Tag Archives: appetizers

gu detroit sherry tasting party

So, I know it’s Christmas Eve and you’re all probably running around doing your last-minute preparations.  But I’ve been sitting on this post for a long while now and wanted to get it published- there’s a recipe for romesco sauce that you just might be interested in if you need a last-minute appetizer for a Christmas or New Year’s party.

There ain’t no party like a Detroit… sherry tasting!

Those of you who have been following this blog are familiar by now with the GU Detroit*, a loose collective of “food and drink professionals and serious enthusiasts”. A couple months ago the topic of sherry came up in the forums, and since no one was extremely knowledgeable, and because we all love an excuse to get together and imbibe, our friend and cohort Suzanne seized the occasion to host a sherry tasting.

*That’s “gee-you Detroit”, short for Gourmet Underground, not “goo Detroit”, in case you were wondering.

The GU Detroit gang being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and see a large table groaning with the weight of what seemed like several tons of food- Spanish charcuterie, cheeses, olives, and tapas of all sorts were nestled in tightly, and I was challenged to find room for my contributions.  Although I should be used to this kind of spread at a GUD event, it was still a bit overwhelming and I had that “kid in a candy store” feeling for at least the first hour I was there.

In addition to about 10 or 12 types of sherry, there were wines (including several bottles of Les Hérétiques, a GUD favorite that Putnam and Jarred turned us on to) and homemade cider my brother brought.  The tasting was semi-organized in relation to the number of people there- someone (Evan or Putnam, I’m guessing?) had lined up the bottles in order from the pale finos to the darker, richer olorosos so that we could attempt some semblance of a proper tasting.  However, due to the somewhat chaotic nature of the event, I can’t tell you much beside the fact that I preferred the lighter sherries;  the intense raisiny flavors of the darker sherries were not as much to my liking.

I hadn’t had a chance to cook for quite some time, so the day of the party I decided to go all out and make three different tapas to bring.  Flipping through The New Spanish Table, I came across a recipe for deviled eggs with tuna (which I blogged about in a less breezy post than this) that sounded perfect. I also made a batch of romesco sauce from the same book, a paste (although that word makes it sound less appealing than it is) made from hazelnuts and peppers and garlic and sherry vinegar that can be eaten with crudites. Last but not least, I sauteed some button mushrooms with garlic and parsley.  I think I’m at my cooking-mojo best at times like these- when I have the day to consecrate to the task, and an event to prepare for.

I can’t wait for the next GU Detroit gathering, aka excuse for me to actually cook.  I’m not anticipating doing much cooking to speak of in the next month (not counting lots of scrambled eggs/omelettes and salads for dinner), as I focus on packing and moving house and getting the new house in order, so unless there’s an event to kick me into gear it may be a while before you hear from me, at least regarding new recipes! But I’ll be around, regaling you with other food-related news and happenings.

For now though, here’s the romesco recipe.  If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so- it’s a nice break from all the roasted red pepper hummus and cheese spreads and ranch flavored veggie dips so prominent around this time of year.  In addition to using it as a dip, it has other applications as well- in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers cooks shrimp in it (I’ve made this too and it’s uhhh-mazing!!) and I can picture it as a great sauce for chicken too.

Romesco Sauce (adapted from The New Spanish Table)

1 medium-sized ñora pepper or ancho chile
⅔ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ Tbs toasted breadcrumbs
1 small ripe plum tomato, chopped (if unseasonal, substitute 1 good quality canned plum tomato or 3-4 Tbs canned diced tomatoes)
1 Tbs sweet (not smoked) paprika
pinch of cayenne
6 Tbs fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (quality red wine vinegar may be substituted)
coarse salt

Notes: I could not locate a ñora pepper or ancho chile when I made this last time, so I used something labeled “chile California” which, although inauthentic, worked fine. Also, almonds may be substituted for the hazelnuts, or a combination used. The sauce will have a slightly different character but will still be delicious.  If you want to gild the lily, fry the nuts in olive oil instead of dry-toasting them.

Soak the dried pepper in very hot water until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem and seeds and tear into small pieces, either before or after the soaking, whichever is easiest. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped.  Add the garlic, pepper, paprika, tomato, breadcrumbs, cayenne and ⅓ cup of the pepper water and pulse until fairly smooth but retaining some texture.  With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, processing until completely incorporated.

