a 1,000 pound prize in the end. Needless to say, I love this show. (If you don't have BBC America, there's going to be an American version soon. Which I'm sure will be trashy and awesome.)

If you ever feel nervous about having people over for dinner, Come Dine With Me, like many reality shows, will make you feel immensely better about yourself. On the episode I caught, a truly crazy lady messed up her famous pavlova (pronounced "pava-lova") recipe about ten times, first undercooking it and then burning it. In the end she fished out several failed meringue discs from the trash and smothered them with passion fruit and whipped cream, creating a wobbly "passion fruit volcano." A male contestant made a "Mexican" dinner of chili (with Marmite...shudder), nachos, barbecue ribs, and an ice cream sundae for dessert. Oh, and Sex on the Beach cocktails. He's British, okay?

The most surprising and interesting thing about this show is people's expectations. One woman griped about not being given a hostess gift. Others said that they didn't feel properly "entertained" by other hosts. Entertained? Isn't a meal and good conversation enough? Of course, this is a competition and there is a certain amount of sabotage, mainly in voting. And complaining.
One woman, a pig farmer who lived in a mansion (really), made a rustic meal of homemade pheasant terrine, sausages with apples, and some sort of fancy tart for dessert. Everything she served was homemade, sourced from her own animals and lovingly prepared. Maybe it was a class issue, maybe it was jealousy, maybe the terrine had a little gristle--whatever the reason, she came in last place. I think the other contestants were put off by her enormous old house. Mr. Mexican-Marmite-chili placed first. But he did give everyone a tiny cactus and did card tricks.

Ridiculous as the actual food might be, it was fascinating to watch real people entertaining in real environments--tiny apartment kitchens, oddly decorated living rooms, massive dining tables with candelabras. 

What made the contestents decide to make fusty chicken Kiev, or barbecue ribs, or set a table with red napkins twisted and tucked into Champagne glasses? What made one of them want to turn mackerel and mushrooms into pâté? Was it an idea found in a book or magazine? Was this how their mother set the table for company? Why do we serve the things that we serve, anyway? A dinner party is an expression of self: how we want to appear to others, who we really are, and something in between.

[Images from BBC America] 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

peach melba

The first time I had peach melba was during a weekend trip to New Orleans with some girlfriends while I was still in college. Our second night in town had taken an unexpected turn, and somehow we found ourselves sitting in a very fancy restaurant surrounded by men in suits and women in evening gowns. I have no idea how we got into that chandeliered dining room, a bunch of kids in jeans with necks draped in beads. The guys whom dragged us there--we met them on the street an hour earlier--ordered oysters Rockefeller, and steaks, and big, thick chops, but my friends and I had already eaten dinner. 

I was pretty drunk and wanted to be sociable, so I skimmed the dessert menu and came upon peach melba. I only had a vague idea of what it was, but what the hell. It sounded appropriate. A old fashioned dessert in an old fashioned dining room. A tuxedoed waiter presented me with a little bowl containing half of a peach topped with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of bright red sauce. I poked around the peach with my spoon and found a slice of cake hidden underneath. It was delicious.
I never ordered peach melba again or even thought about it until recently, when I was trying to figure out what to make my friend Jamie for dessert. I've been eating New Jersey peaches from the farmers' market like a maniac this summer and wanted to make something with them instead of just eating them straight out of the fruit bowl. But I didn't want to turn on the oven, causing my mind to wander to peach melba.

My version didn't involve pound cake or grenadine syrup. Summer peaches and raspberries are perfect as-is and I wanted a dessert that really let the fruit shine. I found a very simple Nigella Lawson recipe and a more complicated version from Gourmet and decided to combine ideas from both. First, I poached halved peaches in vanilla-infused simple syrup--which can be bottled and saved to sweeten iced tea or cocktails, or make homemade peach-vanilla soda. (Highly recommended.)
While the peaches cooled, I made a raspberry syrup by cooking down raspberries in a little water and sugar. I added a squeeze of lemon at the end, then pureed and strained the liquid, making a lovely seed-free sauce that thickened up naturally in the refrigerator.

