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Archive for April, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Make Tapenade

Tapenade-topped crostini with a garnish of
fresh tomato. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

 

Back in our college days, a fashionable new restaurant opened in midtown Manhattan. It had a menu that was very exciting for the time.

For starters, instead of serving butter or olive oil with the bread basket, there was an exotic dip: creamy and a bit salty with the flavor of seafood. The bread basket included delicious and sophisticated slices of Melba toast.

We learned in short order that the toasts were called crostini (cruh-STEE-nee) and the dip was tapenade (TAH-pen-odd). They became our favorite hors d’oeuvre for years to come.

In addition to helping us maintain our food-forward-thinker status, tapenade was ridiculously easy to make. Just open three cans or jars, place the contents in the food processor with some seasonings, and pulse.

The recipe for crostini even easier. Both recipes follow.

Delicious with wine, beer and cocktails, these recipes are a reason to invite friends and neighbors for a casual get-together. Or make them for Mother’s Day.

 

TAPENADE RECIPE

You can substitute green olives for the black olives (some people use a half cup of each). If you don’t like anchovies, leave them out. If you don’t like anchovies and tuna, you can substitute artichoke hearts, cooked eggplant, mushrooms, red bell peppers or sundried tomatoes. This is an easy recipe to customize to your own preferences.

If you want to spare the carbs (crostini), tapenade is also delicious with crudités.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted black olives(1)
  • 4 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)(2)
  • 1 tuna (5 to 6 ounces), drained
  • 1 can (2 ounces) anchovies, drained
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  
    NOTES
    (1) Canned olives are famously bland. If you like a stronger olive flavor, buy better-quality olives in the jar or from an olive bar—although you may need an olive pitter to remove the pits.
    (2) We find that the oil in the drained tuna and anchovies is often sufficient. Process the mixture without the added olive oil; then decide if you need it. The added olive oil will give the tapenade a thinner consistency. If you’d like it thinner still, add more olive oil, bit by bit.
     
    CROSTINI RECIPE

    Makes about 25 slices.

    Ingredients

  • 1 baguette(1)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt/kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  •  
    Preparation
     
    1. PREHEAT. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    2. SLICE. Cut thin baguette slices on the bias.
    3. COMBINE. Mix the oil and salt and pepper. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat one side of the bread slices with oil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

    Yield: about 24 slices. At the table, we serve a plate of crostini with a bowl of tapenade and let guests top their own crostini. For passed hors d’oeuvre or an hors d’oeuvre plate, serve them already topped.

    You can serve the crostini plain or with a garnish: chopped tomatoes, a strip of pimento, some fresh herbs or whatever you have on hand.

    (3) Because the bread is toasted, you can use day-old baguette. In fact, we typically make crostini whenever we have a leftover loaf.

     

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TAPENADE AND PESTO

    Pesto is typically based on basil although can use other ingredients, from greens (arugula, spinach) to sundried tomatoes. Tapenade is always based on olives. While pesto can be used as a dip, it is actually a sauce, used to coat other foods. Tapenade is a spread that can be used as a dip.

    Pesto
    Pesto, the Italian word for pounded, is an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil or other vegetable or fruit, plus olive oil and other ingredients. The sauce originated in Genoa, Italy. The classic pesto alla genovese is made with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan and/or pecorino cheese and garlic, plus salt. There are many variations on the original recipe; some use herbs or greens instead of basil (arugula, cilantro, spinach, e.g.) or focus on other ingredients (pumpkin, sweet red pepper).

    Tapenade

     

    Bruschetta are larger than crostini, and grilled rather than oven-baked. Photo courtesy California Asparagus Commission.

    Tapenade is an olive-based spread, typically used as an hors d’œuvre, on crackers or bread. It can be used in recipes as well; for example, to stuff fish fillets. We serve it as a condiment with grilled fish, atop or to the side.

    Olives were among the first domesticated crops. Olive pastes and spreads—chopped or ground olives mixed with olive oil—have been served in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. The “classic” tapenade recipe enjoyed today was invented less than 100 years ago by the chef of the Maison Dorée in Marseilles, who added anchovies and capers to a black olive spread. The word comes the from Provençal term for capers, tapéno. Some recipes add tuna as a variation.

    And yes, there are olive pestos, that add olives to a traditional pesto—hold the tuna, capers and anchovies!

