Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

Charred Corn Salsa
It felt like spring the latter half of this week. The sun was shining, the last of the snow that has persisted in our street for weeks has melted, and it was nice enough to wander about without a jacket. The thrill of the weather finally breaking is one of my favorite moments each season!

Ingredients
Perhaps associated with the first burst of warm-ish weather, I tend to also get an itch to vacation at this time of year. It might also be years of Spring Break indoctrination, but I suddenly yearn to pack my bags for some tropical adventure! Not that I actually did a lot of that growing up, but the once or twice that we did vacation somewhere warm over Spring Break were enough to permanently spark anticipation every February. Unfortunately, we have no imminent vacation plans for this spring. So! To ease my wanderlust, I’ve settled by making some charred corn salsa.

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Fancy Fried Green Tomatoes

I attended a wedding a couple weeks ago for two good friends I’ve developed since moving to North Carolina. A fairly significant portion of our friendship is based on a love of and fascination with food: we’ve explored North Carolina farms together, swapped recipes, and enjoyed a wide variety of Triangle restaurants. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that their wedding included not one, but two meals, the first an Indian buffet to celebrate Varsha’s culture, and the second an elegant array of quintessential American cuisine to celebrate Eric’s.

I’ve heard people say that no one will remember the food at a wedding, that people have simply come to expect a good meal when they attend a reception. The food at this wedding, however, was anything BUT forgettable. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, and then after a few minutes, everyone squeezed in just a little bit more because the food was so. dang. good.

And my favorite treat was not an entreé, not a dessert, but one of the passed hors d’oeuvres for the second meal: a fried green tomato dressed up with a bit of pimento cheese and mint jelly. I was so impressed that after seeing a large pile of green tomatoes at the farmers market the next week, I snatched up a couple to re-create them at home.

Simple green tomatoes

Now work with me on this one. I was really, really skeptical when this tray came around. For one thing, I had never eaten a regular fried green tomato before. I don’t particularly like red tomatoes, so I guess I’ve never felt inclined to try a green one. Don’t worry, I now know I’ve been MISSING OUT for years. I guess I’ll just have to compensate for all that lost time by making these all the time.

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Smooth Garlic Hummus

I think I was in sixth or seventh grade when I first heard about hummus. One of my classmates probably brought it in their packed lunch, with a pack of carrot sticks or some pita bread. My hometown was (and still is) definitely the kind of place where sixth graders are excited about eating hummus and carrots for lunch.

Unfortunately, I was horrified by the idea of eating hummus. For the better part of my childhood, I thought that hummus (ground chickpeas with tahini paste) and HUMUS (fully decomposed soil) were the same thing. I was all for eating the fruits of the earth, but the earth itself? NO WAY.

The connections one makes as a child are truly fascinating, aren’t they?

Smooth Yummy Hummus

Now, however, I know the truth. I know that in fact, that extra “m” makes a HUGE and delicious difference. What’s more, hummus is an incredibly easy and inexpensive snack to make.

And it starts, of course, with chick peas.

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Hot and bubbly

Summer produce is just the best, isn’t it? Each week, I have to hem and haw and force myself not to buy everything I lay my eyes on. It’s so easy to literally have my eyes bigger than my stomach… or my weekly menu.

But squash is something I buy every week when it’s in season. Sometimes zucchini, sometimes yellow squash, mostly both. And most summer meals in our house, coincidentally, contain these delicious and prolific veggies, so I try to mix it up and try new methods to cook them. This one is one of my new favorites.

Pretty yellow squash

Adding a bit of parmesan and pepper to thin strips of squash turns them into long, skinny chips of a sort. To help with that long and skinniness, I use a mandoline, a tool that I resisted for years (why not just use a knife) but now adooooooooore.

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Veggie flatbread

After a lengthy winter (for usually balmy Durham), the recent arrival of warm weather has caused a SURGE of greens in my garden. I was a bit over-zealous in March when I planted spring crops (er twelve Romaine plants and six spinach), and now, I can frequently be seen toting bags of freshly-picked lettuce to work and bequeathing it to friends willing to eat a lot of salad. Combined with the arrival of everything fresh at the farmers market, I have to exercise a lot of control to make sure I’m using up these greens before they go to waste. I tire of salads quickly, so I thought I’d try a different take.

Springtime for pizza

In a move that surprised me, the staunch supporter of cheese pizza with as few toppings as possible, this flatbread pizza has almost nothing on it except vegetables. I coupled a large wad of my most recent harvest of spinach leaves with some young onions and green garlic, two ingredients I rarely work with but was curious to explore.

Fresh and green

And because I couldn’t quite bring myself to omit cheese entirely, just a bit of asiago, which is ever the friend of garlic-y, onion-y things.

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Little appetizers

There is rarely a time when, if one is put in front of me, I will turn down a savory bite of something served on a cracker. Whether it’s cheese and fruit or creamy dips or thinly sliced cold cuts, if I lived alone and chose to appease only my deepest food-desires, I might never lift a fork to a plate of un-crackered food again.

Tray of tasty treats

These little bites grew out of a fortuitous collection of ingredients I happened to have on hand after returning home in January. A last hoorah of apples from the fall, a couple packs of crackers I didn’t use at my food-filled Christmas party, and a precious gift of maple cheddar from some dear friends who live in Wisconsin.

