Category Archives: Snacks

Playing Catch-up Part 2: From the Beginning to the End

The beginning of December brought about preparations for my (gasp!) thirtieth birthday (yes, I am officially that old).  After much thought and deliberation about what we would do to mark the occasion, we decided that we would host a small gathering at our house, in lieu of trying to all go out somewhere.  Just me and twenty or so of my closest friends, which sounded perfect.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to do as little work on the food as possible, while still having a bit of wow factor. For the menu I settled on a cheese board (with blue cheese, brie, a creamy goat cheese, grapes and crackers), roasted red pepper hummus (which is my classic hummus recipe with the addition of a drained jar of roasted red peppers and several tablespoons of pimentón) with crudités and pita, roasted shrimp with a spicy chimichurri dipping sauce (for the sauce, in the blender I combine a big bunch of both cilantro and Italian flat leaf parsley, two scallions, four or five garlic cloves, a generous third of a cup or so of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of freshly grated lime zest, the juice of five or six limes, several teaspoons of ground cumin, a dash of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and as many chipotle peppers as I dare. Blend until smooth, adding a little additional olive oil or a splash of water if it is too thick to blend.),  some toasted cashews, pistachios, marinated olives, and for something sweet, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and pecan bars. Along with the food, we had an assortment of beer, mulled wine, and my “pumpkin pie martinis” (which are embarrassingly simple but always a crowd favorite: equal parts of pumpkin spice liqueur and your favorite eggnog, served with a dash of pumpkin pie spice in glasses rimmed in cinnamon sugar and graham cracker crumbs.)

Instead of a cake this year, I decided to go with some childlike fun and have a decorate your own cookie bar instead. I had homemade shortbread cookies (cut out in the shape of Christmas trees and ornaments), and an assortment of  colorful candies, sprinkles and dragées, along with six different store bought icing colors (hey, there is no shame in that!), all served on this adorable lazy Susan with inset white dishes. It was almost too charming.

I have to confess to being semi horribly devastated that none of the food table photos survived for you all to see them now (after my new SD card debacle). It was really, really beautiful (if I do say so myself). The centerpiece was comprised of antiqued, blood red roses and evergreen bows, votive holders filled with fresh cranberries and unscented candles, and about a thousand little (intricately hand placed) rhinestones atop one of my favorite “special occasion”  (read: dry clean only!) table clothes, which added sparkle. It was just the right amount of over the top for my taste. That along with the big white platters of food, each more lovingly garnished than the last… sigh… I can’t go on…(*wipes imaginary tear from cheek*)… it was some of my best work. But for now, we can all pretend that a description of it all is just as satisfying.

The evening started off with a big surprise as one of my dearest friends (who lives in California – you may know her from her comments here on Jacob’s Kitchen under the name Woman&Warrior… an apt description of a fantastic human being) showed up on our doorstep just as guests were arriving. It was really great seeing her, and being able to spend a leisurely weekend together, and also to finally introduce her to all of my friends here in Oregon who have heard far too many wonderful things about her that I’m sure they all thought that I was making her up. Spending my birthday with all of my friends was exactly what I needed, and her presence made the evening extra special.

The other big news, of course, was the purchase of my new Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR camera! Hooray!  (Cue confetti!) I hope to soon actually learn how to use all of its many functions and take my food photography to the next level. I still stand behind all of my point and shoot pictures, and am a firm believer that one does not require a DSLR to create beautiful food images.  Having a DSLR, however, as I am coming to realize, does much more easily capture beautiful food images.  So for all of my fellow point and shoot foodies out there, keep up the great work! It’s not easy, but it can still be fabulous.

Unfortunately, my birthday weekend turned somber when my grandfather (whom you may recall suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived with us here in Oregon for quite some time after I spent a year caring for him and his wife in New Mexico, until we finally had him placed into an assisted living facility less than a mile away from our house) fell and broke his arm. At first the doctors seemed to underplay his injury as though it were not a very big deal.  Less than 48 hours later, however, we were forced to make the difficult decision to begin hospice. For five days my sister and I camped out at his bedside. Though he was unconscious nearly the entire time, we played his favorite music, held his hand, read him the stories and poems that he had read to us as children, and did everything in our power to ensure that he was comfortable. He died very early in the morning, just one week after my party. I was holding his hand and stroking his brow the whole time, and my sister was right beside him talking into his ear. While he certainly suffered through  a lot of pain throughout the week, in the end it was very peaceful.

