Sunday, July 26, 2009

Epic win for appetizer party

A good friend invited me to a party she was hosting, and asked if I could bring some appetizers.

I generally don't do the cocktail-party style of appetizers. It's just so time-consuming to make dozens or hundreds of little bites and then, if you have done your job well, to see them disappear in a matter of minutes.

However, she asked so nicely, and I had by chance just picked up a new cookbook chock full of appetizers, so I was game.

I used two recipes from the book, and one I invented on the fly when I saw that the local grocery store had apricots on sale. The recipes were time-consuming, but very easy to do and very flavorful.

Almond-Stuffed Apricots

Makes about 20-24 appetizers. Can easily be doubled.

1 bag fresh apricots (about 10)
1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup raw almonds (no skins)
2 fortune cookies (can substitute any kind of crunchy cookie here)
2 large pieces, or 2 small pieces, crystallized ginger
3 tablespoons amaretto

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Take butter out of fridge to soften.
Cut apricots in half, removing pits.
Toast almonds until lightly browned and fragrant.
Break open fortune cookies, remove paper.
Crush fortune cookies and almonds into medium-sized pieces.
Mince crystallized ginger into very small pieces.
Add amaretto and stir to moisten everything.
Add butter and brown sugar. Mash until butter is evenly mixed in and there are no huge chunks left.
Add a touch of salt to taste.

Oil a baking sheet.
Place apricots on baking sheet, skin side down.
Fill apricot halves with amaretto almond mixture.
Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.
Let cool slightly before serving.

Pesto Tomatoes

This is so simple, it's hardly a recipe. It scales up well, and can be made a day in advance. I made a pesto using garlic scapes (when they are in season) and almonds, but store bought pesto is fine here.

Cherry tomatoes
pesto (homemade or store bought)
Slice tops off of cherry tomatoes.
Scoop out seeds and flesh with a small spoon or melon baller.
Fill tomatoes with pesto.

Cheesy Quail Eggs

Adapted from a recipe in Appetizers, Finger Food, Buffets & Parties by Bridget Jones

Quail eggs taste just like regular eggs, but are adorably small. They are worth tracking down. Try an Oriental or Asian grocery store. Do not be scared off by the length of the recipe. These eggs are very easy to make, but they are a little time-consuming because there are a lot of steps involved. You’ll want to do a lot of steps in advance, and break up the cooking over two or three days.

2 dozen quail eggs
4 cups breadcrumbs
1 bag pre-shredded cheese (I used a mozzarella provolone blend)
1 leek
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 teaspoons mustard
½ teaspoon black pepper
Half a bunch of parsley
4 chicken eggs, separated like so:
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 egg whites
¼ cup milk
¼ cup sesame seeds
bottle of neutral vegetable oil
20 basil leaves (optional)

In advance (a day or two before)

Boil and peel quail eggs

Add a splash of vinegar and a tablespoon of salt to a large pot of boiling water.
Gently lower half the quail eggs in and boil for 3 minutes.
Get rid of any eggs that immediately float to the surface—these eggs are bad.
Remove eggs to a colander, and repeat with the second batch. Let cool.
Crack bottoms of eggshells, then roll egg around on a clean counter to crack the rest of the shell.
Peel carefully starting at the bottom of the egg.
Rinse off in water to get rid of the last bits of shells. Set aside.

Make cheesy breading.

Take shredded cheese and, if it’s not super finely shredded, chop it up a little bit more on the cutting board.
Put cheese and breadcrumbs into a very large glass or metal bowl.
Chop white part of leek very finely and add it to bowl.
Chop and add parsley. Add mustard, salt and garlic salt. Add pepper.
Beat egg yolks and add to bowl. Stir until everything is well mixed.

In a separate bowl, beat 2 of the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Fold egg whites into breading mix, stirring well.
Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or for up to two days.

To assemble eggs

Take a large handful of cheesy breading and squeeze it with your hands so it comes together into a ball.
Flatten to make a little hamburger-looking thing.
Place basil leaf on one side (optional) then place egg on top of leaf.
Carefully squish the breading around the egg, making sure there are no gaps. (You may need to grab a little bit more coating to fill in the gaps.)

Take the other two egg whites, and mix them with a little bit of water.
Get a small plate and put the sesame seeds on the plate. Add a little bit of salt and pepper to the sesame seeds.
Dip the breaded eggs into the egg whites, then into the sesame seeds.

When all eggs are coated, let them rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

To fry eggs

Fill a pan at least halfway full of neutral vegetable oil (canola, corn).
Heat oil on high for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat to low.
Fry eggs in small batches of no more than 3.
Turn eggs frequently while cooking.
When they look golden brown and delicious, remove them to a plate lined with paper towels to let them drain.

Wait at least an hour for them to cool.
Once they are cool, slice them in half and serve with mayonnaise or your favorite flavorful dipping sauce.
They are also pretty tasty by themselves without any dipping sauce.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ren Fest Fun

Went to my first Wisconsin Ren Faire yesterday. I've been to three others, two in Michigan, and have actually been going to Ren Fests since well before I could drive.

This one, the Bristol Renaissance Faire, was pretty nice. Most fests are the same, but with a few minor variations. This one was nice because there was more open space, so it felt less crowded. Also, flushable toilets, which was amazing. Anyone who says that flush toilets detracts from an authentic experience hasn't had to use a privy in a hoop skirt and a bocice.

But I digress.

The other interesting difference between my "home" fest and the Bristol Faire was the food. There were certainly some of the same items--giant turkey leg, soup in a bread bowl--but there were also a lot of different things on the WI menu.

Chili DogsBrats
Scotch EggsCornish Pasties
Suffed, battered mushroomsGrilled, Marinated mushrooms
Hummus and PitaButterfly Potato chip
Cheese sticks with marinara sauceFried cheese balls with mustard mayo and BBQ sauces
Root Beer FloatSassafras

Some of the standout foots of both fests:
Scotch Eggs: Take a hard-boiled egg. Cover it with tasty sausage sphere. Bread and deep-fry. Split in half and eat. Recommended limit is 1 per lifetime, or else you shortenn your life.
Sassafras: A root-beer like beverage. Soft drink with a nice herbal, complex flavor, somewhat licorice. Very thirst-quenching for those who don't drink beer.
Fried cheese balls: Cremy, gooey fried cheese.

The beer selection at the Bristol Faire was also much more comrepehensive than my home fair. At my home fair you can get Guinness, Harp, etc. At Bristol, I had a Newcastle, a Hacker Pschorr, a Leinenkugel's, and a cider. They had two types of cider so I can't remember which it was. My home fair's selection is a touch more limited, and it's the same beer pretty much on any tap you go to. At Bristol, you've got to hunt around for the keg you want.

I'm sure I'm suffering a bit from the "Grass is Greener" syndrome, where my faire is routine to me, and this was new, therefore better. But I think there were some key places that Bristol shines through. I'll never give up my home faire, but I may be getting to Bristol once a year from now on, too.