Hors d'oeuvres & Amuse-Bouche

Butternut Squash Arancini by Anne

arancini.closeup

Unbelievable! I wrote this post on the evening of November 24.  I was looking for this recipe on my site and couldn't find it...sure enough, there it was in "drafts" rather than "published."  Was it that late at night when I wrote this?  Anyway, here is the post:

Arancini (risotto fritters),  translates from Italian as "little oranges," since these little fried risotto balls do resemble oranges.  Arancini originated in Sicily and are usually filled with meat or tomato sauce, peas, or mozzarella. 

The Romans have a similar version of these croquettes, called Suppli al Telefono (which I believe translates to "telephone wires" or "on the phone"), which adorably refers to the strings of melted cheese that connect the two halves of the fritter when it is cut or bitten in half.   As the name indicates, Roman Suppli al Telefono are usually filled with cheese. 

These arancini are a non-traditional recipe, made with butternut squash risotto and stuffed with Pecorino Toscano, which is a creamy cheese.  I think a mild mozzarella would be fine as well.

Butternut Squash Arancini

Ingredients:

  • One recipe of risotto (butternut squash or other kinds work as well), cooled
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T milk
  • 4 oz Pecorino Toscano (NOT Pecorino Romano. Choose a creamy cheese.  Mozzarella is fine)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups dry bread crumbs
  • 3 cups vegetable oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Cube the cheese into 3/4 inch chunks.  In a small bowl, beat two eggs in with the milk.
  2. Stir the third egg into the cooled risotto.  Roll 2 tablespoons' worth of the risotto mixture in your hands, then with a finger, push a piece of cheese into the center of the ball.  Re-roll the ball around the cheese cube. 
  3. Roll the ball into the flour, coating it lightly.  Drop the ball into the  egg mixture, then roll it in the bread crumbs.  Lay the ball on a cookie sheet or a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Make the rest of the balls, which will give a chance for the first balls to dry out slightly before frying. 
  4. Slowly heat the oil in a medium, deep saucepan to 350˚.  The best temperature to do this is medium-low.  In small batches, fry the balls until they are evenly browned, turning them if necessary.  This will take several minutes.  Test the first ball to make sure you are happy with the interior--the cheese should be well-melted. 
  5. When a fritter is finished, lay it on paper towels to absorb the extra oil. 
  6. These arancini freeze well.  After frying them, lay them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer.  After they are well-frozen, seal them in a freezer bag.  To re-heat, place fritters on a cookie sheet in a 350˚ oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Alternatively, you can freeze them before frying them as well.

Spiced Swedish Meatballs by Anne

swedish meatballs I love this meatball recipe because it's a delicious wintertime comfort food.

I love this meatball recipe because of how simple it is to make.

I love this meatball recipe because people have literally demanded to know how the meatballs can be so impossibly tender.

I love this meatball recipe because the majority of the cooking time is hands-off: no skillet browning!

Most of all, I love this meatball recipe because it was the first dish that Michael cooked for me--on Valentine's Day, no less.    It was an auspicious and delicious beginning.  I think it's a good dish to make for someone you love.  It definitely gets the message across.*

*And if your loved one is a vegetarian, I believe heartily that these meatballs would taste great with TVP (texturized vegetable protein) instead of the meat.  You might want to make them a bit spicier if you do this, perhaps use a bit of cayenne.  Also, for those who are allergic to dairy, this recipe also tastes great with soy milk and soy sour cream. 

Spiced Swedish Meatballs

These meatballs make delicious hearty appetizers or can be served as a luscious, saucy topping over egg noodles.

Ingredients for Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 T dried parsley
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce  

Ingredients for Sauce 

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1 T freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.   
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, chopped onion, bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper, incorporating the ingredients with your hands.
  3. In a small bowl beat the egg, milk, and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the large bowl and mix again for a consistent texture. 
  5. To make the meatballs, scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of the mixture and shape into a ball.   Place in the baking dish, covering the dish in a single layer.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Shake the pan one or two times during the course of baking to allow the meatballs to brown on different sides. 

When the meatballs are almost finished baking, make the sauce:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the oil, flour, paprika, allspice, salt, and pepper.  Continue to whisk until the mixture begins to sizzle. Gradually stir in the hot water while whisking. Reduce heat to low and then add the sour cream, still whisking until completely smooth.    Stir in hot water and sour cream until smooth and heated through.  
  2. When meatballs have cooked 30 minutes, pour the sauce over the top, and gently stir the sauce into the pan drippings, making sure to coat the meatballs completely. Return to the oven and bake for 20 more minutes. 
  3. Before serving, stir the sauce well until it is smooth.

Makes about 40 meatballs

Butternut Squash Risotto by Anne

Squash, Saffron Threads, & Arborio Rice

 

This recipe is a vegetarian modification of The Barefoot Contessa's Butternut Squash Risotto recipe.  If you wish to revel in your omnivorousness, use chicken stock and also add a bit of pancetta or bacon to sauté with the shallots.  I'm sharing this recipe as step 1 to making butternut squash arancini (risotto fritters), but the risotto is delicious as its own dish.  I'll add the fritter-y step tomorrow. 

This dish would taste lovely in a dinner that includes a light spinach salad, braised leeks, grilled shrimp, and/or many kinds of pork dishes.  Also, if you like sage, it would taste delicious in this risotto or in an accompanying dish as well. 