    As for the tapenade: You can use it to top bruschetta or crostini.

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BRUSCHETTA & CROSTINI

    Both bruschetta and crostini are Italian recipes based on toasted bread. The difference is twofold: size and toasting method.

  • Crostini are small, thin slices cut from a narrow, crusty loaf like a baguette. The word means “little toasts.” They are usually seasoned with olive oil and salt and/or garlic prior to toasting. They can then be topped with a spread or with cheese, meat, seafood, vegetables—often in combination (see photo above).
  • Bruschetta are typically sliced from a wider crusty loaf and toasted over coals or a grill. The word comes from the Italian bruscare, which means “to roast over coals.” Like crostini, bruschetta can be topped with a wide range of items.
  •  
    Both will be a welcome addition to your culinary repertoire.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Revive Wilted Vegetables

    You can crisp everything but the garlic. Photo
    by Scott Bauer | U.S. Agricultural Research
    Service.

     

    Sometimes, you bring vegetables home from the store and find them wilted the next day.

    Other times, you forget about the vegetables for days, then find them wilted.

    This tip helps you revive asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, celery, greens, lettuce, scallions, zucchini and much of what you’d put on a crudité plate.

    Vegetables wilt when they dry out. You can restore the moisture with an ice bath:

    Fill a bowl with water with ice cubes. Add the vegetables (cut as you plan to use them) and let them sit for 15 minutes or longer. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on a cloth or paper towel.

    Voilà: Your soft veggies are now crisp veggies, thanks to a chemical process known as turgor pressure.*

    IT WORKS FOR GRILLING, TOO

    Before you grill them, put your vegetables in an ice bath. When they come off the grill, they’ll be moist and crisp.

     

    HOW TO PREVENT VEGETABLES FROM WILTING IN THE FIRST PLACE

    Refrigerators have crispers to help vegetables remain fresh in a moister environment; the drawers trap moisture and slow the dehydration.

    Some crisper drawers have controls that regulate the moisture level in the crisper. If your crisper has settings, make sure to choose “Vegetables.” Fruits prefer less moisture rather than more: That’s why there are separate drawers for fruits and vegetables.

    If there’s no more room in the crisper, store the vegetables in plastic bags or containers.

    Mushrooms should be stored in paper bags or wrapped in paper towels, rather than stored in plastic. Remove any plastic wrap from a carton of mushrooms and replace it with paper.

    What Not To Put In The Fridge

  • Eggplant, onions (except green onions/scallions), potatoes and squashes. These vegetables prefer cool rather than cold storage.
  • Tomatoes. Cold sucks the flavor from tomatoes. They should be refrigerated only after they are fully ripe and if they have been cut, exposing the surface to bacteria. Even then, use them up quickly.
  •  
     
    *Turgor pressure: Turgor pressure. In wilted vegetables, the water inside the cells has evaporated, lowering the pressure on the cell walls. Think of a balloon loosing its air. When the vegetable soaks up the water (osmosis), the water pushes against the cell walls, making them hard (crisp) again—like reinflating the balloon. That’s because the water pressure inside the vegetable cells is greater than the air pressure outside the vegetable. Turgor pressure gets its name from the turg?re,  to swell. This is also the root of our word turgid (Latin turgidus), meaning swollen and distended (as well as pompous and bombastic).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spicy Lemonade

    Someone gave us a box of Crystal Light On The Go Natural Flavor Lemonade, in individual-portion packets.

    They let you mix up a refreshing lemonade wherever you find a glass or bottle of cold water. We’ve become hooked—a surprise to us, as we haven’t liked other mixes we’ve tried—and this one has just five calories per glass! So congrats to Crystal Light for the excellent lemon flavor.

    After we used up the individual packets—in one day—we raced to the supermarket to buy the pitcher-size packets, which make two quarts. While 64 ounces of lemonade sounds like a lot, it’s the equivalent of four 16-ounce bottles. We’ve been going through a pitcher a day.

    We’ve also been playing with flavor variations.

  • Mint. A sprig of crushed fresh mint is great, but you can also use a drop of mint extract.
  •  


    It’s really delicious! Spice it up for flavor fun. Photo courtesy Crystal Light.

