Apr 30, 2006

"Magic" mushroom, parmesan & thyme crostini

MushroomthymecrostiniWhen I recently did a catering for a christening, one of the guests had some kind of epiphany... and it was these crostini that brought it all about. These canapés were the fourth or fifth in a succession of fingerfood and while I was assembling food in the kitchen, my daughter was bringing out the plates of food and serving them to the guests.
She usually very diligently explains what she offers people, so that there are no nasty surprises, but when she went out with these crostini, one gentleman must have been too engaged in a conversation to hear her explanations. So he grabbed one, confidently as he had liked all the things he'd had so far, ate it and when she had done the round, he grabbed my daughter by the arm and said "that was lovely, but what was it?". When she explained, he couldn't believe he had just had two mouthfuls of mushrooms, which he normally hates... and said if they always tasted like this, mushrooms would be his favourite food! So these crostini had done some magic - and in their combination with thyme, mascarpone and parmesan converted a mushroom loather into a mushroom aficionado!!!

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Apr 13, 2006

Vietnamese chicken balls

Chickenballs_2It was during my recent move that I made a promise. I had been trying really hard to get rid of a lot of kitchen paraphernalia both before packing and after, and I did manage to make a few charity shops in the vicinity very happy. But there were some items that clearly did fit the rule that I would bin anything I hadn't used in the last year or so, but that I still decided to keep: the deep-fryer is one of them. So I came up with an additional clause: if you haven't used it in the last year, but cannot part with it for whatever reason, then you have to use it within the next two months, and at least twice a year thereafter, otherwise it's gotta go.
Who'd have thought that I would get emotionally attached to a deep-fryer, given that I am not that big on the frying front... I don't even appreciate fried food elsewhere that much, the occasional fries at a restaurant maybe, but I am not a regular at my local chippy either. I guess there's a bit of nostalgia involved. The deep-fryer was one of the first things I bought after moving in with my (now) husband (now, how romantic is that!), because we were in love with the "pimientos de padrón" we always ordered at Aioli, which was a great tapas bar cum deli in Vienna. Never mind that I discovered shortly after that these little green chillies taste much better just sprinkled with olive oil and grilled in the oven...
After a couple of weeks of settling into the new house, it was time to fulfill my promise and get frying! I had a few friends round for an evening of playing games and decided to make various plates of fingerfood so we would be able to nibble stuff without interrupting the game. These chicken balls were the perfect solution for my frying ambitions - but you don't necessarily need a deep-fryer to make them, a deep pan works just as well. They're incredibly easy to make and very tasty: copious amounts of garlic, coriander, lemongrass and chilli and served with a tangy fish sauce... very delicious. I also made them for Jeanne's birthday bash a few weeks ago and they went down a treat!
So, deep-frying has ticked one of many boxes... I have since made smoothies in the blender, pressed fresh orange juice with my kitchen aid, had a cosy evening around the raclette grill, made a gratin dauphinois using the mandoline, but I still have to get round to making a loaf with the bread maker, dust off the pasta machine and find a good recipe for espuma to use the ISI gourmet whip... don't worry, no spanking of cooks involved, this is 100% PG!

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Apr 05, 2006

Tomato & pesto mini-galettes

Tomatopestogalette_1

All of you who have been helping me through the past few month/s know what I am talking about here - and so do all those (on a quite different level) who watched me prepare these canapés for Jeanne's birthday party last weekend... how can it be that the length of cucumbers and the radius in which bananas curl (I am sure that there is some official, technical term for this which I am blissfully unaware of) are excruciatingly regulated by EU officials, but ovens across Europe can still behave in whichever way they like???

Pink Martini
"Hang on Little Tomato"

The sun has left and forgotten me
It’s dark, I cannot see
Why does this rain pour down
I’m gonna drown
In a sea
Of deep confusion

Somebody told me, I don’t know who
Whenever you are sad and blue
And you’re feelin’ all alone and left behind
Just take a look inside and you will find

You gotta hold on, hold on through the night
Hang on, things will be all right
Even when it’s dark
And not a bit of sparkling
Sing-song sunshine from above
Spreading rays of sunny love

Just hang on, hang on to the vine
Stay on, soon you’ll be divine
If you start to cry, look up to the sky
Something’s coming up ahead
To turn your tears to dew instead

And so I hold on to his advice
When change is hard and not so nice
You listen to your heart the whole night through
Your sunny someday will come one day soon to you.

