Showing posts with label Appetizer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Appetizer. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby with Cherry Tomato Jam

Up until just recently I had put the Dutch Baby into the sweet for breakfast or brunch category. And the only thing causing me to vacillate between ordering and not ordering one in a restaurant is the wait time. Twenty to twenty-five minutes feels like a lifetime, particularly if you are in a hurry or hangry. But if time is not an issue and you aren't falling over the edge of starvation, the deliciousness factor of a Dutch Baby is always off the charts. If Rotten Tomatoes rated Dutch Babies instead of movies, it would probably give it a rating of 97%. I have yet to meet a version of a breakfast Dutch Baby I didn't like. The Apple Dutch Baby may be my most favorite, but I wouldn't turn my nose at a Dutch Baby simply dusted with confectionary sugar or piled high with blueberries

The world of savory Dutch Babies was unfamiliar to me until I discovered Melissa Clark's recipe for the Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby in her new cookbook Dinner: Changing the Game. Serving a savory Dutch Baby for lunch, dinner, or as an appetizer sounded intriguing. But then I would be game for making any dish destined to pair well with wine. In the case of this Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby, think chilled chardonnay or sparkling wine.

My contribution to this recipe was pairing it with some homemade Cherry Tomato Jam instead of sriracha. I may be the only person on the planet not a fan of sriracha. I had a strong hunch the fruity, nutty taste of Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese would go well with the slightly caramelized sweetness of the jam. And it must have been my lucky day as my hunch turned out to be right. If you have never made or had Cherry Tomato Jam before, you really should. Seriously, you should. Not only does it compliment the flavor of this Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby, it is a game changer on cheese platters.

Unlike most of the other Dutch Babies I have made, this one is made with almost double or triple the number of eggs used most other of my Dutch Baby recipes. Making it a slightly denser, heartier version of this classic dish. 

When looking at Dutch Baby recipes, there seems to be two approaches to making the batter. Whisking the dry and wet ingredients together until blended or processing in a blender/food processor until smooth and frothy. I prefer the later method. In the direction below I give you both options.

Whenever an ingredient list specifies the amount of grated cheese in cups versus weight, I always convert to weight (grams or ounces). Unlike measuring brown sugar (lightly or firmly packed), there don't seem to be any clearly specified guidelines for measuring grated cheese. The lack of these guidelines more than likely often means a higher probability of erring on the side of not using the amount of cheese called for in a recipe. If you don't have a scale, try to buy a chunk of cheese in the amount you need. And don't even think of substituting packaged grated cheese for freshly grated. Nothing comes close to or tastes better than a high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Oven temperature is another one of the variations noted in Dutch Baby recipes. While all are baked at high temperatures, the recommended ranges are somewhere between 400 to 450 degrees (F). The only exception to these temperatures are found in some German Pancake recipes. This one calls for baking the Dutch Baby at 425 degrees (F). Cast iron pans not only handle the high heat well, their surfaces are inherently non-stick. Make your Dutch Baby in a 12" round or 9"x 12" pan, but make certain it's cast iron or one that can handle the high heat. Note: Most non-stick pans are not designed to perform at very high oven temperatures.

You can either melt the butter by placing it the pan and putting in the oven or melting it on the stovetop. It is critically important be hot when you pour in the batter.

In 20 to 25 minutes, the sides of your Dutch Baby will rise and turn the most beautiful golden brown. Garnish the baked Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby with some additional chopped thyme and chives and immediately bring to the table. Not just for the wow factor, but like most Dutch Babies, this one is best enjoyed while still hot. Although I found picking at the room temperature leftovers was still an incredibly pleasurable eating experience.

Don't forget to make some Tomato Jam ahead of time.

The batter for this Dutch Baby comes together rather quickly. In less than an hour, you can have dinner (or lunch) on the table. However, you can also have everything prepped in advance. The batter and grated cheese can remain refrigerated until you are ready to assemble, bake, and serve.

But this savory Dutch Baby shouldn't be pigeon-holed in the Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby category. As Melissa Clark suggested, it would also make for a great appetizer. What about the 20-25 minutes it takes for it to bake in the oven? Well depending on your timing, it won't seem long for your guests. But even if you decided to put in the oven once they arrive, this Herbed Dutch Baby is well worth the wait. And maybe I need to reconsider how and when I think about the sweet versions of this 'love child to the pancake'. 

Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby with Cherry Tomato Jam (A slight adaptation to Melissa Clark's Herbed Parmesan Dutch Baby recipe as shared in her cookbook Dinner: Changing the Gamea slightly revised version of the Cherry Tomato Jam for Cheese recipe as shared in the cookbook: The Cheesemonger's Kitchen: Celebrating Cheese in 90 recipes)

Ingredients for the Dutch Baby
1 cup (120 g or 4 1/4 oz) plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
2 Tablespoons finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (75 grams or 2 1/2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Flaky Sea Salt

Directions for the Dutch Baby
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the eggs and milk until well blended.
4. Add eggs to the flour mixture and whisk until well blended and frothy. (Note: Alternately put the flour and egg mixture in a blender and mix until well blended or whip using a hand mixer.)
5. Stir in chopped thyme, chives and a heaping tablespoon of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese.
6. Place butter in a 12" or 9"x12" cast iron pan. Place in oven until butter melts and begins to slightly brown (approximately 3-5 minutes). Note: Check on butter after 2 minutes and every minute thereafter.
7. Remove pan from oven. Pour in egg mixture. Top with grated parmesan cheese.
8. Return to oven and bake for 20-22 minutes or until the Dutch Baby is puffed and golden.
9. Remove from oven, garnish with additional thyme and chives. Serve immediately with Cherry Tomato Jam.

Ingredients for the Tomato Jam
2 cups (340 g) cherry or grape tomatoes (or a mix of the two), cut in half
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
2 -3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
generous 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Directions for the Tomato Jam
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Place the cut tomatoes halves on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes to loose the skins.
3. Remove tomatoes from oven and place in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add sugar.
4. Over medium heat gently melt sugar, then bring to a boil and cook (boiling rapidly) for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thick and syrupy. Notes: Stir frequently. My cooking time was 7 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and add lemon zest, freshly squeezed lemon juice and chopped rosemary.
6. Transfer tomato jam to clean, sterilized jars. Seal well. When cool, place jam in the refrigerator.
7. The tomato jam can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 weeks, if it lasts that long!

Notes: (1) Instead of melting butter in the cast iron pan in the oven, can melt on the stovetop over medium high heat; (2) Instead of using thyme and chives, could use thyme and tarragon or thyme (2 T), tarragon (1 T) and chives (1 T); (3) Instead of serving with the Tomato Jam, could serve with Sriracha and/or lemon wedges; (4) Definitely serve with a good quality white or sparkling wine; (5) If using a round cast iron pan, cut into wedges for serving; (6) The Dutch Baby is great hot out of the oven, but was equally delicious when it came to room temperature; (7) The batter and grated cheese can be prepared ahead of time and kept refrigerated until ready to use, making it a slightly make-ahead appetizer or luncheon/dinner entree. 

Fishing on the Snoqualmie River (June 2017)

Twin Falls, Snoqualmie Region, North Bend, Washington (June 2017)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style

If one ever needed a reason to (a) share a great bottle of wine with friends, (b) grow cherry tomatoes this summer, (c) nosh on appetizers so good you wouldn't care if dinner followed or not, or (d) any or all of the above, this Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style may be it. The concept behind this appetizer is so ingenious, so simple I don't know why it isn't one of those 'regulars' served at every cocktail party or gathering. Could it possibly have anything to do with lower than average membership in the feta cheese or kalamata olive fan clubs?  Anyone not already a proud card carrying member, of this club needs to make this Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style. One bite and all of your previously held (pre- and misconceived) notions about the taste of feta cheese and/or kalamata olives will be shattered. How can I possibly say this, considering not all tastes are the same? Well, it just so happened I asked the person who shall remain nameless  to tell me what he thought of this 'new' appetizer.  This would be same person who also happens to be the same person who is neither a big fan of feta cheese or olives of any kind. In an effort to avoid any bias before his first bite, I made certain not to tell him any of the ingredients (a cruel necessity). After his third or fourth crostini schmeared with the warm, softened feta cheese and topped with the baked tomato mixture, I was fairly certain he liked it. But of course, I needed the affirmation. Why? Because it's so much more gratifying hearing accolades or experiencing any other form of adoration, than it is assuming or mind reading someone's thoughts based on their actions. The rave reviews given did not disappoint.

The Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style literally is one of the easiest to prepare appetizers. If any of my friends who claim they don't cook made this for their family and/or friends, more than likely everyone would wonder why they had kept their Iron Chef persona under wraps for so long.

Beyond its' simplicity, the Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style doesn't require any unusual, hard to find, or overly expensive ingredients. Yes, this is the proverbial win-win appetizer.

Everything you need to make it may already be in your own garden or readily available at the grocery store. On a side note, the original recipe called for a quarter cup of thinly sliced red onions. I intentionally omitted them. Not because I don't like red onions (I do), but for some reason my palate was in the mood for an onion free Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style experience.

There were a variety of feta cheeses available in the deli section of my grocery store. While slightly more expensive (relatively speaking), use a good quality, fresh Greek Feta for this dish instead of any of the other feta options you find. Ask for an 8 to 10 ounce block of cheese. To ensure the feta stays fresh in my refrigerator I generally ask the person who cutting the cheese to pour some of the cheese brine into the container. When you are ready to put everything together, cut the block of feta in half crosswise, so each piece is no more than an inch thick.

