Friday, August 28, 2015

Wine Bar (or Brewery) Platters

Last Year's Post:  Balsamic Chicken Watermelon Salad
Two Years Ago:   Ravioli with Peas, Bacon and Lemon Oil

Every wine bar or brewery has some sort of a platter listed under appetizers that typically includes cheese, meat, nuts and fruits.  It's an ideal way of entertaining - people basically love to snack - and essential if you're having a wine or beer tasting party (or football party!).  I actually love them so much that it's one of my first choices for dinner (not just appetizers) at a wine bar.  They're easy to assemble at home if you follow a few simple rules, and it's easy to scale up or down depending on the number of people;  just add more of everything, or add a few more choices.

Here are the basics of any good platter:
1. A wood platter, preferably not round.  The more rustic the better.
2. Two or three different types of cheese.  Textural differences (one soft and one hard, for example) are great.
3. Crackers and/or toasted French bread
4. One or more types of cured meats such as prosciutto, salami, sopressatta, etc.
5.  One or more types of whole roasted nuts (walnuts, pistachios, cashews, etc.)
6.  One or more types of olives
7.  Vegetables:  pickled or fresh or both
8.  Fruit: dried or fresh or both
9.  A couple of little forks and knives for spearing and spreading

Arrange everything artistically with complementary colors next to each other.  Prosciutto looks best if you sort of drape it rather than if it's lying flat, and nuts look great if they're casually tossed on rather than in a bowl. Everything should be in bite-sized pieces except cheeses, which can be served in wedges with a small knife for cutting/spreading.

Your grocer's olive bar is a great source of not only olives but also various marinated vegetables such as the mushrooms, peppers and artichoke/sun-dried tomato mix that I used.  I would call the platter that I created more of a wine bar platter than a typical brewery platter because breweries often emphasize charcuterie (cured meats) since they go so well with beer.  Here are some variations on the basic theme.

Wine Platter:  add more cheeses and less meats (sometime none at all)
Brewery Platter:  add several types of cured meats, an interesting mustard, and some dense thinly-sliced rye toasts
Mediterranean Platter:  substitute pita bread for French bread, eliminate the meats, and add hummus and baba ghanoush.  Almonds, dried apricots and feta cheese are very appropriate.

Have fun creating your own signature platters!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer Harvest Quiche

Last Year's Post:  Chicken Gyros
Two Years Ago:   Grilled Shrimp and Corn Salad

You can never have too much of great summer tomatoes, corn and zucchini, can you?  The only question is how to use them in different ways so they don't get repetitive.  You've probably been using them in salads and as side dishes, but what about a quiche?  It makes a great light dinner or Sunday brunch, not to mention that it's ideal for work lunches throughout the week.

Quiche is easy to make and easy to customize, plus you can go fancy by making little individual ones or family-style by making one big one.  This recipe happens to be vegetarian but you could easily add crumbled cooked sausage, bacon, or even lump crab to make it special. Feel free to substitute whatever vegetables and cheese your family prefers or you happen to have on hand.

Serve with a big green salad and some crusty bread for a perfect late summer dinner. (Is there a sadder phrase than "late summer"?  Oh yes.  It's called "Winter". I remember a guy in my high school - a member of the ski team - who would wear a big "Think Snow" button on his jacket beginning in early November.  I wanted to slap him. )

Anyway, even if you have buckets of fresh tomatoes, roast them for this recipe (see how here) because fresh tomatoes are too watery for quiche.  Not to mention it's a great way to preserve all those fresh tomatoes for Winter.

print recipe
 Summer Harvest Quiche
Serves 6

1 9-inch pie crust
Pie weights or dried beans for blind-baking the crust
1 tablespoon olive oil   
1small zucchini
½ cup chopped onion                                                   
1 ear fresh corn
3 eggs, room temperature                                                          
1 ½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper                                                       
1/3 cup sun-dried (or roasted) tomatoes, chopped
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (packed)
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pie crust in a pie pan (preferably glass) and line with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Fill the pie plate with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly brown.  Remove from the oven; remove the parchment paper and weights or beans. Let the pie crust cool for a few minutes.   Leave the oven at 350d.

Meanwhile, cut the zucchini in fourths lengthwise, then slice.  Sauté the zucchini and onion in the olive oil until softened and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.

Briefly cook the ear of corn by boiling, steaming or grilling for 3-4 minutes.  Let cool, then cut the kernels off the cob.  Set aside.

Combine the eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a large bowl and whisk until well blended.  Add the chives, rosemary and basil and stir well.

Place the zucchini mixture, corn kernels, tomatoes and grated cheese in the pie crust.  Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. 