There's not much to say about these canapés except that they're incredibly easy to make and very delicious - so just download this song (Pink Martini are one of my favourite bands) here and enjoy...

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Feb 09, 2006

Feta, melon, olive & mint skewers

Fetamelonmintskewers Time for some more fingerfood... although this would be more suited to kick off an Australian barbie or a South African braai, I like to include this in the menu for any cocktail party, even during the winter, as a light and refreshing palate-cleanser. And to be honest, I like this kind of fingerfood when I go to parties myself, merely because you just know what you're letting yourself in for.
I have lost count of the occasions where I've been at a (company Xmas or other soulless) party with very average food and after biting into my third piece of rubbery scallop wrapped in puff pastry (who comes up with these recipes in the first place? There must be a law against such pitiful combinations, surely?!) and (revolting) black pudding buried in a quiche or, even worse, some poor quality meat which is chewy as hell but at least keeps me from having meaningless conversations with people I don't want to talk to in the first place... in such moments you sort of want to know that the next bite you're having is not going to send you running off to McBurgerChicken in a hurry, making sad excuses and looking like the party-pooper that you are.
But sadly, you can't even rely on the waiting staff anymore these days, as more often than not they know as little about the food they're serving as I know about quantum physics or why men couldn't even put the toilet seat down if they're life depended on it. So long live those canapés which you can safely eat without having a trained chef loitering around you and your date for ages, rattling off a gazillion of ingredients and cooking methods that brought to life the tiny bite you're about to shove into your mouth...

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Jan 23, 2006

Mushroom frittata bites

Porcinifritatta2_1This must be one of the easiest canapés to prepare: you can make it well in advance, you can serve it at any temperature and presented well, it will get a lot of attention. The best thing is that you can play around with various ingredients and make it different every time: leek & smoked salmon for a lazy Sunday brunch, courgette & onion as a refreshing starter, goats' cheese & sundried tomato for a summer picnic... I could go on and on.
Frittata is an Italian dish, it means "fried" and is an egg dish which carries a lot of resemblance to the Spanish tortilla. The main difference between the two is that a tortilla is usually prepared in the pan only, whereas a frittata is often finished off by baking it in the oven. The egg mixture also tends to be more prominent in a frittata than in a tortilla, where the egg is really just used to hold the vegetables together.
This recipe calls for baking only - which is great, as the preparation is minimal and you can get on with other things while it cooks to perfection. If serving this at a cocktail party, try putting bite-sized pieces on individual forks or arrange them nicely on a plate with toothpicks and a horseradish crème fraîche to dip them in. And if you're looking for a quick dinner, just bake it in a quiche mould or springform tin, cut it into wedges and serve it with a salad on the side... there's nothing wrong with making a meal of a perfectly comforting thing!

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Dec 13, 2005

Spoons of marinated soba noodles with crab meat & sesame - Blog Party!!!

Sobanoodlespoon1_1The Happy Sorceress is throwing another blog party in cyberspace, and since I travelled a lot last week (including a phantasmagorical trip to Paris over the weekend, to be blogged about shortly, despite the food photography ban imposed on me for the duration of the journey), I figured my contributions could come from a catering I just did recently. Jeanne and I had a lot of fun knocking up 350 pieces of finger food for a birthday party in Fulham on Wednesday and I guess the sheer amount and type of canapés is a perfect fit for the theme "Vegas decadence":

I especially loved these soba noodle spoons - they're really tricky to assemble and for a moment the Cook Sister! and I felt like we could easily take it up with Gordon R on the swearword front... but the flavours are so surprising and intriguing that they're really worth all the hassle. The original recipe for this comes out of my favourite catering bible, Eric Treuille's Canapés. The marinade uses pickled ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar and the noodles soak up all that Eastern goodness for a good few hours... topped with the crab meat and sprinkled with sesame, they're an unusual but very successful combination.
As for the tipple, it'll have to be champagne. Laurent Perrier Rosé being my favourite, but on those rare occasions where I am being sensible and budget-conscious, I go for a cheap and cheerful New World sparkling or even a Prosecco and mix it with something Andrew made me discover at the Regatta in July - Funkin' make a variety of fruit purées and I just love their white peach... I actually found this at a Tesco's superstore the other day. This funks up every bubbly, no matter how cheap, and allows you to sip glamourous "champagne" cocktails on a budget!
So Happy Partying everyone, I'm off to Paris now, but will be thinking of all of you while I meet some foodbloggers there and eat myself through a long list of great restaurants... reports to follow soon!

