Cooking for Others

Phyllo Pigs in a Blanket

Posted by on Monday Dec 16th, 2013

In Great Britain, a pig in a blanket is a mini sausage wrapped up in bacon.

I had no idea! As someone who shuns neither tradition nor bacon, I suddenly felt like a rebel for rolling up what I thought was a completely classic version of pigs in a blanket today, which I thought you might like to add to cocktail menus during this week before Christmas and then New Year’s.

I learned this fact at a cocktail party, just after the waiter had come by with a tray of American pigs in a blanket, offering bites to Brits and Americans alike. As I chewed my mini hot dog covered in dough–with apologies to any Brits reading–my reaction was one of Yankee haughtiness. We Americans may have appeared to get the recipe wrong, but in fact we have perfected it. Buttery dough and salty meat are an ideal cocktail food combination.

I did make one tweak, though. I picked up a package of Athens Fillo Dough from the freezer in my supermarket, defrosted the dough, melted some butter, grabbed a brush, and began layering the sheets with butter.

Last week, I finally sat down with my three-month-old pin loom and started weaving coasters. My mom got me the loom for my birthday so that I would stop giving everyone potholders for Christmas. To make these coasters, you wind one color of yarn around the loom three times, creating both warp and weft. Then you take a second color, thread it on a long weaving needle, and weave until the square is complete. Finishing is the easy part: you pry the whole thing from the loom and the loops settle into a tighter weave, a self-sufficient square.

Why am I telling you this? Because last week, I confided in my coffee date how I didn’t have time for homemade gifts this year, for tying up bags of cookies or giving a meal as a gift or planning a latke party for friends. For a couple of months, it’s felt like I haven’t planted myself in a chair and just sat still there. I haven’t paused to weave, to watch more than a single TV show (Scandal, Nashville) in one session. I haven’t made a meal with more than one dish, let alone an appetizer. And so, weaving has forced a pause. Relaxation. Enjoying the evenings. Making an extra dish or two for dinner.

Like, this hors d’oeuvres, cheesy, gooey, and delicious, which will slowing down dinner, giving time to sit for a bit with drinks and snacks before moving to the main course.

Something cheesy and savory to linger over, then–that’s what I had in mind when I created these as part of a group menu with the other bloggers who’ve been working with Sargento all year. Back in February, we all started covering food trends, everything from food trucks to herbs in dessert to Peruvian cuisine. I took on Middle Eastern food, and I hope you’ve loved the bright flavors, the doses of pomegranate molasses, and all the lentils as much as I have.

Back to my crostini.

There are seared mushroom slices, rich-tasting and bright with herbes de provence. I piled squares of Sargento Swiss cheese onto bite-sized baguette slices beneath the mushrooms, and these mini toasts are just killer. Really killer. Slow down and smell the seared mushrooms. Weave. Hang out. That’s what I’ll be doing.

Keep scrolling to see the recipe and all the other dishes that are part of the menu!

When you are trying to figure out how you feed yourself decent food on a semi-regular basis, at home, without spending tons of money or all your free time soaking beans, and you happen upon someone who seems to have the whole feeding thing down pat, and you ask her, “so, how do you do it?” you’re bound to hear one of a few unhelpful answers.

I say unhelpful because at some level feeding yourself is something you have to do on your own terms, and whether it’s your astronomical takeout bill that gets you on the path or the awareness that everything at the salad bar has started to taste the same or the really good three-ingredient quesadilla you fried up in five minutes yesterday and have realized you could easily make a variation of today, if you want to cook at home, I know you’ll get there.

Anyway, one of the unhelpful things don’t-sweat-it, at-home cooks say is that you can make food on the weekend and eat your pot of stew all week. Though I love leftovers, this is not something I can do. I like to cook, after all; and so reheating chili on Wednesday that was delicious on Sunday kind of bores me, thereby making the chili less delicious.

This is crazy, not only because chili gets better with time.

Baked Brie & Sweet Potato Bites

Posted by on Friday Nov 8th, 2013

At our Thanksgiving, the cocktail napkins are printed in all caps: “Forced Family Fun.” My mom bought them one year on a whim, and they’ve now become a tradition, as much as the turkey or the braided biscuits. My cousins, my sisters, and I like to laugh over them as we nibble at the appetizers and catch up. Note that this little slogan immediately becomes ironic, since we’re family and laughing and therefore having non-required amusement with our kin–exactly the opposite of what the napkins claim.

We don’t put out a huge appetizer spread at Thanksgiving, so as not to fill up before the turkey or the pie, but every few years we come up with an interesting hors d’oeuvres for people to nosh on, and I think I just created a good candidate for this year’s.

Athens Foods’ Mini Fillo Shells are a container for whatever fillings you like–classic or made-up. The sweet flavors that grace a lot of Thanksgivings’ savory foods had me thinking about mini versions of baked brie, but then I spied the bag of sweet potatoes on our counter and decided to use those for sweetness instead of dried or fresh fruit. I grated the potatoes, then sautéed them with olive oil, garlic, spices, and herbs. Sweet, but not too sweet, I piled the starchy shreds in the phyllo cups, on top of little morsels of brie. It was only afterwards that I realized I’d created little potato nests which looked a lot like potato latkes, which made me think of the hybrid holiday that will not be named.

(That’s Thanksgivukkah.)

I know we have a few more weeks of fall to breeze through before we’re having not-forced family fun over a feast that begins with appetizers like these and ends eight days later with latkes. I’m already excited.

