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"It's so beautifully arranged on the the plate – you know someone's fingers have been all over it." – Julia Child

Posts from the Appetizers Category

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

2014. Here it begins with trying to tidy up and pack up the old year, looking back to reflect, and making resolutions, of course… New projects, fresh ideas, daydreams, decisions.

And celebrations. This is our first, with our dear friend and talented chef, Jessica O’Brien. These recipes are delicious and lovely to look at, as well. Gather your friends, toast the new year, and tie on that apron.

About our charming guest…

Occupation: Private chef

Culinary background: The Spotted Pig, Le Cirque, Tasting Table to name a few

Residence: West Village, NY

Most humiliating moment in the kitchen: When Chef April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig threw a bowl of salad across the kitchen room because she said it was over-dressed.

Most rewarding moment in the kitchen: When I got promoted to the Grill Station at the Pig. It meant you’d made it to the top.

Favorite food to cook at home: In the fall and winter I cook a lot of soups and stews for their heartiness and comfort. In the spring and summer I like to cook fish or shellfish for their simplicity and lightness.

Favorite takeout: Chinese, for sure. I order almost everything off the menu.

Favorite thing to cook for company: Surf & Turf. Best of both worlds.

Tip for entertaining at home: Shop and prep as much as possible in advance.

About these recipes: A menu that is simple, delicious, and elegant. Perfect for any occasion. And can prepare so many of the steps in advance.

Favorite drink: Jameson. Straight and to the point.

Music at your parties:  Pop or dance music. It has to be fun and upbeat. It’s a party after all.

New year traditions:  Spending the first day of the New Year with my husband.

Resolutions:  I like to set myself up for success, and resolutions usually end up being a disappointment so I don’t make any.

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

HERB-CRUSTED PORK LOIN WRAPPED IN PANCETTA

2 pounds boneless pork loin
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
Olive oil, as needed
¼ cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped, plus 1 whole sprig
¼ cup fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Dried red chili flakes, to taste
1 pound assorted small potatoes, such as fingerling, Peruvian, and Yukon Gold
½ pound baby carrots
1 baby fennel (about ¼ pound), or 1 regular fennel, cut into 6 wedges
¼ pound small Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and exterior leaves removed
½ cup dry white wine
1 pound thinly sliced pancetta (about 20 slices)

- Remove pork from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.

- Pat pork dry with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat about 1 tablespoon oil (enough to coat) a large skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Sear the pork on all sides until deep golden brown, then transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

- In small bowl, stir together chopped rosemary, thyme, garlic, lemon zest, and chili flakes. Stir in 6 tablespoons oil. Rub half of the herb mixture all over the pork and once again, season with salt and pepper.

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

- Cut kitchen twine into four 2-foot-long pieces and two 3-foot-long pieces.  Lay the 4 pieces horizontally, a few inches apart from each other, then the 2 longer pieces crosswise.  Arrange 12 slices of pancetta on top of twine, overlapping them slightly in a rectangular shape about 3 inches wider than the pork on all sides (since you want the pork to be completely wrapped).

- Place pork loin in center of pancetta slices and roll pancetta slices over it using the parchment paper as a guide. Place remaining pancetta on top of pork to fully cover, then, lay rosemary sprig on top. Tie shorter, horizontal twine pieces first, then tie longer ones. Transfer pork to a roasting pan.

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

- In large bowl, toss vegetables with remaining herb mixture and season with salt and pepper. Arrange vegetables around the pork and pour wine over them.

- Roast, basting occasionally with wine and pan juices until an instant read thermometer registers 138°F, 40 to 50 minutes. Allow pork to rest 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

ROASTED TOMATO TARTS

2 pounds (10 to 12 medium), plum tomatoes halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped, plus additional leaves for garnish
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions
All-purpose flour, for work surface
½ cup (1 ounce) grated Parmigiano-Reddiano cheese, plus ¼ cup (.5 ounce) shaved for garnish
Aged balsamic vinegar, as needed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper.

- In large bowl, toss the tomatoes, oil, 2 teaspoons of the chopped thyme, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and toss once again to combine. Arrange tomatoes in single layer, cut-side up, on prepared baking sheet.

- Roast 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325°F and continue to cook until the edges of the tomatoes are slightly browned, about 1 ½ hours.

