I’m not a frequenter of malls, per se, yet, inevitably, I end up there every year during the holiday season. You may be thinking, “So what? Lots of people go gift shopping at the mall.” Well, given that for the past 3 years, I’ve doled out homemade gifts, I do more of my “holiday shopping” at Farmers Markets throughout the spring & summer (although, for the kiddies, I make an exception – I mean, who wants to be known as the weird Aunt who hands out chutney made “especially for you, because at 12, your palate is maturing beyond the grape jelly I gave your little sister.”).
There is something intriguing about the mall during the holiday season. There’s that alluring discotheque-sparkle emanating from clothing racks, the shiny silver and blingy gold decorations adorned with big satin bows, a red carpet rolled out for Santa to stride upon as he makes his way to his fantastically large chair. Everything is twinkling, accompanied by familiar carols (and sometimes carolers, as I witnessed Monday), and it is toasty warm inside. Perhaps it’s because my very first job was as a Santa’s helper (no, I was not an elf!), working with my father, I mean Father Christmas, that the mall seems nostalgic to me. Anyway, what the heck am I going on about the mall, isn’t this a blog about food?
Food indeed – which is why I was at the Pioneer Place Mall on Monday afternoon. Invited to do a culinary demonstration, I managed to bring a bit of the Farmers Market in out of the cold, and present several easy to prepare, festive & delicious hors d’oeuvres for holiday entertaining.
The demonstration lasted an hour, and in that time, I made 3 complete hors d’oeuvre platters (for 8 - 10 guests) from start to finish. Prepared for the party with plenty of time to slip into my sequined cocktail dress and have a highball before my guests arrive!
I’ve included the three below, along with a more elaborate version of the goat cheese appetizer. Fresh chevre (aka fromage blanc, aka fresh goat cheese), baked in a pistachio crust, makes for an elegant and luscious offering. It takes a bit more time to pull together, but can be made a day ahead (in fact, it’s best the 2nd day), and is well worth the effort.
***Farm-Fresh Hors D’oeuvres***
*Wild Mushroom Crostini
*Winter Belgian Endive Leaves with Herbed Chevre, Toasted Hazelnuts, & Pomegranate Seeds
(or Baked Fromage Blanc with Pistachio Nuts)
*Crisp Crudite Vegetables with Green Goddess Dip
This crostini topping, or bruschetta topping, if you’d prefer, can be made with any mushroom or combination of mushrooms. It is lovely over toast points, thick slices of crusty country bread, or a baked potato. Thinned with broth or cream, this topping becomes a delectable pasta sauce. In all honesty, this is the fancy holiday name that I’ve given to what we at Springwater Farm lovingly refer to as “Shiitake on a Shingle”. It’s an easy party snack, or a substantial breakfast, particularly when topped with a poached egg. Here is a link to the recipe, previously posted. But as I stated at the demo, feel free to make substitutions – any mushrooms will work, substitute shallot for the spring onion or leek, add rosemary, sage, & thyme to the herb mix, de-glaze the mushrooms with sherry, madeira, or white wine instead of brandy, and finish the mushrooms with creme fraiche, sour cream, or heavy cream. “What would I do if I wanted to do this dish without all the dairy?” one onlooker asked – simple, just cook the mushrooms with olive oil, and eliminate the finishing cream – it will be very tasty without the addition! And by the way, creme fraiche is super simple to make, and much less expensive than its ready-made counterpart -
Creme Fraiche or Crema
makes 1 cup
1 cup heavy cream, not ultra-pasturized
3 Tbsp. buttermilk or whole-milk yogurt
Choose a non-reactive container, such as a glass jar. To assure the detergents are removed from the jar, rinse it thoroughly. Detergents will inhibit (good) bacterial growth, which is necessary for the cream to thicken into creme fraiche.
Blend the cream and the buttermilk together. Cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth, a clean kitchen towel, or a flour cloth sack, and set it in a warm place (an oven with a pilot light works well). Allow the creme fraiche to stand, until it thickens (8-24 hours), then place it in the refrigerator for an additional 24-36 hours, where it will continue to thicken.
Winter Belgian Endive Leaves with Herbed Chevre, Toasted Hazelnuts, & Pomegranate Seeds
Brand new, this year, Portland Farmers Market is host to a Belgian Endive vendor. Sunset Lane Farm boasts beautiful chicories, radicchio, & Belgian endive. Visit their website for a thorough description of what it takes to bring these elegant leaves to market. Farmers Marco Franciosa & Kay say of Belgian endive, “It is an artisan crop that requires a deep knowledge of growing phases to produce a quality result. With a long growing season, precision chill requirements, and a second growing phase requiring specialized equipment and indoor growing facilities, Belgian Endive is capital and management intensive. “
On the consumer side, Belgian endive are extremely easy to use. They are most often cleaned and ready to go, requiring only that the end be cut in order to separate the leaves from the head. The canoe-shaped leaves are perfect for containing a myriad of cool fillings, particularly cheeses, salmon or other fish spread, and bay shrimp salad.