I cannot even begin to express to you how amazing the entire staff at Brookstone (his care facility) was with him. The loving care, kindness and support that they showed to him, to me, and to my entire family over the last year has been nothing short of heroic.  As someone who has seen a lot of care facilities in my day, I can say with absolute certainty that better care simply does not exist.  Period. They have twenty nine locations across the United States. If you have a loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia and are near one such location, I encourage you to seek out their services.  You don’t have to do it alone. They are there as much for you, as for your loved one. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

My grandfather, Earl Rolla Bates, (who we called “Grumpa,” because he always had a sour expression on his face) would have been 89 in March. Long after he could no longer remember my name, what he always remembered was that I bake. “How’s the baking coming?” he’d ask when we would visit “Well, keep it up. You’ve got a real knack for it!”

He was the perfect taste tester, since he loved everything, but some of his particular favorites included Ina Garten’s croissant bread pudding (with a simple brandy butter sauce), New Mexico style green chili stew, a perfectly grilled steak (which he always liked to marinate in a little bit of teriyaki sauce, salt, black pepper, and garlic, and top with a fire roasted green chili and melted pepper jack cheese), my buttermilk biscuits, apricot jam, my signature salad, potatoes in any form, and his grandmother’s rolls. (Leave it to a foodie like me to sum up someone’s life by the foods that they enjoyed!)

He was a ship’s cook in the navy, and ran a small restaurant with my grandmother for several years in his early twenties. He appreciated good food, but even more he appreciated the effort that you invested into making good food. It never went unnoticed. He was always very grateful for everything that he was given, and openly expressed that gratitude to those around him. That is perhaps the greatest lesson that he has left behind: to live a life of endless gratitude.

As an example, while in New Mexico, after dinner while I would be doing the dishes, he would often pull me aside and say something like “You know, that meal was perhaps the finest I have ever had. That salad…that salad was just so delicate, and those biscuits were just fabulous. You have become quite a young man. And I want you to know that I am really proud to have you as a member of my family.” Then, with a simple pat on my shoulder, he would turn, pick up his poodle, and retire to bed. And that would be for just any rushed, nothing special, weeknight meal. He was a hard working, funny, sarcastic, generous, ornery, little sprite of a man, and he will be missed.

Fwew! That should just about catch us up! Later this week we shall finally return to business as usual here at Jacob’s Kitchen. Between the holiday baking, my birthday, and his passing, you can imagine that this has been a particularly busy, very contemplative time for me.  But with the new year comes new hope for an even more fabulous tomorrow.

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Filed under Beverages, Jams/Spreads/Sauces, Other, Snacks

Jacob’s Kitchen: Scone Secrets Revealed (Project Food Blog – Challenge 7)

This post is my seventh entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. (Click here to see my contestant profile.) In this round we were challenged to create a video cooking demonstration. Voting begins Monday, November 15, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first six rounds, I appreciate all of your support more than I can ever express!

I have always been in love with scones; there is something about them that really speaks to me. I think it’s the perfect balance that they strike between being earthy and rustic while at the same time also feeling fancier than other standard coffee shop fare. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I first attempted making my own batch at home. And let me just say, it did not go well. They were dry and crumbly, and had no real flavor to them, beyond that of any ordinary day old biscuit.

Determined to master the art of the scone, however, I spent quite some time experimenting with countless different recipes. Over the course of the next year, I tried everything; alternately making them with milk, half n’ half, cream, buttermilk, shortening, butter, and sour cream. I experimented by adding more salt, or sugar, or less salt and more baking powder. I tried adding fresh fruit to the dough, and brushing the tops of the scones with milk, or cream, egg wash, oil, or butter before baking to ensure perfect browning. In the end, I finally reached what I personally consider to be absolute scone nirvana.

