You Say Tomato, I Say Yum!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Starters

It’s easy to get in an appetizer rut. I think I have done a hundred different variations on a cheese plate and, while always a crowd pleaser, it’s…well…boring. I have a few other appies on regular rotation (some have even appeared in this blog), but it’s not easy to find one that is delicious, pretty AND easy to prepare. When you’re having a dinner party, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time on the appetizer (I prefer to spend the bulk of my time on dessert!).

Our dear friends Cindy and Ric recently moved nearby and invited us over to see their new house and have some cocktails. Cindy is a Class A party thrower and has been both my inspiration and a mentor in the fine art of “entertaining”—a word I honestly hate and never use, but sounds fancier than “having people over.” She taught me that planning ahead is key, that a signature cocktail instantly makes the night more special, and that flowers—and lots of them—make all the difference.

As we sat out in their backyard sipping cocktails in the glorious Los Angeles twilight, I thought the evening couldn’t get better. And then Ric brought out the appetizer. We collectively gasped in delight! In a rustic paella pan, whole cloves of roasted garlic shimmered in a pool of warm olive oil, fragrant and golden. Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and goat cheese snuggled together with the garlic, creating a colorful tableau. Served with a freshly toasted baguette, it was a sight to behold. All conversation stopped as we stuffed our faces, not caring that olive oil was dripping down our chins and we were licking our fingers with reckless abandon. We were like kids devouring their very first birthday cake. And when we were done, we could have done it again.

Cindy and Ric graciously shared the recipe with me, and I’ve made that appetizer for everyone who has come to dinner since. Every guest has had the same reaction we did that night at Cindy and Ric’s: full-on swoon. I even considered creating a spreadsheet that showed the people I had made it for so I wouldn’t repeat it, although I don’t think anyone would have minded. When one of my best girlfriends, Erika, was coming to visit with her daughter, Viva, making this appetizer was a no-brainer.

Erika is not your typical dinner guest. Having Erika for dinner is like having Ina Garten, or a nicer, prettier, and better-smelling Tony Bourdain, over. She is a well-known food and travel writer and cookbook author who publishes her own glorious magazine, GFF (Gluten Free Forever – I recommend you get a subscription* immediately, even if you are not gluten-free. It’s fabulous!). The first time I met Erika, she offered to cook all the food for my wedding (I did not let her). Shortly after that, I was invited to her birthday party in which she made a croquembouche (Google it – your jaw will drop). This is just how she rolls. She blew my mind and continues to do so to this day. She is also down-to-earth and so lovely that I never feel I have to impress her, but it is also fun to cook for people who love food, so I do spend time thinking about what to make.

I don’t even remember what else I made that night, but the garlic and tomato appetizer was a home run. Even Viva loved it. When Erika asked if she could put the recipe in the holiday edition of GFF, I was thrilled! Thrilled that I could make something that dazzled her, thrilled that Cindy and Ric’s wonderful recipe will live on in print, and thrilled that so many others will be able to enjoy it too. I may not like the word “entertaining,” but feeding my friends delicious food is pretty dang entertaining.


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OLIVE OIL-POACHED TOMATO AND GARLIC APPETIZER
Adapted from the Holiday 2017 issue (no. 13) of GFF Magazine

2 cups good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled or 1 package of pre-peeled garlic (from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
½ pint cherry tomatoes
1 8-oz. jar julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
3 Tbsp. capers, drained
11 oz. goat cheese
½ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1 small handful of basil, leaves sliced into thin strips
Fresh ground pepper
1 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted (if you are gluten-free, Erika recommends the brand Against the Grain Gourmet)

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a pan over very low heat, add the oil and garlic and cook gently until garlic is very soft, but still light in color (overcooking garlic will ruin the flavor of the garlic and the oil), 30-40 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bake the sliced baguette for 8-10 minutes until just toasted.

While the garlic oil/tomato mixture is still warm, pour it into a rimmed platter, add the sun-dried tomatoes, capers, red pepper (if using), and ground pepper to taste and give it a stir. Crumble the goat cheese on top, sprinkle the basil, and…ENTERTAIN!

 

*SPECIAL OFFER FOR SWOONERS: Use code Fall25 for 25% off the Holiday 2017 issue, or Fall17 for 35% off subscriptions, including shipping.

GFF Magazine is also available at Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods and many other places where magazines are sold.

 

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Pickled French Plums – The Condiment You Didn’t Know You Needed

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Starters

boat-street-pickled-french-plums-1I remember the olden days when fig jam and quince paste were exotic additions to a cheese plate. I used to really feel like an adult serving guests these fancy-pants confitures. It didn’t matter if your cheese platter was from Trader Joe’s or curated by a man with a handlebar mustache and bushy beard from the hipster cheese store—it was elevated. Now, even kids know what quince paste is, and fig jam is no longer special. You can buy it at Ralphs.

