Posts Tagged ‘hors d’oeuvres’

How’s that spelt?

Spelt Breadsticks

Spelt Breadsticks

My Mom is obsessed with a cinnamon roll.

This is not to be confused with the icky, sticky, cinnamon buns sold in malls. This is more from the old-fashioned breakfast roll school: barely sweet, a little crusty, and fun to pull apart. My use of the word “obsessed” is not a joke; she must have this roll with one of her meals every day. Such a story about someone my Mom’s age—and we won’t deal in the banalities of specific numbers here—brings to mind what they say about the one hundred-plus year old folks in small Siberian villages who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day: hey they lived this long, they must be doing something right.

If my tone registers with you as being a tad judgmental, it has more to do with what gets paired with the cinnamon roll than the choice of the roll itself. (The cinnamon roll comes from only one specific bakery near where Mom lives.)

Who am I to judge? For if I am to be truthful, I must admit that the little gourmet here is just as apt to do the same thing.

My Mom and I have similar food habits. Although she’s much guiltier of this than me, we can both plead guilty to being able to eat the same thing every day for months. Alas, these obsessions don’t have a happy ending. I can lunch on the same salad or sandwich daily until one day, unannounced, my appetite declares that it simply will not tolerate a repeat performance. While hardly a tragedy, I have been known in these situations to stand on a corner looking this way and that, desperately clueless about what I should have for lunch. (It usually takes a few days of interim foraging before I settle on my newest lazy lunch choice obsession.)

I say it all the time: you can put the most miserable slop in front of me, but if there’s something good in the bread basket I won’t complain. If one man’s feast is truly another man’s famine, then it would seem futile to plan a meal in the hopes of keeping everyone happy.

So, what about – like my Mom’s current bread obsession—designing the whole meal around the bread? Sure, there are sandwiches, but even with sandwiches the calculation is usually filling first, bread second. I think this may be a way to keep everyone happy. Of course, it has to be good bread.

I’ve been down the “bread as utensil” road before, and it can be a bumpy ride, indeed. It works with miraculous Indian breads like chapatti and naan, but then I could make an entire meal of just those. The bumpy ride was a meal from another part of the world where I was left bereft of satisfaction. This failed because neither the bread nor the food being scooped by the bread were satisfactory.

What if we used the bread like a combination utensil, sandwich loaf, and fondue dipper? Prosciutto with melon is a good example of this concept; antipasto, main course, and dessert, all in one slender snack. The problem here is that the melon is a bit slippery. Bread is rarely—if ever—slippery. Clearly the better choice.

People often wrap grissini, the skinny, crunchy breadsticks, with a ghostly shaving of prosciutto. This is promising. You can also make a great dipping dessert with grissini—like the Poky sticks from Japan. But grissini lack the oomph required that could make them meal worthy.

That’s why I’m nominating the hearty-but-deceptively-light Spelt breadsticks for the gig. I had never baked with spelt before. It brings the whole grain flavor and nuttiness to the bread without the weight and grit of whole wheat flour.

Many people used to think that spelt flour was suitable for those folks on gluten-free diets, but this is not true. It does have its benefits though, like the lightness I just mentioned.

The breadsticks themselves are generously proportioned, not unlike a small loaf of bread. Serve these standing like soldiers in drinking glasses surrounded by assorted antipasti ingredients, and perhaps some flavored olive oil for dipping. A nice warm weather meal, yes?

Please don’t mention to my Mom that I compared her to the one hundred-plus year old folks in small Siberian villages who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day.

She doesn’t smoke.

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Here’s the Spelt Breadstick recipe.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Pity the Poor Lightweight

Pity the poor lightweight. You’ve seen us at parties, bars, and all sort of social gatherings. You recognize us by what we’re drinking: club soda, wedge of lime. We figure most folks will assume we’re holding a gin and tonic or vodka and soda, but deep down, we know we’re not fooling anyone. We know what everyone knows: we’re stone cold sober, and often nodding and smiling like we’re having fun, but off in the front corner of our mind we are thinking about the episode of “Summer Wipeout” we’re missing.

