Sunday night we finally threw a long over-due get-together, and had up all our fellow condo dwellers to share some snacks, sips and treats. I can pretty surely speak for everyone when I say, it was an absolute blast! With loads of laughs, tons of food and lots (and lots!) of wine, the festivities lasted late into the night. The wine flowed, courtesy of all our guests. But the food, well of course that was my happy contribution.
Reflecting on this menu again, I can look back and remember getting raving compliments on each and every dish. Everyone had their own favorite, and it feels good knowing that each dish too was a favorite! The hot crab and artichoke dip was one of mine, I think. It starts with some truly gorgeous jumbo lump crab, sweet and plump and incredibly fresh. (I still am in awe by how good this canned lump crab is, which I find a Costco, a pound for about $18.) Folded together with sweet sautéed onions, red flecks of bell pepper and tender pale green artichoke hearts, then cloaked in a lemony sauce of cream cheese, Parmesan, parsley and chives. Baked ‘til bubbling with a crisp and buttery, golden brown breadcrumb crust, it’s seriously tasty, incredibly, totally good.
The white bean dip is seriously good too. Very similar to the garlicky white bean puree I fixed nearly a year ago – silky smooth, with lots of soft sage flavor, a bit of bright lemon, and huge notes of creamy, mellow garlic – but with the delicious addition of something that never hurts, bacon. And on top of that, bitter flecks of mustard greens, tenderly sautéed in the bacon fat. Oh yeah, an extra bit of bacon is always a recipe for success!
Ah, peppers stuffed with whipped feta. Heavenly. And this divine recipe has successfully transformed itself through three delicious reincarnations. Saveur Magazine originally published this recipe with much larger Fresno or Anaheim chile peppers in mind. It was the cover recipe from a few months ago, and my friend Ralph, whose word on food I always take to heart, made them right away then promptly texted me with a photograph and a strong recommendation. A few weeks later, I tasted them for myself at my friend Cary’s house party. And Cary had the ingenious idea to use mini, multi-colored bell peppers (which one can more or less usually find at places like Costco) to achieve perfectly bite-sized hors d’oevures. I didn’t luck out this week – Costco was all out of baby peppers. But at the last minute I decided to try the recipe with lightly roasted jalapeños, and some hot pickled yellow peppers. They turned out fabulously! Both were pretty spicy, the pickled peppers more than the jalapeños, but neither were too wickedly hot. And with the silky feta filling of tart yogurt, bright lemon, full oregano and fresh parsley, the cool balance was right on target. Sensational!
And oh, deviled eggs! They’re becoming one of my signature items! In the summertime months, I’m always in the mood to make them as classically as possible, with nothing more that mayonnaise, mustard and a bit of parsley for color. But come the cooler months, I like to dress them up with special ingredients. A little fancy twist is all they need to turn them from basic picnic fare into elegant cocktail party hors d’oeuvres. Tonight I prepared two special twists. The cumin and curry deviled eggs were Ben’s favorite, with warm, exotic spices added to the yolk mixture, lending a rich yellow hue. And the fines herbs deviled eggs – heavily speckled with fresh tarragon, chives, chervil and parsley, a classic and utterly perfect combination of herbs – was the fan favorite in the category of deviled eggs. I’ve made both of these versions over and over, and every time, they are the hugest of hits!
I know I said the crab dip was one of my favorite dishes of the night. But the tart below took the title of my absolute fave. Tender, golden, crisp puff pastry. With nutty melted gruyere cheese over a rich sauce of creamy ricotta. Sweet, smoky, thickly sliced bacon, a little crunchy, a little chewy. Floral undertones of lightly sautéed leaves of fresh thyme. Mellow flecks of sautéed scallions, with a perfect level of pungency. And a final sprinkling of fresh bright herbs, of the fines variety again, tender green leaves of tarragon, chervil, parsley and chives. Each delicious bite made me crave another, and it took all my hostessly etiquette, to keep from hogging the entire thing!
And the last savory snack – a mixture of rosemary-scented nuts. Sweet, salty, slightly spicy, and huge with fresh rosemary flavor. The nuts I used were pecans and hazelnuts, because they were what I had lingering in the cupboards. But any sort of toasted nuts will do splendidly – walnuts, cashews, almonds. And talk about addictive! There’s just something about the rich, full flavor of rosemary that’s so completely alluring. Combined with sugar and salt and a bit of cayenne pepper – the captivating flavor is heightened even more.
And finally, a sweet treat. Mini bites of my favorite cupcake. From the pages of my favorite chocolate cookbook, Chocolate Obsession, by Michael Recchiuti. The man’s a genius, on the scale of Willy Wonka. Every single recipe I’ve tried has been over-the-top delicious. If you’ve got a foodie on your holiday shopping list, I’d definitely recommend this book.
Anyways, these cupcakes. The cupcake part itself is a result of the best all-around chocolate cake recipe I know of. But with the incredible addition of orange zest. I’m sure you know by now, I love the chocolate-orange combination. (As does Recchiuti, by the way. This lovely duo graces many a page in his book.) The effect of the pairing in this recipe is even more fantastic than ever – tender, moist crumb with deep chocolate and bright orange flavor. And for the frosting, a white chocolate ganache with a touch of espresso!
Chocolate! Orange! White Chocolate! Espresso! Can you think of anything better? Didn’t think so. These are bites of pure perfection!