Cooking for Others

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
Mustard

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

Hello from sunny and cool New York City! We’re having what a friend deemed “August spring,” but we’re all terrified to talk about it, lest the hellish July temperatures return. To me, it’s Maine weather: in the morning, we wear sweatshirts. At night, we sleep without air conditioning. For dinner, I’m once again okay with turning on the oven.

A good tuna melt deserves the broiler, and today I bring you the best tuna melt I’ve ever had. The inspiration for this melt arrived when Mezzetta challenged me to create a sandwich to share with you, using the fantastic jarred olives, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and spreads that they make. Sandwiches are pretty much the perfect summer meal–easy to assemble, no big deal to tote along to the beach or on other adventures. Of course I had to mix things up by turning on that broiler, but I don’t think summer will think any less of me.

For this sandwich, I mixed my favorite canned tuna (it’s called American Tuna and is low in mercury) with a simple, Italian-style vinaigrette made with basil, minced onion, olive oil, and vinaigrette. There’s no mayo in there, nor is there any on the sandwich. Instead, I spread the bottom half of the sandwich with one of my all-time favorite pestos, made with Mezzetta’s sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and Parm. For the melt aspect, I chose a fontina-like cheese recommended by my neighborhood cheesemonger. Perhaps my favorite move, though, was studding the top of the cheese with Mezzetta’s sliced hot cherry peppers, which are pickled and add great spice and flavor.

Before I go grab a cardigan to bulk up for this August “spring” morning, I wanted to let you know that you can enter to win Mezzetta’s annual “Make That Sandwich” contest. Create a sandwich using two or more Mezzetta products, enter the recipe here, and you could win the grand prize, $25,000! (There are also two runner-up prizes of $1000 apiece.) See tons of sandwich inspiration here, and good luck! I’ll be back later today with a giveaway of some awesome Mezzetta delicacies.

I wrote this sponsored post in partnership with Mezzetta to let you guys know about the chance to win their sandwich contest. Thanks for supporting the sponsors that help inspire BGSK’s content! 

When you cook at home every single morning, for most lunches, and for dinner nearly daily, you become a whiz–and a bit obsessive–at saving money, time, energy, and extra dishes, and at 7:30pm, after work and grocery shopping, you’d have a tough job convincing me to make a meal that uses more than one pan. Sometimes, dinner at home is so humble I don’t bother to mention the toast with eggs and greens, the humungous salads with smoked bluefish, the kitchen-sink pastas to you here.

But back when we first started BGSK, our inexperience led us to delicious cooking adventures we wouldn’t deign to go on now. In fact, the entire introduction of the book is about how by the end of our “sophomore year” in the real world, we’d stopped serving Manchurian Cauliflower–a crispy, sweet-and-sour cauliflower number–because we realized we’d rather be hanging out with friends than deep-frying batches of cruciferous vegetables behind the scenes. Accordingly, I became a scholar of simplicity, make-ahead appetizers, and baking polenta squares.

Though I loved this old recipe for polenta steaks, with its crispy edges from pan-frying, every time I’ve cooked polenta steaks in the last few years, I’ve brushed the steaks with oil and baked them. Not as messy. And not as good!

As I talked to quarter-lifers and put together the recipes for the Cooking Coaching students, I thought a lot about what dishes to put on the teaching menus. I aimed to convey the joy of everyday cooking over cooking show-style flashiness, yet I hesitated over whether that joy could be channeled with black beans and scrambled eggs, no matter how delightful.

Looking at the trajectory of this site, from Manchurian cauliflower to five-minute cabbage slaw, I realized that sometimes you need to pull off a showstopper in order to develop a love of cooking. You need to stand back in wonder and exclaim, “I made that!” long before you’re in the mood to mutter “here’s dinner” over an understated, if triumphant, couscous that you set on the table exactly 24 minutes after you walked in the door.

As soon as tomatoes appear at the farmstand, I rush to make summer pasta salad. Have you ever made it? It’s just chopped heirloom tomatoes marinated with tons of garlic, fragrant basil, a good pour of olive oil, and minced red onion. As the tomatoes sit on the counter, the scents of garlic and fruity tomato waft around the kitchen. Hot pasta hits the “sauce,” which coats each strand with its summery goodness. Then you’re ready to eat.

Ever since we got back from Thailand, I’ve been tweaking a lot of my favorites with Asian flavors. Birdseye chilis. Fish sauce. Sesame oil and sesame seeds. Smoky chili oil.

The summer pasta is no exception, and it presents the perfect palate update for telling you about P.F. Chang’s Flavors of Summer sweepstakes.

I was really excited to hear that the restaurant is playing with some of my favorite ingredients in its seasonal menu this summer. There’s avocado, lime, quinoa. There’s Thai basil, fresh carrots, heirloom tomatoes. There’s green beans, cilantro, fresh mango.

And, there’s a contest going on, so that if you help highlight these delicious ingredients on your pinterest board or create a recipe with them, as I’ve done here, you can win generous gift cards to P.F. Chang’s. Here’s where to read more about the sweepstakes.

The way I cooked with these summer ingredients illustrates a lot for you about the way I like to put meals together right now. I’ll always be a carb-lover, but in summer, carbs become merely the base for my bowl meals, with as many vegetables as possible collected, chopped, and thrown on top.