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Dec 01, 2005

Caviar & wasabi-cream mini-potatoes

CaviarwasabipotatoesGrowing up in Austria, potatoes were obviously a staple diet - to accompany meals, but sometimes even on their own, cooked or baked in foil and eaten just with butter and salt... which is probably the closest my Mum ever came to serving us fast food! Back then, I thought potatoes very plain and boring, but now that I am eating less of them, I sometimes get real cravings.
The best way to give into this craving is something I've adopted for cocktail parties. Mini-potatoes are a great thing - the variations for toppings are endless! Salmon or smoked trout, or a variety of cold meats, like ham, gammon or pastrami, with freshly grated horseradish in cream cheese. And if you think that's not fancy enough, try the ultimate for adding a touch of indulgence to something so earthy and cheap: top the potatoes with wasabi crème fraîche to give it a slightly spicy note, then top it with caviar... with all that smooth luxuriousness of the cream and the roe, potatoes will never be boring again!

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Nov 20, 2005

Skewers of sherry-soaked roast chestnuts, sage and chorizo

ChestnutchorizoskewersSometimes I can't understand how something that (once peeled) looks so positively like Gordon Ramsay's forehead can taste so utterly delicious!
In Austria, the only way to eat chestnuts is to buy them from one of the many street vendors, we don't really do turkeys and therefore no chestnut stuffing.
The "Maronibrater" stalls pop up on every corner as soon as temperatures approach zero (Celsius, that is). They make a fire in large steel drums that look quite beaten, probably having seen many a winter come and go over the decades - with a roasting pan on top, where they nowadays not only roast the traditional chestnuts, but also chunky slices of potatoes. Their history apparently goes back to Austria's great Empress Maria Theresia (1717 - 1780) who allowed the Slovenian minority in Vienna to set up as itinerant chestnut roasters during the cold winter months - to this date, there are about 200 of them registered in Vienna only, the majority still of Slovenian descent.
I find them to be a godsend when you're walking around the streets of Vienna in the freezing cold - there's nothing better than buying a half-dozen chestnuts straight from the oven, not only are they deliciously sweet and nutty, they also keep your hands warm as you juggle them around until they've cooled enough to be peeled without burning yourself.
Last weekend, I tried something different with them - I saw them skewered up as table decoration somewhere and immediately liked this unusual idea of a seasonal finger food. Since the theme for the UK Foodbloggers Wine Tasting was Spanish tapas, I roasted them, then soaked them in sherry overnight, and skewered them up with chorizo, sage and sundried tomatoes - but this goes equally well with any kind of thinly-sliced sausage, my favourite at the moment being a spicy Napoli salami.
Although roasting them on an open fire gives them that special kick, you can still have great chestnuts in the comfort of your own home. The secret is to score them (crosswise on their backs), making sure to only cut the skin, not the fruit inside, then soak them in warm salt water for 5 minutes before tranferring them to the pre-heated oven (200 C) and roasting them for some 20 minutes or until the skins crack open.
Alongside tangerines, this is the perfect snack for a family gathering an a cold winter evening - not to forget a big pot of mulled wine on the stove...

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Nov 13, 2005

Parnisp & honey soup shots with spicy sweet potato crisp

Parsnipshot I dearly love thick and hearty soups, especially around this time of year when the winter raises its ugly eyebrows far too often for my liking. But the more I cook, the less attractive soups become - they're not really a challenge to make, they rarely have a wow factor and they are boring to photograph... or so I thought.
While planning a few caterings I have coming up, I was browsing my cookbooks and clippings in the search of finger food that doesn't need much assembly on the spot - and also for seasonal things... it's easy to utilise tomatoes and other summer vegetables, but you rarely see root veggies at a fancy dinner party! Then I stumbled upon a beautifully presented page I must have ripped out of a Waitrose Seasons magazine last year - the recipe was dead simple: heat up some Waitrose parsnip & honey soup (chiller cabinet), pour into shot glasses and serve with parsnip crisps.
Well, I decided to make my own, of course, soup is so easy to make and home-made wins over tetra-bricked any time! If you can't be bothered to make your own sweet potato crisps, I can reveal that I nicked the idea of M&S where they sell them ready-made...

