Tips for Rookie Cooks

SNACKS AND STARTERS

SNACKS AND STARTERS

1-Basil Leaf and Goat Cheese Wraps

This simple, beautiful appetizer is not only unbelievably delicious, but it’s also an engaging conversation piece. Just set out the ingredients and your guests will be so intrigued and delighted that they won’t even realize you’re making them do all the work.

  • 30–40 big, fresh-looking basil leaves
  • 5 ounces chèvre
  • 1 dry pint (30–40) cherry tomatoes
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts

Place basil leaves on a serving platter. Serve the cheese, tomatoes, and pine nuts in small serving dishes, with a spreading knife for the cheese and a small spoon for the pine nuts. Direct diners to take a basil leaf and wrap it around some cheese, a tomato, and a couple of pine nuts.

2. Orange-Spiced Pecans

More addictive than crack, these spicy-sweet morsels are always a hit. Put them in a fancy jar and give them as a hostess gift, and you’re sure to be invited back.

  • olive or vegetable oil or spray
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • grated zest of 1 medium orange
  • ¼–½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ cups pecan halves

Lay a large piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper on a counter and coat lightly with olive or vegetable oil. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When butter begins to bubble, add sugar, zest, cayenne, and salt. Stir until sugar and salt dissolve and zest is well distributed in the mixture. Add nuts and cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Transfer nuts to foil or parchment and spread in a single layer. Allow cooling to room temperature.

Makes about 1½ cups.

Make it ahead

  • The pecans can be stored in an airtight container on the countertop for a few days

Serve it with

  • Olives and assorted cheeses as part of an appetizer platter
  • Pear, Escarole, and Blue Cheese Salad or any salad of mixed greens with vinaigrette and fruit

Change it up

  • For an Indian-flavored version, substitute a couple of teaspoons of curry powder for the orange zest.

3-Spicy Pickled Carrots

San Francisco’s famous Tartine restaurant serves its mouthwatering sandwiches with a precious little garnish of pickled carrots. After years of fantasizing about plunging our greedy fists right into that big glass carrot jar on the counter, we realized we could just make our own! This is not Tartine’s recipe (as far as we know), but it sure is good. Enjoy as a party appetizer, as a snack, or tossed into green salads.

  • 1½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
  • 1½ cups cider vinegar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1/ 3 cup sugar
  • 2–4 medium jalapeño chiles, stemmed and quartered lengthwise (seeds included)
  • 2 tablespoons dill seeds
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Bring a nonreactive saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Drop carrots into boiling water and cook for 1 minute, to blanch. Drain in a colander and transfer to a bowl. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, chiles, dill seeds, caraway seeds, and salt in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour vinegar mixture over carrots and let cool for about an hour. For maximum flavor, let carrots sit in the fridge for a day before serving.

Make it ahead

  • The pickled carrots can be stored in a jar in the fridge for about a month.

Serve it with

  • Herbed Tuna Salad Sandwiches , Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches , or any sandwich or burger

Change it up

  • Try adding cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, or sliced garlic to the vinegar mixture.
  • Substitute 1 to 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper for the jalapeños.
  • This recipe also works beautifully for green beans, cauliflower, turnips, radishes, and asparagus.

4-Spicy Szechuan-Style Pickled Vegetables

These spicy pickles have a distinctly Chinese flavor, owing to the use of Szechuan peppercorns. Unrelated to the more familiar black peppercorns we keep on our tables, Szechuan peppercorns have an unusual earthy-spicy-floral flavor.

  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
  • 3 medium turnips, halved or quartered and sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 bunch radishes, stems removed, halved lengthwise
  • ½ small head of green cabbage, core removed, leaves sliced into ½-inch-thick wedges
  • 3½ cups unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2½ cups water
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 4–6 red jalapeño chiles, stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced
  • 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
  • 4–6 whole dried hot red chiles (optional)

Bring a stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. Drop carrots, turnips, radishes, and cabbage wedges into boiling water and cook for 1 minute, to blanch. Drain and place in a large bowl or storage container. In a nonreactive saucepan, combine vinegar, water, salt, fresh chiles, ginger, peppercorns, and dried chiles (if using), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour vinegar mixture over vegetables and let cool on the countertop for about an hour. Cover and refrigerate for at least a day. Before serving, remove the ginger slices and dried chiles. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Make it ahead

  • Spicy Szechuan-Style Pickled Vegetables can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a month.

Serve it with

  • Asian-style barbecued chicken or our Five-Spice Roast Pork

Change it up

  • If you can’t find Szechuan peppercorns, substitute half pink peppercorns and half regular black peppercorns coarsely crushed by placing them in a plastic bag and whacking them with a heavy skillet or a mallet. If you can’t find pink peppercorns, feel free to use all black peppercorns, but the pickles won’t have the same exotic flavor.
  • Substitute any combination of vegetables for the turnips, carrots, radishes, and cabbage. Try small pickling cucumbers or Japanese daikon radish, for instance.

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