Scrape the contents into a clean bowl, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt to taste.  Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to meld, then taste and season with more salt or vinegar as necessary.

Serve with crudités such as endive leaves, fennel or celery sticks, or use as a sauce for grilled shrimp, chicken or asparagus.

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bedeviled

Hey there.  Just a friendly warning, if you’re here for the recipe you may want to scroll down; the following may not be of interest to many of you, and that’s fine, but it’s something I felt I needed to write.

I had a post all written and ready about how my friend had this great sherry-tasting party last month, with all of this amazing Spanish food, lively conversation, etc. but I had this nagging feeling and it just didn’t feel right to post it. Although the party was beyond lovely and I had a great time, the evening was marred by the fact that I completely and totally flaked out on a good friend.  I was supposed to text her the address of the party, and even after having said out loud to my brother as we were walking in the building that I needed to do just that, a few seconds later I was distracted by a conversation and the thought left my mind. I then proceeded to leave my phone in my coat pocket in the bedroom all night, so I didn’t hear any of my friend’s calls or texts. To make matters worse, she had already driven over 20 miles and was in a bar nearby awaiting contact from me.

Of course, as soon as we walked out of the building to leave the party, it triggered the memory that I was supposed to have contacted her, but by then it was too late.  I called and offered frantic apologies, but the damage was done. Of course she felt, as I would have, that it was simply unimportant to me and that my other friends had taken precedence. I was so frustrated- how to explain that that was not the case; that I just hadn’t “pictured” her at the party (she decided to go at the last minute) so it didn’t seem “off” that she wasn’t there? Although it was the truth, it sounded like a lame excuse even to me.

I’ve been doing some research lately to try to understand why my mind works the way it does and why I’m often frustrated by my forgetfulness, inability to be organized or to accomplish certain tasks.  I came across the following  and it was like reading a summary of my life story: frequently losing things, trouble completing routine or mundane tasks, academic underachiever, short temper, low stress threshold and several other characteristics that were uncomfortably familiar.

These are some of the manifestations of a certain type of ADD.  Now, I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but based on a laundry list of symptoms which I won’t bore you with here, it’s exceedingly probable that this is the explanation to years and years of figuratively banging my head against a wall wondering why I couldn’t seem to be motivated to accomplish as much as my peers of similar intelligence and education, why my house is frequently a mess, and why I feel  disproportionately stressed out by life’s day-to-day tasks.  Apparently it’s common for the condition to go undiagnosed in high-functioning girls/women, because they often don’t exhibit the hyperactivity and disruptive behavior that boys do.  Because the hyperactive form of ADHD is so much more prevalent in the general discourse, I never knew that there were different types and it never occurred to me that it could be an explanation.

I couldn’t help but get emotional reading the list of symptoms and feeling this overwhelming sense of recognition, after literally decades of feeling that something was “wrong” with me but not knowing what (Am I just lazy? Why is it so hard for me to be organized? etc).   Even my blog posts, which I enjoy, often take me two to three weeks after the fact before I am able to post them, and those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed that I often sound harried or overwhelmed even though I don’t have any kids and have a lifestyle with (relatively) few responsibilities.

Lest this post be a total drag, I did want to share with you this most excellent recipe for Spanish-style deviled eggs that I took to the sherry party.  Just about everyone likes deviled eggs, and a couple people at the party said these were the best they’d ever had.  They come from a colorful and well-put-together cookbook called The New Spanish Table, and although they’re no more difficult to make than any other deviled eggs, they pack a lot more flavor thanks to the inclusion of tuna and some other goodies.

2011 is going to be a huge year for me with the new house and the wedding, so  I’m hoping that getting better informed about this condition will allow me to better manage these seemingly monumental events and enjoy them rather than feel freaked out and stressed.  Wish me luck.  As for you, I wish you all the best of holidays, and a healthy and happy New Year!