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Oct 31, 2005

Roast squash bites with pumpkin seed pesto

Squashpumpkinskewers Hurray! It's pumpkin season! (And it's also Pumpkin Day over at Slashfood!) If you're in need for inspiration for using up the remnants of your carving activities this weekend, head over to Simply Recipes, where Elise collects finger-licking good recipes for pumpkins. And here's my contribution:
Pumpkincarving_4So far, I have mostly taken pleasure out of this season by looking at all the glorious shapes and colours (and carving the occasional one for Halloween), but rarely used them in cooking. It's like with most things - if you haven't grown up with something, it takes a really strong hook to get you, well... hooked. My husband used to hate fish and when we moved in together, he slowly learnt that fish doesn't equal fish fingers - and is now a much happier person for it.
As far as pumpkins go, I am thankful to my friend Martina who recently got me to experiment with them... she made some delicious canapés for her party in September and I just had to try these for myself: roast bits of butternut squash, topped with a pumpkin seed pesto and a tiny bite of crispy bacon on top. Although this is by no means a traditional way of serving this vegetable, the use of the seeds and the oil is nevertheless quintessentially Austrian. Growing pumpkins is a major industry in the southern province of Styria and the pumpkinseed oil that we produce there is now sold the world over. It's one of Austria's big exports, like Red Bull and Mozartkugeln, and whereever you look, pumpkinseed oil usually comes from Austria, no matter what the brand. I usually buy my oil back home, choosing a bottle from a small mill, which will invariably taste better than something produced on the large scale for some supermarket. We have a shop in my hometown where all sorts of oils and vinegars are sold straight from the cask - you can buy bottles there or bring your own. Vom Fass (German for "from the cask") is a German franchise and there are now shops in Notting Hill and other locations in the UK.
The pumpkinseed oil they sell at Waitrose here is not too bad either, though, and if you want to try something new (and incredibly healthy, by the way) go for it - it's a really thick and rich, dark green oil with a distinctly smokey and nutty taste, though somehow richer and smoother than walnut or hazelnut oil. We eat it drizzled over salads (mixed leaves or potato), stir it into soups (especially pumpkin) or mashed potatoes... the possibilities are endless, but you must never cook with it. And one word of warning, wear something old when you use it, the stains are nasty and don't respond to any kind of detergent - the trick is to hang it out on the washing line and let the sun "bleach" it... so bear that in mind when you try it!

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Oct 11, 2005

Aubergine, tomato & pine nut croustades

Auberginepinenutcroustades_1And here comes another delicious bite for you... courtesy of Ronald and Katia of LoveSicily who made me one very happy person when I received their parcel in the course of Blogging by Mail. This initiative is now in its second instalment and, as per brief, saw participants send their CARE packet to an unsuspecting foodblogger, then anxiously awaiting what would be in store for them. The added challenge this time was to send ingredients out of your own kitchen or pantry for which the recipient would have to come up with a recipe...
My parcel was doubly special, I think, as it contained home-grown vegetables straight from their terrace in Southern Italy - I couldn't believe they were still in such good shape after travelling such a long distance! Apart from the veggies, there was also chocolate (never fails to please!): 4 tiny buttons of dark chocolate containing cocoa bits and two tablets of a local brand wrapped in beautiful brown wrapping paper and tied together with string. These are apparently produced following an ancient Aztec recipe and I am tempted to believe it, as the chocolate I used to have in Mexico (especially the tablets for drinking chocolate) have the same texture - it's churned cold rather than hot and therefore the sugar crystals don't dissolve completely, so it's less smooth, also because it uses much less fat... but nevertheless delicious. Next up, a roll of almond paste - never had this in my life, so am still wondering how to use it! There was also a pack of postcards - very nice touch, I think this should be madatory from now on, so people can see where their parcel is coming from... although there is the danger of me packing my things and going to Sicily, if that's the sights Ronald and Katia have just round the corner?
Given that part of the content of my parcel was perishable, I had to move quickly. I am still very much in a canape mood, so I opened up another pack of croustades (if you're at a loss as to where to find them, try IKEA) and filled them with a mixture of aubergine, peperoncino, tomatoes and pine nut, with a dash of balsamico and a sliver of Ronald's local cheese (Ragusano) to decorate. Great vegetarian finger food, bursting with flavours and dangerously moreish - thanks Ronald and Katia for your great gift!

