Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

Maple Everywhere!

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019
Courtesy of Paul Franz/ The Recorder

March is Massachusetts Maple Month. Farmers in my area are working more or less around the clock to turn the sap that flows from maple trees in spring into the sweet elixir that New Englanders prize year round.

This coming weekend, March 16-17, is Massachusetts Maple Weekend, and members of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association have a number of celebrations planned.

Every time I drive to Greenfield these days, I pass a sign at Hager’s Farm Market luring me with the promise of fried dough topped with maple cream on Saturday. I am trying to resist temptation!

Fortunately, most of my own culinary uses for maple syrup do not involve the extreme sweetness of fried dough or even pancakes. I love to use maple to add a slight sweetness to foods like salad dressings, coleslaw, pork, and even (as you’ll see below) cheese.

I also love to contemplate maple’s place in American history. Colonists learned of its sweet bounty from Native Americans; in early colonial times, maple syrup and sugar were significantly less expensive than imported sugar from cane.

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), a prominent Pennsylvania physician and scholar who was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, promoted maple over cane sugar not because of maple’s price but because of its means of production. Cane sugar was made by slaves, and Rush was an abolitionist.

Other abolitionists took up the cause of maple. Thomas Jefferson, who despite his own slave holdings opposed slavery in principle, fell in love with the idea of maple as an alternative to cane sugar as well.

“What a blessing,” he wrote in 1790, “to substitute a sugar which requires only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks unnecessary [sic].”

My local maple sugarers could have told Jefferson that successful sugar production requires labor from more than children, but his heart was in the right place. He believed that maple production was a perfect occupation for the “yeoman farmer” he saw as the American ideal.

The sugar maples Jefferson planted at Monticello died; the climate of southern states proved dicey for producing maple syrup.

As sugar became less and less expensive over the decades, even hardy New Englanders (unless they were strict abolitionists) changed over to cane sugar as their primary sweetener. Maple was increasingly viewed as it is today: as an expensive and highly prized specialty food.

Maple played a part again in American history in the early 20th century in the campaign that led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Maple syrup was among the products for which many false claims were made before manufacturers were held accountable by that law.

C.C. Regier noted in a 1933 article, “More than ten times the amount of Vermont maple syrup was sold every year than that state could produce.” Happily, if something is labeled “pure maple syrup” today, the labeling is accurate.

I am are lucky to live in an area where I can purchase pure maple syrup from neighbors and visit working sugarhouses. The photo above shows me getting ready for Saint Patrick’s Day with my beloved maple vinaigrette. (Thanks to Paul Franz at the Recorder for the festive picture!)

One of my current favorite maple recipes comes from the Massachusetts Maple Producer Association. I would never have thought of pairing feta cheese with maple, but the combination is wonderful!

I made it recently on Mass Appeal, along with my Irish Cottage Soda Bread. Here is the feta recipe—and of course the videos are below.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all, and happy maple season!

 

Maple-Baked Feta

I like to serve this sweet-and-savory cheese dish with homemade crostini I make with small, store-bought baguettes.

To prepare the crostini, I slice the bread thinly, rub it with a minimal amount of olive oil on each side, and sprinkle salt on one side. I then bake the crackers for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven, turning them once.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 6-ounce block feta cheese (it’s hard to find a 6-ounce block; use part of a larger block if necessary)
1/4 cup golden raisins
a generous helping of fresh rosemary
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup maple syrup

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle half of the olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish. (I use a brie baker from the potter Jeanne Douillard of Greenfield, Massachusetts.)

Cut the feta so that it is relatively thin and covers most of the surface of the baker. Sprinkle the raisins, rosemary leaves, and pepper over all; then top with the maple syrup and the remaining oil.

Bake until everything is bubbly and one or two raisins are starting to burn. This process can be tricky; you don’t want your dish to blacken, but you do want the cheese to soften.

Let the mixture cool slightly before serving it with crackers or crostini. Serve it with a spoon, and make sure that each little helping gets a bit of everything: cheese, raisins, rosemary, and juice. This cheese dish may also be served on the side of a green salad. Serves 4 to 6.

And now the videos!

Tinky Makes Maple-Baked Feta

Tinky Makes Irish Cottage Soda Bread

The Trick to Easy Entertaining

Monday, September 17th, 2018

My Parents in the 1960s

Summer is waning fast, but I still like to entertain on my screen porch. Sitting out there in the evening with family or friends, I now need a little extra light—but it’s still a lovely room and a lovely place in which to visit with people.

My parents loved to entertain. To them, cocktail or dinner parties represented a delightful way in which to get to know new people or cement old friendships. Sharing food with others led to sharing lives.

