Who doesn’t need something in the freezer for last minute invites for cocktails this time of the year? This yummy Comte’ cracker comes from David Lebovitz “My Paris Kitchen”, takes no time to put together and freezes beautifully to be pulled out when the need arises. You need 2 slices of prosciutto (omit if you don’t do meat), 8 Tablespoons of butter at room temperature, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or fresh herb of your choice), 1/2 teaspoon each salt and fresh black pepper, 2 1/2 cups of freshly grated Comte’ cheese–you can substitute gruyere or cheddar, 1/4 cup cornmeal and 1 cup all purpose flour. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees an line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat. Place the prosciutto (if using) on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or so until the slices look dry and crisp. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool, the meat will crisp a bit more while sitting. While you wait, in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and with the mixer on low speed, combine the butter, salt and pepper and herbs and then add the cheese. Still on low speed, add the cornmeal and the flour until all is well mixed. Back to the prosciutto. Take the now cooled slices and chop finely and add to the dough, combining well. Remove from bowl, divide dough in half and roll each half into a log about 8 inches long. If you plan to cook immediately, refrigerate for about an hour and then slice. Place the crackers on a rimmed baking sheet again lined with parchment paper or silpat cook at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minute and serve. If you plan to freeze, wrap each log in plastic wrap and place on a cookie sheet until solid then store in a freezer bag. Remove from freezer about 1/2 hour before you plan to cook and follow the same cooking directions. I serve these all the time and they are quickly devoured. If you find that you are having the same experience, double the recipe. These little guys freeze well and everyone will marvel at your spur of the moment appetizer skill!!

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I am not cooking today, well not for a crowd, but I am going to give you two starters and a dessert that are easy and can be made in record time. All of these are from, where else, Italy. The first is called Pinzimonio and hails from the Tuscan region of the boot. It is a mixture of raw veggies: fennel, cucumber, radish, celery, whatever you like but make it colorful. The vegetables are is served with a mixture of best olive oil with flaky salt (Malden if you have it) freshly ground pepper, and a mix of your favorite spices or herbs. That’s it. The biggest dilemma of this nibble is what service piece to use. The second is a staple appetizer in Rome. For this you need a freshly sliced baguette or whatever your favorite bakery bread is, some unsalted butter, and anchovies. Butter the bread slices and top with the anchovies. Eat. This always makes an appearance at my Christmas Eve fish festa. Now the dessert. I call this the “idiot proof cake” because I am an idiot when it comes to baking and even I can make this. It is from the late Marcella Hazan who was Venetian, so we have made a small visit to the land of divine gastronomy, not to mention art, music, and style. Ingredients are fun ingredients to follow, 1/4 cup milk, 2 eggs, pinch of salt, 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of flour, 4 Tablespoons butter plus some for greasing the cake pan and some Panko. What are the fun ingredients? Whatever you want. I have made this cake with a mixture of plums, a mixture of berries, chopped apples, I have added mint, nuts, but today, because it is Thanksgiving and they are in season, I made with pomegranate seeds and blueberries. Beat the milk and eggs, add the salt, the sugar, and the flour and mix until combined, then add your fun ingredients. Preheat your oven to 375. Butter a springform pan or a tart pan and sprinkle the Panko on the bottom and the sides. Dump out any of the excess. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and add the 4 Tablespoons of butter in small bits to the mix, pushing them into the batter. Bake for 35-45 minutes. I start testing at 35 minutes, cooking time will vary depending on the heat of your oven. The finished produce is delicious served as is, or can be topped with ice cream, whipped cream, powdered sugar, fruit syrups, whatever suits your taste. So there you have it. Two before and one after the big meal bits and bites. What you serve in between, well that’s up to you. Once last thing. Many thanks to all who are following me. I am so grateful for your support and encouragement. Buona Festa Di Ringraziamento

Kale. The vegetable everyone loves to hate. You’ve juiced it, mashed it, eaten it raw for salad; heavens knows what other abuse you’ve inflicted on this beleaguered green. I am going to give you an idea gleaned from Jacques Pepin ages ago. And if you are quick, you can have it ready before the o’clock kickoff to go with your chips and dip. Crispy Roasted Kale Leaves. Easy. Healthy. Cheap. You need a head of kale, stripped of the leaves and leaves torn into bite sized pieces as shown, a splash of olive oil, Kosher salt (or flaky sea salt such as Maldon), pepper, and an oven set at 350. Lay the leaves on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil, a tablespoon or so. Now, place the kale leaves on a rack and place the rack onto the baking sheet. Make sure there is space between the leaves–they won’t get crunchy if layered on top of each other. Place the pan into the oven and roast about 10 minutes until crispy. You want them to keep some of the green color so watch that they don’t burn. When done, place into a serving bowl, toss with the salt and pepper and serve. That’s it. See, even kale can be made lovable with some olive oil and salt. And here is a freebie, you can do the same thing with Brussel Sprout leaves. Separate the heads and treat the same way. Now about that kickoff…..

