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Archive for the ‘A is for Appetizers!’ Category

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Avocado marketers report that Americans are projected to eat a record 54.3 million pounds of avocados at Super Bowl parties, in spite of California’s big freeze. My favorite is the oval-shaped Hass, which accounts for 95 percent of the California crop. It has a a rich nutty flavor and a thick, bumpy, emerald green skin that turns nearly black when ripe. A green unripe Hass feels hard; soft-ripe avocados yield slightly when gently pressed. To ripen avocados, store in a paper bag with an apple for a few days. The apple releases ethylene gas, speeding the ripening of the avocados.

The National Avocado Board reports that avocados provide satiety because of their water and fiber content. Avocados are sodium and cholesterol-free – a delicious and nutritious alternative to saturated fat-laden spreads, toppings and dips. Ripe avocados can be spread on toast instead of butter or margarine, and spread on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. Avocados offer monounsaturated fat, which supports heart health. Here is a recipe for fresh guacamole. You can adjust the ingredients to suit your own taste.

Mexican Guacamole

2 peeled soft-ripe avocados, cut-up
1 finely minced garlic clove
1 small chopped tomato
1 shallot or 2 green onions, minced
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Finely minced jalapeno chilies, Serrano chilies OR hot sauce, to taste

Toppings:

Cilantro leaves
Sour cream
Sliced black olives
Sliced green onion

In a large mortar (with pestle) or in a large bowl with a fork, mash avocados. Avocados should remain chunky. Lightly mix in garlic, tomato, shallot, lime juice, cilantro and salt, or to taste. Add chilies, if used. Turn into a bowl and top with garnishes, as desired. Best if served immediately. If to be refrigerated for a short time, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent oxidation. Some cooks drop an avocado pit in the middle of the guacamole to help retain its color and freshness. Serve with chips or fresh cut vegetables. Makes about 3 cups.

Guacamole, Your Way

Get creative and give your guacamole a unique flavor. Use the recipe above and mix in one or two of the following ingredients. Amounts are approximate and can be adjusted to personal taste.

* 1 or 2 finely chopped or pureed tomatillos
* 1/3 cup chopped peeled mango
* 1/3 cup chopped peeled pear
* 1/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
* 1/3 cup chopped fresh pineapple
* 2 tablespoons rinsed capers
* Pureed chipolte in adobo (smoked jalapenos), to
taste
* 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* Ready-made Pico de Gallo or chunky salsa
* About 4 ounces chopped smoked salmon or trout
* 4 to 6 ounces chopped cooked shrimp or crabmeat
* 1/2 cup black beans
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, dill or tarragon
* 1/2 cup cooked baby corn kernels
* 1 teaspoon wasabi & 2 Tbsp. salmon roe caviar
* 1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
* 1/4 cup crumbled Feta cheese
* 1/2 cup fresh white goat cheese, crumbled
* 1/4 cup sliced black olives
* 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomato
* 1/3 cup diced hothouse cucumber

Tennessee Tailgate Guacamole
From the California Avocado Commission

2 ripe fresh California avocados, seeded, peeled and coarsely mashed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
10 drops red pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon coarse garlic salt
1 ounce crumbled blue cheese
3 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

In medium bowl combine avocados, lime juice, red pepper sauce and garlic salt. Stir in blue cheese, bell pepper and parsley. Serve with tortilla chips or cut vegetables.

Nutrients per 2 tablespoons: calories 42; protein 1g; carbohydrates 2g; fat 4g (saturated fat1g; monounsaturated fat 2g; polyunsaturated 0.4g) cholesterol 1mg; dietary fiber 1g; sodium 130mg.

Avocado Angel Eggs
From the California Avocado Commission

Here is a Super Bowl-worthy munchy from the California Avocado Commission. You can also stuff the hard-cooked egg whites with your favorite homemade guacamole.

1 dozen large hard cooked eggs, peeled
2 ripe California avocados
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 tablespoon coarse ground garlic powder
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or green onions
2 teaspoons capers mashed, optional
Garnish, slivers of red, yellow or green bell pepper

Slice each egg in half lengthwise removing egg yolks.
Use egg yolks in another recipe. Cut avocado in half and remove seed. Peel avocado and cube. In bowl combine avocado, lemon juice and garlic mashing to blend. Stir in shallots or green onions and capers, if desired. Fill each egg white with avocado mixture. Garnish with bell pepper. Serve.