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Oct 08, 2005

Cucumber boats with smoked trout mousse

CucumbertroutHosting a drinks party can sometimes cause headaches... even before the event! The thing is, no matter how carefully you choose your friends, there'll always be some who's either vegetarian (if not vegan), lactose intolerant, allergic to all things gluten or on some weird diet where you can stuff your face with anything, as long as it's unhealthy... I must either not have been aware of the food crazes out there a century ago, or there must be a special place somewhere that breeds people who've got nothing better to do than invent a new diet. Or let's call it "attitude to food", which seems to be a politically more correct term nowadays, as noone would ever admit that they're dieting. A slimming or health regime doesn't suffice these days, it's got to be a whole new life style!
And that's where the headache comes in: in the old days, I wouldn't even have paid attention to those people who don't eat this, don't fancy that... tough luck if you're picky! Nowadays, what you eat and what you don't has become almost religious and I feel like I am discriminating someone no matter which item I choose to make. Putting together a well-balanced selection of finger food that caters for all tastes thus becomes exceedingly difficult.
Just last week, I got a brief for a catering which, in a nutshell, looked to feed "unadventurous eaters, most of them are more in the carnivore camp but there are a few vegetarians, too" and the hosts wanted "some things which will wow them, push the boat out a bit, but have safe options handy". Hah! But the challenge doesn't stop there, as this doesn't even account for any food intolerances or allergies. So you basically need hearty, not too much fish and some vegetarian pieces, plus some wheat-free alternatives and quite a bit of no-carb options as those Atkins-followers can be particularly greedy ;-)
With so many pre-made canapé bases you can buy in every supermarket these days, it is fairly easy to throw your own drinks party at home... with some forward planning, you'll even be able to enjoy the evening yourself. Most of them, though, be it a vol-au-vent, a croustade or a bruschetta, are not wheat-, let alone carb-free. Here's one that is: cucumber is a perfect base for a canapé, easily cut into shape with cookie cutters, then topped with whatever you fancy. Provided you let it "sweat" some time in advance, it'll keep its shape forever and won't go all soggy on you. I made a smoked trout mousse here, but the same recipe works brilliantly with ham as well, or sundried tomatoes and black olives for a vegetarian option.

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Sep 22, 2005

Prosciutto & honey mustard palmiers

ProsciuttopalmiersThis is a late instalment of fingerfood that I made for a picnic concert back in August. It's the second time I made them and I must say, I liked them better the first time round, but I forgot to take a picture then - so the recipe below is for the original (very yummy version) and the picture is the recent one.
With a recipe as simple as this, you might wonder how this could not succeed last time round - but as always, the secret lies in the ingredients. Keen to use up open jars and bags in my food cupboard, I wasn't going to buy honey specifically for the use in these palmiers - and that's where I got it all wrong. The honey I used is a thyme honey from New Zealand, which tastes gorgeous with your cheese platter and on some crispy rye bread with butter. In this combination with the parma ham and mustard however, it was simply too powerful, completely covering up all the humble flavours of salt-cured parma and the parmesan.
But I do like to serve these palmiers, they're very versatile and I am going to try different combinations - maybe some blue cheese & walnut paste or pesto & parmesan or basil & tomato... and they're simple to make, can be prepared up to three days in advance or even frozen on the baking sheet and then baked from frozen while you entertain your guests - finger food doesn't come much more carefree than that!

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Aug 30, 2005

Green eggs and ham à la Sam-I-Am (EoMEoTE #10)

Greeneggsandham Do you like green eggs and ham?
(...)
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs with ham!
(…)
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say.

Sam!
If you will let me be, I will try them.
You will see.
(...)


Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
'Coz I taste spinach with nutmeg.
A bit of parsley and some egg
Some salt and pepper in there, too,
Baked in the oven, for 10 and 2
minutes, nothing more to do.

They are so good, so good, you see!

So I will eat them for my lunch,
serve them up at any brunch.
Cut them up as fingerfood,

whate’r the size, it tastes so good!
And I will eat them here and there
Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE!

I do so like
green eggs and ham!
Thank you!
Thank you,
Sam-I-am!

(This contribution to EoMEoTE #10 is brought to you courtesy of Dr. Seuss and his v. untalented ghost-rhymer, thepassionatecook. I know my rhyming is deplorable and pathetic, I couldn't even do it in my mother tongue, let alone in an alien language ;-) At least the content's there, something which cannot always be said of the great man himself! But it's not about winning here, anyway, it's about being part of the movement and catching the vibe. D'accord?)