Butternut Squash Risotto

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups of peeled, seeded, and cubed (3/4 inch) butternut squash
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 6 to 8 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade (chicken stock is also good)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter  
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • ½ tsp marjoram, crushed with your fingers or a mortar and pestle.
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss squash on a cookie sheet with the olive oil and 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Do not let the squash dry out.  Set aside.
  3. Heat the stock on the back burner over low heat.  Keep warm during the risotto cooking process.
  4. Put 1 tsp. salt and the saffron threads into a mortar and pestle or a small bowl with a spoon.  Crush the saffron into the salt until the threads have been finely broken up.
  5.  Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Sauté the shallots just until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the rice, stirring to incorporate the grains with the butter and shallots. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of stock to the rice, plus the saffron and salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, which should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes.
  6. Continue to add the stock, 2 cups at a time, continuing to stir periodically. With each addition, cook until the mixture has lost its liquid, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. You may not use all of the stock. Stir in the margoram and remove pot from heat.  Stir in the squash cubes, and with the bottom of a flat glass or cup, mash some of the squash into the risotto a few times.  Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Gambas al Ajillo by Anne

gambas and romesco crostini Yesterday I talked about food that changes your mind.   I'm still thinking about that.  Here's a recipe that changed Michael's mind about shrimp.   Shrimp was definitely on his "no thanks" list until one evening a few years ago, in Spain.

We first tasted this dish, gambas al ajillo (shrimp with sizzling garlic), in a Madrid bar, where this was the only food they served.  We had just made friends with some fellow travelers, and they were excited to try this.  Michael, being polite, went along with this idea, although I know he wouldn't have opted to go here if it were just the two of us.   We shared a cazuelita (a small, shallow earthenware dish which you can use cook over a low flame) full of gambas, still sizzling in the dish with the garlic  and chiles, immersed in pungent olive oil.  It was much too small, and we were much too in love with this dish.  Our new friends were traveling on a tighter budget than we were, so for some strange polite reason we didn't go back and get more, but instead continued on with our tapas hopping.  I still regret this.  This serving of shrimp changed Michael's mind about shrimp forever, and it made me love it even more deeply.  We both look upon those 15 minutes in that bar with fondness and longing. 

Fortunately, I have a book called The New Spanish Table, and it has many recipes that aptly recreate some flavor celebrations we experienced in Spain.   Thank goodness for this book.  This preparation seemed so simple when we saw it in action, but it was helpful to have the book reassure me just how simple it truly is.  Granted, I did buy a cazuela (a large version of the cazuelita we had at that Madrid bar) solely to make this shrimp, but it's really not necessary.  A heavy pan or skillet will work fine as well.

Gambas al Ajillo

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp, adapted from The New Spanish Table

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound shrimp
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small chile, such as arbol, crumbled--or 1/2 tsp dried chile flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 T minced flatleaf parsley

Directions:

  1. Pat the shrimp dry, and salt generously. 
  2. In a cazuela or heavy sauté pan, slowly warm the oil until it is shimmery and aromatic.  Add the garlic and chile.  After it begins to sizzle gently, cook for about two minutes. 
  3. Add shrimp and cook just until pink, about three minutes.
  4. At the last moment, add the flatleaf parsley.
  5. Serve in the pan at the table with lots of bread for dipping into the oil.  If serving as a crostini, spread Romesco sauce* onto the bread and place shrimp onto the sauce, as shown in the picture above.

Serves 4 as a heavy tapa.

*Romesco sauce recipe to come.

Savory Cones by Anne

edible cones I don't know about you, but I'm always up for a little more fun.  Appetizers in cute little edible cones fit the bill.   The chicken curry salad in this pic is mesmerizingly delicious (and I will share the recipe with you soon), but the party is taken higher when you add the confetti of the sesame-flavored crunch of this cone. 

I've been fantasizing about making cones for a long time.  My experiments with making the cones, though have led to some heartache and muttering, but here is a winner.  It's pretty cheap to make, too!

Crunchy Sesame Cones

Ingredients and special equipment:

  • Package of square wonton wrappers
  • A small bowl of Asian sesame oil
  •  And, most importantly, some metal cone shapes called "cream horn cones."  I bought them at City Kitchens in Seattle, but I just found a place online that sells them: http://www.fantes.com/cannoli.html -- I used the one that's the set of 6 for $2.99. I bought three sets so that I could work in big batches.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. On a flat surface, lay out a few wonton wrappers (keep the others in a sealed bag while you work to keep them from drying out).  
  3. With your fingers, spread oil evenly on the surface of each wrapper.  Line up the side of a metal cone along the bottom edge of a wrapper.  Place the metal cone so that the silver tip is a few millimeters shy of the bottom corner, then roll up until you reach the side edge of the wonton wrapper.  Press along the seam with your fingers, then coat the outside of the cone with more sesame oil . 
  4. If you need to fill your cones with something on the wetter side (such as this chicken curry salad), you'll need to seal the bottom tip.  Otherwise, skip this step.  To close the hole, flip the cone so that it stands open-side down.  Fold the bottom tip over to get rid of the hole, then pinch, squeeze, and mold the tip  until there are no holes or edges that look like they will open during baking.
  5. With a knife, trim the  the top edge the way you would like it, or leave the wonton corner sticking up as is.  In this picture, I have trimmed the top edge to be straight.  
  6. If and when you've finished sealing the tip and trimming the top, press the cone,  seam side down, onto an ungreased cookie sheet. It's important to press the seam onto the cookie sheet, because it will keep the cone from unraveling.  Keep the metal cone inside the wonton wrapper for baking.
  7. When the sheet is filled with cones, place it in the oven for 7 minutes, then open the door and gently shake the pan so that the cones roll around slightly.  Cook for 3 to 5 minutes more, until the cones are a light golden brown. 
  8. Remove the sheet from the oven, and after the cones have cooled slightly, remove the metal horn cones and repeat the process.
  9. Fill each cone and serve in a shallow bowl full of uncooked rice, beans, or grains to support the cones vertically.
  10. Store cones in airtight baggies.  They keep for a couple of weeks (or even longer!)