Bake in the middle of the oven for 50-55 minutes at 350d until browned and set.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Roasted Tomato Californian

Last Year's Post: Empanadas with Chicken, Corn and Zucchini
Two Years Ago:  Tomato Crumble

Veggie sandwiches are a great way to use the summer harvest, whether from your garden or from the farmer's market. If you think building a veggie sandwich means simply layering a few veggies between two slices of bread, you're right but you'll probably end up with a boring sandwich.  Like anything else, veggie sandwiches benefit from a variety of tastes and textures - soft and creamy, crisp and crunchy, etc.  When I found this particular recipe it had promise - I liked the goat cheese spread and the idea of roasting the tomatoes - but it lacked freshness and crunch (all the vegetables were roasted).  So, I used raw zucchini and yellow squash plus added cucumber for additional freshness.  The finishing touch was to roast the tomatoes with garlic, balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil which added richness and complexity to the flavor.  (If you find truly spectacular summer tomatoes, by all means use them fresh.) Of course, you could add some turkey or chicken to the sandwich as well, but I think it's perfectly satisfying as is.

About the tomatoes:  roasting is a great way to concentrate the flavor of tomatoes, whether they're less-than-optimal winter tomatoes or really great summer tomatoes. (It's also a great way to preserve summer's bounty when your tomato plants explode.) Be sure to make extra because they're excellent in salads, sandwiches, tarts, omelets, or tomato sauces and they freeze beautifully.  I've come across a number of recipes for roasting them, but this is one of my favorites because of the flavor added from the balsamic vinegar and garlic.  If you prefer a more straightforward roasted tomato, simply leave them out.  Keep an eye on your tomatoes when they're in the oven and decide for yourself when they're roasted to your liking.  The timing will vary with the size and amount of water in your tomatoes.

Roasted Tomato Californian
Serves 4

½ cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
3 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
12-16 roasted tomato halves (recipe follows)
½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 small thinly sliced yellow squash
1 small thinly sliced zucchini
Salt and pepper
4 French or whole wheat rolls, or 8 slices multi-grain bread
2 small avocados
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup alfalfa sprouts

Prepare roasted tomatoes according to the recipe below (always make extras for salads, tarts, other sandwiches, etc.).

Combine the mayonnaise and goat cheese in a small bowl.  Refrigerate if not using immediately; remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes prior to using to allow to soften.

Cut the rolls in half.  Spread some of the goat cheese mixture on the top and bottom of each roll.  Place the cucumber, yellow squash, and zucchini on the bottom of the roll and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add 3-4 tomato halves to each roll. 
Immediately before serving, cut each avocado in half and thinly slice (don’t do this earlier or the avocado will brown).  Top the sandwiches with avocado slices, onion, and sprouts.  Place the top on each sandwich and press together gently.  

Roasted Tomatoes
Roma or plum tomatoes – as many as you want
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh garlic, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 325d.  Line a baking pan with foil.  Core each tomato and slice in half the long way.  Dig out the seeds with your fingers (and any tough pieces of core) and discard.  Place the tomatoes cut side up on the baking pan.  Drizzle with vinegar and oil, allowing some oil to drip into the pan.  Move each tomato around a little to ensure the bottom is coated so it won’t stick.  Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt, pepper, and just a little sugar.  Top each tomato half with 2-3 slices of garlic.  Roast for two hours or more, depending on the size and water content of your tomatoes, until they’re to your liking.  Freeze any extras.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Cold Sesame Noodles with Cucumber

Last Year's Post: Goat Cheese and Chorizo Rolls
Two Years Ago:  Healthy Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs

"Cold" - what a lovely word.  It's been hot lately all over the country, but I think Phoenix must take the prize - it was 111 degrees here yesterday.  It's hot enough that The Lawyer has temporarily lost his enthusiasm for grilling, which is saying something.

When it's this hot, salads sound great.  I find cold noodle salads to be especially appealing because they're light and refreshing.  This one is perfect with its light dressing, cool cucumbers and fresh herbs, and the only cooking you'll need to do is zap some water in the microwave to soften the rice noodles.  After that it's simply a matter of slicing, chopping, and mixing - the whole prep takes maybe 20 minutes tops.  Yes please!

print recipe
Cold Sesame Noodles with Cucumber
Serves 4, generously

3/4 pound dried rice noodles
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, plus a splash to loosen noodles
2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste or tahini
1 tablespoon smooth peanut butter
3 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated or brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic (from 1 medium-large clove)
2 teaspoons chili-garlic past
1/2 pound cucumber, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced (optional)
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
A handful of chopped fresh herbs, such as mint and cilantro, for garnish
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal, for garnish

Cook noodles according to package directions and rinse with cold water to cool. Drain well. Drizzle with a tiny splash of toasted sesame oil to keep them from sticking until dressed.

Meanwhile, whisk sesame paste and peanut butter in the bottom of a small bowl, then whisk in soy sauce, rice vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil, sugar, ginger, garlic and chile-garlic paste to taste until smooth. Adjust flavors to taste. Toss sauce with cold noodles.

Place a medium-sized amount of noodles in each bowl, followed by a pile of cucumber. Garnish with peanuts, optional jalapeno slices, sesame seeds and herbs. Serve with extra chile-garlic paste on the side.