Earlier this fall in a cooking class, I included the recipe for some polenta squares with Gruyère, walnuts, and fresh rosemary. In the class they were served as a side dish to racks of lamb, but later I discovered that they worked beautifully as appetizers. A few days after that class, my husband and I ended up hosting an impromptu Sunday supper for family and friends. There were ten of us and I needed a quick opener. Why not turn that delicious side dish into a starter, I reasoned! The polenta squares turned out to be the stars of the evening, and were simple to assemble well in advance.
I have loved polenta since I first tasted it prepared by Italian chefs back in the 80s. Those chefs used water and coarse meal. However, when I started making polenta, I found that replacing the water with chicken stock added another layer of flavor. Instead of coarsely Continue reading
Before summer ended, my husband and I decided to host a last minute-party for our friends. We agreed that champagne (my favorite drink any time of the year) and rosé (his default wine of the season) would anchor the gathering along with appetizers made with the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables. While my spouse tended to the libations, I concentrated on the food.
The glorious produce and herbs that abound this time of year provided me with inspiration. Homemade aïoli served with haricots verts, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sliced fennel was a colorful creation. An avocado pâté garnished with tomato salsa and chips, and a tray of cheeses and fresh figs were set out as well. Chicken wings seasoned with lime juice, apricot jam, and cilantro, plus mini-lobster rolls, and slices of cantaloupe marinated in a mint and Pernod syrup completed the offerings.
The latter was one of the most popular and definitely one of the easiest dishes. After the Continue reading
At a recent cooking class that featured bouillabaisse as the main course, I was surprised not only by my students’ excitement over the famous Provencal fish soup, but also by their raves for the simple appetizers. In keeping with the Provencal theme, mini-chèvre flans topped with a colorful mélange of chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, and walnuts were an instant success.
Perhaps it was the simplicity of these starters or the seamless blending of flavors that made them so popular. All I can report is that this hands-on class of 15 downed almost four dozen in less than 15 minutes! Continue reading
Savory Mexican Cheesecake with Tortilla Chips
Guests sampling the buffet.
Claire on the left and Liz on the right–two Amherst grads who helped cook and in my kitchen!
The professor congratulating his students
Manchego, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts
Melon with Pernod and Mint
Cheeses with Fresh Cherries and Sage
My husband and I look forward each spring to celebrating graduation at Amherst College. We host a party for my spouse’s students, and make it a family affair by inviting the moms, dads, siblings, and grandparents of the honorees. This year was a particularly large group with almost fifty people at our home last Saturday for champagne and appetizers.
I set out a buffet that included smoked salmon with lemon crème fraîche, a tray of cheeses garnished with fresh cherries and sage, and roasted asparagus spears with a gribiche sauce (mayo with chopped hard boiled eggs, mustard and chives). Skewers of cantaloupe marinated in Pernod and mint, plus a savory Mexican cheesecake (scented with cumin and chili) served with yellow and blue tortilla chips rounded out the menu. But, it was a simple passed hors d’oeuvre for Manchego, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts that garnered the most attention. Continue reading
Arriving in Paris for our annual winter visit this week, we wondered how we would find the city after a year of devastating events. We unpacked and then walked through our “quartier” happy to see familiar sights. People were busy catching buses and cabs, buying their newspapers, and yes, sipping coffees outdoors in cafes during a spell of mild weather. And, Parisians everywhere were buying their favorite foods to celebrate the new year. I’ll be cooking dinner for friends on New Year’s Eve, so I too was in many of the food shops. The scene at the Grande Epicerie (the incredible grocery store at Le Bon Marché department store) was as frenetic as ever, with shoppers stocking their carts with foie gras and champagne–traditional fare for this season.
As I was planning our menu for December 31, I came across several appetizers perfect for a New Year’s Eve celebration– Pistachio Goat Cheese Grapes, Blue Cheese and Almond Stuffed Dates, and Smoked Salmon with Lemon Crème Fraîche. All are chic enough for this special night, but simple and quick to prepare.
Happy 2016 and may this new year be filled with peace around the world, and with joy and good health for all!
Last week I wrote about the delicious overnight oats we enjoyed at our hotel on Nantucket, but that wasn’t the only culinary inspiration the island sparked. I was also taken with some unusual appetizers prepared with baguette slices spread with cream cheese and topped with roasted red grapes and sunflower seeds.
At home I couldn’t wait to make these little treats in my own kitchen. I tried several cheeses, and settled on some snowy white chèvre to replace the cream cheese in the original version. And, toasted walnuts were just as good as sunflower seeds.
Roasting the grapes was a breeze. You coat them with olive oil, pop them in the oven for Continue reading
While in Florida earlier this week, my husband and I had a quick dinner one night at a taco restaurant. We ate at the bar where two giant TV screens were broadcasting the current games kicking off March Madness. The place was packed and everyone seemed to be glancing at the matches while nibbling on spicy fare. It reminded me that the crispy wings with a Creole dipping sauce I created for a recent cooking class would be perfect to serve during this month of frenzied sports watching.
The chicken wings are marinated in Tabasco-scented buttermilk, then seasoned with both cayenne and black pepper before being coated with yellow cornmeal. Skillet fried until golden and crunchy, they are served with a classic rust-hued Creole sauce that is traditionally used for shrimp, but works equally well with chicken. Continue reading
This year we’ll be in Paris to ring in 2015, but, rather than dine out in one of the city’s restaurants, we’ll be cooking a meal with our friends, Harriet and Philippe, who live there. Our hosts have decided that after marathon Christmas entertaining, we should follow a simpler philosophy of “buy some, make some” for this special night. And, happily, that’s especially easy to do in France.
Harriet’s local boucher displays gorgeous fowl, completely stuffed and oven ready, which she buys and roasts along with chestnuts and vegetables. Our pals love to purchase oysters, a French tradition at this time of year, and a cache of delectable cheeses. I’ll order a dessert from one of my favorite patisseries, and will volunteer to bring champagne and appetizers. Continue reading
No one in our small New England town wants to commit to entertaining this winter! After countless storms and resulting cancellations, people are wary of planning too far ahead. My husband is a social animal, though, so I’ve figured out a way to issue some last-minute invites. It works like this. I wait until the local weather team gives the all clear, and then ask a few friends to come over for wine and nibbles. Afterwards, we all go out for dinner together. Simple and stress-free, this has become my social m.o. for the season.
Along with bowls of olives and toasted nuts, I’ve been serving some delectable cheese-filled Greek phyllo triangles. The classic filling for these savory pastries usually includes feta, sometimes cottage or other cheeses plus eggs. I opted for a mixture of creamy chèvre, grated Parmesan, chopped hazelnuts, and fresh mint. A dollop of this flavorful mélange is placed on a corner of a strip of buttered phyllo. Then the phyllo strip is folded Continue reading
Last weekend en route to the supermarket, I couldn’t believe the temperature gauge in my car. I looked twice thinking I had read it wrong because it was registering 105 degrees. We were in the midst of yet another heat wave here in New England, and definitely headed for a scorching, even record-breaking day. It just so happened that my husband and I had invited a few friends over for wine and appetizers late that afternoon, and had planned to entertain on our porch.
It didn’t take long to figure out that our gathering would have to be moved inside where there was air conditioning. To counter the heat, I changed the menu to include refreshingly cool skewers of watermelon, feta, and mint. Then when I spotted fresh figs in the produce aisle of the grocery, I added those to my cart to serve with some creamy blue cheese and walnuts. Continue reading