edible cones II

Really? by Anne

watermelon.spring.rollsWhen I was a kid, everyone loved watermelon.  On summer’s best days, we rinsed our pink, sticky arms with a hose at home, in a creek at a picnic, or in the ocean when camping.  We held seed spitting contests.  We had long discussions about whether that whole “growing a watermelon in your stomach” thing was true if you swallowed the seeds.  On picnics a whole cooler loaded with ice was devoted to a gigantic specimen that seemed to come out at the hottest part of the day.  The enormous thing somehow always got eaten, no matter how huge.  For many years I assumed that there was no such thing as a person who didn’t like watermelon.  Something shifted, though.  Years passed, I moved, college happened.   The first time I met someone who didn’t care for watermelon, I was stunned and sympathetic.  This poor, odd person.  Surely he must have been the only person on the planet with this affliction.  In what seemed like a matter of weeks, I started to discover that so many people near and dear to me either don’t care for watermelon or even have an active aversion to it.  Wait—what happened here?  Was watermelon just a treat that all Texans like because of the hot weather?  Was it because when I was a kid, “everyone” meant other kids?  Or was it because everyone actually did love it in the 70’s but it fell by the wayside, the way quiche did in the 80’s, and pesto did in the 90’s? 

Well, if the latter is true (and it probably isn’t), watermelon did seem to make a comeback some years ago—in the form of the Unlikely Ingredient.  I was confused but intrigued the first time I heard of watermelon and feta together, or watermelon and a balsamic vinegar reduction.   My imagination was piqued by this introduction of watermelon into elegant, savory selections.  It made me want to experiment, too.  For this reason, watermelon has been on my mental backburner for awhile now.

Meanwhile, this summer I had been looking for fun things to make with cucumbers from my garden.  Thai spring rolls, wrapped in rice paper and filled with freshness, seemed a nice place to highlight a cucumber-clean flavor.  Thinking about summer rolls triggered my memory of a picture I saw of Chef Ferran Adria’s wacky concoction: spring rolls wrapped in spun sugar (as in, white cotton candy).  These rolls were fluffy, ethereal, angelic.   I remember uttering, “Really?” in a thrilled voice when I saw the picture.  It did seem improbable and kind of magic.  However, it dawned on me that many Thai dishes do have sweet flavors, so I could see how this would work in a pretty reasonable way.   I will not lie.  I’ve fantasized about renting a cotton candy machine to make these spring rolls at home.  There could be so many uses for a cotton candy machine! 

Anyway, I was in this thinking-outside-box frame of mind when the whole watermelon-cucumber connection came back to me.  I have always pondered the striking similarities between the two, and yet one is considered a fruit and the other, a vegetable (though they are both technically fruits).  Couldn’t they be interchangeable in some recipes where both sweetness and cucumber-like freshness are key?  You probably see where I was going before I did. 

So, I’ve been daydreaming about watermelon spring rolls for a couple of weeks now, and yesterday this dream became a reality.  Glory be, we have watermelon spring rolls—and they are fresh and perfectly delicious! Really!  Unless, of course, you don’t like watermelon.

 

Spicy Watermelon Summer Rolls

For Sauce:

  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • ½ tsp dried hot chili flakes, or to taste
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 2 T watermelon juice(pulp squeezed between two spoons into small bowl makes this juice)
  • 2 tsp tamari sauce (other varieties of soy sauce would also work)

For Rolls:

  • 2 oz rice vermicelli (cellophane noodles also works)
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 4 large green lettuce leaves, split in half, rib removed
  • About half a pound of watermelon, cut into long, slender strips, about 1/2” by 1/2” by 5”.  You need 16 strips total.
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and quartered lengthwise into 8 separate parts
  • ½ cup coarsely shredded carrot
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • ½ cup mint
  • ½ cup basil
  • 8  spring roll skins/wrappers

Directions:

  1. First, make the sauce:  Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and peppers.  Let them cook at a lively sizzle for 2 or 3 minutes.  Do not cook garlic enough to turn golden or brown.  Add coconut milk, watermelon juice, and tamari sauce.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until sauce reduces and thickens, about 5 minutes.  Set sauce aside to cool.
  2. Cook rice vermicelli according to the package directions.  Drain thoroughly and toss with the rice vinegar and set aside.
  3. Set up your work station.  You will need a flat surface with a clean towel, a wide shallow pan filled with warm water for dipping the wrappers, and all of your filling ingredients nearby, including the sauce.
  4. Immerse a spring roll wrapper in the shallow pan of water for 30-60 seconds, just until it is pliable and soft.  Remove wrapper and place it on the toweled surface (I have tried paper towels, and the towels stick to the wrapper when rolling.  Not recommended). 
  5. Arrange a half-lettuce leaf on the bottom half of the wrapper, tearing away parts of the leaf to leave a one-inch border between the leaf and the edge of the wrapper.  Maintain this empty border when adding the other ingredients, too.  This will help to keep the filling contained.
  6. On the lettuce, near the midline of the wrapper, arrange about a tablespoon of carrot in a line from long end of the lettuce to the other, so that each bite will contain some carrot.  Add a few noodles in the same manner.  Dab about 2 teaspoons of the sauce along the noodles and carrots, and then place a watermelon strip atop this.  Add a couple more noodles and a scallion strip.  Add one more piece of watermelon, then sprinkle one tablespoon each of all the herbs on top of it all. 
  7. Gently separating the wrapper from the towel as you go, fold the bottom edge of the wrapper over the filling, tucking the end under the inside edge of the filling to hold it in place.  Snugly fold in both ends, and roll up the rest of the way.  Place this roll on a large serving plate.  Repeat this process until you have used all of your wrappers, and hopefully, all of your filling ingredients.  As you place the rolls on your serving plate, you might not want to stack them, because the wrappers sometimes stick together.   Serve rolls cut at a diagonal with a sharp knife.