Spanish-Style Deviled Eggs with Tuna (Huevos Rellenos de Atun) adapted from The New Spanish Table
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6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise (I recommend making one or two extra in case you have a couple that don’t peel cleanly)
1 6-oz can tuna in olive oil, tuna drained and flaked
2 Tbs capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 small or half a large shallot, minced (about 1 heaping Tbs)
2 Tbs mayonnaise
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
piquillo or roasted pepper, cut into thin strips for garnish
handful of chopped parsley

Mash the yolks well in a bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallot and capers until well incorporated.  I like to mix the tuna in at the very end so it retains a bit more of its texture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Mound as much of the filling as possible into the halved egg whites (you may have a bit left over).  Garnish each egg with strips of pepper, and scatter the plate with the chopped parsley.

chicken liver pâté julia-style for the MLFB

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This past Sunday I finally got the chance to meet some of my fellow MLFB’ers (that’s Michigan Lady Food Bloggers to the rest of you) at a get-together at Rena‘s lovely Ann Arbor home. I can’t pate-in-moldquite recall how our theme was chosen, but it was decided that we would all bring a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you who have ever seen my cookbook shelves, but I actually don’t own any Julia Child cookbooks. I guess I always thought of MtAoFC as démodé and somewhat irrelevant to the modern kitchen. Still, I got a copy from the library and flipped through, settling on the recipe for Mousse de Foies de Volailles as my contribution. mustard-ingredientsAs I read through, some of the recipes did seem obtuse, but others were definitely appealing. Most of all, I was pleasantly surprised and amused by the voice in which the book is written. I also read Julie & Julia over the weekend and will do a book review of that soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it probably aided my appreciation for MtAoFC.

I wasn’t able to find fresh raw-chx-livers-crop-1chicken livers at the grocery store, so I wound up using frozen, but the taste of the finished product was still good.  Since cognac was not in the budget, I substituted brandy, which worked just fine.  I had some quatre-épices (a French spice blend of pepper, clove, nutmeg and ginger, typically used to season pâtés), so I substituted that for the seasonings the recipe called for.

the-spread-11

the spread

soup-wine

chicken and sausage "bouillabaisse"

The pâté came together just as easily as the conversation among the group that day (aided, I might add, by a lovely selection of French wines, chosen for us by Matt Morgan of Morgan & York in Ann Arbor).  My friend Kate came along with me and was just as excited as I was to sample the dishes of these talented ladies.  It was great to finally be able to put some faces to the names of bloggers I’ve been following and corresponding with for several months now, and I regret having missed the last gathering (Summer in January). But I’m confident there will be many more to come, and that the food will be just as delectable!

quiche1

quiche à l'oignon

Some of the offerings Sunday included quiche à l’oignon, tarte Tatin, a country pork liver pâté, champignons à la Grecque, some chocolate-filled choux pastry puffs, a chocolate crème brulée, some baguette and cheeses, and a wonderful chicken and sausage stew with rouille made by our hostess.  I wanted to pace myself and taste different

tarte-tatin

tarte Tatin

foods with different samples of the wine, so I was making my way rather slowly through all the goodies on the table.  Much to my dismay, when at last I got to the desserts, the tarte Tatin was completely gone! I had to content myself with a little scraping of the crust, which tasted heavenly… I think I may have to make one for myself in the near future to make up for this disappointment.  🙂 In spite of that, Kate and I left the party blissfully satiated, and she was cool enough to let me nap in the car on the way back

dessert-plate

Kate's dessert plate

since I was exhausted (long weekend!) and had band practice immediately upon returning home.  There are no rewards without time and hard work though, and that goes for music as well as cooking.  That said, this recipe is an easy one that you can put together in 30-40 minutes the next time you want to add a little French sophistication to your appetizer spread.

Mousse de Foies de Volailles aka Chicken Liver Pâté (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I)

(Printer-friendly version)

livers-in-pan1 lb chicken livers
1 stick (4 oz) + 2 tbs butter
1 shallot, minced
1/3 cup cognac or madeira (I substituted brandy)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp quatre-épices
1/2 tsp salt

Rinse and drain the livers and remove the stringy fatty bits.  Julia instructs removing any green or black spots (eww), but my livers fortunately did not have any.  Cut the livers into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt the 2 tbs butter in a heavy skillet and sauté the shallot until it begins to soften, then add the livers.  Cook until firm but still rosy on the inside.  Scrape pan contents into the bowl of a food processor.

Return pan to heat, adding the cognac.  Reduce to about 3 tbs, then add to food processor.  In the same skillet, melt the remaining stick of butter.  When melted, add this, the cream, and seasonings to the processor and blend until smooth.  At this point, it will look like nothing so much as a meat smoothie, but don’t worry- all the fat in there will harden up just fine when it gets chilled.  Julia instructs pressing it through a sieve, but I didn’t want to make that much of a mess, and mine still turned out plenty smooth.