- While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare puff pastry. Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour, unfold pastry, and cut crosswise into 3 rectangular pieces (the creases will be your natural guide to where you should cut).  Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll each rectangle pieces into 11- by 4.5-inch rectangles.

- With a sharp pairing knife, score around the edges to create a ¼-inch border. Using a fork, prick wholes inside the border (to release steam while cooking). Repeat with remaining 2 pieces pastry.

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

- Whisk egg and water together in small bowl and brush all over pastry. Sprinkle the center of pastries with grated cheese and remaining chopped thyme. Carefully transfer to parchment paper-lined trays and refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

- When tomatoes finish roasting, return oven temperature back up to 400°F. Bake pastry until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Top each tart shell with shaved cheese while still warm, then top with roasted tomatoes, cut sides down. Sprinkle more cheese to taste and thyme leaves, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Cut into pieces and serve.

Guest Chef Jessica O'Brien

SPICED BAKED CHICKPEAS
Makes about 3 cups

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

- Pat the chickpeas dry with paper towels and transfer them to a medium bowl. Toss them with the oil, rosemary, garlic, cayenne, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour chickpeas onto prepared baking sheet, spreading out into single layer. Bake until crisp, 45 to 50 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure even baking.

- Transfer baking sheet to a cooling rack and cool completely. Serve, or store them in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

ZUCCHINI LATKES WITH APPLE-BEET COMPOTE

For the Zucchini Latkes
1 ½ pounds russet potatoes
1 ½ pounds zucchini
1 medium Vidalia onion
2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup fine plain breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch ground cumin
Generous pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
Schmaltz, bacon drippings, or canola oil, as needed

For the Apple-Beet Compote
2 pounds firm apples, such as Granny Smith, Gala, or Pink Lady, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound red beets, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch kosher salt

For Serving
Crème fraîche (optional)

- For the Zucchini Latkes: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°F.  Set a cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.

- In a large bowl, thoroughly combine all the ingredients.

- Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop the vegetable mixture in 1-tablespoon-sized spoonfuls  into the skillet and lightly flatten with a spatula, being careful to not overcrowd the skillet.
Cook the latkes until light golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer the finished latkes to the prepared cooling rack and baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm and crisp.

- Repeat cooking procedure with additional oil and remaining batter.

- For the Apple-Beet Compote: Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and arrange on platter. Dollop latkes with compote and (optional) crème fraîche.

Tostones

Tostones

Tostones

Tostones

 
I will never turn town a potato chip or a French fry, the starch, the grease-slicked fingers, the lips split by the salt as if they had enjoyed a long night of kissing…but a fried plantain can be a scene-stealer. Fried until crisp in long, thin strips until the color of marigolds, they look like sleek surfboards. Cut into chips, they become edible coins from a slot machine, completely addicting. And of course, the double-dip method in which the plantain is fried twice is a favorite preparation.

Tostones begin by being cut into thick pieces, fried in vegetable oil, then flattened with a tostonera (see image) or the back of a small skillet, and returned to the frying pan. When finished, tostones resemble an exploding gold bloom. Seasoned with salt and served as an accompaniment to many meals, tostones can also be served as a “boca” or “botana” (appetizer) with crumbly or creamy Latin American cheeses like cotija and quesillo, refried beans, and vinegary cabbage slaws.

This is a basic method for making tostones. On average, each plantain will yield about 10 tostones; make as many or as few as you’d like. I’d recommend making more because the crunchy exterior and starchy, satisfying bite of the interior of the tostón calls for gluttony.

TOSTONES

Fun fact: plantains in Mexico are called “plátanos machos”!

Green plantains
Vegetable oil
Salt

- Cut off and discard the ends of each plantain. Cut the plantain crosswise into 4 pieces. With a paring knife, score the skin, cutting just enough to reach the flesh of the plantain. Use the knife to pry off the skin. Cut each plantain quarter crosswise into 1- to 1 ½-inch pieces.

- Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering and reaches 350°F. The oil should be about ½-inch deep in the skillet.

- Fry a batch of the plantain pieces (don’t overcrowd the skillet) until golden, turning once halfway through frying, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer pieces to prepared baking sheet and repeat procedure with remaining plantain pieces.

