Tag Archives: appetizer

Sweet Pea Falafel with Minted Cucumber Salad

I have a long and interesting history with peas.  As a child, my mother tells me that I once shoved a pea up my nose.  (The other interesting childhood story about me related to the pea homophone, “pee,” is that I once slept walk into the living room thinking that it was the bathroom and proceeded to pee on the coffee table as my parents watched — slack-jawed, no doubt.)  I now realize that kids do some weird stuff and I’m glad to know that I contributed.

And as it happens in life, I have been paid back for my contributions.  My own daughter once projectile vomited peas all over me.  And when I was very pregnant with her brother, she decided to shove a tiny Polly Pocket shoe up her nose, which allowed me to learn a handy first aid trick that my Mom probably could have used.  After trying to get the shoe out by having her blow her nose (she was 4, so every time I said “Blow,” she sniffed it in even further), I called the doctor and got this gem:  when your child decides to shove something up his/her nose (which they will), close the unobstructed nostril with your finger and then cover his/her mouth with your mouth and blow hard — like you are giving them mouth to mouth resuscitation.  The shoe or pea will fly right out of there.  You are welcome in advance.

Hungry yet?

(I wonder if any writer in the history of the world has ever had to make the transition between toy or legume-obstructed nostrils and falafel.  We are clearly making history here.)

So, falafel.  I love it.  One of our favorite restaurants in town, Otto’s Pub and Brewery, had some of the best falafel I’ve ever had.  Or, at 9.2% alcohol content, maybe it was the Double D IPA that made my memories of it so warm and fuzzy.   It’s no longer on the menu, so I have to get my fix elsewhere.  I decided to try my own version for spring that would include sweet green peas, lots of garlic, creamy minted cucumbers, and a smoky sour cream sauce.

This version did not disappoint and it’s easy enough (provided you aren’t afraid of a little frying) for a weeknight meal.  So easy, in fact, that I think I’ll include it in the Cuizoo Arsenal.  It is equally good on a salad, in a pita, or wrap.  On its own, it makes a great party appetizer.  And I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet you could make these up and freeze them in quantities for a quick meal.  My leftovers are getting re-purposed for a chopped salad tonight with baby romaine, more cucumbers, avocado, and maybe some spicy toasted pumpkin seeds.

All of which will hopefully go into (and stay in) the appropriate orifices.

Sweet Pea Falafel with Minted Cucumber Salad

Serves 6

3 cups garbanzo beans (almost two cans), drained
1 cup peas (fresh or thawed frozen)
3 T parsley, chopped
3 T cilantro, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 t salt
1/2 t smoked paprika
1 t cumin
1/8 t chipotle powder (or to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
1 t baking powder
5 T flour
Vegetable oil (something mild tasting)

Accompaniments:
Warm Pita Bread
Thinly sliced onion
Minted Cucumbers (3-4 peeled, seeded, and sliced cucumbers tossed with a bit of salt, pepper, chopped fresh mint, and 1-2 T sour cream)
Extra fresh mint
Smoky Sour Cream Sauce (1/2 cup of sour cream with a bit of salt and 1/4 t smoked paprika)

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add garbanzos, peas, parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and spices.  Pulse until it is well combined and sticks together — but not entirely pureed like hummus.  It should still have some coarseness and texture to it.  You may have to scrape down the sides a few times to get it to combine — do not be tempted to add liquid to make it process easier.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in baking powder and flour.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to several hours.

2.  Remove falafel mixture from refrigerator and form into small patties or balls.  I think smaller patties tend to stay together the best and require less oil to fry.  Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until it is about 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fry 4-6 falafel patties at a time, for about 2-3 minutes per side until they are golden brown.  Keep warm on a cookie sheet in the oven while you fry the remainder of the falafel (making sure oil is back up to temperature before frying the next batch).

3.  To serve, take one half of a pita and place two falafel patties in it with several spoonfuls of the minted cucumbers, a few sliced onions, several leaves of mint, and a drizzle of the sour cream sauce.