Makes 8 rolls.

Building the Perfect Bite by Anne

pintxos.capreseAlong with many people, I had been doing it my whole life without thinking about it, but my friend Audrey put a name to it.  She likes to construct the perfect bite when eating her dinner—the right amount of each flavor on one fork.   The perfect bite brings joy to my heart, but can sometimes prove elusive.  So sometimes it helps to make it foolproof. Insalata Caprese (Caprese Salad) creates an ideal and easy opportunity to build the perfect bite.  Few things reach perfection as closely as the mighty triumvirate of electric basil, sun-sweet tomato and milky mozzarella, all salted and rich with a drizzle of green olive oil.  This salad calls to us like a siren when tomatoes and basil are in their bright prime, at the height of summer. 

So it is with mixed joy when I’m at a social event and I see this, one of my favorite salads.  The traditional Insalata Caprese—a lovely ring of overlapping red-white-and-green arranged on a plate— is so gorgeous.  So perfect.  So stressful.

Never mind the pressure placed on the first person (usually the guest) to remove that first bite, disturbing the elegant ring. And where to insert the spoon to get the whole ball rolling? Under the delicate tomato, so ripe it might fall apart?  Under the precariously slippery mozzarella?  Under the paper-thin basil?  Oh, that risky basil.  As the passed platter empties, invariably someone upsets the trio balance by losing a basil leaf--either on the table, under their chair, or the place where socks go.   Thereafter a lone pair of sliced tomato and mozzarella sits moping on the plate until someone surreptitiously finishes them off in the kitchen while rinsing dishes.   

Anyway, if I successfully manage to trap my treasures onto the plate without dripping tomato juice on the tablecloth and flinging basil on my neighbor, then comes the clumsy task of stacking the slippery devils like pancakes in order to slice them into decorous bites.  I do not bother to slice if I can get away with it.  With each movement I lose more tomato juice.  I have the danger of a ragged and bruised basil leaf, politely sliced with the side of my fork as I chat with my friends.  Or an even bigger flavor bummer, I didn’t successfully slice the basil at all, so one bite gets all the basil and the other gets none. 

At this point you may wonder if I have a life.  Do I really think that much about a salad?  Turns out I do. Hey, God is in the details; that's what I keep telling myself. 

Now.  If you love caprese salad and have similar OCD issues with the silent pandemonium it causes, you probably already do what I am about to propose.  And if you do, I say, Yay.  Isn’t it great?  Here's the solution to all of your Caprese problems:

Just serve the things on bread.

Many times I arranged that lovely wreath on a plate for dinner, only to immediately disassemble it and stack the trio on a slice of bread anyway.  With this method I’m able to control those flavor ratios.  I love you, bread.

Nowadays if I am having friends over or even just feeding my family, I don’t wait for them to assemble their serving of Insalata Caprese on the bread themselves.  I just make what I’m going to call Pintxos Caprese.  Pintxos (pronounced “PEEN-chos”) are the Basque equivalent of the Spanish tapas.  It’s the name for delicious bites of goodness assembled on slices of bread.  Nothing like mixing up the languages for a little fun.  Seriously, though, I can’t accurately call them bruschetta or crostini, both of which involve grilling or toasting the bread.  I’m blanking on an Italian equivalent name to “pintxos,” so if you know it, please do share.  After all, a perfect bite deserves a perfect name.

Pintxos Caprese

Ingredients (the fresher, the better):

  • One crusty-crisp baguette
  • 3 or 4 utterly ripe—yet firm—small tomatoes, preferably organic from the garden or a local farmer.  Plum tomatoes are often used, but I love flavorful heirloom tomatoes for this
  • A handful of unblemished, generous-sized basil leaves
  • ½ to ¾ lb. high-quality mozzarella.  Traditionally mozzarella made from water buffalo’s milk is used (called mozzarella buffola), but that’s rarely available here in the states.  The best cow’s milk mozzarella you can find is lovely, too (called fior di latte in Italy, which appears to translate as “flower of the milk…how lovely!).   The cheese you have should be mild, very soft, and stored in brine.
  • Best quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • Kosher salt (and freshly ground pepper, if desired), to taste

Directions:

  1. Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Rinse and thoroughly dry the basil.  Slice the baguette into coins the size of the tomato slices. 
  2. Assemble the pintxos by placing a tomato slice atop each slice of bread, followed by a basil leaf.  Arrange a small mozzarella slice over each basil leaf.  Here’s some over-thinking:  If your mozzarella slices are large in size and you choose not to slice them in half, you can arrange the basil leaf on top to ensure some color, but then the basil loses the “paper weight” of the mozzarella. You can place the mozzarella on the bottom, but the bread soaks up any excess flavorful juice from the tomato, which ensures maximum flavor and keeps the whole thing from becoming too slippy and drippy.
  3. Arrange the pintxos on a serving plate, drizzle generously with olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve immediately.

