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Entries in Hors d'œuvres (5)

Friday
Dec162011

Cheese Straws

As seems to happen every year, Christmas snuck up on me. I had big plans for making fancy Christmas cookies, making a Bûche de Noël and watching all of my favorite Christmas movies. Instead, I haven't made a single cookie, there will be no Bûche de Noël on our Christmas table and Love Actually is the only holiday movie I have watched.

That said, this holiday season has been festive and full of friends, small gatherings, visits from friends and family, hunting for a Yule Log and a Christmas tree, and many holiday activities. To kick off the holiday season, we hosted a trivia night a few weeks ago. Rob perfectly executed the trivia portion of the night (each guest submitted a category and Rob prepared questions in each category - note that two of our categories were West Virginia Potpourri and Former Soviet Bloc Countries) and I was in charge of food. I didn't want to be doing last-minute cooking so I went entirely with dishes that could be prepared ahead of time, including a party favorite of mine from Smitten Kitchen - Cheese Straws.

These cheese straws are ideal for parties - they don't require a napkin, plate or silverware, they can be prepared in advance, and there is a good chance you have everything you need to make these in your refrigerator or pantry. So, if you are heading to a Christmas Eve party tomorrow, these could be perfect snack to whip up to share!

Cheese Straws
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon heavy cream (I think milk will work, too)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper in five 5-second pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the heavy cream and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.

3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a pizza wheel (if you have it, otherwise use a sharp knife), cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide (dipping the knife in flour after every few inches ensures a clean cut). Gently transfer the strips to a parchment-lined cookie sheet , leaving at least 1/4-inch between them. The straws can be any length, but I prefer them longer (8-10").

4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

5. Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for two days. I like serving mine standing up in a glass - and add some festive wax or tissue paper for a nice touch.

Monday
Aug222011

Eggplant Fries

I love eggplant, but I struggle with creative ways to cook it.  It often isn't soft enough or doesn't have enough flavor and yet I have had eggplant dishes at restaurants and friend's houses that I love.  When I saw the recipe for eggplant fries featured in Bon Appétit I was intrigued... unfortunately, I've never fried anything before and truthfully it terrifies me.  A vat full of incredibly hot oil?  Yikes.  Plus, what are you supposed to do with the oil afterward?  This continues to be a mystery to me.  We never fried anything in my house growing up, so I suppose part of my fear stems from lack of experience, which I decided it was time to overcome.  
Well, I am glad I chose this recipe to overcome my fear of frying because it was absolutely worth it.  These fries are crispy and salty and the eggplant inside is soft and the frying accentuates the flavor of the eggplant.  The creamy, za'atar-seasoned dipping sauce is the perfect complement to the fries and you even feel a bit healthier eating these fries since they are made from eggplant rather than potatoes.  I was glad that I used a splatter screen because frying can be a bit messy, but I'll be making these again (and soon... and maybe with other vegetables)... and if anyone can tell me what to do with the oil afterward, I'd love to know!

Eggplant Fries
Bon Appétit, August 2011

Dipping Sauce

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped kosher pickle or pickle relish

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fries

1 1-pound eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/2 rounds, then into 1/2-thick strips

Vegetable oil (for frying)

1 cup rice flour

2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons za'atar

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt plus more for seasoning 

Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that includes sumac, herbs, and sesame seeds.  It's available at specialty foods stores, Middle Eastern markets, and igourmet.com.

Preparation

1. Whisk yogurt, chopped pickle, lemon zest, and oregano in a small bowl to blend.  Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Place eggplant in a large bowl.  Add 2 cups ice and enough water to cover.  Place a plate on top of eggplant to weigh it down.  Cover and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

3. Pour oil into a large deep pot to a depth of 2".  Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of pot and heat oil over medium heat to 325°.  Meanwhile, whisk rice flour, lemon zest, za'atar, garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon sea salt in a medium bowl to blend.  Drain eggplant.  Working in batches, toss damp eggplant in flour mixture to coat

4. Working in batches, fry eggplant, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 3-4 minutes per batch.  (Reheat oil to 325° between batches.)  Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season with lemon juice and sea salt.  Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

Wednesday
Aug102011

Burrata

One of my favorite things about cooking is experimenting and trying new things.  Not everything is a success, but but usually even failures are salvageable.  Unfortunately, I've tried a few recipes in the last two weeks that were utter failures.  First, I made the Tomato and Cheddar Pie from this month's Bon Appétit.  The pie smelled incredible while it was baking, the crust was fantastic and the pie looked pretty.  Unfortunately, the filling was a different story.  There was just something wrong about the tomato-mayonnaise-cheese combination.  Conclusion: beautiful pie, awesome crust, not the right flavor combination.