This is the opposite of being a wallflower, for there is no discomfort or reticence that causes our abstemiousness, simply a lack of taste buds that enjoy alcohol.

Most of us misbegotten souls find solace in bar snacks. I wish I had a five dollar bill for every time a dish of Japanese Rice Crackers have gotten me through a bar-centric occasion. MSG never tasted so good. (Five dollar bill? Not a nickel? Yeah. Inflation.)

The other day I was in the bar of a very groovy, of-the-moment, downtown restaurant where the sole bar snack was Wasabi Peanuts. There isn’t enough club soda in the universe to douse that flame. Would someone mind explaining to me the fascination the folks who sell bar food have with Japanese snacks? The core Japanese diet may on the whole be healthier than our core diet, but have you ever looked at the list of ingredients in their snack foods? Downright toxic.

Of course there are many examples of bar snacks that reflect thought, sophistication, and a restrained touch. The nuts at Union Square Café come to mind, a lightly salty, slightly sweet roast of nuts, tinted with the evergreen fragrance of rosemary. A meal unto itself, and for us lightweights an oasis of charm in an otherwise greasy sea.

Parties at home are not immune. Imagine your typical backyard barbecue. A cooler with bottles of beer. Have you noticed that beer drinkers are still provided with the charm of hoisting a cold, glass bottle containing their beverage, yet, pity the poor lightweight who must make do with the charm of a plastic cup? Why don’t soft drink companies recognize this and sell more of their product in glass bottles (at least during the summer) so that I can enjoy my backyard beverage the same way? Yes, they make cans of soda, but you are denied the aesthetic pleasure of seeing the fizz and clarity of what you are drinking.

Ah, but we were talking about bar snacks. I should clarify: I’m not asking to be served dinner; Just a little something that will keep me amused.

Cheese and crackers are nice, but interestingly enough, after a bite or two of cheese I tend to gravitate toward the crackers alone. I love cheese, but the crackers call my name. This makes me self-conscious as I feel like I am “stealing” crackers from folks who want to put them to their rightful purpose as cheese carriers. (This, as my Mother would say, should be my biggest regret.)

Last year I wrote about cake salée, the savory cake that has become so popular in France as a “little something” to serve with wine before a meal. These cakes are often flavored with a combination of cheese and cured meat, like gruyere and prosciutto. I like that practice: a few bites of something with a little substance to keep me interested until the fish hits the pan. Cake salée is also self-contained: I won’t drip it on my shirt.

But during the hot weather the menu changes a bit, and along with it, folks’ choice of wine. I was watching TV the other day and saw an entire segment about Rosé wine. Rosé is one of those wines that cycles up and down in popularity. About a dozen years ago when everyone was calling it White Zinfandel purists considered it a step above Kool-Aid. (That’s one great advantage about being a lightweight: you can’t be a wine snob.)

Now they are calling it Rosé, and it seems to have gained the slightest foothold as a legit summer beverage. Perhaps because it is best served chilled, and tends to have a lower price tag? Perhaps.

I was pondering the hypothetical question of what to serve with a chilled glass of wine on a hot summer night. Cake salée came to mind, but while I was hunting the supermarket cheese aisle for inspiration I happened to see a tub of Port Wine Cheese. I may have been in college the last time I had a swipe of Port Wine Cheese on a cracker. If you have forgotten, Port Wine Cheese was a spreadable extra sharp cheddar cheese with “Port Wine” swirled through it. I placed Port Wine in quotation marks because it was unlikely that any actual Port Wine was harmed in the production of the cheese.

But there it is: my inspiration. I could have flavored a cake salée to mimic this, but I thought people might enjoy something with a little crunch: biscotti.

I took my standard biscotti base recipe, subtracted most of the sugar, added a generous wedge of the sharpest cheddar I could find, and used dried cranberries to mimic the port wine sweetness. The result is a mellow, slightly sweet, cheese cracker that will surprise folks expecting something salty. Each slice is somewhat rich, so meager portions will hold even the most ravenous guest until dinner is served.

And yes, that includes lightweights.

