Monday, February 14, 2005

"Tapas", and serenity from puttering in the kitchen

Usually I try really hard to simplify meals - on weekdays, I don't have a lot of time or energy to cook dinner, so I only make a main and vegetable. However, this weekend, I really wanted to make several (somewhat) labor-intensive snacks (not quite tapas, but in that spirit) for a light Sunday dinner.

Here's what I made:

- Provencal marinated olives
- Duxelles on rye toast
- Roasted chickpeas w/ olive oil and lemon
- Dried figs with chevre, pecans, and honey

YUM to all of them! It was actually not all that labor-intensive, except for the duxelles.

For one thing, I made the marinated olives a day ahead. I was really excited about these, as they helped me use up a can of green olives that had been sitting around in the cupboard a long time. I didn't particularly care for these olives - they were brined, but not very much, so they tasted flat and not very appealing. Turns out they were perfect for marinating! "Provencal" seasonings, as far as I can tell, involve fennel and citrus. These olives were marinated in balsamic vinegar, garlic, crushed fennel seeds, olive oil, pepper, and orange zest. I was skeptical when I tasted the marinade, but the olives turned out great! (sorry, can't remember exact quantities for the marinade; figure it out!!)


Now, the duxelles (and the serenity): "duxelles" is a fancy name for sauteed mushrooms. However, in order to make true duxelles, you must mince the mushrooms. Since my knife skills are so lacking, it took me a long time to mince a pound of mushrooms! I was probably a lot neater about it than I needed to be. About halfway through, I was tempted to get sloppy, until I realized that I had nothing better to do but mince carefully. So, carefully mince I did. It was actually very zen and relaxing once I accepted how long it was taking. The duxelles turned out great, and I think I might make an omlette with them later - there is plenty left over. To make duxelles: mince a pound of mushrooms; put some butter or oil in a pan, sautee about 1/4 cup onions, scallions, or shallots for 5 min.; add the minced mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have given up their liquid, and then cook until that liquid is almost all evaporated. Season with salt and pepper, add chopped parsley if you like. Good on toast, stuffed in things, wherever!

I'm so glad I like mushrooms now.


The roasted chickpeas didn't QUITE get crisp like the cookbook said they would, but they were tasty enough (and nutritious), so I'll likely try again and see if I can get a better result. They're easy to make : 2 c. cooked chickpeas, 1 T. minced garlic, 3 T. olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat the oven to 400; put the oil on a sheet pan; add the chickpeas, garlic, salt and pepper; move the chickpeas around so they're covered with oil and in one layer. Roast the chickpeas 15-20 min., shaking the pan every 5 or so. Cool, season w/ more salt, lemon, olive oil. Good, but I love chickpeas.

VERDICT: the jury's still out. I may need to refine my technique.

This was dessert, and hardly counts as a recipe. I got the idea from Mollie Katzan, but I've seen it repeated in various forms elsewhere. Basically, take a dried fig and cut a slit in it; open up the slit; put in a nice chunk/dollop of chevre (that's goat cheese, but not a salty or strong-tasting goat cheese); nestle a pecan on top of the cheese (you can use walnuts or almonds too, there are no rules!!); drizzle with honey. If it sounds weird to you, well, it did to me too - and it's not weird at all, but DELICIOUS. And fairly nutritious for a dessert.


"Tapas" are easy; and I love appetizers more than any other course, including dessert; they are so pretty looking, and you can eat them with your hands! I think I might make this "snacky" dinner a Sunday night tradition.


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