Next up were the Ice Cream Bonbons from Food & Wine magazine.  I thought that I'd use this Strawberry Ice Cream and dip them in chocolate for a nice treat and some self-imposed portion control (perhaps I'd eat only two bonbons instead of a bowl of ice cream).  These ultimately tasted great but the recipe for the chocolate in which you dip the ice cream is really off (I'm not the only one who felt this way, which is comforting).  The chocolate was thick and didn't coat the ice cream balls but instead clumped on them and caused them to melt.  I reached the conclusion that there was not a chance the recipe was tested and had to Google other bonbon recipes to salvage the chocolate sauce.  Thankfully, these ended up edible and pretty but the recipe is not a keeper.

Finally, I made the Roast Chicken with Hot-Sauce Butter, again from the August issue of Bon Appétit.  This wasn't bad, but it just didn't stand out.  Plus, it is no joke that those peppers are extremely hot and should you decide you want to make it (but please don't... make this Piri-Piri Chicken instead if you want spicy and delicious chicken) wear gloves!  I wish I had.... your fingers will burn for about 36 hours after you make these and it is seriously uncomfortable.

This is a long-winded introduction to my decision to make something simple and summery that I knew would turn out well because, well, there isn't much to it.  It is a classic combination of tomatoes, burrata, basil and olive oil that is easy to make and is the perfect summer appetizer or side dish.

I first had burrata at Coppa in Boston's South End.  Coppa makes their own burrata and it is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Burrata's name means 'buttery' in Italian and this soft cheese is made from a ball of fresh mozzarella that is filled with leftover curds and cream and then sealed like a pouch.  Serious Eats provides a detailed description (with photos) of how burrata is made if you want to learn more.  The real take-away is that burrata is a real treat and if you see it at the farmer's market or at your grocery store, you should buy it -- but be sure to eat it ASAP as it spoils quickly.

Burrata is the perfect complement to the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that are in-season right now.  I don't think a recipe is necessary for this dish but should you want some guidance, this is what I did.  First, slice the tomatoes and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle with olive oil, freshly ground sea salt and pepper and chopped fresh basil and toss gently to combine.  Quantities of basil, salt and pepper depend on the number of tomatoes you use... just season to taste and err on the side of less seasoning so the burrata is not overshadowed.   Place the burrata in the center of a plate and place the tomato slices around the burrata.  The nice thing about first slicing the tomatoes and putting them in a bowl is that some of the water/liquid will drain from the tomatoes and you can pour this off before placing the tomatoes around the burrata.

If you have leftovers, chop up whatever is leftover and toss it with pasta for an easy main dish.

Tuesday
Jun282011

Maple Mascarpone Crostini with Roasted Pistachios

At the same dinner at Root Down that inspired the beet gnocchi I posted about last week, we had a tasty salad to start our meal. The salad itself was fine, but the accompanying maple mascarpone crostini sprinkled with roasted pistachios was the real highlight of our first course. You could serve this crostini as a passed hors d'œuvre as well as alongside a salad or soup and it is incredibly easy to make. The flavors and textures work really well together - the lightly toasted crostini, the sweet maple mascarpone cheese spread, a pinch of sea salt and the crunchy, roasted pistachios on top. There is no cooking involved, just assembling ingredients, and the whole process takes no more than 15 minutes.

A few comments about this recipe. First, you can obviously make as many or as few of these as you prefer at one time. If you mix the maple mascarpone in the original mascarpone container, simply return the cheese to the fridge, store the pistachios in an airtight container, and make the crostinis again whenever you feel the urge. Second, many stores sell pre-sliced bread specifically for crostini.  It is usually a bit harder (e.g., stale), which is what you want. If you purchase pre-made crostinis, omit the toasting step below. 