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Click here for my recipe for “Port Wine” Cheese Biscotti

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Once More With Feeling

Pancakes Perdu

Pancakes Perdu

There’s something about writing about leftovers. I can’t say I know exactly why it makes me skittish, but it does.

Is it the unspoken question, “Well, if the original meal was so great why was there any left over?” Is it that I’ve grown to feel that leftovers are the food equivalent of “hand-me-downs”? Is it an irrational fear of salmonella? (Q: At what point does a rational fear become irrational? Never mind. I’ll leave that one for the philosophers.)

Is it the ages-old image of leftovers being synonymous with other kitchen drudgery like, say, dish-pan hands? The late manicurist Madge (“You’re soaking in it.”) solved dish-pan hands eons ago, yet there are still leftovers casting passive-aggressive glances my way when I open the refrigerator door.

I happily contradict this feeling when I make a big pot of soup or chili. I hoard that stuff and tend it for several days like a proud prospective penguin parent coddling an egg on its feet. But the thought of reheating anything else leaves me (pardon the pun) cold.

Could part of the reason be that I do not own a microwave oven? This is partially by design (dunno what I’d use it for), and partially because of space limitations (I refuse to cede kitchen space to something I’d likely use only to activate the magic of Orville Redenbacher). I have an open mind: show me something indispensable and irreplaceable that a microwave oven does, and I’ll buy one (they’re cheap enough) but ‘till then, I have baked potatoes, chocolate melting, boiling water, and food reheating covered by other appliances. Popcorn can wait for the movies.

(And then of course there’s its nickname, “Nuke” that fills me with caution. Timely, no?)

My Mother, whose appetite has diminished somewhat, shares my aversion of leftovers. While she rarely finishes a restaurant meal, with few exceptions she also can’t stand the thought of eating it the next day. A true child of the depression (although still in her forties), she has it packed up to go and, once home, gives it to her doorman, therefore unwittingly creating an entirely new subset of leftovers which I call “The Doggy Bag Gift Platter.” One can only speculate about the enthusiasm of the recipients. I suspect she’ll not be garnering much competition from Messrs. Harry and David.

I keep coming back to the word, “reheating.” Maybe that’s my problem. Instead of looking upon leftovers for a repeat performance, I think the answer lies in my looking upon leftovers as mere ingredients to be included in an entirely new meal. Yes, this is easier said than done. Can last night’s meatloaf ever be anything other than meatloaf? My answer is that only certain meals can make this transformation. Meatloaf will always be meatloaf, won’t it? Ever had Wendy’s Chili?

For me the surplus is always vegetables. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and the next day the honeymoon is over. I find veggies to be a little on the temperamental side: they must be cooked just right for me to enjoy them. Generally, this means that reheated, they’ll be over-cooked, with the taste and texture washed away. (Or is that me?) Sometimes the question is what to do with extra chopped onion and garlic that didn’t get used.

So instead of reheating I’ll be repurposing. If you’re a French Toast fan, you’ve been doing this for years, for the French name for French Toast is “Pain Perdu” which translates as “forgotten bread.” I’m ripping a page out of that book and making “Pancakes Perdu.”

Savory pancakes are certainly nothing new—Potato Latkes are the best example, and any Chinese food fan has had Scallion Pancakes at one time or another. Pancakes Perdu are just a happy addition to the menu.

Don’t think that you need to confine yourself to left over veggies. These packages are a great way to get veggies into the most veggie-resistant kiddie. Make them small enough, and they are perfect finger food.

Speaking of finger food, confine the veggies to some roasted corn, and plop a bit of Crème Fraiche and a snip of smoked salmon on top and you have an elegant hors d’oeuvre.

I’m a big fan of breakfast for dinner, and every now and then a bowl of cereal just hits the spot for me. But I’ve never been one to waste food, even if that means finding ways of using up food that may no longer be perfectly fresh.

But please rest assured: the writing here is fresh. The best way to test that? Smell the screen. Go ahead: no one’s looking.