Makes 15 - 20 pintxos, with some leftover bread to snack on

Crêpes Are for Everyone by Anne

crepe.opener.picCrêpes satisfy the part in my heart that is obsessed with paper.   So soft, thin, and light, you could almost send a crêpe as a wedding invitation, layered with vellum and scrolled up with a silk ribbon.  Their forgiving, slightly stretchy quality makes them easy to fill and roll up, too.  They even open back up for do-overs if you aren’t pleased with the shape you folded, unlike wrapping paper, once its creased.  Flipping crêpes also feels amazing.  Each time I lift a delicate round from the pan, I feel grateful and amazed that it neatly responds to my spatula, being stronger than it looks.   The only thing more wonderful than making them—and of course, eating them—is that they are incredibly versatile.  A crêpe can be a snack wrapped in a napkin, a flambéed finale for a dinner party, or a morning cure for too much weekend.   So it might seem odd, now that I think about it, how long it took me to start making them.  Here’s the deal. 

About 10 years ago on a Saturday morning at 7 a.m., the phone rang.  Was it an emergency?  Yes.  Sort of.  It was a crêpe emergency.  Actually, a crêpe party emergency.  The party-thrower, our usually unflappable friend Adam, had a couple of flaps in his voice.  “I need some help.   Can you come over?”   We were on our way. 

The crêpe party was to start in a few hours, and it was going to be a doozy that would later go down in friend history reminisced about for years to come.  Adam had undertaken this crêpe extravaganza singlehandedly, and he took weeks to prepare for it.  He would come home after work and start flipping crêpes, then packing, labeling, and freezing them in airtight containers, ready to be filled with innumerable sweets and savories.  But here it was, the day of the party, and many people would be coming, ready for a feast. It was down to the wire. 

We walked in without knocking, to find Adam at his usual spot, flipping crêpes.  Like I said, Adam is generally cool as a cucumber, but he looked relieved to see us.  He didn’t need help with the crêpes themselves; it was the rest of the house that needed attention. So for several hours we made his home party-ready while he continued to flip and flip, fill and fill. There must have been a dozen different types of fillings. I can’t even remember them all, but I remember once the party started, we had the pleasant problem of not knowing where to begin, because there were so many flavors spread out before us.  

It was a fabulous party, an extravagance fit for the turn of the century, which it was.  I can’t believe this was almost 10 years ago.  The memory of this morning burned so strongly in my mind that I avoided even trying to make crêpes.   What, did I think it would be difficult? Drudgery? I’m not even sure.  Apparently, though, it left a powerful subliminal impression that Making Crêpes Would Make You Lose Your Cool. If Adam was a little ruffled, where would that leave me, a more ruffle-y person?  Did I want to make myself that stressed out on purpose? 

Now I realize.  Now that I’ve bitten the bullet and tried my hand at crêpes, I see that the problem with crêpes is neither drudgery nor difficulty.  The problem is that crêpes could possibly drive you to real obsession.  They are so pleasant and satisfying to make.  Next thing you know, you're trying to come up with more reasons and ways to make them, possibly even resulting in making hundreds and hundreds of them for hordes of friends, like Adam did.  In the course of a week I brought crêpes to a barbeque, a brunch, and a baby shower.  Today I made some crêpe batter, “just because.” Just because what?  Why in the world did I do that?  Well, that’s the cool part.  As soon as they are made, they will be welcome in just about any situation, on any doorstep, and in any hand.  Might as well make ‘em.

 

Basic Crêpes

If this is your first or second time making crêpes, I recommend making a double batch so you’ll have enough to practice.  You can easily freeze the extras you make, or you can distribute them to friends and neighbors. They won’t mind. A first-time double recipe relieves the pressure to make perfect ones every time, and you can learn from any problems that arise.  I’ve made a troubleshooting guide below this recipe for your reference. 

Ingredients 

  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 T plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup melted butter

 Directions: Making the Batter

  1. In a medium-large bowl, beat eggs with salt and sugar with a whisk*. 
  2. Add milk and flour alternately, starting with some of the milk (the flour seems to make less lumps this way), and blending well after each addition.  You will need to whisk somewhat briskly to get rid of flour-lumps.  When the batter is well-blended, beat in the melted butter.   
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter chill and rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably several hours.  Even better would be overnight, but don’t store it for more than 24 hours. 
  4. Right before cooking crêpes, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir to reincorporate the ingredients into a smooth batter.  Batter should be thin--considerably thinner than pancake batter, for example.

*When making the batter you can also use an electric mixer, but use it judiciously.  If you beat at too high a speed for too long, your batter will have too many bubbles and might come out “lacy” when it cooks—which will cause a problem if you fill the crêpe later.  If, when beating, you wind up making quite a few bubbles in order to get rid of flour lumps, just make sure you give the batter more time to rest in the fridge.

Directions: Cooking Crêpes

These directions are for crêpe pans over a stove. If you have a crêpe maker, follow the instruction manual for your model.   

A note before you begin: Because the pouring/swirling process is so quick, I like to use a ¼ measuring cup with a handle for ease of pouring in the proper amount.  I don’t quite fill it, and I only pour/use the amount needed to evenly coat the bottom, but then there’s a tiny bit left in the cup if I need to finish off a small gap where the pan didn’t get covered in time while swirling.

  1. Prepare your station.  Next to the stovetop, place a plate or platter lined with a piece of wax paper —for the finished crêpes.   Position the batter bowl on the other side of the pan, and put a small plate next to the bowl for the pouring cup to rest on when not in use (this helps cut down on drips and cup-sized circles all over your counter and stove).  Crêpe making is a quick process, so it’s nice to have everything set up how you want it before you start.
  2.  Pre-heat pan over medium-high.  No butter is necessary if the pan is non-stick.  If you use butter, you won’t need to use very much.   Too much will make the crêpe greasy, and it also might interfere with the proper cooking of the crêpe (see Troubleshooting Guide below).
  3. Once pan is hot, lift up the back edge at an angle.  Pour about 3 T of batter all at once onto the back/highest end of the pan, letting the batter flow down and around one side.*  Immediately tilt pan in different directions to thinly coat the entire bottom of the pan in a smooth circle.  The batter should be so thin that the crêpe already starts cooking all the way through as you finish swirling.  Set pan back down on burner.  
  4. When the top seems nearly completely cooked—in only one or two minutes—and the bottom is golden brown (you can peek by lifting up an edge with the spatula), slide the spatula under the crêpe and move it around underneath the crêpe to make sure that it is not sticking.  Flip and cook for one or two seconds longer. 
  5. Slide crêpe out onto the plate.