When it was time for dessert, all I had to do was top the peach halves with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzle the sauce on top. The result was so simple and lovely--the full, ripe flavor of the season. It was not the same dessert that I ate in New Orleans, but that night was more about atmosphere than taste memories.

Peach melba
(Serves four people)

For the peaches:
2 large peaches, halved, unpeeled (make sure they are unbruised and firm yet ripe)
2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, scored

For the raspberry sauce:

12 oz. raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon

Vanilla ice cream

To poach the peaches, combine the sugar, water, and vanilla bean in a large, deep skillet and heat to medium-high. Stir the sugar until it is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and let it come to a simmer. Add the peaches, cut side down. Cook them for about five minutes on each side, then turn off the heat and let them cool in the pan. When they are cool enough to handle, gently remove the skin, and pits, if you did not already remove them. Discard the vanilla bean and reserve the syrup in an air-tight container.

Make the syrup by combining all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let cool. When cool, puree in a food processor until smooth, then strain out the seeds using a fine mesh sieve. Reserve the sauce in a jar and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To serve, place one peach half in a bowl and top with ice cream and raspberry sauce.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

what's for dinner, sarah mccoll?

Today's Q&A subject is a person dear to my heart: Sarah McColl, author of the fantastic site Pink of Perfection. About a year ago, Sarah and I became fast friends over glasses of rosé at a local wine bar, where we bonded over life in Brooklyn, blogging, and of course, food. "Hostess With the Mostess" is a title people throw around a lot, but Sarah is the real deal. Charming, quick with a cocktail, and a wonderful cook--I admire her style so much and always look forward to an invitation to come over to her house. Thanks for sharing your entertaining wisdom with us, Sarah!

1. Name, occupation, and city

Sarah McColl, writer, Brooklyn, NY

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

There was a time when I was throwing dinner parties left and right, but I'm sorry to say 2010 has been a dinner party desert. The last one was in February, Danish-themed, and I invited four close friends. We drank lots of aquavit.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
This is a toughie. One of my fondest dinner party menus was a potluck when my friends first met my boyfriend, now husband. We had this great cheesy, artichoke torta, a big tangle of lemony arugula leaves, a cherry tomato salad with mozzarella and grilled steaks. Both the boyfriend and the supper were hits.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
I'm an equal opportunity tippler, but my drink choice usually depends on the weather. Winter is martini time and embarrassingly, I've been really into wine spritzers on these swelteringly hot days.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
Motown and '60s girl groups make me happy: Al Green, Otis Redding, The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Chiffons. It's all a build-up to what I always hope will happen post-dinner party: an impromptu living room dance party.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?
I'd probably dash out to buy a few nibbles to have with drinks––olives, nuts––and then on a hot summer night would throw together a chicken salad served over greens with some airy French bread. For dessert, bowls of Greek yogurt, raspberries, and a drizzle of honey for everyone.

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

I cook dinner myself, sometimes ask someone to bring dessert, and my husband runs interference as a drink-server and cocktail mixer. My favorite dinner party dishes are the sort that don't require a lot of fussing or tending. Nothing makes me sadder than having all my friends in the living room laughing and telling stories while I'm stuck in the kitchen.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
I definitely buy store-bought things, and here's my thinking: there's only so much one hostess can do. I want to enjoy myself making dinner from scratch, but I don't want to overextend myself so much that I'm frazzled when my guests arrive. If that means cutting some corners here and there so that I can set a relaxed, joyful mood, I'm all for it. I think it's important to remember that people are coming for a party, not a restaurant experience. Whether you make the ice cream or buy a pint shouldn't be a guilt trip. [Ed: So well put!]