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Click here for the recipe for Pancakes Perdu.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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A Little Nosh Avec Friends

Savory Prosciutto Gruyere Cake

Savory Prosciutto Gruyere Cake

Parisians and New Yorkers have an awful lot in common. We both take undeserved hits for rudeness (I’m not rude, I’m just reserved), we both live in congested cities that are often crammed full of tourists (I’ll never forget the day I heard a woman at the corner of 44th and 8th yell at the top of her lungs, “GET OUT OF MY CITY!”), and we both love to eat.

I’ll give the Parisians points here. I’ll concede that, as “head-spinningly” great as New York food can be, Parisian food – especially bread and pastry – may be better. Or am I comparing pommes to oranges?

For New Yorkers, a great deal of entertaining is done over shared meals in restaurants. There are a few reasons why: many New Yorkers have small kitchens — small enough that they were built with the thought of limited use. Also, many New Yorkers do not have space for a dining room table, often making due with couple of stools at a counter, or a table for two folded or pushed into a corner.  (Furnishing a New York apartment is a game of constant tradeoffs where potential pieces of furniture compete for finite space. Dining tables often lose out to sofas. Flat panel TVs have been a boon: hang them on the wall and you’ve gotten rid of a major space gobbler, the TV table.)

While this sounds like New Yorkers are living lives of some kind of dining privation, nothing could be further from the truth. The sheer variety of cuisine just down the block or around the corner more than compensates. Only in a big city like New York can your Monday through Friday dinners take you from Down South to Down East to Vietnam, and back, even if you are a Kosher vegan.

The great New York City home buffet is often served from a coffee table, an arrangement I enjoy, as seconds are never far out of reach. Often, during the week entertaining consists of quick cocktails or wine at someone’s apartment before heading out to a restaurant. It is for the latter type of entertaining that Parisians have come up with a great idea: cake salée.

The English translation of cake salée is “savory cake”, and the implications are obvious: instead of fruit or chocolate and lots of sugar, a savory cake is made with hors d’oeuvre ingredients such as meat, cheese, and herbs. The job of a cake salée is to give folks having a little pre-dinner beverage a little pre-dinner – alcohol absorbing nibble. This frees the host from the bondage of preparing a variety of little cracker-borne nibbles.

A sensible idea, I think, although I suspect that if Americans had thought of it first the French may have turned up their noses; the convenience-over-art factor may have offended them. (Or am I paranoid?)

Of course, this is really just a baking powder or baking soda quick bread, not that far from drop biscuits or muffins. I baked a version of this over the weekend, using a variation of my Asiago Cocktail Bread recipe from last year. My version this past weekend stuck to the meat and cheese formula by using gruyere and prosciutto. It was delicious, although to be honest I think the combination lacked a certain spark of originality.

I think the challenge — and here’s where the French would approve — is to bring art to the convenience by choosing combinations that are not, to borrow a phrase from a friend, “typical.” So while the combination of prosciutto and gruyere was delicious, it was also predictable: a little bacony, a little cheesy, with the richness (heft?) that accompanies a double dose of indulgent ingredients.

Better would have been something with a touch of surprise without the extreme my Dad used to call “baloney and whipped cream.”

Roasted figs and rosemary sound like an unlikely pairing, but the intensity of the roasted figs would more than match the power of the rosemary, especially if roasted with a touch of brandy or calvados and a bigger touch of honey before mixing into the cake salee’s batter.

Of course, unroasted figs pair beautifully with Gorgonzola Dolce cheese, but I’ll have to run this cake salée through the Butter Flour Eggs Testing Lab; I’ll happily make this sacrifice as I have a few concerns about how the cheese will appear in the cake.  I’ll likely stick with a Gorgonzola Dolce with minimal blue veins.

Caramelized onion and black olive would bring a great sweet and salty combo to cocktail hour without a sugary hit, and would bring to mind Pissaladière – the classic French onion tart.

The standard 8” x 4” size loaf pan is fine for this bread / cake, but I also experimented with a 5” x 3” mini loaf pan and I think I prefer using the smaller pan. When the little loaves are sliced, each piece is the perfect size for pre-dinner nibbles.

No one will beg you to share a piece with them.

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Click here for my recipe for Savory Prosciutto Gruyere Cake.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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