Puff pastry squares are one of the easiest things to store in your freezer and make a special cocktail nibble. Once sold only in larger sheets, now, through the intersession of the marketing gods, 5 x 5 squares are now available for those mortals who need a quick idea for an aperativo. They can be used for a myriad of things, both savory and sweet. They can be cooked with a topping or without. What you use is limited only by the boundaries of your imagination and the part of the meal you are serving. I love using them to top pot pies. Those of you who follow this blog are familiar with my deficiency in dessert making but these are wonderful topped with just a bit of sugar and butter and served with a glass of fizz for a light meal ender. Here is a pre dinner idea. Sesame Cayenne Straws. You will need a puff pastry square, some melted butter to brush on the pastry, a sprinkling of cayenne pepper, black and white sesame seeds and pinch of salt. I like using the three colors only because, well, there are three colors. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While you wait, take a rimmed baking sheet and top with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat. Roll your square out a bit, keeping the shape as best you can. This is not an exact science. Your goal is to make the pastry a bit thinner and to get 8 or so straws per sheet. Top with the seeds, cayenne pepper and salt and press them into the pastry. Now with a knife or a ridged cutter make straws. You can either twist them or lay them flat on the pan. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest a few minutes before serving. Place them in a serving something or other. Here I am using a crystal brandy snifter, but you could serve them in a paper cup and they would still be delicious. Open a bottle of wine and there you go. A beautiful, elegant bite which took all of 15 minutes to make.

This is for the carnivores out there, and the idea comes from the grillmaster Steve Raichlen. Steak with board sauce. What you need is your favorite cut of beef, a rimmed wooden cutting board, and for the board sauce, a handful of chopped sage leaves, a handful of chopped rosemary, a handful of fresh oregano, some chopped chives, two or three chopped scallions, a chopped Serrano and a chopped jalenpeno pepper for some heat (omit if you don’t want heat), arugula leaves (optional, or add another green of your choice), and some olive oil. Grill the steak in your own way and to your desired doneness and while it rests after cooking (10 minutes or so) make the sauce on the cutting board. Combine all the herbs and the salad greens if using and add the olive oil. Mix and taste for seasoning. Remember if you have salted your beef not to over salt the sauce. Slice the steak and mix with the sauce on the board and serve. It looks beautiful and it tastes great. Company coming? This meal takes the amount of time you need to cook your steak and rest it. Dinner can be on the table in under 30 minutes. The bonus? Takes seconds to clean up. Not necessarily a nibble, but what a meal. And as shown in the photo, don’t expect any leftovers.

The world’s easiest biscuits from one of my favorite web sites, thekitchn.com. 2 ingredients. Full Fat Greek Yogurt and Self Rising Flour. I love this recipe because the end product can be served either with savories or sweets. They work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even that late night walk about snack. You can add things that you think will please everyone, here I used cheddar and a toasted nut and seed mix. Other ideas might be finely chopped dried fruits (like cranberries–Thanksgiving is coming, these would be perfect), fresh chopped herbs, other types of cheese (blue, parmigiano reggiano, asiago, etc), cooked diced bacon, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. And if you don’t eat them right away, they can be frozen. Having a dinner party? these make a great do ahead prep, and everyone loves biscuits. They take a nanosecond to prepare and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Here is what you do. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat. If you are adding extras, put them into a large bowl with equal parts of flour and the yogurt. 1 cup of each will give you ~~4 biscuits, so use that as a guide for the quantity you want to make. Mix all well. Measure out ~~ 1/4 cup for each biscuit and drop onto the baking sheet. Pop into the oven and bake until slightly toasty on top. When done, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. If you like, you can make them smaller (adjust your cooking time slightly) and serve as little sandwiches for a pre dinner nibble (savory) or post dinner nibble (sweet). Or just have them for breakfast with some butter and a good cup of coffee. Fresh biscuits. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.