Nutrients per serving: calories 35; protein 2g;
carbohydrates 1g; fat 3; dietary fiber 1g;
cholesterol 0mg; sodium 55 mg.

Photos (“copyright” ) Courtesy of California Avocado Commission

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My friend Yuri Kita is an exceptional cook who lives in North Carolina but has many ties to Columbia, SC. Here are a few more of her recipes for entertaining. Her husband, Roy Kita is a skilled photographer who takes snapshots of his wife’s artistic food. The photos in this post will give you an excellent idea of how talented this couple really is.

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Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love.” M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf (1942)

Costly cheeses that seem like an indulgence in June are just right for holiday entertaining. Here are a few cheeses worth buying for an appetizer or dessert cheese tray. I have included some serving ideas that will help create the ‘wow factor.’ Upscale grocery stores and specialty food shops like The Gourmet Shop in Columbia offer many fine cheeses, condiments and more!

Blue-veined cheeses like Stilton, Gorgonzola or Roquefort are a holiday must-have for many families. Miniature wheels of Stilton or similar cheese make an impression at a dinner party when served whole or scooped from the container with a spoon.

Cheddar is the name of an English village in Somerset where cheddar cheese was originally made. Places like The Gourmet Shop, Earth Fair and the Fresh Market carry several fine, aged Cheddars. For gifts, look for small cheeses that are nicely wrapped. One-pound cloth-wrapped cheddars (or Stilton in crocks) are a top choice. Grafton Village and Cabot Creamery carry small, quality waxed cheeses that are perfect for stuffing stockings and gift baskets.

Look for small, pretty cheeses like chèvre wrapped in leaves or edible flowers. Companies who produce goat cheese often make decorated chèvres with holiday flavors that include dried minced cranberries, orange zest, dried minced apricots and chopped pistachios. If unavailable in your area, soften your favorite young goat cheese and stir in any of these ingredients. Chill and shape or simply pack into a pretty crock. Lush triple crèmes like Explorateur and Brillat-Savarin are a perfect match for Champagne and sparkling wine.

Brie is the ultimate party cheese. It is a holiday favorite, especially when embellished with seasonal ingredients like dried cranberries, toasted pecans, macerated fruit pieces, fruit conserves and chutneys. Cut a whole round in half horizontally, arrange a filling on the cut surface “perhaps with a layer of cream cheese to hold the ingredients in place “then put the top cheese layer back into place. Decorate the top with herbs, snipped fruits, nuts or edible flowers. Look for the Brie de Meaux-style cheeses ( Fromage de Meaux) in the U.S. that emulate the raw-milk style Brie that is famous in France. Many domestic artisanal American Bries are on par with their French counterparts, thanks to improvements in delicate pasteurization.

Mascarpone-based tortas are elegant creations “layered with luscious ingredients like pesto, nuts or brandied fruits. The best (and original) comes from Milan, Italy. Tortas make a great centerpiece for the cheese tray/holiday table. Just add some homemade (or store-bought) crispy croutons (toasts). Serve cold and cut with a cheese wire.

When building a cheese platter, include the small bites and accompaniments that make cheese taste so interesting. With a wedge of blue cheese, include a pot of wild flower honey or truffled honey and some walnuts. Try gorgonzola with shaved bittersweet chocolate and a pot of orange conserves. Aged Balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico) is excellent for drizzling on aged Parmigiano Reggiano.

Pears and hazelnuts are wonderful with mascarpone. Tapas are hot: pair a Spanish Manchego cheese with Marcona almonds, Arbequina olives or thin slices of quince paste. The Basques serve black cherry preserves spiked with eau de vie to complement their strong local sheep’s milk cheeses made at high altitudes.

Mostarda is an excellent accompaniment for Italian cheeses. ( A sweet-sour condiment of Italian preserved fruits with mustard oil from the Lombardy region of Italy) Dried fruits including plump California golden raisins sun-dried on the stem are good accompaniments.

Try pairing up cheese with fruit chutneys or the popular dried fruit cakes, pear and quince fruit pastes or candied orange rinds. Melon, crisp pears, apples, grapes and fresh figs are good accompaniments for cheese as well as cured olives and candied nuts.