     

  • Cayenne. A pinch of cayenne makes spicy lemonade. Add it pinch by pinch to the glass until you get your desired level of heat; or start with 1/2 teaspoon in a pitcher.
  • Ginger. The same works with ginger, which has a tastier spiciness than cayenne.
  • Pink peppercorns. Not actual pepper but a berry from another tree (the Baies rose plant—details), these add a very mild flavor at best. But they look pretty in the glass. You can add them to the cayenne and ginger recipes.
  • Savory Herbs. If you have fresh basil, rosemary or thyme, you can also add a sprig to your lemonade. Lightly crushing the herbs before adding them to the glass or pitcher will release the flavorful oils.
  •  
    We love all the variations, but will be serving pitchers of spicy lemonade on Cinco de Mayo. Yes, you can add Tequila…and gin and vodka.

    Want To Make Lemonade From Scratch?

    Here’s the recipe.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How Make Tacos At Home (It’s Easy)

     

    Many people enjoy tacos at restaurants, but far fewer make them at home. It’s really easy.

    You don’t need a holiday to make this family and party favorite. But if you haven’t made tacos before, use the upcoming Cinco de Mayo as the occasion.

    Tacos require a relatively long list of ingredients, but they’re all easy to gather: chopped beef or diced/shredded chicken, canned black beans and corn, onion, taco seasoning (packaged, or use the recipe below) and an optional jalapeño—remove the white ribs and the seeds unless you like things really hot.

    Then, it’s simply into the skillet for these ingredients. When the meat is cooked (20 minutes), set the skillet on the table, buffet style, along with taco shells, chopped lettuce, salsa, shredded cheese and sour cream.

    Then, everyone can build his/her own taco.

    Tacos can be nutritious food, especially when you:

  • Switch the beef for chicken or lean beef.
  • Substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for the sour cream.
  • Go easy on the shredded cheese.
  •  
    Beans, lettuce, onions and salsa contribute fiber (in addition to nutritients), and corn taco shells are whole grain.

       

       

    MAKE YOUR OWN TACO SEASONING

    McCormick’s Taco Seasoning includes chili pepper, cumin, paprika, oregano, onion, whey, salt, sugar, garlic, potato starch and citric acid.

    You can eliminate the whey and sugar by making your own taco seasoning from ingredients you already have on the shelf. And you’ll save money in the process.

    ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon each, cumin, garlic powder, paprika and oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper (optional)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. Combine ingredients in a small bowl.

    2. Substitute for a 1.25-ounce package of commercial taco seasoning.

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Mexican Beer For Cinco De Mayo

    One of our favorite ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo is with a Mexican beer and salsa bar: a tasting of different beers from Mexico, different salsas, and our favorite corn chips from Food Should Taste Good.

    Bohemia* is one of our favorite Mexican beers. It was named after a region in the former republic of Czechoslovakia† that produced some of the world’s finest beers.

    A pale pilsner-style beer, it is the most awarded of Mexican beers. It’s worth tracking down.

    To set up a beer and salsa bar:

    1. Pick six different beers† and six different types of salsa. Choose among green salsa/salsa verde/tomatillo salsa, red salsa, salsa fresca or pico de gallo (fresh red salsa), salsas made with beans, chipotle, corn and fruit.

    2. Serve the salsa in bowls. Place the salsa containers behind the bowls so people know what they’re eating.

     

    Bohemia beer: a fine way to celebrate Cinco
    de Mayo. Photo by Jaclyn Nussbaum | THE NIBBLE.

     

    3. Use small cups/glasses. You want your guests to try all six beers, but not to overindulge. The five-ounce disposable plastic tumblers (“rocks glasses”) available in supermarkets are on the generous side. You can also use plastic or glass shot glasses.

    4. Beer tasting notes. If you have time, make cards to set in front of each of the beers, mentioning the style and any tasting notes you want to provide (you can find this information online).

    5. Don’t forget the napkins and plates.

    More To Nibble

  • The different types of salsas.
  • The different types of beers.
  •  
    *Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic (capital, Prague) and Slovakia (capital, Bratislava) in 1993. Bohemia is located in the contemporary Czech Republic.

    †The majority of Mexican beer is produced by two large companies. FEMSA is the maker of Bohemia, Carta Blanca, Dos Equis, Indio, Sol, Superior, Tecate and the seasonal Noche Buena. Grupo Modelo produces Corona, Corona Light, Modelo Especial, Modelo Light, Negra Modelo and Pacifico. Estrella, Montejo and Victoria are made by smaller producers.

      

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