Planning a party takes time and energy. An impromptu party takes imagination. The trick to managing either is to have some strategic ingredients on hand or on a list under party supplies so you can pull a party together fast. Here are my personal favorites for small bites and small plates.
Why I love Bob’s Red Mill products and use them daily
Bob Moore and I met at the January 2016 Specialty Food Show in San Francisco. I felt as excited as a teenager meeting Beyonce as Bob has been one of my heroes for a very long time. While waiting in line one of his employees commented that he really loves to talk with the public. I told him that I would do my best to keep our conversation short but it would be hard given my admiration for him.
Like most of us who were raised on chocolate chip cookies, I’m crazy about them. However, I find a lot of ccc’s boring because they’re a little too bland and sugary. Kind of the “white bread” version. That’s why I like them with toasted oats and nuts. But what makes these cookies most interesting is the chocolate. Chocolate chips are fine, but most of the brands contain paraffin so they don’t melt easily and become gooey. If you can find them, I like Guittard’s pistoles, which are chocolate discs that have a lower melting point and are quite tasty. I chop them coarsely. They come in an extreme milk chocolate at 38% or bittersweet at 66%.
We should all have a few show-stopping sauces to take a recipe from tasty to transcendent. Trust me, this is one is one of those sauces you’ll treasure and share.
A Quick history of pie
According to historical accounts, pie has been around since the Egyptians, and they probably learned about pies from the Greeks. The crusts weren’t always eaten, however, but acted as a way to encase meats. The first English pies were made from crows and meat fillings are still a popular Pub entree. Crow pie? Not so much.
This quick and easy cake comes from Janet Sawyer, owner of Little Pod and author of Vanilla. It is an adaptation of a Mary Berry favorite. (Mary Berry is a well-known English culinary professional and cookbook author.) It’s perfect as an afternoon cake and can also be served for brunch. Vary the fruits based on the season; it’s as adaptable as it is easy to assemble.
Those of us crazy about fruit watch the farmers markets and stores like hawks, waiting for the first berries to arrive as the signal that yes, summer is coming! Similarly, we know that summer is in full swing before blackberries are ripe on the vines and ready to harvest though technically they’re available somewhere in the States between mid-June and early September.
On the California Coast, blackberry season begins when summer is already in full swing. The berries are slow to ripen as even on warm days the evenings are cool, so there aren’t evening hours to help turn the berries from red to black. When they’re finally ripe, it’s easy to forget the long wait for the reward of their sweet burst of flavors. And, the additional reward is when other summer fruits wind down, there are still blackberries into early autumn.
When the warm days of late spring arrive, the Farmer’s Markets in California are a veritable cornucopia of early peaches, nectarines, apricots, pluots, apriums, plums, strawberries, rhubarb and cherries! My mind whirls over which to choose and how to use.
My cat feels similarly overwhelmed as he sits in the garden — will it be a gopher, a rat, a mole, a bird? (Most cats concur that a plump gopher in the mouth is worth two birds in the bush.)
My decision? Begin the season with strawberry rhubarb galettes in honor of my brother who has a May birthday and a love of rhubarb. For fun I also chose some yellow nectarines, brightly acid and juicy.
Having come of age in the 1960s in the San Francisco Bay Area, I experienced the folk music era, mini-skirts, peace marches and lots of good ole’ rock ‘n’ roll. In 1969 I moved to the Mendocino Coast and lived in a farm house built in 1886. All this is to say, I know granola!
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. Attributed to Charles Darwin
If you’ve traveled to Costa Rica, you’ve experienced its beauty and the many ways to enjoy all it offers. A small, narrow country angled between Nicaragua and Panama, it is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west, the Pacific. It has a high literacy rate, no military, is politically stable and welcomes tourists to enjoy its warm, tropical weather, outdoor activities and eco-tourism.
Homemade frozen yogurt has become one of my passions this summer. I’ve especially enjoyed using freestone peaches and strawberries. You can use berries, nectarines, mangoes, and even poached apples or pears with most of the juices drained. Simply follow the basic recipe and adjust sweetener (use sugar if you prefer) to taste. I add a little sugar to the fruits to get the juices running; you can skip that step if the fruit is already juicy.
In 1985 Greg Reynolds, who at the time worked for a catering service in Half Moon Bay, became enthusiastic about playing with sauces using vanilla. His enthusiasm was spurred by my telling him a bit about vanilla’s history as well as my handing him a handful of vanilla beans. Not long after he invited me to try the following sauce. It immediately became one of my go-to sauces to use on poached chicken and roasted vegetables. Later, I added it as a finishing sauce for grilled meats.
Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert that originated in Limousin. The name comes from clafotis, which means “to fill up,” in Occitan, an old French language with regional dialects throughout parts of Southern France. Traditionally the dessert was made with dark cherries, pits included, with a custard batter similar to pancake batter or a thin flan. Leaving the pits in the cherries creates a stronger cherry flavor, but can cause tooth damage to the unwitting diner. The same recipe using different fruits and vegetables are technically flognardes. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s as easy to make as a fruit-filled, baked pancake that you can serve anytime, whether for a special breakfast or as dessert.
Given that cherry season is so fleeting, take advantage of the beautiful cherries coming from the Pacific Northwest or, use apples, berries, rhubarb or plums. In fact, now that Limousin is known for their specialty apples, they are the more commonly used fruit.
Every year I make gallons of sparkling lemonade as I’m blessed with a Meyer lemon tree that produces fruit nearly year ’round. I don’t really think about it — it’s just what I serve.
When the heat’s on, the last last thing you want is kitchen time at the stove or have the oven blasting. This is when sorbets, granitas and popsicles are the best game in town. And what’s better than something bursting with summer flavor but light on the waistline? You can start the process early in the morning, and enjoy the fruits of your labor (pun intended) later in the day when you crave an icy treat.
Madeleines are the quintessential French tea cake, with a mouth-pleasing crisp exterior, and a dense cake-like interior. If you enjoy serving beautiful desserts, it’s worth investing in Madeleine molds, as the molds give them their distinctive hump in the middle and pleasing texture. When you’ve dusted them with powdered sugar, they’re gorgeous and sophisticated.
Here are a couple of “Madeleine secrets.”
Just about everyone has a summertime ice cream memory. We didn’t have the Good Humor Man where we lived, but when I was eight and my brother was four we visited our Connecticut cousins and discovered the joy of the arrival of the Good Humor Man in the neighborhood and the art of begging for a popsicle or ice cream bar.
One of the delightful things about granitas is that you can switch out the flavors and add herbs or spices without screwing things up. This is not baking where everything must be precise. Switch out the lemons for limes or pomegranate juice or watermelon or whatever comes up. With lemon granita you can easily add rum and have a Daquiri Granita or tequila and salt for a Margarita Granita. If you switch from lemons, to limes, add lots of mint to the lime zest/sugar syrup, remove it before freezing, add a little rum and, voila, you have Mojita Granita. Don’t add more than 2 – 3 tablespoons of alcohol to the granita mixture as it might not fully freeze, but you can serve the granita in glasses and pour a little more rum over the top.