If you choose dried fruits, try cherries, currants, dates, figs, raisins, apricots and cranberries. Nut choices could include toasted walnuts, Marcona almonds, pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts.

Accompany the cheese with homemade croutons (toasts) or any of the excellent premium crackers and crispy accompaniments on the market. Sliced baquette, brioche and whole grain flatbreads work well.

Stores like The Gourmet Shop do little business with prepackaged cheese. Here you can enjoy the experience of tasting the cheese and the opportunity to learn more about it. You can also find many items like the French paper leaves for cheese trays, cheese knives, wire cheese cutters, tags for identifying cheese, flavored honeys, crackers, quince pastes, fruit and nut wedges and much more! The shop carries the tiny delicious Catalonian Arbequiña olives and Marcona almonds (“the Queen’s almonds”), flat, sweeter and more flavorful than most almonds. Roll thin slices of the Spanish serano ham to serve with 2 or 3 of the Spanish cheeses in the case. Many of the nonperishable items would make fabulous stocking stuffers for the adventurous cook.

Spanish cheese worth asking for:

Nutty-tasting Manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese and the most familiar Spanish cheese. Available aged. In Spain, the cheese is served in 1/8-inch thick triangles. Trim off rind and arrange pieces in a fan-design on plates. Serve at dessert with fruit or honey. Good for grating.

Mahon (from Minorca) is a blend of creams from three distinct strains of cows. Orange-rind, white chalky texture, the pillow-shaped cheese has a mild flavor when young. When aged, reminiscent of Dutch Gouda or Edam -fine as a Parmigiano.

Cabrales (Asturias) the king of blue cheeses. Blended cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk. Mold forms naturally in caves.

Picon (cabrales or picos de Europa) is similar— complex and tangy. Often sold as Cabrales in the US. A blend of cow, goat and sheep’s milk.

Tips for Building a Cheese Tray~

Choose a flat wicker tray, marble or wood cutting board or marble or granite tile. You can line the tray or cutting board with fresh grape leaves, ferns, fig leaves, citrus leaves, a few crisp leaf lettuce or elegant French paper leaves (Gourmet Shop).

Choose one great cheese or as many as 5. Five cheeses is a good number if there are few or no other appetizers.

Cut-to-order cheese is preferable and tastes better than packaged cheese. Choose different flavors, shapes and textures. Try a combination of creamy goat cheese, a semi-soft cheese and a firm, aged cheese.

Whole cheeses and large wedges are especially nice. Buy cheeses with natural rather than plastic rinds. Offer a separate small knife for cutting each cheese. For an appetizer cheese board, include a small card that identifies each cheese and country of origin. Suggest tasting the mildest cheese first, continuing to the boldest flavors.

Slice cheese when cold, but serve at room temperature. Hard cheese takes longer to come to room temperature (about 1 hour) than a softer cheese. Keep cheese lightly wrapped during this time. Add new wrap before returning leftover cheese to the refrigerator.

For individual appetizer or dessert plates, arrange 1 ounce pieces of 3 great cheeses; include 1 or 2 accompaniments to arrange between the pieces of cheese. Artisan cheeses satisfy more quickly. (Double the cheese on a dinner plate if this will be the entire meal.) Taste the mildest cheese first. Serve with wine, sparkling wine, beer, hard apple or pear cider.

Wrap leftover cheese in wax paper or parchment paper, then overwrap with plastic wrap. Do not freeze

Read Allison Askins’ article on kitchen stocking stuffers in the State Newspaper today.

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12993-B386477D-ACB8-40AA-99DC-B4B73E663D7C.jpg Appetizers were not served in Colonial America as they are today. Chef Walter Staib, author of the ‘City Tavern Cookbook- 200 years of Classic Recipes From America’s First Gourmet Restaurant,’ explains that meals were organized as “first plates” and “second plates.” First plates included appetizers, salads and soups. The ‘first plate’ foods were carried to the table in bowls and platters simultaneously and served family-style. The mouthwatering recipe for Cornmeal Fried Oysters with Pickapeppa Remoulade would make a tasty appetizer during the holiday season. Stay warm with a mug of the brandy-laced Hot Cider. Don’t forget Santa! He might like some with a slice of the moist, delicious Chocolate-Almond Swirl Bread.