If you can't find a pint of yellow, red, and orange cherry tomatoes, use whichever ones you can find or whatever tomato colors appeal to you. After that, all you to do is cut them in half lengthwise.

After starting to coarsely cut the kalamata olives with a knife, I thought the food processor would do it faster (and better). Feel free to cut them with a knife, but having the food processor do the work is worth having to wash up a few extra things when you are done.

In a medium sized bowl, the halved tomatoes, coarsely chopped olives, minced garlic, black pepper, oregano, olive oil and only one tablespoon of the chopped parsley are mixed together.

In an oven proof baking dish, one able to withstand a temperature of at least 400 degrees (F), the tomato mixture is spooned over the two slices of feta cheese.

In just 15 to 20 minutes, the cheese will have softened (but will not be runny or gooey) and the tomatoes will have blistered. If, by some chance, your cheese has not softened, continue baking, checking every 2 minutes. When the Baked Feta came out of the oven, I gave it an ever so light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Because, why not.

I served the Baked Feta with some homemade crostini instead of crackers or pita chips. The baked cheese is soft and spreadable (versus runny or gooey like a baked goat cheese). So whatever you use, it needs to have some substance to it. Not only did the crostini hold the baked feta and tomato mixture well, it was the perfect choice to mop up any of the remaining incredibly flavorful juices.

This is one of those substantial appetizers. Depending on how much wine you are serving and drinking while enjoying this Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style, you might consider serving it with some grilled shrimp and/or the Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip. Suddenly your appetizer can turn into the perfect small plate dinner. And who knows, you might end up adding a few more members to the feta and kalamata olive loving fan club.

Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style (ever so minor changes to the Smitten Kitchen's Mediterranean Baked Feta with Tomatoes recipe)

1 pint of a colorful mixture cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced (if you love the flavor of garlic, use 2 cloves)
2 Tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped and divided
1 generous teaspoon dried Greek oregano
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
Freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)
An 8 to 10 ounce block of fresh Greek feta
Optional: 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
Crostini, crackers, or pita chips for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the tomatoes, olives, garlic, only 1 Tablespoon of parsley, oregano, olive oil and black pepper. Note: Mix in sliced red onion if using.
3. Cut the block of feta in half crosswise. Lay two halves on an oven proof baking dish. Spoon the tomato mixture over the top.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Note: Feta should feel soft to the touch.
5. Garnish with remaining tablespoon of parsley, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and serve immediately with crostini (or baked pita chips, or crackers).

Notes: (1) The originating recipe came from "The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook" written by Sara Forte. That recipe offered baked and grilled versions of the Baked Feta. If you don't buy the cookbook, you can find the grilling directions in the Smitten Kitchen link above. (2) Chopping the kalamata olives in the food processor worked perfectly and is much easier than chopping them with a knife. (3) If possible, buy your feta from the deli portion rather than in a pre-packaged container in the cheese section of your favorite grocery store. (4) The Baked Feta Mediterranean Style will cool quickly, so it's important to serve immediately. If becomes room temperature either return to the oven to warm or reheat in the microwave oven. (5) Toss any leftovers into some freshly cooked pasta for a mediterranean style pasta dish.

Barns in Door County, Wisconsin (April 2017)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Artichokes came late into my life. How late? Well, I was well into adulthood. I would like to be able to tell you exactly where I first had them, how they were served, or how much I swooned over them. But honestly I can't remember. I vaguely recall wondering how it was that artichokes had never crossed my life path before. Or how I had managed to go through so many years of my life without them. Yet, once the artichoke door was opened, there was no going back to an artichoke-free life. Without being overly melodramatic over a vegetable of all things, it was kind of like the feeling one gets when meeting a 'causing your heart to race and stomach to have butterflies' soul mate. You immediately know you want them to be in your life forever.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dips have been around for a very long time. And understandably so. They are delicious, irresistible, slightly addictive, and pair incredibly well with wine. White wine, red wine, a rose, a prosecco. A Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip befriends all of them. 

But let's be honest about something. Not all Hot Spinach and Artichokes Dips are the same. You have probably had your share of those ranging from not particularly endearing to your palate to ones you wanted to hover over. So what may account for the differences? With the exception of all them having spinach and artichokes as common ingredients, there are numerous 'other ingredient' options. All of which will have an impact on the taste and texture of the dip. Some are made with only one kind of cheese, while others have two or more kinds of cheeses. Some have a cream cheese/mayonnaise base, while others are made with sour cream, a bechamel (white sauce) or even a jar of canned sauce. The herbs used are fresh, dried, or a combination of both.  The garlic, if used, maybe be freshly grated or a powder. And sauteed onions are one of the many options added to them. Additionally the proportions of ingredients are all over the map. Which invariably leads to the variances in taste reactions. 

