Warm Spanish Olives with Salami

Posted by on Wednesday Oct 29th, 2014

The olive is a culinary gem. The green olive, rich and almost smoky, gets a run for its money from the cured black olive, with its buttery, mild flavor. I love both.

Good olives are a key hors d’oeuvres (also known as a pre-meal snack when there’s not a dinner party to follow), a “discovery” I made during a 2007 trip to Spain, when my sister Kate and I started every meal with a beautiful bowl of green olives. Seven years on, I almost always serve a bowl of olives at parties, with a tiny vessel for pits alongside.

Just because they’re wonderful on their own doesn’t mean you can’t cook with olives. Falling apart in a lamb tagine, olives are irresistible; likewise when slices of black olives deliver needed pungency to a seven-layer dip.

There are simpler preparations too. At Spain’s Great Match event, which I attended earlier this month, I got to try three simple olive preparations, any of which could be a side dish or an appetizer. Created by Cooking Channel host and culinary expert Annie Sibonney, there were: Spanish Green Olives with Oranges & Beets, Green Olives with Fresh Herbs & Vermouth, and Gordal Olives Stuffed with Piquillo Peppers & Marcona Almonds with Blue Cheese. Annie, who’s incredibly charming, says she keeps one or more of these in the fridge when she’s home in Spain, because friends stop by unannounced and she likes to feed them (a vision of hospitality I drool over).

Inspired by Annie’s simple, delicious way with the Mediterranean fruit—and by the fact that 22 percent of world olive production happens in Spain—I picked up some green olives and a good Spanish sausage at Despaña not long after the event (many of the olives you find at antipasti bars and in supermarkets are also from Spain.)

Together, my pair of ingredients could have sat alongside one another, and maybe some Manchego, on a cheese board. But I went one step further, baking my olives with cubes of the sausage, in a move sanctioned by Annie herself. Both sausage and olive grow softer, more melting, and richer somehow. The house smells great, and the dish is fun to present and then eat. It’s a surprising change from the norm, too.

This post is sponsored by Olives from Spain. All opinions—including my love for olives—are my own. See more about Olives from Spain here, and follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. Thanks for reading!

Granola Nuts

Posted by on Monday Oct 27th, 2014

Last weekend, I ran around the field hockey turf at my high school, more than a decade after I first made varsity, in a last-minute alumnae game. Then all last week, I drove around northern California, visiting farms and other food producers. The common thread between the sporting life and the road trip? Hunger. And: its solution.

When we played field hockey in high school, snacks were never far away. Practice started with a granola bar, and games ended with orange slices and donuts. Likewise, before we set out on the road each day last week, I made sure the car was loaded with both gas and food. On the best day, we had cheese rolls and longan in the backseat, but at the minimum there were granola bars.

Granola bars: were they everywhere when you were growing up too? They served a purpose back at a time when I played field hockey daily, but as an adult desk-sitter, I mostly avoid the extra calories. When I snack, I skip the sugar and oats and go straight for the granola bar’s powerhouse ingredients, the nuts. Cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts: these are what pick me up when my blood sugar wanes and dinner’s still far away. 

But what if we put back in just a little of the granola bar, cross-pollinating granola and walnuts. Would we get granoluts? GraNUTola? Granola nuts? Whatever you name them, that’s where my mind soon went, to a recipe that combined the most nutritionally dense part of the granola bar with a little bit of what makes good granola so yummy. The proportion is key here; instead of appearing every now and then, the walnuts and almonds anchor every bite, and the addictive, salty-sweet olive oil-maple granola coats them.

Eat these for a filling snack that’s not as sweet or carb-y as a whole granola bar, or use them to top your oatmeal. My next move is to repurpose them as croutons on a butternut squash salad salad like this one.

Do you snack? What’s your favorite–salty or sweet?

Slow Cooker Cassoulet

Posted by on Thursday Oct 23rd, 2014

In researching and testing recipes for a piece about slow cookers, I discovered that I ADORE cassoulet and that that the French peasant stew (okay, a sort of modified version) is no big deal to whip up if you use your slow cooker. Grab beans, onions, sausages, bacon, and duck confit (or chicken, if duck’s a stretch) and start simmering. Read the full piece about slow cooking, and get the recipe for cassoulet, over at First We Feast.