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Aug 28, 2005

Mini crab cakes with sweet chilli sauce

CrabcakesLast weekend, we invited some friends to come along to a picnic concert at Marble Hill Park. Picnic concerts are a very English thing, I guess, and I really wonder why. With weather as unpredictable as the British and the probability of rain that high even at the height of summer, it is surprising that these events enjoy such popularity and are actually completely sold out well in advance. But it's hard to resist the charm of spreading out your blanket in the gardens of a period home or palace, listening to music and watching the stars while you enjoy food and wine - and a firework finale to top it all up!
On Saturday, for the first time, we didn't actually enjoy the music that much (first year of contemporary music, rather than classical), but our spread was definitely worth the trip - rather than bringing crisps and dips and the occasional cucumber or egg-cress sandwich like so many around us, I decided to match what our friends were proposing on the drinks side (champagne only, to celebrate a new job) and prepared a range of canapés. Now, canapés can be tricky when you can't assemble them just before serving and the added difficulty of having to carry them from our house to the venue in a basket or cooling bag limited my choices somewhat. But here's what we took:

For some of these beauties I only managed to take a picture "sur place", which means it'll take a while for me to somehow get them onto my laptop and blog about them, but for those where I had done all the legwork before we left the house, I will share the recipes with you one after the other.
First up are the crab cakes, which I wasn't sure about when I started making them, too often had a tried to make similar things only to see them fall apart in the pan or fryer. These here, though, held their shape beautifully and they weren't soaking in fat either. White crabmeat, fresh (!) breadcrumbs, mayo and a range of condiments combined to form tasty balls are then rolled in more crumbs (until then I'd never chopped fresh bread in the multimix) and baked in the oven until golden brown. Instead of assembling them beforehand, I served them out of the (superb square lock&lock container with four individual compartments) bowl with toothpicks to dip into a (bought, forgive me) sweet chilli sauce. By the time we reached the picnic ground, they were but luke-warm, which was no cause for concern, they'd even have been delicious served cold.

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Apr 17, 2005

Avocado & goat cheese crostini

Avocadogoatcrostini_copyDon't you just love canapés? Sometimes a cocktail party with these gorgeous miniature masterpieces just beats any sit-down dinner... in my own humble opinion at least! Why are there no restaurants or bars where you can have a relaxed evening sitting on comfy sofas, chatting to friends and be continuously served up delicious bite-sized portions of stunning food? I mean, this concept has a lot to commend it:
- Rather than eating two or three courses in one meal, you get to sample a whole variety of flavours, even things that would not work together on one plate
- You can continuously graze instead of impatiently having to wait for the next dish to arrive, always giving you something new to explore and savour
- Flavours can be much bolder, much more extravagant if only served in teeny portions and
- Every bite you take is beautiful in its own right, whereas even when you dine at Gordon Ramsay's, your regular plate will always look messy after a while and cease to be as appetising as it was when it was first served.
I think there's a strong case for it - and it shouldn't be too difficult to do. If catering companies can throw canapé parties in the middle of nowhere, surely you could pull this off in any old kitchen! Certain, some things need last-minute assembly, but if creating three bites at a time out of a selection of 50 or so possible choices is too much hassle, a Running Canapé concept might work? Ah, the possibilities! Maybe that's just what I should do when I grow up...

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Apr 06, 2005

Smoked haddock and leek quichettes

Haddockleekquichette_copySince we're living in London now and have no family obligations over Easter anymore, it has become tradition to invite friends for a leisurely Easter brunch. Asparagusinparma_copy_1 This year our friends beat us to the chase and invited us to theirs, so we didn't have to bother with the preparations too much this time (except for bringing along some food) and no cleaning up to do afterwards. Instead, we met some lovely new people and our main responsibility was to take care of the left-overs, as the hosts were leaving for NYC that day... nothing more pleasant than that!
Salmonrolypoly_copy_1It was an incredible feast, the tables bendt under the weight of special Easter treats brought directly from Austria - a plaited brioche, great chocolate bunnies and a gorgeous cooked ham on the bone for which Martina prepared two delicious sauces. I brought some asparagus wrapped in parma ham and sprinkled with parmesan, a plate of salmon & cream cheese roly-polies, some haddock and leek quichettes and a Cheese cheese platter consisting exclusively of British cheeses which I bought at the Borough market the day before. The cutest of all, though, were the little nests my friend's daughter made using chocolate and bran and topped with some miniature Easter eggs! Theresasnests_copy_4 Conscious of our health, we also had fresh and crunchy vegetables, a home-made muesli and some decent exercise in the form of traditional egg fights, with yours truly leaving as the winner...