Hi and happy new year. This may not look like apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah–a tradition that helps bring about a sweet new year. No, my recipe has been transformed by my research into Middle Eastern cuisine. This, friends, is an Iranian Kuku, a baked omelet made with greens, herbs, and–get this–walnuts and raisins. The latter for a sweet new year. That makes these the greenest, sweetest eggs ever. Intrigued? I was too when I first came upon this recipe in Claudia Roden’s fantastic chapter on egg dishes from the Middle East.

For more traditional Jewish new year recipes, you’ll want to click click over to brisket, my grandma’s plum cake, and kugel (noodle or potato??). But if you’re looking to shake things up a little even as you heed the sweetness mandate, you’ve found an irresistible recipe.

Here’s the deal. Tons of greens–like way more than you would ever dream of tossing with a mere half dozen eggs–become the substance of a baked omelet. In the tradition of Arab omelets, these are cooked until firm and they contain so much more filling than any other omelet, frittata, or savory pancake that I’ve ever cooked. I would dare to say they’re closest to the Spanish tortilla española, if we’re classifying.

Because this particular omelet hails from Persia, it’s called a kuku, which just means omelet. It’s the greens, walnuts, and raisins that make this a new year’s meal there, but you can leave out the nuts and raisins if you’re not worried about sweetness transference from your meal to your year. I found the additions to be surprisingly delicious and a nice counterpoint to all those greens.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this kuku is really, really healthful. It’s a tasty, satisfying way to ingest a greedy portion of greens and also a good candidate for an eat-all-week lunch, since it’s great cold and room temp. We enjoyed slices in a couple different ways–beside lentil soup and in a sandwich paired with mayo and and a few slices of Sargento mozzarella were two of the best.

Wings are fun. Know what’s not fun? Going back to school. Worse yet is not going back to school at all, the realization that summer is just another passing couple of months of Real Life. Or maybe, real life is better. Summer weather is going to continue for another month or so, and those of us not in school have as much leeway as ever to make the most of it. Right?

A quick stock of the summer reveals that it wasn’t all that grown up. I swam in the Atlantic at two different latitudes; I got sunburnt ten times; I ate fried clams and drank Watermelon Rickeys; I played a lot of frisbee; I checked out Austin, Texas where I ate brisket and breakfast tacos and met Quinn from Scandal (!); I biked miles upon miles; I threw a biergarten party; I went to my first Big Summer Potluck; I launched Cooking Coaches.

Which maybe means I am ready for fall, and which brings us back to wings. These guys, baked til crisp in the oven (remember the oven? the kitchen tool you haven’t thought about since May?), symbolize the best of the season to come: football games and tailgates, indoor fun, dark beer, and red wine. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Cozy cabins in a Vermont countryside bright with foliage (here’s hoping). We might as well embrace it all.

I developed this wing recipe for Pacific Coast Producers, a private-label tomato company in California. It’s a play on buffalo wings, but instead of fried, the chicken gets baked until it’s crispy, then tossed with a homemade sweet-and-sour tomato-ginger chutney that perfectly complements the meat.

The chutney itself comes together surprisingly quickly, given its nuanced flavor. It makes use of sweet onions, spicy ginger, and tangy tomatoes to create an irresistible sauce you’ll find yourself licking from your fingers. Use any leftover sauce to dip bread into as an appetizer or dollop on top of eggs, tacos, or fish.

Since we’re talking parties, I wanted to share with you the details of the anniversary event Alex and I threw for his parents a few weeks back. A theme takes a party to the next level, and taking in all the components–the number of guests, the timing of our travel to Maryland, the likes and dislikes of the crew, and the abundance of summer produce–we choose a Biergarten theme.

We kept the decorations simple: a big Biergarten banner, a few little flags for the cheese plate, a table runner, and some oversized beer steins as vases for flowers. Drinks were bottles of good German beer–naturally!

As for the food! What we liked best about the menu we created is that it mainly featured easy, make-ahead dishes. It was split between items we could order by mail straight to Maryland since we were coming from New York late Friday night (great German sausages, frozen hot pretzels from Lancaster, PA) and a vegetable platter we’d throw together from what we found at the nearby farm stand.

We featured mini potato pancakes and zucchini cakes for the first course, then moved to hot pretzels, which we took from the oven in batches as guests settled in. They were a huge hit! Finally, Alex grilled four kinds of sausages–Weisswurst, Bratwurst, Chicken Bratwurst, and vegetarian sausages–as I put the finishing touches on the three vegetables: a potato salad, a red cabbage slaw, and a big oval plate of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.

Dessert was a vegan interpretation of a Black Forest Cake, made and served in two single layers. A lot of the party doesn’t eat dairy, so I thought doing the “icing” on the side in the form of hot fudge sauce and ice cream would work, and people assembled their own Black Forest Sundaes. I can’t say enough good things about this cake–it’s sweet, fruity, and fudgy, and you’d never know it’s vegan.

Aside from the party itself, I loved shopping with Alex’s brother and cooking with two of his aunts, and it was a pleasure to be all together in a big kitchen, chatting, listening to music, and cooking loads of food.

**Biergarten Party Menu for 25**

Assorted German Beers

Mini Potato Pancakes with Chive Sour Cream
Bite-Sized Zucchini Cakes with Chive Sour Cream
Cheese Plate

Hot Pretzels
Honey Mustard

Bratwurst, Weisswurst & Chicken Bratwurst from Schaller & Weber
Vegetarian Sausages

Simple German Potato Salad
Sweet Red Cabbage Slaw
Tomatoes & Cucumber Wedges

Vegan Black Forest Cakes
Hot Fudge Sauce – Vanilla Ice Cream – Dairy-Free Chocolate Sorbet