*Most recipes say to pour batter in the middle of the pan in an outward spiral pattern, then start swirling.  I also found that the method described above works well for me.  It seems to give me a better idea of how little batter I can get away with.

making.crepe

Note: This is not a traditional crêpe pan.  It's possible, though not always as easy, to use a regular skillet, such as this one.

Storing Crêpes

Right after making your stack of crêpes, cover the plate with a larger bowl or a large pan lid to retain moisture until you are ready to wrap with or serve them.  They can also be stored in a large ziplock bag in the refrigerator for about 4 days.  They will last even longer in the freezer; just make sure you separate each crêpe with wax paper.

In the next post, I will share some ideas and techniques for filling and folding crêpes.

Crêpe Troubleshooting Guide 

Crêpe batter can be very forgiving if you know some basic tricks and principles about the batter.   I’ve seen some troubleshooting guides out on the Internet and in books, and I’ve also made crêpes “wrong” on purpose (I swear!) and can confirm that the following troubleshooting tips all seem to be true; the fixes worked for me.

problem.crepe

Problem

Possible Cause

Solution

Crêpe is lacy Too many bubbles in the batter Let batter rest longer
  Batter is too thin Add 1 or 2 T of flour
Edges of crêpe crack easily because they are dry and thin Batter is too thin Add 1 or 2 T of flour
  Heat is too high Bring heat down slightly and wait a moment before starting next crêpe
Crêpe does not swirl properly Not enough batter added to pan Finish this crêpe and add more batter next time
  Batter is too thick Add 1 or 2 T milk, testing to see if problem is solved
Batter sticks to pan Heat is too low Wash and dry pan thoroughly; re-season with a bit of butter and bring heat up a bit, making sure pan is fully heated before adding batter
Batter does not stick to pan when swirling, or begins to bubble or curdle Too much butter in the pan Finish this crêpe and wipe out pan with paper towel before starting next crêpe

The Glamorous Slice by Anne

orange.peel.cherry.IICandied orange peels are suitable for the sophisticated soul.  Having been rolled in sugar, they are obviously sweet, but they possess a mild kick as well, likely from the lingering oils that have mostly been blanched and soaked out.  These confections aren’t bitter, though.  Just pleasantly bracing, like a 1940's slap after a presumptuous kiss. These confections are as versatile as they are glamorous.  You can serve one alongside a cup of espresso, or in a cocktail, or even with fresh, juicy fruit.  They make a sparkling surprise perched on dainty baked goods, dipped in melted chocolate, or waiting in the freezer for a little after-dinner palate cleanser.  The possibilities thrill me as I sit here at my desk and eat them, one by one, biting through a thin sugar crust into sweet, almost nostalgic soft centers .

I’m not actually feeling very sophisticated tonight, though.  It’s hard to feel that way when you’re sitting in your sweats surrounded by mountains of boxes that you’ve been packing for a week. Our whole kitchen lies here in boxes, actually.  This is the eve of remodeling the kitchen, so I’m sharing my desk with a tower of plates, a  big box of kosher salt, and my overflowing basket of mail from the living room (we had to make space in the living room for a temporary “kitchen.”) I’m thrilled, though. We will be removing some claustrophobic walls and creating a more user-friendly layout.  Who knows what kind of trouble we can get into with a sink that faces out into the world (and that faucet has a sprayer, just screaming for a water fight.  Don’t tell Rosalie; she’ll figure it out eventually). 

At any rate, this last week I have had a last hurrah in the old kitchen.  There are several recipes I can’t wait to share with you—candied orange peel is one of them.  Sophistication was especially welcome around here when the preparation was easy and quick. Please note, however, that the drying time takes a couple of days.

Candied Orange Peel

  • 2 oranges
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 ½  cups sugar

Directions

  1. With a knife, cut the two ends off the oranges.  Score the skins into fourths and peel the skins off, pith and all. 
  2. Remove extra stringy parts from the pith, but do not remove the pith itself from the peel.
  3. Slice the peels into thin slices – ¼ inch or less.  You can slice them long and lean or short and curvy, depending on your needs and the direction you cut.
  4. Blanch orange peel strips in a medium to large pot of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes, then drain.  Rinse thoroughly, then drain again.  Fill the pot with cold water, and either repeat the blanching process or let the orange peel sit for a few hours in the water while you do other things in the kitchen, changing the water once or twice.   Your goal is to remove the bitterness from the peel. Taste one to test for a pleasing reduction in bitterness.
  5. When orange strips are properly blanched and soaked, bring three cups each of sugar and water to boil for a few minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the orange strips, return sugar-water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the peels for 45 minutes, or until nice and soft.  Drain to remove excess liquid.
  6. Pour remaining half-cup of sugar into a shallow bowl or a plate.  Roll orange peels in the sugar, and arrange in a single layer on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Allow peels to dry for one to two days.  Best to store peels in a well-ventilated place for quick drying.  Best also to store in a place where they won’t be in danger of enthusiastic tasting and testing—to the point of disappearing.  