For this hors d’oeuvre, simply combine fresh, soft, mild goat cheese (fromage blanc or fresh chevre) with chopped fresh herbs of your liking. Soft herbs, such as chives, tarragon, parsley, chervil, and even a hint of mint. If you choose hard herbs (winter-hearty types), such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, be sure to chop them extra fine. Blend the chopped herbs with the cheese, adding sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Chopped shallots can be added, but I recommend mincing, then squeezing them in a clean kitchen towel to pull away the sharp juices in the allium. The result will be a pleasant shallot flavor without the edge that raw onion can throw at you. Once the cheese is seasoned, just put a teaspoonful in each leaf, then garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped toasted hazelnuts. An assertive blue cheese, such as Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue or Oregonzola, can be used in place of the herbed chevre. Even easier – endive leaf on the plate, a crumble of blue cheese, a sparkle of pomegranate. Done.
A little more time to spare? A desire to wow? Try this recipe:
Baked Fromage Blanc with Pistachio Nuts
Serves at least 8
First Restaurant in NYC catered to the late night crowd with imaginative appetizers such as this savory cheesecake of creamy goat cheese. It’s particularly festive when embellished with dried cranberries, slices of pear, and Belgian Endive leaves.
2 oz. softened butter plus more for buttering the souffle dish
2 oz. pistachio nuts
170 grams (about 8 ounces) Alsea Acre goat cheese
85 grams (about 3 ounces) cream cheese
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
1 extra-large egg
salt and pepper to taste
85 grams (about 3 ounces) sour cream
· Butter a 7-inch round souffle dish or baking dish, or for individual servings, 8 each eight-ounce ramekins or oven-proof moulds. Pre-heat the oven to 350°. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil.
· Coarsely grind the pistachio nuts. Blend in the remaining 2 ounces butter. Distribute this mixture evenly amongst the ramekins, pressing it gently to the bottom of the cups.
· Cream together the goat cheese and cream cheese in an electric mixer (with paddle attachment or beaters).
· With the mixer running, incorporate the cornstarch and eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn on mixer for 30 seconds more, then fold in the sour cream by hand. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings if needed.
· Fill the prepared souffle dish or ramekins with the goat cheese mixture. Choose a larger baking dish that the souffle dish or ramekins will fit into without crowding and place the filled souffle dish or ramekins into the baking dish. Open the oven door and set the baking dish on the door. Carefully add enough boiling water to the baking dish so that it comes 1/2 way up the side of the souffle dish, or 1/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Gently place the pan into the oven and bake the cheesecakes for about 30-40 minutes for the souffle dish, or about 15-18 minutes for the ramekins, until the mixture has set. Remove the souffle dish or ramekins to a rack to cool.
· Accompany the savory goat cheese appetizer with crisp pear or apple slices and Belgian Endive (for scooping up the cheese) and garnish with dried cranberries and balsamic syrup. *
The baked goat cheese will keep in the refrigerator for several days – set out at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
* Reducing balsamic vinegar in a small pan until syrupy makes balsamic syrup. No need to use expensive balsamic vinegar, and be sure to watch the reduction closely as it will scorch quickly if left on the stove for too long.
Crisp Crudite Vegetables with Green Goddess Dip
On occasion, I let my professional verbiage infiltrate my culinary teachings. I’ve been asked more than once, “what’s a crudite?” – “A fancy word for raw vegetables,” I respond. Perhaps “relish tray“, albeit retro, rings more familiar with American families.
Whatever you choose to call it, a plate of crisp, raw vegetables with an intriguing dip is most inviting at a cocktail party. I’ve chosen an unconventional Green Goddess dressing to accompany the vegetables, both for the bright, piquante flavor, and for the vibrant green color.
This is a sprightly dressing adapted from the Cafe Azul repertoire. It makes a wonderful dressing for a Dungeness crab or briny bay shrimp salad, garnished with avocado, cherry tomatoes, and salad greens.
1/4-1/2 cup garlic cloves
2 Tbsp capers in brine with some of their juice
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1 lemon
1 very fresh, Farmers Market egg yolk
3 stems of parsley
a small handful of watercress or arugula
salt & freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Place the garlic in a blender jar. Add the capers, along with their brine, and the jalapeno. Add the lemon and lime juice. The citrus juice should nearly cover the garlic. If it does not, add additional juice. Add the egg yolks, parsley, watercress, salt and pepper. Puree the ingredients. With the blender running, slowly add the olive oil, until the dressing is thickened. Adjust seasonings. Serve with crisp vegetables for dipping.
Note: In addition to being delicious, the crudite & dip are both raw foods! Also, it was asked of me at the Pioneer Place demo how I knew the spice level of the jalapeno – I said I didn’t and added the entire thing to my blender jar. “I like a lot of spice,” I added, “the best way to determine the spiciness of a pepper is to taste a tiny bit. If it is very spicy, add less to your dressing, seasoning the dip to your tolerance and preference.
Also, this dip is very good fresh, but the combination of citrus and fresh greens causes it to fade in flavor and color by the next day. Be sure to use it the day that it is made.