- Using a tostonera or a small skillet, press down on the plantain pieces until they are flat. Fry the tostones once more, until crisp and golden, turning once halfway through frying, about 3 minutes per side.

- Transfer tostones to prepared baking sheet and immediately season with salt. Serve immediately.

And, for ongoing food pics, follow us on Instagram!  Tara: tstriano and Maria sacasastylist

If you don’t have Instagram, try http://www.followgram.me/tstriano and http://www.followgram.me/sacasastylist

We’re no strangers to stiff drinks and bubbly, and admittedly, once in a while, the party goes on longer than expected and the next morning finds us with pillow-creased faces, raccoon eyes, and The Dreaded Hangover.

Usually, a greasy diner breakfast egg on a roll with extra bacon and half-bottle of ketchup plus a full pot of coffee (Mexican Coca-Cola on ice is my go-to) helps smooth us out, but a stronger antidote is sometimes absolutely necessary: enter the michelada, a spiced and seasoned Mexican beer cocktail.

The drink’s base is always a chilled pale lager, like Corona, Pacícifo, Sol, or Modelo Especial – you want something refreshing and light, save the hoppy dark stuff for the pub. The bracing backbone is provided by umami-dense Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (Cholula and Valentina are our favorites), and a good amount of freshly-squeezed lime juice. A “cubito Maggi,” a bouillon cube made by Maggi (pronounced Ma-ghi) is a common addition and adds extra seasoning. You can skip the cubito, but do rub a lime around the lip of your glass and rim it with coarse salt, pepper, and if available, powdered red chili. And always, always, always pack your glass with crushed ice.

And, while we’re talking about getting pickled, I recently made Paula Deen’s pickled shrimp and thought they’d make a great side to the michelada. Our version has hotter-than-hell Serrano peppers, impossibly fragrant kaffir lime leaves, toasty fresh curry leaves, spices, and a hit of tequila.

Note: Of course, the michelada is also perfect for any sweltering day, not just a fuzzy morning. Try it this summer, and, for the condiment-phobic, mix up a chelada: salt rim, lime juice, ice, and beer.
¡Salud! And ¡Happy cinco de mayo!

MICHELADA

Serves 1

Note: For an extra frosty drink, chill your glass prior to assembling. For a quick cool-down, fill a glass with ice and water, swirl for 1 minute, then drain.

¼ cup fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Hot sauce, such as Cholula or Valentina, to taste
½ Maggi bouillon cube (optional)
Crushed ice
1 (12-ounce) bottle of pale lager such as Corona, Pacífico, Sol, or Modelo Especial, chilled

- Rub a lime around the rim of a pint glass or equal capacity glass. Combine 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in small plate and dip rim in mixture, turning glass until rim is coated.

- Add lime juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, and (optional) bouillon cube to glass and stir to combine. Add crushed ice, pour in beer, gently stir, and drink. Refill glass with beer as needed.
PICKLED SHRIMP

Makes 2 pints

Note: Kaffir lime leaves and fresh curry leaves can be found at specialty Middle Eastern markets or online. They keep well frozen, so stock up and store them in zipper-lock bags.

You will need 2 (1-pint) mason jars for this recipe.

24 – 30 large cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp (tails on)
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
8 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons white tequila
4 serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
12 kaffir lime leaves
4 sprigs fresh curry leaves

- In small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, peppercorns, coriander, salt, and garlic. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in lime juice and tequila.

- Pack the shrimp, serranos, kaffir lime leaves, and curry leaves into 2 (1-pint) mason jars. Pour in the vinegar mixture, adding water if needed to fully submerge the shrimp. Seal the jars and chill for at least 8 hours and up to overnight prior to serving.

Roasted Bone Marrow

M.F.K. Fisher on being a woman and dining alone, 1938:
“More often than not people who see me on trains and in ships, or in restaurants, feel a kind of resentment of me since I taught myself to enjoy being alone. Women are puzzled, which they hate to be, and jealous of the way I am served, with such agreeable courtesy, and of what I am eating and drinking, which is almost never the sort of thing they order for themselves. And men are puzzled too, in a more personal way. I anger them as males.”

