Tips for Rookie Cooks

SNACKS AND STARTERS.The second part

SNACKS AND STARTERS

Warm Spicy Olives with Almonds and Kumquats

One surefire way to impress your guests is to use uncommon ingredients in unexpected ways. Here kumquats add sweetness, tang, and an element of surprise to a dish of almonds and olives. If you can’t find kumquats, you can substitute large strips of orange zest. (Use a vegetable peeler to peel off long strips, leaving the white pith behind.)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 kumquats, thinly sliced (seeds and ends discarded) or 5 large strips of zest from one large orange
  • ¼–½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2–3 whole sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup whole cured black olives, such as Kalamata
  • ½ cup toasted unsalted almonds

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the kumquat slices or orange zest, crushed red pepper, thyme, and salt. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the olives and almonds and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more until olives and almonds are warm. Let sit for 18 or 20 minutes before serving. To serve, scoop the olives, almonds, and kumquat slices out of the saucepan using a slotted spoon and place them in small serving bowls.

Make it ahead

  • The mixture can be made a day ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge. Warm in a saucepan over medium heat a few minutes before serving

Serve it with

  • An appetizer platter that includes good feta cheese, hummus, baba ghanoush, or White Bean Spread with
  • Parmesan and Mint

Savory Blue Cheese Shortbread

They look like little cookies, but these salty, nutty crunchers have a surprising savory edge that makes a perfect foil for a dollop of sweet topping. Try them with our Fig and Onion Jam or Plum and Currant Mostarda. They’re also divine all by themselves.

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces blue cheese at room temperature
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

In the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer, or a large bowl using a hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and cheese until smooth. (Alternatively, you can do the mixing by hand, using your fingers to work ingredients together.) Add nuts and mix until the mixture comes together in a ball. If the mixture is crumbly, add cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough comes together. Spread a piece of plastic wrap on the counter and dump the dough onto it. Shape the dough into a log about 14 inches long. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to three days.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Using a sharp or serrated knife, slice the chilled log into thin rounds and place ¼ inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 24 to 32 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove pan from oven and let cool. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 35 to 40 crackers.

Make it ahead of

  • The dough will keep in the fridge for several days. Baked, the crackers will keep in an airtight container on

the countertop for a couple of days.

  • Serve it with
  • Fig and Onion Jam
  • Plum and Currant Mostarda
  • Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Change it up

  • Substitute just about any cheese or nut combo that strikes your fancy—try chèvre, sharp Cheddar, or

aged Gouda with almonds, pistachios, or hazelnuts.

  • A combination of Parmesan, pine nuts, and 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped rosemary, with the addition of 1/ 3 cup heavy cream (to compensate for the dryness of the Parmesan), is particularly delectable.
  • Try adding ¼ cup of chopped dried fruit such as raisins, dates, or dried figs with the nuts.
Manchego-Stuffed Dates

Sticky-sweet dates and hard salty cheese are a perfect match. Serve these flavorful little morsels as part of an appetizer platter with cheese, cured meats, and roasted or marinated vegetables.

  • 18 pitted dates
  • 4 ounces Manchego cheese
  • Cut cheese into small wedges and slip into the center of the dates.
  • Makes 18 stuffed dates

Make it ahead

  • The dates can be stuffed several hours ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.

Serve it with

  • Assorted cheeses, nuts, and cured meats, such as prosciutto, as part of an appetizer spread
  • A mixed green salad dressed with Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette

Change it up

  • Substitute any strongly flavored, salty cheese for the Manchego. Try a good imported Parmesan or Roquefort.
  • Drizzle with chile oil just before serving for a spicy kick.
Cheese Crisps

These pretty little pastries make a festive appetizer on their own or use them as a fancy garnish for soups or salads. Be sure to read the section on working with frozen puff pastry.

  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 ounce (about 1
  • / 3 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (optional)

Lay the pastry out on a work surface and sprinkle the cheese, nuts, and rosemary (if using) evenly over the top. Starting with one of the long sides. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to two days.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Lay a piece of parchment paper, large enough to cover the bottom of a baking sheet, on your work surface. Unwrap the pastry log and, using a sharp or serrated knife, cut into ½-inch-thick slices. Lay the slices on the parchment paper about 3 inches apart. Place another piece of parchment paper over the pastry slices and roll with a rolling pin until each slice is about ¼ inch thick. Slide the parchment with the pastry slices onto a baking sheet and remove the top piece of parchment. Bake in preheated oven until cheese is bubbly and pastry is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on the pan for a few minutes before removing with a spatula. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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