Olive Oil is the New Garlic by Anne

cucumber.soup.nasturtiumIb“I smell salt.” Michael stopped and looked around.  We had been taking an evening stroll in our neighborhood, and at the moment we were standing in the fading light next to a house with a lush garden. I looked around, too.  “I don’t think salt has a scent,” I said.  Or does it? “Are you smelling the ocean? Maybe the wind’s blowing over from Puget Sound.”

“No…” he replied, turning his head to try to locate the source of the smell.  “This is just salt.” 

I sniffed.  “All I can smell is this rosemary bush—Wait!  You’re smelling rosemary!” Mike’s favorite bread from Essential Baking Company is Rosemary Diamante, a loaf made with fresh rosemary and topped with a chunky, sparkling crust of…you know what I’m gonna say.  So Mike smells rosemary and thinks, “Salt!”

Now I smell rosemary and think, “Mike is adorable!”

Anyway, my adorable husband and I went out to eat last weekend at How to Cook a Wolf, and found ourselves facing another sensory mystery.  It was a warm night, the windows were open, and the sun still slanted on our shoulders, so I was looking for something refreshing to eat.  The chilled cucumber soup sounded dreamy to me, but this restaurant serves “plates” intended for sharing.   And Mike, he’s not a cucumbersman.  However, he was game to try it.

The pretty soup came as our first course, dolloped with yogurt and drizzled with bright oil made greener with tarragon.  Mike took the first taste.  His face instantly turned into a grimace—but it was a grimace of too much pleasure, one usually reserved for chocolate and cheese.  The pleasure-grimace over cucumber soup?  What universe had I been zapped into?

“Wow,” he said, reverently.  “This is rich!”  I heard his words but could not understand how he could be saying them.  But then I tasted this soup.  Creamy smoothness and sweet cool hit my mouth like a swimming pool splash on a hot afternoon.  The cucumbers and rich yogurt were subtly offset by tarragon, tasting of freshly built summer treehouses.    But there was something else…what was it?

“Garlic,” Michael asserted.  This is not what I was tasting at all. 

“Is this like your ‘salt’?” I teased him.  What else could this mystery ingredient be?

He insisted that since it had a round, umami flavor and reminded him of salmorejo (one of his favorite dishes that I learned to make in Spain), and salmorejo is indeed garlicky, then the secret to the round flavor must be garlic.  At this point, curiosity overcame our reluctance to bug our waiter, so when he came over to fill our water glasses we asked him what was in the soup.

“Cucumbers, yogurt, and tarragon,” he listed.  Well, duh. These are the three ingredients listed on the menu.  That’s all?  “That's all,” he assured us, graciously but definitively.  He must get this question all the time.  But what about the oil that the tarragon leaves were suspended in? “Well, that’s olive oil,” he said offhandedly, as if to say, Doesn’t everything contain olive oil?  

Then he also confided proudly that the yogurt was made with goat milk.  This surprised me, since I couldn’t taste one iota of goaty-ness.  The yogurt must come from local goat farmers.  Even with its immense subtlety, though, the goat couldn’t be the secret weapon of the soup.   There was something else happening.  Now I had to figure it out.

On our way home we stopped by the store, and I bought cucumbers and goat milk yogurt.  Experiments commenced, and here’s what I found.  Mike and I agree, it really is that simple.  Five ingredients compose this rich yet refreshing soup: Cucumbers, yogurt, salt, oil, and tarragon (and a touch of water for the right constency. Does this count?). 

So where was the garlic?  It was the olive oil.  That garlicky salmorejo Mike loves also contains a generous amount of olive oil, so the association has stuck for Mike’s palate.   This is why olive oil is the new garlic.  But I totally get it.  Mike correctly pointed out that I have my own flavor associations. Tarragon tasting like treehouses?   Hah.

Notes About Making This Soup

Just to see, I tried adding a hint of garlic powder, because I felt that fresh garlic would be too overwhelming for this relatively subtle flavor.  If you let the soup chill for awhile and let the garlic flavor calm down, it does taste good with a touch of garlic powder—but it’s probably not what we were tasting the other night.  I also tried scallions of varying amounts. It was definitely not scallions, or any onion, in that soup last Friday.   

The pungent grocery store goat yogurt is not going to work if you make this soup. I might try goat yogurt from the farmers’ market, but meanwhile, I recommend that you go for the rich and flavorful Greek yogurt.  I’m guessing any full fat yogurt would also taste good, if you can’t get your hands on Greek.

If tarragon is not your flavor of choice, you can substitute it with another fresh herb. I also tried it with dill and it was lovely.  As with the tarragon, though, keep the herb-to-oil ratio low.  The soup is mostly about the cucumber.  You could even just drizzle the oil without herbs at all and it should still have that great summertime-treat flavor.   

Finally, like all cold soups that I know of, there’s quite a bit of salt.  The cooler temperature diminishes the flavor of salt, so you need more salt in a cold soup than you do in a warm soup. And by the way, this soup would be nothing without salt.  And when I say salt, I’m talking about the kind you cannot smell. 

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Tarragon Oil

Adapted from How to Cook a Wolf’s menu

  • 4 cups chilled cucumber that has been peeled, seeded, and chopped very coarsely
  • ½ cup plus 2 small dollops yogurt
  • 1 tsp plus one pinch kosher salt
  • 4 T best quality extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 tsp minced tarragon

Directions

  1. Puree the cucumber in a blender until smooth.  Add ½ cup yogurt, 1 tsp salt, and 2 T of the olive oil. Blend thoroughly.   
  2. Pour tarragon and pinch of salt into a tiny bowl, and gently bruise the tarragon by pressing it with the back of a spoon against the granules of salt to release the flavor.  Stir together with 2 T olive oil.
  3. Pour soup into small bowls or glasses, and top with a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of the tarragon oil.

