Saturday, December 29, 2012

a few of my favorite appetizers (just in time for your New Years gatherings!)

I'm still deciding what I am whipping up for the New Years party we're going to this year. The invitation told us to "wear sparkles" (check! and now my husband cannot roll his eyes that I packed a shimmery little number along with my ski just never know when a party dress will come in handy, now do you?) and to bring "your favorite dish". Ah, the pressure is on. So, I've started thinking about some of my favorite appetizers that are crowd-pleasers-- but that will also allow me to ski all day, and come home with just a few minutes to spare...

In the winter-- particularly when it's all snowy outside-- really you cannot beat a baked brie. Everyone loves it, and it takes mere minutes to assemble. That pic above is last night's batch, which was precariously balanced on my lap in all of its' warm, gooey deliciousness, as we were heading to a friend's for afternoon skating and cocktails. It's simply: brie (or similar cheese, sliced horizontally) smothered in a tapenade (last night's was Artichoke-Almond), pop the other half of the brie on top, smother a little more tapenade on top of that, then into a 375 oven for the time it takes for you to change out of your ski clothes (or just spray some perfume, as the case may have been last night-- say 10 minutes, whoa that's a lot of perfume... anyway, until it's melted through. Serve warm with crackers or thinly sliced bread.   

For those who don't trust my description above and like the step-by-step photos, here you go. For New Canaan readers, Walter Stewart's Market is usually very well-stocked with Gracious Gourmet tapenades and spreads. These are kind of my go-to filling for any baked brie. My favorites are their Balsamic Four Onion spread, Fig Almond spread, and Spiced Sour Cherry ones, but this recipe will work with whichever one sounds good to you! And for those who are out here in Idaho, Atkinson's Market in Sun Valley carries a nice selection of tapenades and spreads in the front of the market over by the beer and wine. Convenient. 

Another decadent, warm, cheesy, casual appetizer is my Creamy Baked Salsa Dip. Mmmm. That's another good one. In fact, bookmark that one for any lazy, chilly weekend...

Alright, but we cannot live on melted cheese alone now can we?

For those who are still going casual, but have the black-eyed pea superstition gig swirling around their heads, I suggest whipping up a batch of this simple-- but totally decadent-- black-eyed pea dip.

Or, you can go a healthier route and make black-eyed pea hummus served in cucumber cups. I teach you how to make cucumber cups here.

I love cucumber cups. You can stuff them with anything, depending upon your audience, season and occasion. I've stuffed them with Edamame Hummus, Harissa-White Bean Dip (pictured above, a puree of white beans, harissa paste and lemon juice with salt & pepper to taste), a White Bean Bacon Dip (that I really must photograph and post for you all sooner rather than later) and Soy Chorizo Dip (pictured below, with the recipe here). Dress them up or down, these vessels always fly off the plate.

Depending upon where you live, you might be able to score endive this time of year. If so, these Parmesan-Walnut stuffed Endive Spears are impressive looking and crowd-pleasers (in addition to being a nice, healthy alternative to a cocktail party spread).

And then there's the ever-popular smoked salmon paired with capers, onions, fresh dill and cream cheese or creme fraiche. Friends brought these to our home on Christmas, and they made me swoon. I have also mashed the cream cheese + capers + finely chopped onion + fresh dill into a paste.... and put a dollop on a hearty (usually Hawaiian) potato chip, topped with a piece of smoked salmon. My friend, Ally, introduced me to that app years ago, and it's remained a go-to. The only caveat is it not being humid. If it's humid, the chips get soggy and no one likes a soggy chip.... Don't have to worry about that in Idaho in December.

And last but not least, my absolute go-to appetizer for prettiness, unique taste, and popularity: Feta-Fig Tartlets, which are featured several places, including my most recent contribution, to Fox News Magazine! As long as you can get your hands on some of the phyllo shells, you can whip these up (here's the recipe), or your own version with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes-- really, anything that sounds good to you!