Since then I have made more of these scones, in every imaginable variation, than I could ever possibly count. Scones have now become one of my signature dishes, and over the last couple of years variations of this basic recipe have walked away with a best of class award, two first place blue ribbons, and one third place white ribbon in the baked foods division at the Oregon State Fair. And, up until now, I have never shared the recipe with anyone.

Unlike many of the scones that one encounters out there in the world, my scones are moist, flaky, tender and full of fresh flavor. They can be made days or weeks in advance and baked off right before serving, which makes them absolutely perfect for entertaining. In this particular variation dried strawberries, white chocolate chips, lemon zest, and a vanilla bean glaze all harmonize together beautifully to create a flavor reminiscent of a classic strawberry shortcake.

Preparing delicious homemade scones like these doesn’t have to be daunting. A few simple techniques are all that you need to be making scones at home like a pro. It’s easy, I’ll show you how.

Variations – It’s sometimes difficult to find dried strawberries in the stores these days. What I can typically always find, however, are dried berry medleys (often including blueberries, cherries, strawberries, etc.) which would make a perfect substitution for these strawberry shortcake scones. But swap out the dried fruit and the flavorings that you add and you can create any number of different scone variations using this same basic recipe. Let your imagination run wild, the possibilities are really endless (cranberry orange, lemon, ginger, apricot or cherry almond, blueberry lemon, currant, pumpkin, rum raisin, etc.). To boost the fruit flavor in the scones even further, substitute one egg for a generous fourth of a cup of good quality jam.

Glazing Glaze the scones right when you pull them out of the oven. This way the glaze stays very thin (so they aren’t too sweet) and it easily coats the scones, locking in their moist texture, while adding a nice shine. Depending on the level of humidity on any given day you might need to make adjustments to the final glaze. You can really be casual about it; if it’s too thick add a tiny splash of milk, and if it’s too thin add a little more powdered sugar. In the end, the glaze should be thick but still pourable.

Storage – The cut scone dough can be made and stored in your refrigerator for up to a week, and baked off right before serving. To prepare the scone dough up to one month in advance, place the cut scones onto a baking sheet and freeze (uncovered) until frozen solid, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag. Bake the scones from frozen, adding an additional three to five minutes to the baking time. Because of the glazing, leftover scones (not that there ever are any!) can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days without a significant change in texture.

Egg Wash – I find that I get the best browning without the addition of milk/water/cream to the beaten egg for the egg wash. But feel free to use whichever you most prefer, or to omit the egg wash step entirely.

I think that it’s only natural for us to feel the most attachment to the recipes that we spend the most time carefully cultivating. For many years I wouldn’t share any of my recipes, period. It was my hard work, and I honestly felt like my ability to make perfect scones, biscuits or pecan bars would somehow be diminished if everyone else then also knew how to do it as well. As I began writing this blog, however, I slowly came to the realization that having this knowledge was so much less meaningful than sharing it all with you; after all, food is so much less enjoyable when there is no one to share it with. I hope that you really will make some version of these scones and that this recipe becomes a part of your family’s traditions, just as they have become a part of mine. Perfect for a portable breakfast, early morning business meeting, tea party, or a leisurely Sunday brunch with friends, these decadent scones are (literally) a winner every time.

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Filed under Blue Ribbon Winners, Breads, Breakfast/Brunch, Project Food Blog, Snacks

Jacob’s Kitchen: Entertaining with Ease (Project Food Blog – Challenge 3)

This post is my third entry for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. Click here to see my contestant profile. Voting begins Monday, October 4, 2010. Follow me on twitter, facebook, or through my RSS feed to keep up to date with my progress in the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me in the first and second rounds, I appreciate all of your support!

Round three of Project Food Blog challenges us to host a luxury dinner party. And, while some people may think of entertaining as burdensome or stressful, it is one of my absolute favorite things to do. Entertaining is my passion. It’s in my blood. There is something so special, so personal about inviting people into your home to share a meal. Dinner parties can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. Your friends won’t have a better time if you spend a week, and half of your pay check on extremely complicated cuisine. The truth of the matter is your guests are there to spend time with you; the food is just the excuse to get together, not the focus. A big bowl of spaghetti and meat balls, a perfectly cooked meatloaf, or your grandmother’s famous enchiladas served with a cake or tart purchased from your favorite bakery can be even more enjoyable than lobster and filet mignon. For me, it is a luxury whenever I invite my friends into my home. And I want to spend our time together enjoying their company, not slaving in the kitchen.