Makes 3 cups – 4 small servings or 2 larger ones.

Note to Self: Remember This by Anne

crostini.confitWhen you’re invited to a potluck, do you suddenly forget every recipe you’ve ever cooked in your life?  When the RSVP asks you to list what you will bring, do you feel anxious and confused?  Then, on the day of the party, do you go to the store and grab the first thing you find?  I’m saying this like I’m building up to a solution, which I totally don’t have.  I'll give you a  recipe today, but that doesn't guarantee much.  Potluck Amnesia is serious, and it’s hard to escape it once it hits.  Last week it hit again when I was wracking my brain for something—anything—to make for an upcoming get-together (what do you mean, “Look in a cookbook?!”).   I ventured out to the store, the obvious solution.  After hefting little Rosalie into the shopping cart at Ballard Market, I quickly fell into that deadly trance.  You know, the grocery trance.  I pushed the cart around the store in a meandering vortex pattern, finding myself back at the produce, back at the cheese, back at the bread.  What was I doing?  Rosalie’s legs dangled wildly; she was getting bored of the scenery and her clock was ticking. 

As I passed by the bulk foods and saw the dried fruits, my memory finally zapped!   I could make my friend Kristen’s wildly popular appetizer: dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in crispy prosciutto.  Aha!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kristen.   It was only after the gathering of the ingredients and the start of the whining that I remembered that the potluck hosts don’t eat pork--which would be two-thirds of my appetizer ingredients.   I opened a package of unpurchased crackers and administered them while I thought fast.

What could I stuff into these dates and wrap around them that could remotely compare to the rich and harmonious flavors of Kristen’s delicious appetizer?   I decided on Parrano cheese, with its caramel notes that tasted so lovely with figs last summer.  Cool, I thought.  But what to wrap with?  I booked back over to the produce, but fell back into a wander.  What kind of vegetable wraps around stuff?  Roasted eggplant?  But won’t it be gushy?  At that moment in my reverie, Rosalie got tired of my silly crackers and shopping cart tricks, and she started to yell.  Eggplant it was.  I grabbed one and took my daughter back out into the sunshine.

Both appetizers were met with great enthusiasm at the event, but the spur-of-the moment solution didn’t quite do it for me.  I wanted crunch (yes, the eggplant was mushy), and I wanted more flavor from the cheese.  Since I still had some dates left over, the experiments began this weekend. 

After much tinkering, reshaping and four kinds of cheese, the final result was a treat I would love to eat at a potluck:  Crispy crostini act as bite-sized bases  to delicate shavings of sharp Pecorino Romano cheese  and a rich caramelized jam of eggplant, dates, and onion. Oregano, thyme and marsala wine complete the harmonic chord created by these intense flavors and textures.  It’s also something I would love to bring to a potluck because it doesn’t need to be served hot and is not too liquidy to spill.  Because you can make the components in advance, it would also make a splendid addition to your own dinner party or holiday open house.  

Yes, I said holiday open house.  The thing is, I can see this recipe at a party in the fall or even winter.  If I had had my wits about me in the first place, I would have loaded my potluck dish with a juicy bounty of seasonal fruits.  If you’ve ever experienced Potluck Amnesia, though, you understand how that didn’t happen.  Anyway, here’s a delicious recipe to either serve alongside fresh summer fruits, chilled soups, and crisp salads, or you might tuck it away in your mind for a future potluck this October.  Maybe one of us will remember it.

Crostini with Eggplant-Date Confit

This dish does not need to be served immediately; in fact, the flavors are augmented when served closer to room temperature.  You can wait for the caramelized mixture to cool to assemble crostini.

  • 4 -5 cups diced eggplant
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ¼ cup and 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on baguettes
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme, divided
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano, divided
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped dates
  • ½ cup Marsala wine
  • Handful of thyme sprigs or thyme blossoms
  • 1 baguette
  • Pecorino Romano, about ¼ lb

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚. 
  2. Warm 2 T of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, and sauté for 10 minutes.  Then bring heat to low and continue to cook onions for another half an hour, stirring every few minutes.
  3. While the onions are heating on low, blend ¼ cup of the oil with ½ tsp. each of oregano, thyme, and salt.  With clean hands, mix oil together with the eggplant until evenly coated.  Spread on a cookie sheet and roast for a total of 10-15 minutes, taking cookie sheet out to scrape and stir eggplant every 2 or 3 minutes, until browned but not completely dried or charred.  
  4. Transfer eggplant to a bowl with the dates and stir.  Set aside until onions have finished their half-hour of low-heat cooking.  Then add eggplants and dates to the onions, along with the Masala wine and remaining thyme and oregano.  Turn heat up to medium-high and bring to a lively bubble.  Cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently, to marry flavors and reduce the liquid.  The final consistency should be thick, with no visible liquid.
  5. While caramelized mixture is cooking, change oven mode to broil. 
  6. Make crostini: Slice baguette into ½ inch medallions, and brush the top of each with olive oil.  Spread on a cookie sheet and brown the tops for 2 or 3 minutes, checking frequently to avoid burning. 
  7. With a vegetable peeler, shave 60 to 80 long slices of the pecorino romano.
  8. To assemble:  Arrange 3 or 4 shaved slices of the cheese on each of the cooled crostini.   Spoon on a generous teaspoon’s worth of the caramelized mixture, then press a small thyme sprig (with blossoms or not) into the top. 

Makes about 20 – 25 crostini; you probably will have some of the baguette left over.