You’d think that a move between two apartments two blocks apart would be easy. But the distance from apartment #1 to #2 turns out to matter a whole lot less than the number of years you’ve hoarded kitchen equipment in the old place (four) and the sum of stair flights to be climbed between the pair of Brooklyn walk-ups (six and a half). Two blocks can be long indeed. We were going to need some help.

Natalie of Good Girl Style joins us each month to share incredible desserts with Big Girls, Small Kitchen readers–desserts that are entirely gluten-free, but not like obviously gluten-free. That means no specialty flours or hard-to-find ingredients, just crispy rice cereal, marshmallows, and chocolate. Don’t miss her recent recipe for this bowl of autumnal goodness

These are almost too delicious to be called “treats,” so my boyfriend has dubbed them “luxuries.” And luxurious they are, with a homemade caramel whisked in, a top surface robed in chocolate, and a decoration of the finest of flaked sea salts. But they are also, at the core, still comfort food to be passed around at a gathering of family and friends, who will unsuspectingly find their beloved childhood treat has suddenly grown up. The flaked sea salt, usually sold under the label Maldon, provides just enough saltiness to offset the caramel tones.

Keep in mind that regular Rice Krispies in the blue box contain barley extract, which may contain gluten. Kellogg’s now makes a yellow box of Rice Krispies labeled “gluten-free” that does not contain this additive. If you can’t find those, check in the health food section for a brand like Barbara’s, but make sure it is a “crispy rice cereal” and not plain puffed rice. Working quickly is the key with the sticky marshmallow topping, and getting the mixture in the pan before it cools too quickly. Salt in the caramel and on top makes the flavor really stand out. These won’t last long!

Did you catch this Bittman article? It’s about how, when cooking at home, you can make a trade off between energy and time. Slow-cooked dishes often don’t demand much work–the garlic cloves soften on their own, no need for chopping–but you have to start early and stay around to check on them. Fast-to-make dinners require less overall time, but the pace of cooking is furious and the action nonstop: You can’t step away from the stove for a minute. My reaction to all this was: yes, what an observation! And how true that we consider all cooking time the same, when we definitely shouldn’t.

The fast and furious stuff would seem to mean stir-frying and pan-frying, poaching and blanching, quick-cooking techniques that nonetheless produce good flavor, though requiring your full attention. It does. But in fact, the single most time-consuming act of quick cooking is the chopping, I think. You know this if you’ve ever made fried rice or beef and broccoli. That chicken and string bean dish cooked up ridiculously fast, sure–but after 40 minutes of mincing.

Though food safety fears have driven us to put food in the fridge ASAP if we’re not planning to eat in the next ten seconds, my own observations of chefs and serious home cooks reveal that not everybody follows USDA guidelines to the letter–which, by the way, allows commercial chefs to leave cooked food out for four hours (home cooks, for whatever reasons, only get two).

When entertaining, dishes that can be left, worry-free, at room temperature are obviously a boon to the host’s organization. Less known is the fact that the best brown bag lunches are equal candidates for short-term room temperature storage. Here’s why.

Eating food cold kills a lot of flavor. Reheating lunches in the office microwave is depressing, plus the microwave leaves all those vexing cold spots in a dish. Since I adore bringing my own lunch–the mid-day journey to find a bad, expensive sandwich just about does me in–I’m always looking for ways to make even a humble packed meal more delicious. And a safe two-to-four hour (aka all morning) marination at room temperature does just that, giving flavors in grain bowls or chicken salads time to mesh in the best way. The bread on your sandwich stays crusty, and last night’s leftovers morph from congealed to inviting. Even soup, which you’ll still want to microwave, will warm up faster if it starts from room temperature. Plus, the texture of room temperature food is better.

Still, when you have a debate in which food scientist Harold McGee chides cooking expert Michael Ruhlman about his food storage habits, you do want to be careful. Refrigerate lunches that spoil easily, like fish and fresh cheese. The USDA’s tips for college students are surprisingly readable, if you want to know more.

P.S. 11 Low-Carb Lunches (so you’ll stay awake this afternoon).