In my early adulthood I hosted dinner parties where I made every single thing from scratch, and worked tirelessly to ensure every last detail was beyond perfection. But when the time came to actually sit down with my friends and enjoy the spoils of my hard work, I found myself exhausted and just waiting for the evening to be over with. And while the food was delicious, I can’t imagine that I was much fun to be around. Now I take a more lighthearted approach to entertaining, allowing myself to be a guest at my own party.

No matter what they say, your guests want to believe that you threw all of this together in the twenty minutes before they arrived. And luckily, because of the make-ahead strategies I now use, that isn’t far from the truth. As a caterer I have cooked for groups of various sizes, and I can tell you that entertaining doesn’t have to be scary. Whether it’s this luxury dinner party for six, or you’re cooking for six hundred, the exact same rules apply. This is dinner parties 101: my entertaining manifesto.

Step 1 – Get Organized:

Have an action plan. Break down what you need to do day by day on the days leading up to the event, and hour by hour on the day of. Mark down when you will set the table, which dishes will be used for serving, when you will shop for your ingredients, when you will prepare different components of the meal, which recipes you will be assembling on the day of the party, all the way down to the exact times that your food needs to come into and out of the oven for final service. A little bit of advanced thought and planning will make your parties infinitely less stressful.

Step 2 – Set the Stage:

Candles- Candles always make any meal feel special, and the more the better. I prefer small votive candles in glass holders over their taller, tapered cousins. And while scented candles around your home can serve to set the mood for the party, one should never use scented candles on the table itself. All they do is steal the spot light from the aroma and flavors of your carefully prepared food, and no one likes to be upstaged.

Flowers/Centerpieces- Flowers are certainly not essential for any table. A bowl of fruit, vases filled with fresh herbs from your garden, some artfully arranged autumn leaves and decorative gourds can all be equally dramatic. Let your imagination run wild. There are probably items around your house right now that, when repurposed on your table, can create a visually interesting centerpiece. With that said, however, flowers are classic, easy, and always beautiful. I personally enjoy arranging my own flowers, first buying larger bouquets like these pink roses for this evening at my local warehouse store (for a fraction of the price!), and then separately purchasing a few filler flowers from the florist to pull everything together. If you, on the other hand, find yourself unsure about which flowers to purchase or how to arrange them, keep in mind a couple of steadfast rules. When in doubt, buy one flower in quantity and it will always look great. You can never go wrong with roses, peonies, hydrangea, or tulips: they are simple, beautiful, and elegant. Keep your arrangements small (which is to say short). I prefer to keep them under ten inches, allowing your guests to look into each other’s faces rather than catching a passing glimpse of one another through a dense, albeit beautiful, floral jungle. I like using small vases grouped together on the table. They are easier to arrange, cheaper to fill, and you can always play around with spacing to create a variety of looks.

Table Setting- I like to mix and match traditional items with newer modern pieces, and set the table in whichever way I feel looks best, and not how any text book tells me that I should. This can change dramatically from day to day, and therein lies the fun of it. Here I mixed together my everyday white dishes and flatware, silver chargers, and silver rimmed crystal wine glasses that I inherited from my grandmother. Simple white napkins with festive napkin rings, and a neutral, corresponding table cloth all come together beautifully, none overpowering the other. In setting the table what you are really doing is setting the stage for quality time with your friends and family. Do it carefully. People really appreciate every little detail. I choose to be more elaborate with my table setting because I enjoy doing so. If you do not, don’t fret. Simple, everyday dishes, silverware, and a few wine glasses are all  that you really need for a fabulous presentation. In your house you get to make the rules, so if having to wash and iron cloth napkins will prevent you from ever having friends over, by all means use paper. Some of the most enjoyable parties that I have ever been to have also been the most casual.