On this blog, we’ve written about rose petal jam and Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam as we quest for tasty additions to our plateau de fromage, but it has been a while since I’ve found something new that was worthy. Recently, I was visiting the cheese stall at my local Farmer’s Market and they introduced me to my new favorite: Boat Street Pickled French Plums.

boat-street-pickled-french-plums-2Made by acclaimed Seattle chef Renee Erickson, these Frenchie fruits will make your mouth sing. A winning combination of sour, sweet and spicy—the taste triumvirate—this spread creates a perfect storm when layered on top of some creamy, rich, soft cheese. Made with French plums, cider vinegar, cane sugar, coriander, mustard seed, arbol chili, orange peel, and bay leaf, it’s a complex explosion of flavor. It’s also amazing on sandwiches (grilled cheese—hold me!) or ice cream. Trust me, you will need several jars. Boat Street also makes pickled cherries, apricots, figs and raisins. So scratch that—you are going to need a boatload (see what I did there?).

There is nothing quite like a cracker spread with runny French cheese and a dollop of some magically fruity, smoky deliciousness and a chilled glass of Sancerre. Your mouth (and your guests) will say merci.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Boat Street Pickles

 

That’s My Jam!

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

That's My Jam 1I have a problem with condiments. It’s not the taste (although, don’t get me started on relish), it’s the loitering. As a single person, a bottle of ketchup can sit on the door of my refrigerator for months. And yellow mustard? That’s once or twice a year, tops. Spying the partially used bottles every time I look in the fridge is almost as upsetting as watching the contents wash down the drain when I finally decide to dump them.

Jams and jellies tend to go faster, but they can still overstay their welcome—with one notable exception. Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam is so delicious that I have trouble keeping it on the shelf. It is, quite possibly, the most swoon-worthy thing I have written about on this blog to date.

That's My Jam 2My good friend Mika, a pastry chef and foodie extraordinaire, turned me on to this sweet and spicy spread several years ago when she discovered it at a local farmer’s market. While the label recommends serving the jam as a condiment or glaze for meats, we at The Swoon Society like to spoon it atop baguette slices that have been heaped with Saint-André triple-crème cheese. If you serve this as an appetizer, be prepared for guests who are too full to do more than pick at the main course.

Not content to take a supporting role, the fiery, smoky flavor of Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam shines when paired with simple foods. For an unexpected treat, heat a little of the jam and pour it over vanilla ice cream. The casein protein in dairy products helps to neutralize the spiciness of the chipotle pepper, while the cold ice cream cools the fire. (Vegans can enjoy Jimmie’s on non-dairy cream cheese and coconut milk ice cream, but these foods do little to soothe the burn.)

That's My Jam 3Uncle Berch’s Foods only sells Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam in packs of three, four, or five jars, but don’t let that discourage you from trying it. You will tear through those jars and find yourself ordering more to give away to friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors alike. Keep some on hand to use as host/hostess gifts, but make sure to always hold back a jar or two for yourself, or you’ll inevitably dip into your stash.

I’m not sure who this Jimmie is (or Uncle Berch either, for that matter), but he knows his way around a pepper. In addition to the original, he makes three other Chipotle varieties, as well as versions with Red Fresno Chili, Habañero and Ghost Pepper. The label quotes Jimmie as saying, “It’s easy to make things hot. It’s hard to make it taste good.” You can’t exactly set it to music, but his flavors completely rock. Jam on!

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Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam

 

Saint-André triple-crème cheese can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many gourmet cheese shops.

Bliss and Vinegar

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets
Bliss and Vinegar 1

Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co.

As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but a friend recently introduced me to one brand of vinegar that might just lure the flies away from the honey pot. Mika is a true foodie, so when she tells me she’s discovered a culinary treasure, I pay attention. On a trip to Northern California, she visited Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co. and, though they are known for their olive oil (natch), Mika fell hard for their Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Having lived in Italy twice, she knows a swoon-worthy balsamic when she tastes one.

Bliss and Vinegar 2Balsamic vinegar (which contains no balsam and is not, strictly speaking, vinegar) has been produced in Italy for centuries, but it’s become so ubiquitous in recent years that many people don’t realize they are actually consuming a cheap imitation. That bargain bottle you scored at the market is probably inexpensive wine vinegar tarted up to look like the real thing. True balsamic vinegar comes only from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy, is aged anywhere from 12-100 years, and can be valued at hundreds of dollars a bottle.

Bliss and Vinegar 3Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a true Italian balsamic vinegar. Sutter Buttes imports theirs from Modena and it is thick, sweet, and delicious. Barrel-aged up to 18 years, it has the glossy color and silky texture of a balsamic reduction, with just enough tang and acidity to complement savory dishes. In addition to the classic combo of olive oil and vinegar as a dip for bread, it can be used in salad dressings, drizzled over fruit and cheese, or—my personal favorite—spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Sutter Buttes sells a variety of flavored balsamic vinegars, from Peach and Fig to Espresso and Vanilla, but I’m a purist. I favor the singular personality of their Traditional version. Whatever your preference, with such a diversity of choices at an exceptional price, you’ll soon be full of bliss and vinegar. Buon appetito!