Maple Mascarpone Crostini with Roasted Pistachios
Adapted from Root Down

Ingredients
1 loaf of Ciabatta bread or similar white bread, sliced into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices (this loaf of bread should be small - you want the pieces to be no larger than 3 to 4-inches in width)
1 8-ounce container of Mascarpone cheese (available in most grocery stores)
1 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios (raw is best, if available)
sea salt
4-6 teaspoons real maple syrup 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pistachios on parchment paper or tin foil on a baking sheet. Roast the pistachios for 10-15 minutes until warm and fragrant but not charred. Once removed from the oven, pulse the nuts 3-5 times in a food processor (you want some to remain full size but others to be ground smaller). If you don't have a food processor, use the flat edge of knife or a mallet to accomplish the same thing.

2. While the pistachios are in the oven, mix the mascarpone cheese with 4 teaspoons of maple syrup by hand. I did this in the container that the mascarpone is purchased in. After mixing, taste the maple mascarpone and if you'd prefer it to be sweeter and more maple-y, add an additional teaspoon until the flavor suits you.

3. Lightly toast the crostini. You could accomplish this using an oven with low heat or in a conventional toaster (if you are serving a smaller number of crostini at once). Allow the toast to cool for one minute. Spread each crostini with a layer of the maple mascarpone cheese. Sprinkle each crostini with a pinch of sea salt or one grind of sea salt. Sprinkle each crostini with the roasted pistachios. Serve immediately.

Monday
May092011

Salmon Tartare

There is only one thing that I miss about my former job: the free dinner I could order when I stayed past 8 PM. I probably ought to be embarrassed to admit this, but I'm not. Please don't misunderstand - I wouldn't trade leaving work at a reasonable hour for free dinner EVER, but I really miss eating sushi from Sakurabana in Boston's Financial District a few times each week. It isn't that they have the best sushi in Boston or that they make a particular roll that I love, but the fish is fresh and they deliver within minutes. This is particularly important when you are at work late and are grouchy to begin with and realize just a few minutes too late that you are super hungry and about to get even grouchier if you don't eat A.S.A.P.  Trust me, it can get ugly.

Obviously I could still go out for sushi regularly, but I think Rob would like that less than he likes my semi-regular trips to Whole Foods. Since I'd like to stay married, I think I'll resist the temptation. Instead, I turned to the Salmon Tartare recipe in this month's Bon Appétit and got my sushi fix for a while. Obviously this isn't sushi per se, but it is tangy and refreshing and oh-so-good! It takes about 20 minutes to make and requires no cooking.  You can purchase sushi-grade fish at most upscale grocery stores (e.g., Whole Foods) and Asian markets. This would be great to serve at a summer dinner party but be sure to serve it immediately and to not leave it sitting out.

Salmon Tartare

Adapted from the May 2011 Bon Appétit
Yield = 4 servings 

  • 1 8-oz. boneless salmon fillet, skinless
  • 1/4 cup finely diced, seeded cucumber
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh chives
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tsp. grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced, seeded jalapeño
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced shallot
  • 3/4 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. Asian sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp. (scant) lime zest
  • 1 tsp. low sodium soy sauce
  • Kosher salt
  • Thick-cut potato or tortilla chips

Place salmon on a plate; freeze until well chilled, about 20 minutes. If fish was previously frozen, move from freezer to refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to the time you want to use it.

Thinly slice salmon lengthwise into 1/8"-wide sheets. Cut each sheet into 1/8"-long strips. Cut strips crosswise into 1/8" cubes. Place salmon in a medium bowl. Add cucumber and the next 9 ingredients and toss to combine. Season tartare to taste with salt. Transfer tartare to a bowl and serve with chips.

Consume immediately and throw out any leftovers (this doesn't keep, even in the refrigerator).

I served the tartare with these Late July Organic Mild Green Mojo chips we found recently.  Yum! Although the tartare is so good that you might just want to eat it with a fork. Just a suggestion.