Music- For dinner parties, what I want is background music, and for this I find music without lyrics to be the most appropriate. A quick search online will yield a variety of instrumental versions of most of your favorite music. In this way, the songs are familiar, but not distracting. The music should serve to enhance the mood, not be the evening’s entertainment.

Step 3 – The Food:

When planning a dinner party, select food that you know how to make well. Never test out a new recipe on the day of an important event, or you might find yourself ordering pizza while the fire department airs out your house. Make things in advance whenever possible. And choose menu items that can be made at least one day prior and only assembled on the day of the party. This will keep you from going crazy, and allow you the time to really enjoy your friends and family.

Here, for example, I selected pomegranate cosmopolitans that can be mixed the night before, and a delicious appetizer that requires no cooking whatsoever (halved fresh figs, salty prosciutto, and shards of Parmesan cheese). I follow that with my signature salad (baby greens tossed with sliced fuji apples, dried cranberries, glazed walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, and a tangy balsamic blue cheese dressing) which can be assembled the night before and dressed right before serving. For the entrée I selected my pumpkin ricotta ravioli with sage brown butter (made with my homemade ricotta cheese) which can be made and frozen up to six months in advance, and boiled for two minutes right before serving along side my simply sautéed spinach. And what could be more decadent or more luxurious than an individual chocolate soufflé? With my make ahead version, you can assemble them two days in advance, freeze them, and toss them into the oven as you are sitting down to dinner for an inexpensive, yet show stopping end to any meal. (In the interest of space saving I have not included the recipes, but you can click on the links to see my full description of each.)

Two of my guests are vegetarian, and instead of driving myself mad making two separate entrées, I simply designed a menu that we all can enjoy, which makes life a lot easier for me. I have also selected two wines from my favorite local winery to pair with the meal, one red and one white, both of which pair nicely with the entire meal from start to finish (the pinot noir being especially great with chocolate). If you are unsure about wine pairings, simply select wines that you and your guests enjoy drinking, and you can never go wrong.

Part of the luxury of dinner parties is your ability to linger over the food, and really take your time from course to course. After the salad is served and enjoyed, I excuse myself for a couple of minutes (my dining room is attached to my kitchen, so I needn’t actually “leave” the fun of the party), drop the ravioli into the already boiling salted water (which I remembered to put on before my guests arrived, leaving it over medium low heat), and set the dishes out for plating. I take this opportunity to refill wine and water glasses, to collect the salad plates and forks, and to segue into my hilarious story (pantomime included) of how I once accidentally set myself on fire. The ravioli take very little time, and when they are done, I slide them into the warmed, pre-made sage brown butter sauce, plate them, place the soufflés into the preheated oven, and I’m back at the table with my guests in no time.

Dinner parties shouldn’t have to be cost prohibitive, stressful, or intimidating. A few simple preparations and some careful planning is all that you really need to be an entertaining superstar. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or exceptionally fancy, it’s the little touches that can make every meal feel like a vacation. This challenge was just another excuse for me to invite the people that I care about most for a delicious homemade meal, and to spend a leisurely evening enjoying each other’s company. Luxury doesn’t have to mean trying to impress people. It means thoughtfully preparing your food, and investing your time and energy into really pampering your friends and family. If they were impressed I hope it was not by the difficulty of the menu, or the cost of the ingredients, but by the fact that it all seemed to come together so effortlessly. More than anything, my goal is always for each of my guests to leave my parties thinking, “Wasn’t that fun!” I know I always do.

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Filed under Beverages, Desserts, Pasta, Project Food Blog, Salads, Snacks

Melon and Prosciutto

Before dinner begins, it’s always nice to have something to offer guests with cocktails. And while I am perfectly happy to make all kinds of hors d’oeuvres for a cocktail party, when I am preparing a full meal, it’s best to relegate myself to those appetizers that only require assembling.  Luckily, in the kitchen, sometimes it is the simplest things that wind up being the most delicious. Perfectly ripe pears, aged Stilton, and Port wine, for example, is an amazing flavor combination, that requires no cooking whatsoever. Here, too, in a classic combination, wedges of farm fresh CSA cantaloupe are wrapped in slices of prosciutto di Parma. The sweet melon and salty ham are made for one another.It is perfectly delicious, and elegant in its simplicity.