I have inherited their love of inviting people to drinks or dinner. I have also inherited one of my mother’s tricks for parties. She didn’t like to spend a lot of time away from her guests. So she would make one showy dish in advance and then put out of a lot of easy-to-make foods to complement it.

My current “go-to” showy dish isn’t hard to make, but my guests still appreciate it. I like to whip up homemade tortilla chips. They taste great. And they impress my guests (who generally don’t realize how very simple they are to prepare). I made them last week on Mass Appeal—along with my favorite guacamole—and I plan to serve them again to company soon.

One can make tortilla chips two ways, baked or fried. Fried chips are showier. They’re also more perishable; they tend to get a big soggy after a few hours. I often fry up just a few and then bake A LOT.

Neither chip recipe is really a recipe so I’m just going to talk you through them!

First, divide either corn or four tortillas into segments. I usually make 8 to 10 pie-wedge-shaped segments from large tortillas and 6 segments from small ones.

For Fried Chips:

Place the tortilla segments in between pieces of paper towel and leave them for at least 15 minutes. This removes any extra moisture from the tortillas and helps them fry better.

Pour about an inch of a neutral oil (I use Canola) into a skillet. Heat the oil until it reaches about 350 degrees.

Using heatproof tongs, pop a few segments into the hot oil. Let them fry for a minute or so and then flip them over. When they are brown on both sides (this is a remarkably fast process) place them on paper towels (I use the same ones I used for wrapping them earlier) and sprinkle sea salt on top.

Let them drain and cool for a couple of minutes and then they’ll be ready to eat. Remember to eat them as soon as possible for optimal crispness.

For Baked Chips:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With your finger rub a very small amount of olive oil on both sides of each tortilla segment. Place the segments on baking sheets (rimmed sheets work best, but use what you have), sprinkle them with salt, and bake them for 7 to 8 minutes. (Try to bake only one sheet at a time.)

Remove the sheets from the oven and flip the segments over; then bake them on the other side for an additional 7 to 8 minutes. I have noticed that as my oven stays on for a while the baking time decreases. Let your senses of sight and smell determine how long to bake your chips. The chips should be golden brown and should smell crispy but not burned.

Let the chips cool briefly before eating them. If you are making them in advance, store your cooled chips in a sealed plastic bag.

You can see some of this process on the video below. (I also include the video for the other recipe we made, easy apple scones, just for fun.)

Happy entertaining!

And now the videos….

Tinky Makes Homemade Chips and Guacamole

Tinky Makes Easy Apple Scones

Tarzan Was My Sous Chef

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

You Tarzan, Me Cook

This week on Mass Appeal I cooked lovely seasonal foods and had an unexpected helper.

One of the fun things about appearing on this lifestyle show is that I get to meet other guests, some of whom have become friends over the years.

On Tuesday the main other guests were members of the Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who came on the show to talk about their new production of the musical Tarzan.

A nice young man named Tim immediately came into the kitchen and offered to help me prepare my food, telling me that he loved to cook. I ALWAYS say yes when someone offers to help cook. Tim turned out to be the star of the show; he is playing Tarzan.

I hope to see him swing through the jungle next week. Meanwhile, although Tim was in training (Tarzan’s muscles have to be impressive) I managed to persuade him to nibble just a little. After all, no one should cook and then not be able to eat!

We made peach cobbler, rendered extra flavorful, and extra crunchy, with cornmeal. I am teaching an all-corn class at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton, Massachusetts, in a couple of weeks, and I have been pondering how to incorporate corn into a dessert since I always like to serve a full meal. Using cornmeal might be cheating—but it IS corn based!

We also made a lovely bright blueberry salsa.

Happy August!

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:

for the fruit base:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chopped peaches (or half peaches and half blueberries or raspberries)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, diced

for the cobbler crust:

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish.

Begin by making the base. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a smallish nonreactive pot. Stir in the fruit and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Remove the fruit from the heat and stir in the cinnamon. Spread the fruit in the prepared pan. Dot the top with butter.

To make the crust whisk together the flour, the cornmeal, the sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter, but don’t overdo the process. You should still have tiny pieces of butter in the mixture.

Whisk together the milk, egg, and vanilla. Add them to the dry ingredients, and mix just until moist. Drop the resulting mixture onto the peaches, and spread it around to cover the fruit. Sprinkle brown sugar over all in little clumps. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Serves 8.

Blueberry Salsa

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less, to taste)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions:

Chop or lightly crush about 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Stir them back into the remaining berries.

In a bowl stir together the lime juice and the salt. Stir in the pepper, the onion, and the cilantro; then add the berries.

Refrigerate the salsa for a couple of hours for maximum flavor. Serve with tortilla chips, over chicken or fish, or with crackers and cream cheese. Makes about 2 cups.

And now the videos…..

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Blueberry Salsa

Foods of Our Fathers

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

This post will be quick because it’s hot outside, and I really, really want to spend all of Independence Day by the water!