Line a small loaf pan or a few large ramekins with plastic wrap or wax paper if you want to be able to unmold your pâté.  If you’re ok with serving it straight from the container, you can skip this step and just pour it in.  Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled and firm.  If serving at a party, keep in mind that it will become quite soft if left sitting out, due to all that butter.  Serve with water crackers or little toasts or baguette slices, good mustard, and something pickled.

holidays 2008

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Browsing through other food blogs, I feel like a huge slacker for not having posted any “seasonal” recipes, but what with having to go to three different family get-togethers, two of which were out of town, as well as working and getting my upper flat ready for a new tenant, I didn’t have much extra time for holiday baking. I did make a bread pudding for a friend’s holiday potluck, but it didn’t turn out all that well and was unfortunately not worth blogging about (other than as a cautionary tale, but being short on time, I’d rather write about stuff that DID turn out)! Still, I do have some good food-related memories of the ’08 holiday season…

Christmas Eve, Marvin and I went to his mom’s for dinner. She made a dish of her own creation that can best be described as a “Latin Shepherd’s Pie”: she takes ground beef and cooks it in a skillet with onion, garlic, carrot and tomato sauce, and then spreads a layer of mashed yuca on top and bakes it. This was served with salad and some excellent tamales. It was very tasty and I hope to get more of an actual recipe from her eventually.

noelle-quiche-crop1Christmas morning was lovely… Marvin and I opened our gifts in bed and then had a yummy breakfast of bacon & onion quiche, green salad and a tropical fruit salad. It was nice to be able to relax a little before having to dash home to make my dish to pass for Christmas dinner and make the drive to Lansing.

Our family does holidays potluck-style, with the host providing the meat and the rest of us contributing side dishes, desserts, etc. Our meat dish this year was ham, so my contribution to Christmas dinner was a dish of peppery turnip greens, sautéed with little pieces of bacon and a generous amount of diced onion, and seasoned with a couple pinches brown sugar, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a couple dashes of tabasco. I love the spicy/bitter flavor of turnip or mustard greens, but I realize it’s not for everyone- I had originally planned to do collard greens, but when I went to the store they looked terrible, so the turnip greens had to stand in. (I have since used some of the leftovers as an omelette filling, with a little handful of diced ham thrown in as well. Mmmm.)

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For my other family gathering, I made a really simple “cheese log” using a log of fresh goat cheese- I just rolled it in chopped walnuts and cherries, put it on a little platter and drizzled some balsamic vinegar on top. Although I feel like those flavors are a bit cliché at this point, it was a matter of making something easy and quick with what I had on hand. Perhaps I’ll try it again with walnuts, honey and herbes de Provence to switch it up a bit.

I got some great cooking-related holiday gifts, including two cookbooks that were on my wish list: The Flavor Bible, a wonderful reference that was on many foodies’ “Top Books of ’08” lists, and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (one of my resolutions for the new year: Bake more bread!). I also got a Wusthof chef’s knife and a beautiful French-inspired set of dishes from Marvin (you can see them in the quiche photo above), an ice cream maker from my sister, and a KitchenAid food processor courtesy of a gift card from my dad. Thanks everyone! I feel very fortunate to have such a generous family. Next year I do hope to get organized far enough ahead to give gifts of baked goods to friends… another New Year’s goal to strive for!

hot-dog-apps

 On the subject of New Year’s, Marvin and I decided to take it easy this year and just have a small gathering of friends over. I had to work during the day and the party was a total last-minute decision so I didn’t have any time to make any of the food… Trader Joe’s to the rescue! I feel guilty buying all store-prepared food, but it was either that or no party. Sarah did bring a plate of these cute little appetizers though… hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry, sliced, baked and served with a mustard dip. It reminded me of something Amy Sedaris would come up with. I’m happy to report that the party was a success, especially after we got a rousing game of Taboo underway (girls vs boys; the girls won, of course).

I have a few food-related goals for 2009, in addition to the bread-baking. I have a rather large cookbook collection, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I own several from which I have never cooked a single item. I thought I might set a goal of cooking one new item per week from these books, but I fear that may be a tad ambitious. Still, I definitely want to try to explore and make use of some of the books that have been sitting neglected on my shelf. My other main goal is to do more holiday baking- perhaps I’ll give Valentine’s treats out since I didn’t get to give away any Christmas goodies. I can’t think of many better activities on a cold February day than making batches of cookies or other treats!