I begin by slicing both ends off of the melon (I used a cantaloupe, but honeydew, casaba, or galia would work equally well). I then stand it up on the cutting board, and, with a sharp knife, follow the contours of the melon down and around, removing the rind completely. I then cut the melon in half, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. I chose to slice the melon into wedges, but you could also easily ball it, cube it, or do half slices depending on which presentation you find most appealing. I then take paper thin slices of prosciutto, and wrap them around the center of each of the wedges. A sprinkling of sea salt (fleur de sel, if you have it) and freshly ground black pepper, is all that you need to finish it all off. Simple, fast, and satisfying.

Whether as an appetizer, first course, or light lunch, melon and prosciutto is a  delicious combination that you will come back to time and time again. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Filed under Foodbuzz Top 9, Meat, Snacks

Oil Packed Oven Dried Tomatoes

Overwhelmed by the big bags of farm fresh tomatoes on my counter top, I tried to think of great ways to preserve them for future use. One can only make so much fresh salsa and tomato sauce, so I thought that these oven dried tomatoes would make a fabulous treat over the next several weeks.

I start by lining several baking sheets with silpats (though parchment paper would work equally well if you don’t have a silpat laying around). I then sliced my tomatoes as thinly as I possibly could with a sharp serrated knife, and lined them up tightly on the baking sheets. I then popped them into my oven, set to its lowest setting (mine goes down to 170º though yours may go down even further). I bake them for approximately five to six hours at this low temperature, or until they are completely dry, and practically paper thin.

Meanwhile, in a skillet I combine two cups of extra virgin olive oil, five or six stems of fresh thyme, two large stems of fresh rosemary, about twenty garlic cloves, and a pinch of dried red pepper flakes. I turn the flame onto its lowest setting, and allow the flavors to infuse the oil, and the garlic to caramelize (which takes approximately 45 minutes).

Once the tomatoes are thoroughly dried, I remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on the sheet pans. I then carefully peel each of them off of the silpat (or parchment) and stack them up in glass jars, layering them with the roasted garlic cloves, and a few fresh stems of thyme and rosemary, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. Once the jars are filled, I cover the tomatoes with the cooled, herb infused olive oil. The filled jars can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a month.

The tomatoes are candy sweet and plump up a little in the oil. They make a great addition to pasta sauces or pesto, or on their own make a great topping for toasted bread, spread with fresh goat cheese. The oil is perfect spooned over grilled fish, and is delicious made into salad dressings. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a gift of one of these beautifully layered jars of ruby red tomatoes.  Though with the time and effort it takes,  letting go of the jars is a difficult task. I have to like someone A LOT to give these away. But realistically, while it is a time consuming process, each of the steps is easy, and once they are in the oven they essentially take care of themselves. It’s just one more great way to preserve the last of those fresh summer flavors. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to cast your vote for me for Project Food Blog, foodbuzz.com’s quest to find the next food blog star. You can cast your vote by clicking here. I appreciate all of your support!

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Filed under Snacks, Vegetables