I eat alone often, sometimes standing at the kitchen counter, feet bare, one resting on the other. Other times, after a rushed morning of errands, in a corner of a restaurant with nothing to look on but the empty seat across from me. The quiet, disturbed only by a gurgling pour of wine and the sharp rap of a plate being set down, is a brief respite from the louder clatter of daily details.

There is, as Fisher noted, a mistrust of a woman enjoying a meal alone, and for years, when I dared do it, I fidgeted and pretended to be busy looking through my bag while my food arrived. It takes time to feel at ease with oneself, but once it happens, it’s relief, reward, and perhaps a touch of defiance.

These recipes are a feast for one, but they do easily multiply to feed more, should the mood suit you.

ROASTED MARROW BONES
Serves 1
Ask your butcher to trim the bones down to size. This is a make-ahead recipe.

3 beef marrow bones, about 3 inches long
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil
Maldon salt for serving
Blackberry preserves and crusty bread for serving

- 24 hours prior to serving, combine cold water and 2 tablespoons salt in a large bowl. Add the bones and refrigerate. Drain and rinse the bones about every 6 hours, replacing the saltwater solution. This will eliminate impurities and season the marrow.

- Drain the bones and pat dry. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly oil a small baking dish and arrange the bones in the dish, standing straight up. Roast 20 to 30 minutes or until the blade of a knife slips easily down the center.

- Transfer the dish to a cooling rack and cool about 5 minutes. Scoop out with a knife or small spoon, spreading marrow on crusty bread. Sprinkle with maldon salt and, for a touch of sweetness, top with a small spoonful of blackberry preserves.

Roast Chicken & Beets

ROASTED CHICKEN & BEETS
Makes 1 chicken
Nothing says comfort like a perfectly roasted chicken. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll find yourself making it at least once a week.
If you find beets with nice green tops, wash them, thinly slice them, and toss them with extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper and serve them alongside the chicken and roasted beets.

4 beets, scrubbed, green tops reserved
1 (3 ½- to 4-pound) whole chicken
Kosher salt and pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kitchen twine

- Adjust oven racks to middle and lower-middle positions and preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange an oven-safe cooling rack in a rimmed baking sheet, or, set a V-rack in a roasting pan. Wrap beets in foil.

- Make a small inverted “V” incision at the point where the chicken breasts meet the cavity and pull out the wish bone—this will make carving easier. Run fingers between the skin and flesh, just to loosen it.  Measure out ¾ teaspoon salt per pound of chicken and rub directly on the flesh and on the skin. Season liberally with pepper.

- Cut 4 tablespoons butter into thin slices and tuck under the skin.  Tuck the wings behind the chicken, then use kitchen twine to tie the ends of the drumsticks together. Arrange the chicken breast side down in the prepared rack. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and lightly brush on the chicken.

- Set the beet packet on the bottom rack of the oven and the chicken on the middle rack. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, then transfer to the stovetop. Carefully, using wadded paper towels or two kitchen towels, turn the chicken breast side up. Brush with melted butter.

- Return the chicken to the oven and increase the temperature to 450°F. Roast until golden and thigh meat registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 40 minutes longer. Transfer roasting pan or baking sheet to cooling rack and allow chicken to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

- Meanwhile, transfer beets to a cutting board and open foil packet. When cool enough to handle, peel off beets’ skin with paper towels. Carve chicken and drizzle serving with rendered juices. Cut beets in half, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Profiteroles

PROFITEROLES
Makes 10
Once cooled, freeze leftover choux puffs in a zipper-lock bag. When ready to use, warm through in a preheated 350°F oven, then allow to cool to room temperature.

For the Choux Puffs
Cooking spray
½ cup water
2 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon heavy cream

- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with vegetable cooking spray.

- In medium saucepan, combine water, butter, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, stirring until butter melts. Stir in flour all at once, and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a smooth ball of dough, 4 to 5 minutes.

- Remove from heat and transfer dough to a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon, add the whole eggs one a time, beating well after each addition. The eggs should be well incorporated and the dough smooth. Transfer dough to a pastry bag or large zipper-lock bag with 1-inch of bottom corner trimmed off. Scrape dough into bag and pipe dough out into about 1 ½-inch mounds, spacing them about 2 inches apart from each other. Alternatively, use a 1 ½-inch ice cream scoop with spring release to scoop out dough.
Beat egg yolk, pinch of salt, and cream in small bowl. Brush tops of dough with egg wash. Bake puffs for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking for about 30 minutes, or until the dough is puffed and dark golden. Transfer puffs directly to cooling rack and cool completely.