The stars of the show

Apple & cheddar cheese are a match made in heaven. The pairing of a sharp, creamy bit of cheese against a sweet, juicy apple would be delicious enough, all on their own, on these crisp little crackers. And I won’t lie, I’ve eaten my fair share of little bites just like that. But these little bites are more than that. The apple and cheddar are chopped into tiny little wedges and cubes with a tangy, punchy dressing.

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Party presents of cheese
Last Sunday, I threw a big ol’ festive holiday party. You may not be entirely surprised to learn that parties at my house tend to be more about the food than anything else. I decorate, sure, and put on some appropriately celebratory Pandora tunes, but mostly a party offers me a moderately justifiable excuse to try out as many recipes for fancy-pants finger food, seasonal desserts, and standard snacky favorites as I can possibly cram into the 2-3 days prior to the first guest knocking on the door. One might suspect that I throw parties primarily for my own curiosity (and, of course, my little food blog) and invite over friends merely to vacuum up the copious amounts of food I typically prepare. (Of course, dear friends, this is not the case, but when one is awake and cooking at 6am the morning of a party, one must question one’s motives.)

And there is no better time of year for party food. Whether it’s an office bash or a neighborhood block party or simply a gathering of friends and family, you can never go wrong with a table filled with edible holiday splendor. Many of the posts in the coming weeks will focus on party-ready treats that make worthy contributions to any festive spread. And what classic shall we feature today? The cheeseball!

Cheesy gifts

This isn’t just a cheeseball. This is THREE cheeseballs.  Better still: this is three cheesePRESENTS. We’re taking an already-classic holiday favorite and raising it to the tenth Christmas power. Plus, this way you don’t have to choose between your favorite cheeseball flavors… you can make them ALL!

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I told you on Thursday, when I posted this Ginger Apple Chutney, that I would have a recipe utilizing it that would blow your dang socks off. This, my friends, is it.

I must be honest: until about one year ago, I never so much as ordered potstickers or Chinese dumplings as take-out. I thought they looked, frankly, kind of gross. So sad and pekid compared to the seemingly superior fried wontons farther down the menu.

Oh, how times have changed.

Suddenly, I’ve become obsessed with these tiny pouches of savory filling. I order them whenever I find them on a menu and often abandon any pretense of planning to order an entree, simply doubling up on potstickers. As someone who loves ravioli, finger food, and anything dippable, I really can’t say why it took me 25 years to see the salty, potsticker-y light.

And what better way to truly embrace the potsticker than to make them from scratch? Having found this fantastic recipe for filling, I also wanted to try my hand at making homemade wonton/potsticker wrappers. That’s just sort of what I do here.

While it is a bit time-consuming and I totally understand if you want to buy yours from the store, I urge you to try it at least once from scratch, especially if you have a pasta crank. These homemade wrappers are soft, not at all rubbery, and can be made in any size that you want (though I found a 3-inch diameter to be absolutely perfect).

Like most doughs, homemade wonton wrappers start with a sifter full of flour, some warm water, and a fork.

Once the dough is mixed, barely pliable due to its low moisture content, it needs to sit for a while. Just cover the bowl with a damp cloth so the little moisture that IS in this dough doesn’t escape.

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If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it in every post since mid-September: I love fall. Everything about it… almost. That cool, brisk air and the crunchy golden leaves fluttering down like pennies in a pool are spectacular elements of the season. But they are caused, of course, by our hemisphere tipping away from the sun for the winter, and our hours of sunshine diminish rapidly. Add in our “fall back” from Daylight Savings Time, and suddenly I’m driving home from work in the dark every day for the next four months. This lack of sunshine not only lowers my energy and productivity, it also seriously cramps my food-bloggin’ style.

 

In early summer, I discovered that I had a much easier time taking photos for this site if I essentially stopped preparing food in my dismally dark kitchen. A table in our office against the window (purchased by Brad some time ago as a study station for the rare moments he wants to study at home) has now become my destination for cutting boards full of ingredients. The natural light that pours into this room is vastly superior than the peaked light fixture in the kitchen. I’ve virtually stopped photographing in my kitchen all together, save for the occasional cooking-in-the-pot action shot or rolled-out-dough-on-the-counter.

So as the days get shorter, you can pretty much guarantee that if the sun is out and I’m not at my job, I’m probably trucking ingredients back and fort between the office and the kitchen.

Now you know.

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A shift in the weather has finally come to North Carolina.  After a disgustingly hot Labor Day weekend, the last few days have been gloriously cool. I’m thrilled for fall to arrive, but sometimes, I think the transition into the season is almost more exhilarating than the heart of the season itself. Just a few months ago, I ached for the warmth of summer. I couldn’t wait to shed my scarves, jeans, and sweaters and swap them out for flip flops and tank tops. But now, as we teeter on the outer edge of a long, hot summer, I can’t wait to don my long-sleeved tees, comfy socks, and tall, brown boots.

Buuuut it’s still a bit warm for that. But there are still plenty of ways to get ready for fall. One of them is to add this rockin’ dip to your TO MAKE IMMEDIATELY list. Take it to your next football tailgate, Halloween party, or movie night. Seriously, I urge you to find any excuse.

I’ve “made” onion dip before. A packet of onion soup mix and a tub of sour cream and shazam! Chip & dip time! But this is unlike any onion dip I’ve ever had. probably because it actually features the fine, fine flavors of real onion. A LOT of onion. This recipe yields about three cups, but it starts with four full cups of raw onion. Then, aided by the deep and sultry additions of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, those crisp raw onions transform until their decadent, caramelized selves.

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