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
There are so few opportunities in our household of two to make cakes and tarts, that I always delight in making them for company. In summer, though, when I'm loathe to turn on the oven, I'm really into berries and ice cream.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be? I have a feeling Oscar Wilde would be a pretty fantastic dinner guest.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

a case for the room temperature meal

In my never-ending quest to throw summertime dinner parties in our sweltering apartment, I have given up using the oven, made chilled soups, and served random yet tasty assortments of cold food. But when cooking dinner for my friend Jamie the other night, I decided to try a different approach: the room temperature meal.

Maybe this should have occurred to me earlier: use the stovetop before guests arrive, let the food cool down, then serve it at a leisurely pace without sweat dripping down your face.

Jamie always seems to order steak when we go out for dinner, so I picked up a nice fat flank steak at the market, and rubbed it with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. I grilled it about an hour and a half before he arrived, then let the meat rest, so the juices settled into a perfect medium rare.
I thought about side dishes that could be prepared in advance and I remembered a nice-looking recipe on Food52 for summer squash and zucchini with chilies, mint, and almonds. I sauteed the vegetables, then let the flavors sit and meld together before dinner. Easy. Potatoes are also good at room temperature and naturally go well with steak, so I boiled some potatoes, then drained them and sauteed them in butter, olive oil, and a little garlic.
By the time Jamie arrived, dinner was done, the dishes were washed, tomato crostini were at the ready, and I was gloriously sweat-free. I even had time to put some Jenny Lewis on the iPod. Hot food is so overrated.

Dinner for Jamie
Pan con tomate
Grilled skirt steak
Sautéed zucchini and summer squash with chili, mint and toasted almonds
Potatoes with garlic
Peach melba

Sautéed zucchini and summer squash with chili, mint and toasted almonds
From Food52
(Serves 4 people)

1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow squash
Olive oil
1/2 very small red bird chili, seeds removed and finely sliced, or pinch red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (I used lemon juice)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint

Toast the almonds in a pan over medium heat until golden, watching carefully, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Trim the zucchini and yellow squash and cut each one in half lengthwise, and then in half again, so you have four long quarters. Slice each quarter into 1-inch chunks. Put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a wide sauté pan with high sides and set over medium-high heat. When the pan starts to smoke, add the zucchini and squash and a large pinch of salt, and turn the heat up to high. Sauté the squash, tossing frequently, until it’s well-caramelized but still has a bite, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the chili to the pan. Cook for another minute, tossing occasionally. Sprinkle the sugar and vinegar (or lemon juice) over the squash and toss to combine. Cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and stir in the mint. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary, and then fold in the almonds. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Monday, August 2, 2010

two summery crostinis

Back when we watched a lot of Food Network, Dan and I used to joke that all Giada DiLaurentiis ever makes is crap on toast. Which isn't entirely true, although almost every episode features crostini with some sort of overpronounced Italian topping. Like Prooosckuuuittto.

But Giada has a point. Crostini are so simple to make and everyone loves them. Put a tray of pretty little toasts in front of people and they will be inhaled before you blink. And if you're going to go the crostini route, now is a pretty great time to do it. The best thing about summer produce is that it doesn't require much fussing. Things like peaches and tomatoes are perfect atop a slice of toasted baguette with a little seasoning or herbs.

I feel silly even giving you Giada-style recipes for these, but here are two simple ideas making the dinner party rounds at our house.
Peaches, goat cheese, basil, and black pepper
For one half of a baguette, you'll need about two peaches and about three ounces of softened chevre. A handful of basil leaves will do. Don't skimp on the freshly cracked black pepper--the spiciness brings all of the flavors together. 

Pan con tomate (sort of)
The traditional Spanish method is to rub half of a very ripe tomato over toasted bread slices that have been lightly rubbed with a clove of garlic. I find that it's easier to grate the tomato with a box grater, then pile the shreds on top of the toast. For a finishing touch, I added some olive oil and rosemary sea salt (a present from my lovely mother-in-law). You can easily make your own salt blend by mixing coarse sea salt with a pinch of dried rosemary. Don't overdo it, though.


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