"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Week of Hors D'Oeurves, or Melissa Makes Up For Lost Time

Regular readers of this blog know that there are some chapters I cook out of with regularity (like Cakes, Cookies Bars and Confections; Vegetables) and some that I don't (like Frozen Desserts and Sauces; Pasta Noodles and Dumplings). Hors D'oeurves and First Courses definitely falls into the latter category.

Why? They are fiddly, people! Don't ask me why I can spend a million years on a cookie but stuffing a cherry tomato makes me crazy--it just does. Also, I think that in the arc of my work day, the afternoon (when I bake) is relatively leisurely compared to the crash and rush of pre-dinner, and the LAST thing I want to do when I'm trying to get food out for a crowd is fuss over a decorated carrot stick.

I'm just kidding about the decorated carrot stick. Not that I'd want to fuss over one. There are no recipes for decorated carrot sticks in this book.

But here it is, the holiday season, and I was presented with not one, but TWO opportunities to spend some time making hors d'oeurves. Bring me your carrot sticks, your cherry tomatoes, your walnuts yearning to breath free! Or at least, to be candied and eaten!

The first was our employee Christmas party. This party has evolved over the years from a very small, brief gift exchange to a full-fledged party, albeit without the booze. It was my privilege to plan and cook for this group of hard-working, amiable folks and it came at the perfect time--before the descent of the family, my last remaining days of peace before the holiday craziness. This was my menu:

Mulled Cider
French Hot Chocolate
Candied Walnuts
Deviled Eggs
Baked Cheddar Olives
Spicy Lemon-Marinated Shrimp
Exotic Mushroom Pate
French Pea Soup

There are certain among you who will be scratching their head that there is no dessert listed here. Well, I did plan to make Grapefruit and Coconut Angel Pie, because I love that pie and have been looking for an excuse to make it again. But I just ran out of time, and besides--two of the employees planned to bring some sort of dessert so I left the sweets to them.

I made the Candied Walnuts last year but see that I didn't blog about them (tsk, tsk!). They were a HUGE hit so I reprised them. One of the things that I love about this cookbook is that even before I've gotten anywhere near finishing with it, some of the recipes have become old standbys for me.

So, the Candied Walnuts--they're a pain, but worth it. Boil them first, for five minutes, then set them out on paper towels to dry for an hour or so. Then toss them with powdered sugar, and drop them in hot oil until they're brown and crispy. Set them on a baking sheet to cool, sprinkle them with cayenne salt, and then put them on paper bags to soak up some of the grease.

The Deviled Eggs were pretty straightforward, and I've made them before (and blogged about them, see link in my list above). What is it about deviled eggs? Everybody loves them. And you can't really screw around with the filling too much or people get upset. And for pete's sake--don't forget the paprika!!

Baked Cheddar Olives...mmmmmmmmm. I had made these before out of The Joy of Cooking and I knew they were winners. This is pretty much the same recipe--it apparently was a 50's stand-by so I guess it's canon now. The idea is a cheese pastry wrapped around small olives, and baked in a 400 oven. What cracks me up is the instructions, which goes something like: toss flour with shredded cheese and softened butter, and rub with your fingers until a dough forms. Obviously this was in the days before food processors. I followed the directions just for the heck of it, but next time I'll use the machinery--it's quicker. The home health aid who helped me roll these was so excited by the concept that she vowed to be exactly on time so she could get her hands on the finished product. Kevin, I'm stealing your photo--thanks.

I was a little worried about the Spicy Lemon-Marinated Shrimp because it involves red chili peppers. Also, it has the word "spicy" in the title. When you're working with old folks, you pretty much want to avoid "spicy". But since this crowd was mostly middle-aged I figured I'd risk it, and so proceeded.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it in advance, and the day of your party you just drain the marinade and serve in a pretty bowl. I love recipes like this. And the recipe isn't hard either--boil the shrimp in pickling spices, then put them in a lemon-based marinade for a long soak--in my case three days. And I worried for nothing about the chili--it wasn't prominent. If you're expected to bring something to a dinner party this week, try this recipe out--it's low stress/high-satisfaction-yield.