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Feb 22, 2005

Lobster sandwich with crispy bacon & vanilla mayo

Lobstersandwich_1_1This recipe is based on Rick Tramonto's "Amuse-bouches" ("Lobster club sandwich with vanilla aioli") and I am not sure why he calls it a club sandwich or where the aioli comes in, as this would involve heaps of garlic which is most certainly uncalled for!
The Club must be the only sandwich which is universally known to contain a seemingly undisputed list of ingredients: double-decker of white bread involving chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. What we have here bears no ressemblance to a club sandwich, though, as it's just a single-decker sandwich, no chicken involved, of course, and I didn't even have tomatoes on hand either - but I'd choose this over a club sandwich any time, call me decadent...
This Rolls Royce of a sarnie is non-the-less delicious, however, I made it after I had some lobster left over... ah! The challenge of buying lobster remotely! I never seem to remember how much I ordered last time and my fishmonger seems to consistently underestimate our appetite (or he is genuinely worried about the effect a given purchase will have on my bank account).
So I had two gorgeous lobster claws sitting in the fridge after last week's Valentine's dinner and went for something I'd been meaning to try for ages. I've paired lobster with vanilla successfully in the past - you'll be forgiven for thinking vanilla and mayonnaise to be an unlikely couple, but it works brilliantly. It somehow re-inforces the sweetness of the lobster without completely overpowering it, but is strong enough in this combination to be an equal partner for the crispy bacon. Sounds unlikely? You'll have to try it for yourself, I guess...

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Jan 19, 2005

Prawn cocktail choux puffs

Prawncocktailpuffs_1Although it is an eternal classic, I have rarely had a prawn cocktail in my life. This may partly be due to the fact that the country I grew up in has no direct access to the sea and therefore the offering of seafood and salt water fish is somewhat limited - which also makes it the most expensive foodstuff you can buy. There is only one occasion where I remember eating one - and not particularly liking it, either... in 1992 when we took our then "host brother" from Sydney to visit the Czech Republic. Even though my hometown is a mere 30 km away from the Czech border, we didn't go there very often - all the negative propaganda and prejudices about our neighbours (like the one where buses full of them come into Austria to raid the shops and others of a similar nature) did not make it very tempting for us to visit. It is a five-hour drive to Prague on very bad roads, which is why I have never made it that far. The furthest we ever ventured was actually on that day, when we visited Krumlov and Budejovice.
When we arrived, we were starving. Not an ideal situation, as hunger tends to be a bad advisor when it comes to choosing a restaurant... but most of the places we tried were pretty deterring anyway, leaving the "posh" choice in the castle as the last resort, over-priced to an extent that no locals could afford to eat there.
We ended up sitting on the terrace (although it was freezing cold) and when presented with the menu really weren't sure about what to order. My husband will happily chip in here and testify that I have a history of making bad choices in such circumstances - no real-life example given here, but something like ordering bœuf bourgignon in a seafood restaurant or the tuna sashimi at a traditional pub in the country-side. It's not that I don't know better, but when I have a craving or even just as much as fancy something at a particular moment in time, the menu has to work exceptionally hard to convince me to eat something else.
That day in Krumlov I chose a prawn cocktail, against my better instinct. Even at age 21 I should have known that the only place pretending to offer "international" cuisine at mind-blowing prices could still not get over the fact that they are more than 1000 km away from the nearest port - and in the dark years of the iron curtain that would also have meant that a Czech chef, no matter how talented, cannot possibly have had enough encounters with fresh seafood to be able to cook it to perfection. Was my pregnancy to blame?
The food ended up being as bad a was to be expected and I did not even finish my plate even though I was very hungry and my Dad very angry at me for ordering the most expensive item on the menu and then barely touching it.
Despite this negative connotation, I chose to make prawn cocktail puffs for our New Year's party this year. I got my Dad to prepare the choux pastry (it is usually my mother who reigns in the kitchen, but Dad is responsible for roast pork, anything fishy and... choux pastry puffs) and just whipped up the prawn cocktail. Even though I bought the prawns pre-cooked for the first time in ages, it tasted great - AND was super easy to make. It certainly tasted a gazillon times better than that ominous day in Bohemia...