 

 

 

Crispy Salami and Pesto Tart

We are recovering from a month of hard core party weekends.  Living in a college town with big time football is always fun, but it’s sort of like having a vacation home in Florida — everyone wants to visit and it’s always time to imbibe.  I am not complaining because we love having family and friends around, but I will say that my liver might be crying “uncle.”  There are only so many mornings you can wake up slightly hungover and have to face a Bloody Mary at 9:00 AM — while your young children are screaming crazy demands like “I want breakfast.”

Beyond that, the pace is furious to get the shopping done, the sheets changed, the house cleaned, and the liquor cabinet stocked.   And then after the weekend is over, your house looks like a tornado has blown through, you have not caught up on any household chores, you are exhausted, and you basically have to get everything back in shape for the next weekend.

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So, cooking has not been first on my list lately.  I wish I could say that I have been making big pots of tailgate chili or lovely brunches served in the stadium parking lot, but it has been more like takeout wings, deli trays, barbecue chips, and store bought pasta salad.  I am *trying* to learn to recognize my limits and respect my sanity.

This weekend we had a party to go to and I offered to bring an appetizer.  The only problem was that my brother came into town the night before and we were all up way too late drinking rum cocktails with coconut water (he promised me it would stave off a hangover — so I can’t figure out whether I drank too many or too few).  Long and short of it, I was not feeling overly energetic the next day and made this tart with items that were all hanging around the pantry and freezer.  It turned out well, so I thought I’d share because it was so easy.

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And if I can ever get myself out from under the dirty dishes (my dishwasher is broken again — yeah!), children, laundry, Star Wars figures, and empty bottles for recycling, I might try to get back in the kitchen and cook something that doesn’t come with directions.

Salami and Pesto Tart

(Makes a 12×15 inch tart)

1 package of puff pastry, thawed (2 sheets)
8 oz. cream cheese (1 package), softened to room temperature
4 oz. pesto (mine was from the freezer)
1 egg
4 oz. thinly sliced salami, sliced into thin strips (prosciutto or other cured hams would be great too)
1 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2-3 T pine nuts
Parmesan Cheese, shaved into strips
Fresh basil, chopped
Heavy cream or beaten egg (to brush pastry with)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a sheet of parchment paper and roll out into a 12×15 inch rectangle.  Take remaining sheet of pastry and slice into one inch strips.  Lay strips on perimeter of the 12×15 inch rectangle (to make it look like a picture frame).  Prick lower rectangle all over with fork (don’t prick sides).  Bake pastry for 15 minutes, pricking center rectangle with a fork if it puffs too much.  The goal is to keep the center of the rectangle flat, while allowing the sides to puff.

2.  Meanwhile, with an electric mixer whip the cream cheese with the pesto until well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add in one egg.  Mix well.

3.  In a small saute pan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat and add salami strips.  Fry until strips have rendered some fat and are slightly crisp.  Drain on paper towels.

4.  When pastry is done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Spread cream cheese/pesto mixture into the center portion of the pastry (just not on the “frame” portion of the pastry).  Sprinkle salami strips, and then pine nuts all over cream cheese/pesto mixture.  Brush “frame” portion of pastry with some cream or beaten egg.  Bake tart 15-20 minutes until golden.

5.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Scatter parmesan shavings and basil all over.  Cut into squares and serve.

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Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Making soup is one of my greatest pleasures.  After you know the basic models and processes, you can do just about anything and use up just about anything.  It is a tremendous stress reliever for me too — before every presidential debate (I get a little worked up over politics), I have to make soup to focus my attention elsewhere.  Plus, it is obviously about the best comfort food you can find.

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And summer time makes me miss soup a lot.  As much as I like the idea of chilled soups (and love the flavors, to an extent), they are just not the same.  Somehow, I just feel like I am eating a giant bowl of salsa or leftover sauce from the refrigerator.  It just doesn’t seem … finished.

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So, the rainy weather (combined with everyone feeling a little run down) gave me the urge to make a summer soup.  Of course, I had zucchini to use.  And leftover corn.  And some beautiful fresh garlic and onions.  I added smoked paprika because I wanted the smoky quality to add depth and contrast to the sweetness of the corn.  From there though, I went in a slightly Italian direction with lots of basil and a parmesan crisp garnish.  But I am actually going to change this recipe up next time and make a Cuban Corn Bisque (with smoky chipotle, garlic, cilantro, lime zest, and a little queso fresco to garnish).