Mommy’s Cocktail Cigars. Actually, my mother called these ham roll-ups but that just doesn’t sound cool. They were made to go with pre-dinner cocktails for her and my dad. She would make one and cut into 4 pieces, but you can expand your serving size. In fact I would encourage you to do so. So what are they? Slices of ham spread with cream cheese and topped with horseradish. Roll, cut, and skewer (or not). Great item to make in advance for pre game nibbles at a tailgate party. I make them now with marscapone because it is so 2018 and not so 1960. And since horseradish root is readily available now, use that if you prefer a stronger taste. It keeps forever in the fridge and can be used for other dishes. Want to make it richer? Mix some heavy cream into the cheese and top the slices with that. Don’t like ham? Use turkey and mix a bit of chopped cranberry into the cheese before spreading on the slice. Roast beef is a great pair with horseradish if you are a beef eater and I would definitely mix the heavy cream into the cheese if I were using beef. Don’t eat meat? Use smoked salmon. Delicious. Or make a platter using all of the above. it will look beautiful and suit pretty much all appetites. My parents’ cocktails of choice were Martinis or Manhattans (think 1960), but you can serve these with Aperol Spritzes or white white spritzers if that is your choice. No offense will be taken.

IMG_0825 (1)

Taking a time out from posting nibbles to give you a recipe for all those end of season tomatoes that are still available. Most vendors now will bag the round or sometimes Roma tomatoes and sell in bulk. Really cheaply. At my market, 4 pounds for 5 dollars. So this is a fool proof idea for tomato sauce that can be made in bulk and frozen in baggies for the winter when the tomatoes are not really good and the jarred sauce is just too expensive. For this recipe which uses 4 pounds and will make roughly 6 cups of puree, you will need tomatoes, freezer quart sized baggies, a covered pot large enough to hold the raw tomatoes, a big bowl, a food mill, some wax or parchment paper (or a silpat if you have), and a cookie sheet. You really do need a food mill for this. You can use a blender, but the seeds will be incorporated into the finished product and make the puree bitter. No one likes bitter tomato sauce (or soup or Bloody Marys). No seasoning whatsoever, you will do that later when you actually put the puree to use. Quarter the tomatoes and put into the pot. The tomatoes will give off enough water as they steam so you do not need any additional liquid which would only dilute the puree. Cover and put on medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. They will melt down into kind of mush as shown. When done, place your food mill over the large bowl and mill the tomatoes in batches. Include the tomato water. Allow the puree to cool and put 2 cups into each baggie. Lay a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet (so the baggies don’t stick) and then lay the baggies flat on top. Add another sheet of wax paper and repeat until all the puree is used. Place sheet into freezer. When the sauce has frozen, remove from the cookie sheet and place upright to store (doesn’t take up much freezer space that way). For extra protection, if you want, you can place the bags into a larger baggie. This puree can be used to make your favorite sauce, as a base for tomato soup, and for those boozy brunch Sundays, Bloody Mary mix. It keeps well and the taste of fresh tomatoes in January, when summer seems to be an eternity away, is bliss.

Grilled Cheese and Bacon with a twist because white bread, Kraft American slices and Hormel bacon are soooo yesterday. This little bite incorporates butter, gluten free corn tortillas, Boursin Cheese (you know you have it somewhere in the back of the fridge), and leftover prosciutto from the melon salad you served over the weekend. Let the cheese come to room temperature. Melt some butter in a non stick pan. While the butter is melting, slather two tortillas with Boursin cheese. Place a slice of prosciutto between the two slices and press together. Now place the “sandwich” on the butter and cook until toasty, turn and repeat. Slice into quarters and there you have it! If you prefer, you can use a neutral oil in place of the butter, but why? If you want to use those little prosciutto bits, brown them first before adding to the tortilla. You can even serve it for breakfast which is what I have done for the past two mornings. For those of you who do classy tailgate parties, these can be made ahead of time and wrapped in wax paper or clear wrap until ready to cook. Easy to cook, virtually no clean up, makes room in the fridge, and really tasty.