For my TV appearance this week, I decided to make dishes beloved of a couple of our founding fathers. I started out with George Washington’s Hoe Cakes, which I first wrote about here after my visit to GW’s gristmill near Mount Vernon. They were as tasty as I remembered: crispy and corny.

I went on to make a strawberry fool in honor of John Adams and his pioneering wife Abigail Smith Adams. According to The Food Timeline and other sources, the pair were fond of a simple, rich gooseberry fool. I didn’t have any gooseberries—but strawberries have just reached their peak here in Massachusetts. So I made those into a fool. Everyone who tasted it raved.

Neither dish will warm up your kitchen too much, and both will make you respect the taste of our first and second president.

Here’s the recipe for the strawberry fool. If you have strawberries and cream in the house, you can eat it in less than 15 minutes. I wish you a Glorious Fourth!

 

Strawberry Fool (inspired by John and Abigail Adams)

Ingredients:

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Toss the strawberry pieces in half of the sugar, and let them sit for 10 minutes to juice up.

Place half of the strawberries and all of the strawberry juice in a blender. Puree the mixture; then stir it into the remaining strawberries.

Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks, adding the remaining sugar and the vanilla when it is almost ready. Fold in the berry mixture. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Hoe Cakes on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Strawberry Fool on Mass Appeal

Rhubarb-Glazed Meatballs

Friday, June 8th, 2018

I hope you’re not tiring of rhubarb! I’m still surrounded by it, going from event to event selling my cookbook, Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.

I’m having fun trying to convert the entire world to the love of rhubarb.

If you’re in New England, please join me at one (or more) of my upcoming events. This evening, Friday, June 8, at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be talking about the book at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls. Boswell’s Books will be on hand to sell copies of the book, and nibbles will OF COURSE be served.

On Saturday, June 9, from 10 to 3, I’ll have a table at the Lenox Rhubarb Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts. I’ll sign books, of course, and serve samples (until the samples run out; I gather the festival attracts quite a crowd).

On Saturday, June 16, from noon to 5, I’ll be signing books in Sherman, Connecticut, at the White Silo Farm and Winery Rhubarb Festival. I don’t have to bring food to this event because the chef at White Silo is making a number of tasty rhubarb dishes, including my own rhubarb pizza! If you’d like to learn more about my upcoming events (yes, there will be quite a few), visit my website.

The recipe below, which I made on Mass Appeal this week, won’t be coming with me to any events; it’s wet and warm and therefore not ideal to transport. Do try it, however, especially if you like sweet/sour combinations. I have served it as a main course, but it also makes an excellent appetizer.

If you have my book, please let me know what you’re cooking from it. And if you don’t have it, here’s a great place to find it!

I’m having trouble embedding videos these days, but you may watch my TV appearance by clicking on this link. The second dish we made, “Bee Mine Rhubarb Crumble,” substituted honey for the white sugar in my standard rhubarb crumble recipe as noted last year. (Note: I would cut down on the honey in this recipe; that stuff is sweet!)

The honey pays tribute to yet ANOTHER festival this week, the Langstroth Bee Festival in Greenfield. I wish it weren’t on the same day as the rhubarb festival! But I can always bee there next year.

Happy spring!

Rhubarb Glazed Meatballs

Ingredients:

for the stewed rhubarb:

2 pounds rhubarb (about 6 cups chopped)
2/3 to 1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

for the meatballs:

1 pound lean ground beef
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 12-ounce bottle chili sauce
2-1/2 to 2-3/4 cups stewed rhubarb (you will have some extra from the recipe above, which I encourage you to eat as it is!), pureed in a blender

Instructions:

First, stew your rhubarb. Wash and trim the rhubarb. Cut it into 1-inch pieces. In a heavy, nonreactive saucepan, combine all the ingredients and cover. Let the pan sit for an hour or so to allow the rhubarb to juice up; then cook it over low heat until the rhubarb softens (at least 5 to 7 minutes; maybe more depending on your stove).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients except the chili sauce and rhubarb.

Mix well; then shape the mixture into 1-inch balls. Place the balls on a large rimmed baking sheet (I like to line it with nonstick aluminum foil), and bake the meatballs for 25 to 30 minutes (or until done).

While the meatballs are baking, combine the chili sauce and rhubarb in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring them to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

When the meatballs are done add them to the sauce. Stir to coat, and simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring gently from time to time.

Makes 24 to 30 meatballs.

Before I leave you, here’s a link to another of my appearances, a humorous segment from our local public radio station. The interview was fun, and the video is priceless—not because I sing or play the piano particularly well (it wasn’t a great day for either skill!) but because you can hear my irrepressible dog, Cocoa, sing along with me. Here is the link!