Exotic Mushroom Pate was definitely the time-suck in the food preparation department, but I wanted to make something sort of showy and vegetarian-friendly. Basically the idea is this--you use the mushrooms in three ways: as a pureed base; as a chunky filling, and then sauteed with almonds on top. You do this all with two kinds of mushrooms, shitake and oyster. Almonds are prominent in the recipe, so don't serve this to your allergic friends.

I screwed this recipe up by over-cooking it (you use a water-bath) by about half an hour. I was so mad at myself, since I had labored over it in a major way, but knew that it would only be a texture issue, and in fact the texture was just fine--not as moist and pudding-y perhaps as it might have been, but seriously tasty.

I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a photo of this because it's very showy--but I still have some in the fridge and it's going to make an appearance at lunch today so I'll have my camera ready.

The French Pea Soup I've made before (see above link) but I will say that if you're tripling the recipe give yourself some extra time. Oh, and take the time to make the croutons. They're worth it.

Merry Christmas, fellow employees! Let's do it again next year.


More? There could possibly be more?

Oh yes. I told you I had TWO events that called for hors d'oeurves, and the second one was my family Christmas gathering this past Saturday. My family decided that instead of eating hors d'oeurves all day and following it up with a big dinner, that we should just, well, eat hors d'oeurves all day.

Melissa is on board with that.

I decided to bring BL Tomatoes and Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves.

OK. Remember how I was complaining above about fiddly, annoying recipes that have you stuffing cherry tomatoes? This is what I was talking about, but here's the thing.

These cherry tomatoes are effing awesome.

It's SUCH A PAIN to scoop out the innards with a teensy tinesy melon baller, and to ever-so-delicately put in the bacon/mayo/scallion/iceburg filling with the tip of a knife.

But it's SO worth it.

It's like, you know how some irritating food people talk about "complete proteins"? Something like, you should only eat bread with corn or beans with nuts--it has something to do with the order in which you digest things to get the maximum benefit from them (so where do I fit in the chocolate chip cookies? but I digress)

Anyway, eating these little stuffed tomatoes somehow feels complete. You seriously don't need anything else with them. And I'm so mad that I left the leftovers at my parent's house because I wanted to eat more of them. Make these when you have an army of slaves in your kitchen to do the fiddly work.

OK, the Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves. I discovered, much to my irritation just about a second ago that I've actually already made these but didn't mark it in the book (I put a dot next to the recipe title) AND I've blogged about it. Here.

So it WAS a year and a half ago, and I didn't really write about it because our computer apparently had been on the fritz, but still. I wondered why it seemed so familiar!

Toasted walnuts and parmesan is a great combination, and endive is an elegant, cool and crunchy vehicle to get these goodies into your mouth. I have to confess that I waited too long at my parents to make these and everybody was full on everything else, so these never got trotted out. And I forgot them too. Oh well, hopefully they're being enjoyed in some form or another, but SINCE I've already made them I can tell you that they're great. Use the good parm--it's worth it.

By the way, none of the above photos are mine. I am an unrepentant photo thief. Please don't sue me, I don't have any money.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!


Eve said...

YUM! I love hors d'oeurves....

Georgia / Notes on Tea said...

Yeah, you're back. Enjoyed the post...action packed. Candied walnuts - yum. Pate - yum. Parmesan walnut salad - yum.

Gila said...

That looks fabulous, but like way, way too much work for me. Like you, I almost never cook from the front section because I find that stuff too fussy, and almost never have occasion to serve it.

For what it's worth, an explanation of complete proteins: Proteins are made up of 20 different ingredients, called amino acids. Your body can make 14 of those 20, but you need to get the other 6 from your food. These six are called essential amino acids, because if you don't eat them, your body can't make any proteins at all. Animal proteins such as meat, eggs, and milk contain all of the essential amino acids, but most plant foods only have some. Hence, vegans need to make sure they eat a complete protein, ie a set of foods that provide all six essential amino acids, when combined. Rice and beans is a classical example - rice provides some of the essential amino acids, while the beans provide the rest. Nutritionists used to think that you needed to eat them all in one meal to make a complete protein, but we now know that you just have to eat them in the same day.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Gila, thanks for the explanation! I was too lazy to go look it up online. And I'm sure you're not one of those "irritating food people". :-)