For the Chocolate Sauce and Assembly
For easy assembly, scoop out ice cream onto a tray and place in freezer to set.

1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or chocolate chips
Pinch salt
Ice cream flavor of choice

- Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Add chocolate and salt and stir until chocolate is fully melted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

- With fingertips, carefully split the puffs and fill with ice cream. Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce.

Jolly Holidays

We are surely not the only ones baffled at how the holidays crept up on us, but really, here so soon? Again, no tree or twinkle lights, and many a holiday gift has turned into an IOU. At least in my case…Tara pulled it together in a much more civilized fashion.

What I have to offer: quick and festive recipes that will give you at least an air of hostess/host with the mostes’/most.

More importantly, Cookin’ and Shootin’ wishes you the warmest and jolliest of holidays, full of friends and family, gifts and goodwill.

Champagne Pomegranate Cocktail

PICKLED APPLE AND POMEGRANATE GRANITA

Champagne and prosecco bring sparkle to holiday festivities, but we also like to add color and punch to the bubbles. This granita is tart, sweet, and reddest red—it doesn’t get any more jolly than this.

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole allspice
2 teaspoons cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons finely grated zest plus ¼ cup juice from 2 blood or regular oranges
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cups pomegranate juice

Chilled champagne or prosecco, for serving

Combine apples, vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Rub orange zest into sugar until sugar is damp and no zest strands remain. Stir sugar into apple mixture and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce head to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes or until apples are completely soft.

Strain mixture into a 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan, pressing apple chunks through with a spoon. Discard solids. Whisk pomegranate juice into mixture and place pan in freezer. Freeze granita for at least 1 ½ hours, scraping every 30 minutes until a frozen, slushy consistency is reached.

Spoon granita into champagne glasses and pour in champagne. Toast!

Appetizers

SPICED CHEESE STRAWS

16 short straws

Aleppo pepper, za’atar spice, and sumac are available in the spice aisle of specialty markets or online. If you can’t find them, substitute with your favorite blend of spices and herbs such as oregano and rosemary.

1 1/2 cups (3 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, chopped
2 teaspoons za’atar spice
1 teaspoon sumac
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
All-purpose flour for dusting work surface
2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Adjust 2 oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and preheat to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine cheese, salt, pepper, marjoram, za’atar, sumac, and Aleppo pepper in medium bowl. Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour. Roll out 1 puff pastry sheet to about 12- by 10-inches. Whisk egg and cream together in small bowl and brush over pastry. Sprinkle half of cheese mixture evenly over pastry and press in gently.

Cut the sheet in half lengthwise, then crosswise into eights to yield 16 rectangles. Carefully twist each rectangle to form a curl and arrange on prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Repeat entire procedure with second puff pastry sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until puffed and golden. Using a spatula, turn the cheese straws over and bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer trays to cooling racks and cool about 5 minutes before serving.

HOLIDAY CHEESE BALLS

Makes about 6 2-inch cheese balls.

Cheese balls are a little bit funny and retro, but after the slightly raised eyebrows have returned to the horizontal position, everyone admits to loving them. The great thing about cheese ball recipes is that they’re simple to make and lend themselves to any number of additions. Here are some festively flavored and decorated ones, but do feel free to take the recipe and add your own personal touches to them—anything from chopped nuts and herbs to fancy preserves and caviar are fair game.

Serve the cheese balls with crackers, good bread, or crudités.

An ice cream scoop with spring release is a perfect tool for easy cheese ball shaping.

Master Mix
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely grated shallots
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated or 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 teaspoons finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from about 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Additions and Coatings
Finely chopped pitted green olives
Fresh marjoram, finely chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Fresh dill, finely chopped
Green peppercorns
Pink peppercorns
Aleppo pepper

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and dry mustard and  cook for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add cream cheese, cheddar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir together until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

To flavor cheese mixture, stir in green olives and/or herbs to taste. Shape into approximately 2-inch balls and roll in peppercorns or Aleppo pepper. Refrigerate cheese balls until ready to serve.