Cornmeal Fried Oysters with Pickapeppa Remoulade ~

Fried Oysters (serves 4 to 6)

1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 4 eggs – lightly beaten, 24 extra-large Bluepoint oysters – shucked, 4 cups (1-quart) vegetable oil for frying

Pickapeppa Remoulade (2 cups sauce)

Pickapeppa is made from a variety of tropical fruits and spices from all over the world. It is a commercially prepared West Indies condiment, aged in oak barrels one year.

1/4 cup chopped kosher dill pickles, 1/4 cup chopped yellow onions, 1-3/4 cups homemade mayonnaise (or quality store-bought mayonnaise), 1 tablespoon Pickapeppa Sauce, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, 2 lemons – each cut into 4 or 6 wedges, for garnish

1. Prepare Fried Oysters. Place the cornmeal, flour and eggs in separate dishes. Dip each oyster, first into the flour, then the egg, then the cornmeal to evenly coat.

2. Place the coated oysters on a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to fry.

3. Pour the oil into a deep-fat fryer or 4-quart heavy saucepan. Heat the oil over high heat to 350 degrees F (if you drop a small amount of the cornmeal mixture into the oil and it sizzles, it’s hot enough.) To prevent the coated oysters from sticking together, carefully drop them into the heated oil one at a time.

4. Fry the oysters, a few at a time, for 2 minutes, until golden. Using a slotted spoon, remove the oysters from the oil and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

5. Prepare the Pickapeppa Remoulade: In a food processor bowl, puree the pickles and onions.

6. Transfer the puree to a medium mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well.

7. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Will keep for up to 3 days.

8. To serve, arrange oysters on individual plates and serve with the sauce. 9. Garnish with lemon wedges.

During my visit to the Tavern, I tasted many special brews as prepared by our Founding Fathers. One was the Tavern’s 1774 Beer based on a recipe penned by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Another was the City Tavern’s George Washington Ale based on the President’s own personal recipe for beer. Madeira was a top favorite at City Tavern along with Jamaican rum, French brandy and English whiskey. Fresh apple cider was often married to West Indian spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Hot Cider was a popular beverage in the wintertime, also valued for its ability to warm one’s hands while holding the cup.

Hot Cider ( Makes 18 ounces or 2 servings)

2 cups fresh apple cider, 2 sticks cinnamon, 1/4 cup applejack brandy or Jamaican rum

1. In a medium saucepan, bring cider to a simmer over high heat.

2. Add the cinnamon sticks and simmer about 5 minutes to infuse the flavor on cinnamon into the liquid. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in brandy or rum.

4. Serve hot in cups or mugs.

Chocolate-Almond Swirl Bread~

Thomas Jefferson developed a passion for chocolate. He cultivated a taste for it in Europe where it had become fashionable as early as 1657. As stated in Chocolate: An Illustrated History, Jefferson predicted in the late 1750’s that “the superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.” Jefferson was wise beyond his time!

3 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces (1/2 cup), 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter – at room temperature, 1 cup homemade almond paste OR 10-1/2 ounces purchased almond paste,* 6 large eggs, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, sifted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat one 8-1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2-1/2 inch loaf pan with vegetable cooking spray.

2. In a small dry bowl set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate. Reserve.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and almond paste on medium, until light and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

5. Add the flour and stir just until moistened.

6. Fold about 1/3 of the batter into the melted chocolate.

7. Pour the plain batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the chocolate batter over the top. Gently swirl the batter to marble.

8. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the loaf is firm on top and pulls away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

9. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. To remove bread, flip pan on its side and gently pull out bread. Slice and serve. Makes one 8-inch loaf *

The recipe calls for homemade almond paste but also recommends using purchased almond paste. To read about the City Tavern and Chef Walter Staib, read the post, Philadelphia Feast: Dining at America’s First Gourmet Restaurant.

Photos (C.) Susan Fuller Slack ]]>

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All Aboard! Football season is here again and that means tailgating – the ultimate game day experience! Nobody gives a better party than the South Carolina Gamecock fans! Win or loose, the faithful are always there, eating, drinking, socializing and having a grand time. (more…)

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