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Sutter Buttes Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar

 

La Brie en Rose

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

There are some universally acknowledged foods that go together: chocolate and peanut butter, strawberries and champagne, French fries and ketchup, brie and rose petal jam. Haven’t tried brie and rose petal jam, you say? Well, ma chère, let me school you, because this taste sensation is going to change your life.

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Homemade rose cupcake

If you haven’t noticed yet, I am partial to anything rose flavored. I had my first encounter many years ago at the famous Hollywood ice cream shop Mashti Malone’s. The moment I tasted their rosewater ice cream, I was forever hooked on anything rose. I bought some rose extract and started adding it to frosting, cocktails, ice cream…my husband wasn’t thrilled, but I was! Rose, rose, rose! And more rose!

One day, I stepped into a local Armenian market in my neighborhood. I love finding treasures in tiny ethnic markets; you always find something delicious that you never heard of. La Brie En Rose 2When I saw the rose petal jam on the shelf, I honestly did swoon with delight. There were a few different types. Some were very light-colored with nearly transparent petals that floated inside the jar like clouds. Some were bright pink and thick. And others were somewhere in the middle. I bought one of each.

Once I got the jars of jam home, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I tried some on toast, but it was way too sweet and, even though the rose flavor was balanced and floral, toast was not the right foil. I tried making rose macarons, and used the rose petal jam as the filling. They tasted amazing, but the jam oozed out of them, making a rose-flavored mess.

La Brie En Rose 3Around this time, fig jam and quince paste was all the rage on a cheese platter. One day, as I was preparing my same old platter, the brainstorm hit. The moment I had my first cracker, brie, and jam bite, I knew I had found appetizer nirvana. The sweetness of the jam complemented the creamy richness of the cheese perfectly. Add the crunch of a cracker to that and, mon Dieu, you will be hearing angels singing Edith Piaf and your mouth with will be swirling with a bouquet of delicate and buttery flavors. You will have no other choice but to repeat this process again and again until all the jam and cheese are gone.

Rose petal jam is now a frequent guest on my cheese platters. I would put it on every platter, but I feel bad for my poor husband, who wishes I were obsessed with peanut butter or hot sauce instead. It also makes a great hostess gift. I prefer the darker jams, as they seem to have a more intense rose flavor, but you really can’t go wrong.

Give your heart and soul to me, o’ rose petal jam, and life will always be la vie en rose.

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Rose Petal Jam

 

You can find many different brands of rose petal jam at Amazon.

 

Fig Hash or The Proper Way To Eat An Appetizer, In Society

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

Fig Hash 1The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that there is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled, four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth on the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

(From Figs by D.H. Lawrence)

Figs are mysterious. A black teardrop with a dirty secret. Little orbs with a musty aroma and a strange but lovely flavor. They are the sex bomb of the fruit world. They also happen to be my secret weapon when I have a summer party.

We used to live in a house with a big fig tree. Our first year there, I was so excited to see the little green nubs appear early in the spring and watch them grow for many months until, around the end of July, the tree exploded with black, heavy, ripe fruit. In the span of a few days I had dozens of figs in the kitchen and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Even though I loved cooking and baking, I had never eaten a raw fig. I was intimidated, but excited to
fig-ure it out. (See what I did there?)

Fig Hash 2One day, Kirsten and a few other friends were coming over for a late afternoon hang out. I was going to cut up a few figs and put them on a cheese platter, but there were so many of them. I ended up quartering a bunch of those little beauties, putting them on a plate, crumbling blue cheese on top, drizzling honey over and topping them with some chopped pistachios. Fig hash was born! It was a huge hit. People would invite me over and then sheepishly ask if I could bring fig hash. Or, when I had friends over and the fig hash came out they would say, “Ohhh, we were hoping you were making that!” When we moved, we passed the recipe on to the new owners as sort of a legacy.

Fig Hash 3A platter of fig hash is not a dainty plate of crudité. It’s more like a gorgeous, sexy mess of sticky deliciousness. You could pass appetizer plates and forks and dish it up, but we normally open a bottle of rosé or sauvignon blanc, sit outside and dig in with our hands like savages.

When we moved into our new house a year ago, one of the first things we did was plant a fig tree. Just a few days ago, we got our first ripe fig. I could eat it in the proper way, splitting it in four, delicately tasting its glittering, rosy honey. But I think I will put my mouth on the crack and take out the flesh in one bite, the vulgar way.


FIG HASH

2 baskets of fresh figs (green or black, about 12-15 figs)
3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
Honey (about 2 TBSP)
2 TBSP roasted unsalted pistachios, chopped

Quarter the figs and put them on a platter. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the figs, drizzle with honey and top with the pistachios. Eat properly or vulgarly – your choice.