When looking at dozens of recipes for a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip, I came to discover there wasn't 'one' that spoke to me. So I did what I often do. Make some inferences about ingredient proportions, put together combinations that appeal to me, and cross my fingers the outcome will be as good as or even better than I had hoped. This would be my version of culinary science.

While I may be a bit biased, I am going to boldly suggest you abandon your favorite Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip recipe and replace it with this one. Or at least make your version and this version, invite your friends over for a taste test and determine which one is 'best'. Of course, you should do this before they consume significant quantities of wine and after you give them your written statement verifying their 'best' choice decision will not in any way do any temporary or permanent harm to your friendship. 

If you are like me, you always have some frozen spinach in the freezer, cans of artichoke hearts, garlic, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano in the house. Whole milk mozzarella and Spanish Onions are things I buy when I need them.  When a recipe calls a non-specified type of oregano, I usually decide whether to use the Mediterranean (Greek, Italian) or Mexican versions. Because Mexican Oregano has some citrus notes to it, I thought it would pair well with the artichokes and spinach.

Some of the Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip recipes I looked at called for the use of frozen artichoke hearts. But I tend to buy canned artichoke hearts. Use what you like. 

I wanted this Hot Artichoke Dip to have a strong cheesy flavor. So I opted for freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Whole Milk (versus Part-Skim or Fresh) mozzarella. I know Parmigiano-Reggiano can be a little more expensive than other imported or domestic parmesan cheeses, but it lasts for quite a long time (wrapped well) in the refrigerator and brings an unparalleled dimension of flavor to any dish it is used in.

After all of the ingredients are combined, transfer to a oven-proof baking/serving dish and top with some additional grated cheese. I topped with both of the cheeses, but next time might only top with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

The Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip bakes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the dip is hot in the center. Your oven as well as the size/depth of the baking dish may affect your baking time.

You can serve the Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip with crackers, crostini, pita chips, or bagel chips. Note: I served with Garlic-Parmesan bagel chips. 

Invariably this dip will turn from hot to warm to even room temperature when you are serving it. Unless of course it is quickly inhaled because it is the only thing you are serving and everyone is starving. While some may like it 'best' hot or warm, I think was still delicious when it got to room temperature. In the event you have any leftovers, this dip reheats exceptionally well in the microwave a medium power. 

This Hot Spinach and Artichoke is destined to be one of your new best friend in the weeks, months and years ahead. It's creamy, cheesy, more than slightly addictive, and incredibly delicious. In other words, its everything a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip should be.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip  (inspired by multiple sources)

1 small yellow, Spanish onion, or other sweet onion chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove the liquid
14 ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 to 3/4 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (or 1 teaspoon of Italian oregano)
1 - 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 ounces fresh or whole milk mozzarella, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F)
2. Melt butter in small sauté pan. Add chopped onion and cook until onion has become translucent (approximately 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a medium-large bowl, mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. Stir until mixture is smooth and free of any cream cheese lumps.
4. Add spinach, artichoke hearts, grated cheeses and onion. Stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
5. Transfer to a oven-proof container. Lightly grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.
6. Bake 30-35 minutes or until top is lightly golden and dip is hot in the center.
7. Serve hot/warm with bagel chips, pita chips, crackers, and/or crostini.

Notes: (1) This dip can be made early in the day or even the day before. Do not preheat the oven if transferring the dish directly from the refrigerator to the oven. Your baking time might increase slightly, but you won't risk cracking your dish. (2) When buying mozzarella, look for whole milk mozzarella as it does not release as much liquid as a part-skim or fresh mozzarella. (3) If you double the recipe, make it two different dishes (versus one larger dish) and bake them separately. This way you will always have a hot/very warm dip to serve.

April Spring Day (2017) at Morton Arboretum (Lisle, Illinois)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Superbowl Appetizer Round-Up

Super bowl Sunday is right around the corner. An whether you are a football fan or not, it's almost impossible to not be drawn into some of all of the hoopla. Come Monday morning, some of us non-hard core football fans may not remember the final score, the MVP, or the most controversial call of the game. However, we will remember the commercials, the half-time show, and, of course, the food we noshed on during the game. Especially the food we didn't get enough of or over indulged in. Just in case you haven't yet decided what to serve this weekend or what else to make to go with some your standby favorites, here are some savory, hearty, crowd-pleasing appetizers your friends and family won't be able to stop talking about for days, weeks, maybe even a month later. These are so incredibly delicious, it wouldn't surprise me if some of them made a repeat appearance at an upcoming Academy Award party.

Sloppy Joe Sliders with Avocado Crema and Jalapeños

Pretzel Style Pigs in the Blanket

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Ham