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See what I mean?   You can do anything with soup.  The only rule is that you cook it until it tastes good.  There is no excuse for a bad soup because you can keep tasting and adding to it (very much unlike other dishes).  You cook soup until it tastes good.  Period.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Serves 4

1 large zucchini, cubed (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups of corn
2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
3/4 t smoked paprika
Small bunch of basil, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
Parmesan Cheese

1.  In a large sauce pan or stock pot, heat about 1 T of olive oil.  Saute the zucchini, onion, and garlic until soft (about ten minutes).  Season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

2.  Add 3 cups of corn and a nice handful of chopped basil.  Saute for 1-2 additional minutes.

3.  Add water and white wine, cover with lid, and cook 5-10 minutes more until very soft.

4.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth.  (You can also use a regular blender, however be VERY careful with blending hot liquids.  They expand and can make a huge mess or burn you.  You must do it in small batches and keep the lid slightly off, while covering with a towel, to allow the steam to escape without having the soup splashing out and burning you.  I would strongly suggest an immersion blender … they are great for all sorts of tasks and are not expensive at all.)

5.  Stir in heavy cream and remaining 1 cup of corn.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional smoked paprika.

6.  Garnish with parmesan crisp, additional chopped basil, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

For the Parmesan Crisp: Preheat oven to 400 F.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, thinly slice or grate some parmesan cheese in square shapes.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until very bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool (they will crisp up as they cool).

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Whole Wheat Cheese Straws

Whenever we have friends over, I am always lacking in hors d’oeuvres.  I usually get so in over my head with a main dish and a dessert that I am lucky to put some cheese and crackers out.  I’ll blame it on the fact that everyone in my house is a slob.  Including me.  So if I can pull off a good meal, the kids are fed and clothed, and the house actually looks presentable, I have done my job to the best of my ability.  Alternatively, if I invite you over and we have pizza and the laundry is sitting in the family room unfolded, you will know that I took the day off.

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But these little cheese straws are pretty damn easy — and you can pull them off in no time flat if you have unexpected guests.  My version uses whole wheat pastry flour and I think they are every bit as delicious as their white flour counterparts.  Make sure you use the whole wheat pastry flour as it ensures a very tender pastry — other types of whole wheat flour will probably not be as good.  The type of cheese and seasonings can be changed based on your mood — try them with parmesan and a bit of oregano or fontina and rosemary… the possibilities are endless.  Unless you run out of cheese, of course.  Then you can open up a box of crackers.

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The simplest version, and one of my favorites, uses some great sharp cheddar and cayenne pepper.  They are a tad spicy, so you can cut back if you are cooking for the kids (or choose another herb or spice).  And while they keep in a sealed container for a day or two, I think they are definitely best when served the same day.  Preferably with a nice glass of wine or chilled champagne.

Whole Wheat Cheese Straws

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on how long you make them

1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), cut into cubes
8 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t salt
1/8 t cayenne pepper
5-6 T heavy cream

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  In bowl of food processor, combine butter, cheese, flour, salt, and pepper and pulse until it resembles a coarse meal.

3.  Add about 4 T of cream and pulse until dough comes together into a mass.  I usually need about 6 T for this to happen because whole wheat flour generally requires more moisture than white flour (the humidity also impacts this).  But use just as much as needed so it doesn’t become too sticky.

4.  Turn dough onto a sheet of parchment paper and bring together into a flattened ball.  Roll out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick (your preference — thinner will be crispier, thicker will be chewier).  Cut into strips about 1/2 inch thick and place on another sheet of parchment, leaving a little space between them.  This batch I left about 4-6 inches long, because I wasn’t feeling fussy.  You can make them longer — which makes a cool presentation in a vase or glass.  You can also twist them if you like.

5.  Put parchment and cheese straws onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for about 15-17 minutes, until golden.  (If you go thinner, they may take a little less time … thicker, a little more.)  If you need two baking sheets to cook them all, make sure you rotate the sheets halfway through.

6.  Remove from oven and allow to cool a few minutes on baking sheets.  Remove the cheese straws from the sheets and allow to fully cool on racks.

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