Farmers’ markets pop up under white tents around the city throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and they are one of our favorite places to shop. Sure, brick and-mortar markets are necessary and the Cookin’ half of us visits two to three a day, but crowded, neon-illuminated aisles slowly navigated by angry old ladies with rickety carts and kids on Razors will grate on anyone’s nerves. People often suggest that we order food for photo shoots, but, to me (Maria) grocery shopping is a bit like foreplay, and I like to spend time getting to know what I’m buying; if it’s produce, I’m definitely getting to second base with it. Sure, you can get fruits and vegetables delivered to your home, but it is endlessly more satisfying to see, smell, and touch each slender-necked zucchini, each tangle patterned cantaloupe. More pleasurable still is spending a sun-drenched morning at the greenmarket leisurely going through these motions.

Last Saturday, Tara and I went to the Union Square Greenmarket, arriving before the crowds made it difficult to navigate. Piles of fuchsia radishes with
roots curled like small rodents’, wooden crates’ edges breached by gooseneck gourds, wildflowers abuzz with dizzy bees, emerald leafy greens bunched into
edible bouquets, dark crusty loaves of bread; the feast begins even before you’ve stuffed your tote bag.

Our greenmarket jaunt was all about going there without a shopping list (which is completely foreign to me as I usually type them up by supermarket section) and
picking up whatever seemed most appealing. Do the same; you’ll be surprised at how little fresh ingredients need to shine.
Below are a few recipes we pulled together for brunch later that morning; hopefully they’ll inspire you to shop outside this weekend.

GRILLED ZUCCHINI BLOSSOM SANDWICHES
Makes 4 sandwiches
The key to the success of these sandwiches is good ingredients. We like a Wonder Bread and American cheese version just like the next guy, but gussy the old standard with local cheese and artisan bread. Our choices are in the recipe, but feel free to use your own selections.
Zucchini blossoms are that vegetable’s  bold and beautiful décor – luckily, they’re edible, too.

8 slices peasant bread, cut ¾-inch thick
6 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces Brigid’s Abbey cheese, thinly sliced (See Headnote)
16 zucchini blossoms
Salt and pepper

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F.

Brush each slice of bread on both sides with 4 tablespoons oil. Heat large skillet over medium heat and grill bread in two batches until lightly toasted on both sides, about 4 minutes.  Transfer bread to large baking sheet.

Distribute cheese evenly among bread slices and place in oven. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling, 6 to 8 minutes.  Transfer tray to cooling rack.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in now empty skillet until shimmering. Add zucchini blossoms and sautée just until wilted, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide zucchini blossoms among 4 bread slices. Top with remaining bread slices, cheese-side down. Serve.

KALE AND PEACH SALAD
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
Anchovies provide this salad dressing with an assertive backbone. If you’re not a fan, trust me, they melt right in and get a good kick in the pants with the addition of caramelized lemon zest and bright, tart lemon juice.
Kale salads seem to be very in vogue at the moment, but the addition of ripe summer peaches is a surprise we bet you haven’t yet encountered.

Recipe notes: Microwaving the garlic and lemon zest in oil will mellow out the garlic and caramelize the lemon zest. As an alternative, heat the oil, garlic, and zest in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
– This salad can be prepared and dressed one day in advance; since kale is such a hearty green, it won’t wilt. Add the peaches right before serving.

1 large bunch Tuscan kale, ribs removed and discarded
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon zest and 3 tablespoons juice from 2 lemons
8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
2 ripe but firm peaches, cut into ½-inch thick wedges

Cut kale leaves into 1/8-inch-thick ribbons; you should have 6 cups.
Combine oil, garlic, and lemon zest in small bowl and microwave for 1 minute (See Notes).

Whisk anchovies, mustard, and lemon juice in salad bowl. While constantly whisking, slowly drizzle in oil mixture. Add kale and toss to evenly coat with dressing. Add peaches and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

SIMPLE PLUM-CHAMPAGNE COMPOTE
Serves 4

Recipe notes: Large plums work in this recipe as well, however we picked up multi-colored petite versions at the greenmarket.
To remove the seeds, cut the plums in half, then core out the seeds with a paring knife. Don’t worry if they become a bit mangled in the process as they’ll break down during cooking.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 pints small plums, pitted, seeds discarded (See Notes)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup champagne or Riesling
2 cups mascarpone or plain Greek yogurt
Pepper

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to foam. Stir in brown sugar and cook until melted, about 2 minutes. Stir  in plums and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until thick and syrupy, about 15 minutes.