Goat Cheese Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

Last night, when our weekly CSA shipment arrived on our doorstep, I could barely lift the box.  Because of the heavy rain early in the summer, a lot of our produce here in Oregon was pushed back, and evidently, we have just arrived at the peak of the tomato season. I got three large bags of colorful, sweet, farm fresh, vine ripened tomatoes, ranging in size from little pear and grape tomatoes, all the way up to big slicers. I simply couldn’t let these beauties go to waste. So, after eating a fair amount of smaller tomatoes straight from the bag, I decided that stuffing the cherry tomatoes sounded like a good plan. But with what? I scoured the refrigerator to see what I had on hand that would make a good filling. Hummus? Egg salad? Marinated feta cheese? They all sounded delicious. But then I laid my eyes upon a package of fresh goat cheese. You have to understand that ever since I was five years old, I have had a deep affinity for deliciously tangy goat cheese. That summer, when I was five, we visited my great grandmother’s farm in Washington, where she kept chickens, rabbits, pigs, cows, and goats. While I was not, unlike my siblings, very keen on the idea of milking the goats, the tangy, salty, earthy, homemade cheese was a revelation. And, even today, I still consider it to be a decadent treat. I began by slicing the tops off of the cherry tomatoes, and, using a melon baller, scooped out the seeds and pulp. (You may also want to make a tiny slice on the bottom of each to give any uncooperative tomatoes a flat surface upon which to stand.) In a mixing bowl, I then combined four ounces of goat cheese, about a third of a cup of Greek yogurt (which helped to loosen the cheese up a little bit, though sour cream, or a splash of buttermilk would work equally well), about a fourth of a teaspoon of prepared horseradish (or to taste), one small garlic clove (which I grated on a microplane zester), about two tablespoons each of minced fresh basil and chives (though dill, tarragon, or any fresh green herb would also be equally delicious… these are just what I happened to have on hand today), a dash of salt, and freshly ground black pepper. I loaded the cheese mixture into a zip lock bag, snipped off the corner, and “piped” the filling into each of the tomatoes. (Depending on the size of your tomatoes, you should be able to fill about a dozen or so.) The sweet tomatoes are a perfect backdrop to the herbaceous, creamy, tangy, filling. They are beautiful served on a bed of fresh chives (splayed out “pick up sticks” style), and garnished with either more fresh chives or a chiffonade of fresh basil, and the tiniest sprinkling of pimentón (for color, and hint of smoke).  These are the perfect little bites to serve with cocktails.  They are easy to make, quick to put together, and people really go crazy for them. Enjoy!  (And don’t forget, there is only one day left to enter for your chance to win my first giveaway – a $50 Williams-Sonoma gift card!!! )

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Filed under Foodbuzz Top 9, Snacks, Vegetables

Zucchini Pancakes with Horseradish Cream

These last several weeks I have been absolutely inundated with farm fresh zucchini in our weekly CSA bins. Mountains of them! I have been grilling them, stuffing them, roasting them with Parmesan cheese, making them into a roasted vegetable tian, and anything else I can possibly think of to use them up in some form of non redundant fashion. In searching for recipes, I stumbled across Ina Garten’s zucchini pancakes recipe, and thought, yes! That’s it! And while her recipe is, I’m sure, positively delectable, I decided to sort of come up with my own take on them, based on what other ingredients I had from the CSA. I started by grating about a pound of both green and yellow zucchini in my food processor fitted with the grating disc. I then placed the shredded zucchini in a colander and sprinkled it with about a tablespoon of salt, and allowed it to sit for about twenty minutes. I then rinsed the zucchini in cold water, and squeezed out as much liquid from them as I could, using my hands. In a large mixing bowl I then combined the drained zucchini, about a cup or so of chopped green onions, a handful each of chopped fresh basil and Italian flat leaf parsley, two large garlic cloves (grated on my microplane zester), four large eggs, a little salt, a healthy grind of black pepper, a dash of chipotle powder, and enough flour to pull it all together (about a half a cup or so). I then heated some extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, and,while it was heating, mixed together a half a cup of sour cream, a half a teaspoon or so of prepared horseradish (or more depending on the strength of your particular brand), and a dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper. I placed heaping spoonfuls of the zucchini mixture into the hot pan, and cooked them for about two minutes per side, or until nicely golden brown (placing them onto a sheet pan in a 250º oven in between batches to keep them warm). I serve them up with a dollop of the horseradish cream, a sprig of fresh parsley, and a few lemon wedges for squeezing over them. The pancakes are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The delicious, savory flavor of the garlic and herbs hit you in waves, with a gentle little nudge from the chipotle powder. The creaminess of the sour cream, and the subtle kick from the horseradish perfectly compliment the pancakes, without overwhelming them.  These are perfect as an appetizer, first course, or lite lunch (and I imagine that they are a great way to get vegetables into your kids).  Now if only I can come up with a use for the REST of Mount St. Zucchini I will be in good shape. Enjoy!

This post made the Foodbuzz.com Top 9!!!

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Filed under Foodbuzz Top 9, Side Dishes, Snacks, Vegetables