This Chili Pepper Jam recipe is drawn from DAVID ROCCO’S “LA DOLCE VITA” series. It is another use for all those peppers arriving at the farmer’s markets. And might be a good project for a rainy weekend. The end product will last for quite a while and has so many uses. First the recipe. These dimensions will yield roughly 4 cups of jam. I generally divide them into 4 x 1 cup jars. You will need 1 1/2 pounds of a mix mix of red and yellow bell peppers (roughly 4 peppers), 1/2 pound mix of spicy peppers, the milder spiced peppers like jalapeno will give you a milder finish-I use a mix of jalapeno, Serrano and habanero but it is a matter of taste, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, and 4 cups sugar. Two bits of advice before proceeding. Use rubber gloves to work with the peppers, and if you have one, use a food mill to puree the peppers. You can use a blender, the texture won’t be the same but it isn’t critical. Ok. Put on the gloves. Seed and halve all the peppers. Did I say to use gloves? Add them to a pot with the apple cider vinegar and cook for about 20 minutes or until the peppers are very soft. Remove the peppers, rinse out the pot and set the pot aside for later use. Put the peppers into a colander to drain and press out as much of the liquid as possible and discard it. Now puree the peppers either with a food mill or in a blender. If using a food mill, discard the skins. Don’t taste it at this point, it is very bitter and not very appealing. Be patient, the good part is coming. Return the pepper puree back to the pot and bring the heat up to medium. Add the sugar a bit at a time, stirring after each addition to dissolve until all the sugar has been used. Cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers have a jelly like appearance. The the color of the resulting product will range from gold to garnet depending on the colors of peppers you use. Allow to cool and transfer to jars. Store at room temperature. Now, what to do with this yummy stuff? Top your buttered toast with it. Top your favorite cheese with it. Eat it with dark chocolate for dessert (a personal favorite). Do you top your bacon with syrup? Use this instead. You can use it to coat a pork tenderloin or chops or ribs for grilling. The uses are only limited by your imagination. And, if you make a lot of it, give some to your friends. Sharing is a good thing. One more thing. Don’t forget to wear the gloves.

Capers are not just for garnish you know. They have another, secret personality. Fry them. Yes, that’s right. They blossom like little flowers and are delicious. And you can use the cooking oil for a vinaigrette. Take a handful of capers and dry well on paper towels. Let air dry a few minutes while oil is heating. Use whatever oil you like, the little buds aren’t going to cook that long so smoke point isn’t a real issue. When the oil is hot enough(drop a breadcrumb into the oil, if it sizzles, it is hot enough), add a few capers at a time. Don’t add all at once, they will splatter and burn you. Also they will reduce the temperature of the oil too much and you won’t get a nice crunch on your finished product. As they cook, they will open. When they all look opened, scoop them out of the oil with a slotted spoon. Place on paper towels to drain. Repeat until all the capers are done. Serve. They go quick. Any leftovers? There’s always that garnish.

IMG_0825 (1)

Sweet, salty, crunchy and three ingredients. Pitted dates, almonds or nut of your choice, prosciutto or bacon slices. Amen. Involves an itty bitty bit of cooking. Preheat oven to 400 or use broiler if you prefer. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Slice dates in half. Place nut in center. Cut lengthwise slices of the prosciutto. Don’t stress if the prosciutto tears, just mend the slices together and wrap tightly around the date and nut as shown. Lay on pan. Can be prepared to this point ahead of time and refrigerated. When ready to serve, cook until prosciutto is crispy. Let cool a bit so that your guests don’t burn their mouths. Enjoy. Pinot Grigio goes well.

Corn Chowder “Caviar”. In August, nothing says farm to table better than corn. But, when it is 80 with a real feel of 90, the last thing you want to eat is chowder of any variety. So, I give you corn chowder caviar minus the chowder. What you need per ear of corn off the cob: 2 slices of prosciutto (or bacon), 1/2 stalk of celery, a scallion, a pinch of paprika, salt and pepper to taste, a splash of olive oil, a splash of heavy cream (optional), a pinch of dried tarragon (optional) and corn chips for serving. Place the prosciutto (or bacon) on a pan and place into a 400 degree oven and cook until crispy. Chop into small bits and add to a bowl with the corn. Finely chop the celery and add to the same bowl. Finely chop the scallion both white and green parts keeping green parts separate for garnish, and rinse in some cold water for a few minutes. Allow to drain and add to corn-prosciutto-celery mix. Add a pinch of paprika, the heavy cream and tarragon if using, and the salt and pepper to taste. Toss with a bit of olive oil. Place on a corn chip to serve. Top with scallion greens. And as it is a “caviar”, serve it with some bubbly or chilled vodka, in a martini glass, with a twist.