Stir in champagne or Riesling, and continue cook until syrupy consistency is reached again, about 5 minutes longer. Serve at room temperature with mascarpone or Greek yogurt and season with pepper.

I am notorious for inviting people over to dinner and not being ready on time. I cook for a living, yet, it seems that when I’m cooking for leisure, I lose track of time. It’s not uncommon for guests to receive apologetic (and admittedly, frantic and misspelled) texts requesting they show up a little bit later. Even after this purchase of a few extra minutes, this hostess is usually sweating and running between kitchen and bathroom with dish rags, tongs, and hairdryer in hand when the doorbell announces the first arrival.

After discussing these issues with Tara we decided that what every hostess who wants to be the one with the mostes’ are easy recipes that can be prepared with little effort yet look and taste amazing. Important tip: seems like a no-brainer, but do try to shop and prep the day before your party; you will ooze calm-and-collectedness rather than perspiration.

Recipe one is for briny olives wrapped in a feta and Mediterranean-spiced crust. The dough comes together quickly and by hand in a single bowl (which minimizes clean-up) and is easy to handle. The olives can be prepared a day in advance and stored in the fridge. When ready to serve, pop in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes, and, voilà, all done.

Pesto is always a crowd-pleaser, but we don’t like to settle for the usual basil variety. Watercress is a perfect substitute, peppery and bold. Creamy, salty feta and pistachios add a curious twist to the old standard. Served with warm naan and crudités (we like to cheat and buy tiny carrots and cucumbers to minimize prep time), this will surely become one of your go-to appetizers.

The grilled squid salad is simple and impressive. The squid tubes are scored in a cross-hatch pattern (don’t worry about making incisions that are too deep as the squid is very resilient) that makes them curl up into gorgeous little tubes when cooked. Squid cooks very quickly so you’ll be in and out of the kitchen in a flash (do this prior to getting dressed, though, to avoid smelling like a poissonière!). If making in advance, chill and let rest at room temperature about 10 minutes before serving.

SPICED CHEESE-CRUSTED OLIVES
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoon za’atar spice
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
24 to 30  small pitted olives, such as Manzanillas
Green olives
Peppadew peppers

Beverage pairing suggestion: chilled Lillet

- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

- In large bowl, stir together cheese, butter, lemon zest, and za’atar until thoroughly combined. Add flour and incorporate with hands until a dough is formed. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

- Scoop out 1-teaspoon portions of dough and, using palms, roll into balls. With fingertips, flatten out into 1 ½-inch circles. Place 1 olive on each disc, wrap around olive, and, once again roll between palms. Transfer to baking sheet and, once circles are finished, refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

- Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with green olives and peppadew peppers.

WATERCRESS PISTACHIO PESTO
Serves 4

1 garlic clove
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup shelled roasted pistachios
4 cups watercress
2 teaspoons finely grated zest plus 1 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Crudités
Warm naan

- In food processor, pulse garlic, feta, and pistachios until they form a paste. Add watercress, lemon zest, and lemon juice and pulse once again until a paste is formed. With mixer running, slowly pour in olive oil and process until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crudités and warm naan.


GRILLED SQUID SALAD
Serves 4

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated zest plus 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 pound cleaned squid
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
½ pound small heirloom tomatoes, quartered

- Combine olive oil, lemon zest, orange zest, garlic, coriander, cumin, and Aleppo pepper in small bowl and microwave 45 seconds. Set aside.

- Cut squid tubes open to make flat pieces and, holding knife almost parallel to work surface (at a 30-degree angle), score inner side of flattened squid in a crosshatch pattern (do not cut all the way through). Pat squid bodies and tentacles dry and season with salt and pepper. Toss with vegetable oil.

- Heat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill squid just until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Cut squid tubes into 1-inch lengths (you can use kitchen shears for this).

- Season tomatoes with salt and pepper.

- Whisk lemon juice into olive oil mixture and drizzle over squid. Garnish with fennel, oregano, and tomatoes. Serve warm or chilled.

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