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Cold days, warm appetizers. October 23, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. We’re still a week away from November, and the weather this week is dipping to 32 and 30 degrees F. at night here in our part of scenic PA. Baby, it’s cold outside!

Yes, we’ve hauled all our plants back inside or into the greenhouse, along with our earthworm composter and water-garden plants. We’ve put up our birdfeeders and cleaned out our raised beds (sob). We still have to plant our garlic and ornamental bulbs, but everything else that needs to be in the ground is there. And we’ve put the “mufflers” on our sole window a/c and our outdoor faucet.

Still, our friend Ben and I aren’t ready for freezing and sub-freezing temperatures. What happened to fall, our most treasured season, when the colors of the leaves and the clear blue of the sky combine to form an incomparable, soul-lifting beauty, when you can sit out on the deck to watch the sunset and enjoy the blaze from the firepit and not even be cold?

Brrr. Cold is certainly the operative word around here. And the last thing I want when it’s cold outside and I’m cold inside is cold food. Suddenly, the thought of gazpacho and guacamole and Caprese salad and yogurt and all those other yummy hot-season dishes give me cold chills. So you can imagine how appalled I was to turn on my computer this morning and see an article devoted to “quick, easy, no-cook” foods! Sure enough, these foods were all cold. Brrrrr!!!

It’s not that I forgo all cold foods when the temperatures drop. I simply change the focus by adding richness. I’ll happily serve cold appetizers like my famous endive boats (Belgian endive leaves stuffed with blue, feta, and/or gorgonzola cheese, craisins (dried cranberries), pecan pieces, and cracked black pepper). An assortment of cheeses, crackers, and olives is a great warm-up to a hot meal; so is cheese and crackers paired with sliced apples or dried apricots, or cheese, nuts, and dried fruit.

A crusty baguette sliced and served with dipping oil (extra-virgin olive oil infused with lots of minced fresh garlic, herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and Trocomare or RealSalt or sea salt) will warm the coldest night. But there are so many luscious hot appetizers for the cold season as well:

* Popcorn. Simple hot popcorn with melted butter and salt, or with herbs and cheese if you prefer, is a welcome cold-weather treat, especially when served with a stemaing mug of apple cider.

* Baked Brie. Oh, yum!!! Topped with pecans, with brown sugar, with orange marmalade, with pepper jelly, or with the topping of your choosing, and served up molten with a sliced baguette or table water crackers, this melt-in-your-mouth treat is irresistible.

* Fondue. Okay, I’ve never had fondue. I think it skipped my generation. But there’s a fondue restaurant in a city near us, and one day, maybe I’ll finally try it. I haven’t so far because I think of fondue as an appetizer: skewered baguette chunks dipped in melted Swiss cheese, not a meal in itself. Somehow I’d rather have slices of buttered, toasted baguette covered with melted Jarlsberg. Add some orange marmalade or apricot jam between the buttered baguette and the melted Jarlsberg and oh, my!

* Roasted veggies. Okay, here’s the simplest hot appetizer of all, because it can be made ahead. Roast a medley of veggies—thinly sliced or diced sweet onion, mushrooms, red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli—with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh-cracked pepper and salt. Now you can toss them with hot penne pasta and Parmesan, stir them into a frittata, or even use them to top a pizza.

What do you enjoy when it gets cold outside?

I’ll talk about more hot food for cold nights in upcoming posts.

‘Til next time,



Fun winter finger food. November 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any big dinner presents the cook with the same problem: How do you give your ravenous guests something to fend off starvation until the meal is on the table without giving them a chance to overeat and be unable to appreciate the food you’ve probably spent days preparing? Appetizers seem like the ideal solution, but not just any appetizer will do. Cheese and crackers, rich dips, bruschetta, tapenade or baked brie on sliced baguette, hummus and pita, even salsa and chips—it’s all too easy for a hungry guest to inadvertently overindulge.

This Thanksgiving, I finally hit on the perfect solution. It’s everything an appetizer should be: light but satisfying, crunchy but creamy, healthy but decadent, easy to eat with your fingers, always at the right temperature. It’s stuffed endive, and trust me, it’s so delicious it’s a good thing you can serve plates and limit the portions!

To make these delicious endive “boats,” you’ll need to buy Belgian endive (those tight, pale green heads in the salad section with boatlike leaves), crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled feta cheese, dried cranberries, and nuts. (I had pecans on hand, but you could use walnuts or even smoked almonds if you prefer them.) That’s all there is to it!

To put the boats together, place four large or six smaller leaves on each salad plate. Add a little crumbled Gorgonzola in the bottom of each leaf “boat” (this adds delicious bite, but you don’t want to overdo it or it will overwhelm the other flavors). Fill the leaves almost to the top with crumbled feta. Now, press in 4-6 dried cranberries in each “boat” (again, you want to add color and flavor, but not to overwhelm the other flavors with sweetness; ultimately, this is a savory appetizer). Sprinkle chopped nuts over the top of each filled leaf, and top it with lemon pepper or fresh-ground pepper.

Give each guest a filled plate, a napkin, and a glass of dry Reisling, Traminette, or Pinot Grigio, and scoot back into the kitchen to finish cooking in peace. Your guests will think you’re the grestest host or hostess who ever lived—and they’ll still have room for your wonderful meal.

           ‘Til next time,