This should give you a few ideas, if you're bringing something to a New Years gathering! I look forward to hearing what you whip up!!

there's going to be a run on dried figs nationwide....maybe worldwide

Fun! You-know-who's appetizers are featured on Fox News Magazine. They know how to make a girl blush...

the mountains were calling...

Several avid full plate readers have pulled me aside or emailed me this week, asking why I haven't written a post lately? I could come up with all sorts of reasons that would make me sound very busy/important, but the truth is, I've just been out having fun...

I have cooked enough to keep us very well fed, like this red-wine braised fennel and sausages recipe from the WSJ last weekend, which was perfect mountain food...

and I started our Christmas morning off with a decadent strata that I'd assembled the night before, then let it do its' thing while we sat by the fire that morning.

I've been relishing fresh, mountain air

and time with great family friends.

So, I'm going to set aside a little time to write-up one more post before the New Year, with some of my best go-to appetizer ideas (that are all super simple), and then I'm getting back to playing

and nourishing family and friends out here with comforting foods. I hope that all of you have also had a wonderful week surrounded by family and friends. One more week of play, and then I'm excited to start the New Year off with all of you!

Monday, December 17, 2012

a gift for our teachers

The post I wrote last week was on the eve of my son's 6th birthday. Each year, I marvel at how much my children have grown, explored, learned, embraced... their little selves so full of joy. And I get to be their mother; a job I cherish. Last Friday, this is where I was during the devastation unfurling a few towns away. In ignorant bliss, I got to watch my newly minted 6-year-old get his 'sea legs' on ice skates. His teachers glided by with outstretched hands, encouraging him to scoot around amongst his friends. Tiny, excited little kids and joyful teachers reveling in the fresh air, before they went back to the classroom. How lucky we are I thought.

And while I am still unable to fully process the immense tragedy, there was some comfort this weekend in settling in with my children to make holiday gifts for the teachers who expertly guide, care for, inspire and love my children.

My children rattled off name after name. So many teachers who play a meaningful role in my children's lives each and every day...

Yes, we are very lucky. May the sweetness of this gift show a little bit of our gratitude. To make truffles for those you love, here is the recipe.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

it's been a little quiet as of late, hmm?

I know. I know. I'm supposed to update this blog "all the time", and lately I'm lucky if it's once a week.  So, tonight I'm playing catch-up while waiting for batch after batch of sugar cookie to come out of the oven (tomorrow's my little one's 6th birthday and he flip-flopped right up to the bitter end between bringing in "Chinese food and vanilla milkshakes" and "Christmas cookies" for his special treat). So, I have a few minutes while some bake and some cool so I thought I'd share a few pics of what's kept me so busy this past week... First, I got a city fix. I love going into the city, and don't go in enough. My latest city find and food crush? These infused salts.  

OK, then these shots are going to excite some of you....

I had an amazing opportunity to meet Allison Page, SVP of Programming at The Food Network, and as a special treat, I also got to poke my head in to the set of Chopped before I jumped back into my car and listened to "Some Nights" about 50 times in a row, playing on every radio station, while I got totally lost. I should just stick to the train.

Then, at the end of last week, I had so much fun speaking on the topic, "Feeding Your Family Well on the Busiest of Days" at New Canaan Country School. I stayed up late the night before making samples of what I was going to be cooking with the participants, so everyone could try the recipes. Leftovers from the class went to Community Plates, which is a phenomenal organization.

Then, yesterday, we threw my little one's birthday bash.... replete with a Tae Kwon Do-themed cake.

My mother-in-law asked what the bunny was doing on it. Try as I may, I don't see a bunny.

And now, I am baking up a storm. The only glitch? Our temporary digs did not come with a rolling pin. Of course I realized this too late to call a neighbor and ask to borrow one, so I'm making do. The next few weeks are promising to be equally as fun-busy, but I have gotten a few requests for lunch box ideas and green smoothies, which I promise to post soon!