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Jan 11, 2005

Artichoke fillo rolls with lemon mayonnaise

Artichokefillorolls_1Back home in Austria (funny how I keep calling it "back home" although nowadays, I feel much more at home here or wherever it is that I live at the time) we enjoy a strong Turkish influence, due to many immigrants (now in second and third generations) - so many, in fact, that you couldn't really call them a minority anymore. They dominate the stalls at whichever market you go to and have introduced a lot of new food, especially fruit, bread and spices, to enrich our daily menus (not to speak of doner kebabs, which I personally am not very fond of). In Turkish restaurants, you often find a starter translating as "cigarette borek" - completely nicotine-free, I hope. You could call it the empanada of the Levantine region, waferthin fillo pastry, filled with anything and everything: meat, cheese, vegetables. The shapes vary as much as the fillings, in this particular instance it's long and thin, ressembling a cigarette.
In his fabulous book Canapés, Eric Treuille proposes such fillo rolls stuffed with an artichoke and herb mix, a lemon mayonnaise served alongside to dip them in. As pretty much everthing I've tried out of what I now call his "bible" so far, it is real easy to do, great to prepare ahead (apparently you could prepare quite a while in advance and bake from frozen) and, as is to be expected, a real different addition to your drinks party. When you take even more shortcuts (like me, for example, using top-quality mayonnaise instead of making my own) then you can work a little less hard from now on, without missing out on the wow-factor.

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Jan 04, 2005

Tuna ceviche in corn cups

TunacevichecorncupslightMy first encounter with ceviche carries a lot of emotional baggage - at the age of 18, living in Mexico, over 10,000 km away, the furthest I'd ever been from my family, I tried food I had never encountered or even heard of before... and this initiation into a new cuisine not only opened my eyes, but also my palate to a whole new world of flavours for which I am entirely grateful.
I set out on an intercultural adventure which turned as much into a culinary journey and I soaked up everything like a sponge - I tried just about everything, some things with hesitation (it admittedly took some mental preparation before I could stomach chapulines, aka grasshoppers, or huitlacoche, a mouldy black fungus growing inside corn cusks) and others I embraced fully from the first minute. Ceviche was one of them and I whenever I took a trip to the seaside that year, I would invariably end up gobbling it down by the bucketload.
The following recipe forms part of our New Year's Canapé Parade and it is incredibly easy to prepare. The corn cups look all the part but are one of the simplest canapé bases you can have.
Now, I appreciate that a raw fish salad might not be a concept at which everybody rejoyces, but this combination of mellow mango and tangy lime, with the addition of crunchy red onions, fiery chillies and that favourite herb of mine, coriander, is a heavenly game. Even late adopters of fish like my husband are easily intrigued by it's fascinating flavours and you can use almost any type of resonably firm fish you like. Just make sure you snap the fish up while it's still at its freshest and don't be afraid to snatch it away from your fisherman as if your life was in danger... as always, make no compromises when your food is involved!

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Jun 24, 2004

Cheese bites with rhubarb & chilli chutney

Cheesechutneybites2Before coming to live in England, one of the few things I had heard about British food (except for the stereotype that everything tastes pretty horrible) was that they serve chutney with everything. I had not come across this preserve before and I must say I don't see it much here either, except in Indian restaurants, maybe I arrived at a time when this food trend had already passed. So I have no history with chutney, neither in a good nor in a bad way, but I have been intrigued by this cross between the savoury and the sweet. Recipes I have seen plenty, my only reason for never making it so far was mainly because I did not know what to eat it with. Then I found they had some at my (almost) local cheesemonger, Teddington Cheese, so I figured it must go well with... cheese. We bought a few to try with cheese platters we've had over the past few months, and quite liked the combination. I wasn't too impressed with the chutneys themselves - although they weren't bad I was sure home-made could taste even better.
As I had some end-of-the-season rhubarb left the other day and had already tried all possible combinations of fruit to make jam with it, I decided I'd give the chutney a try. And since I did not find a recipe that convinced me, I just began to experiment, and the following combination of rhubarb, nectarine, lime, chilli and rosemary was quite pleasant - if I say so myself! There's a bit of a power play of sensations going on - the sweetness of the fruit and the brown sugar, the acidity of the vinegar and lime, but also the spiciness of the chilli... kind of puts your tongue in a twist! I made some cheese bites last night, cutting breadrounds out of pumpernickel as bases, topping them with slices of mahon (a smooth and buttery semi-hard cheese from Menorca, which is rubbed with olive oil and spices while maturing), a dollop of my rhubarb chutney and a slice of spring onion. Really nice party food! Just make sure you spread some philadelphia cheese on the bases for "grip", you don't want end up paying your guests' dry cleaning bills, after all!

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