Yotem Ottolenghi, the master of many ingredients, has published a new book called SIMPLE. It is a beautiful text and in fact does have many simple and ingredient pared recipes. Among them, I found this, and with the preponderance of beautiful mini cauliflowers of many colors still in the green markets, I was inspired to make it. It is indeed simple: ingredients-the aforementioned cauliflower, a Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and flaky sea salt, Maldon if you have it. He adds a green dipping sauce, but I found the sweetness and crunchiness of the cauliflower more than enough (I did serve some Greek yogurt alongside because I had a purple cauliflower and it looked so beautiful). I made this with a mini sized head, but the recipe works for any size. Here are the directions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the cauliflower, trim the stem to flatten it, but do not remove the leaves (they get crunchy and delicious in the roasting process) and place in salted boiling water head down for 5-6 minutes. Don’t worry if the head is not completely immersed. After 6 minutes, remove and place head down in a colander to drain for 10 minutes. Place drained and cooled head on a sheet pan or an oven proof dish head side up (you can use the dish for serving) and top with butter, olive oil, and a sprinkle of the the sea salt. Roast in oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the head. Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Serve as is either on the sheet pan or on the dish. Just break off the florets and eat. It is crunchy on the top, and creamy in the middle, the leaves get potato chip like, just a great vegetarian lunch or dinner side. And so much more inventive than the tiresome cauliflower rice.

Better than Blini Corn Crepe Pancakes. This is a very simple recipe and the crepes can be prepped in advance and even frozen after cooking if need be. If you live in an area where fresh sweet corn is still available (I am lucky to say I do), you can use that, but the recipe works just as well with drained or defrosted niblets. Here is the basic batter to make 3 large crepes (I cook mine in an 8″ non stick pan–easy to make, easy to clean): 2 ears of corn, 2 Tablespoons of flour, 2 eggs beaten, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 2 Tablespoons of butter, melted, 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Take the corn off the cob. (I have found the easiest way to do this is to break the ear in half, lay the half ear on its side and cut the kernels around–as shown). You can par cook the corn if you like, but if it is fresh and sweet there really isn’t a need. Your choice. Combine the flour and eggs into a batter and add the baking powder and 1 Tablespoon of the melted butter. Mix in the corn and the parsley. (NOTE: if you want to make the whole mixture in advance, wait until you are ready to cook before adding the baking powder. It loses its rising mojo if it sits in the batter too long). Add the remaining Tablespoon of butter to the pan and add a ladleful of the mixture. Flatten it out and let it cook until golden-about a minute. Flip, cook a minute longer and voila. Done. Place on a warm plate and serve. If freezing for later use, lay a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat on a rimmed baking sheet and top with the crepes until the crepes are frozen, then bag. If you want to jazz it up a bit, you can add some spices like cayenne or cumin or paprika (or a bit of all three). Change up the parsley for thyme or chives. The crepes are delicious when eaten alone, but if you want something heartier, top with some avocado (a quirky twist on avocado toast), or even a fried egg. If you want something festive or party like, make them smaller and top with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, and even black, red, or salmon caviar. Or top them with pepper jelly or syrup and have for breakfast. Try doing that with a blini!

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This is a one ingredient appetizer. It isn’t Potato Chips. It isn’t olives. It’s Frico! What is Frico? It is a nibble made from cheese. Hard cheese, like Parmigiano Reggiano, or Manchego, or Asiago. It isn’t much in terms of a recipe, it is more about technique and a tiny bit of practice, but once mastered, you will find yourself making them often for aperitivi hour. Grate cheese so that you have 2 Tablespoons per bite. If you are only doing two, you can use a non stick pan, but for more than that it’s easier to use a rimmed baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or silpat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure your cheese and lay on baking sheet and flatten to rounds of about 3 1/2 inches leaving space between each round. Place in oven and bake for about 2 minutes. Watch carefully, you want them to be golden, if they brown too much they become bitter. When done, remove from pan with a spatula and place on a plate to serve. Once you get the hang of it, and while the Frico are still warm, you can drape the finished rounds over a bowl or a rolling pin to create a shape as shown below. If you want to jazz up your Frico, you can add some fennel or ground black pepper, some cayenne if you want some kick, its really a matter of taste. Don’t be discouraged if the first one doesn’t work. Once you get the hang of it, they go really fast, in the oven AND into your tummy.

Mommy’s Christmas Party Cheddar Puffs. I didn’t know what else to call these. In my teen years, my parents would host a Christmas Party for their neighbors and friends a week before the holiday, a tradition I continued for years as an adult. There would be a lot of items served that we never saw on a regular basis (or any basis), Mama Leone Shrimp, rumaki, different kind of preparations on toothpicks, all very exotic stuff for a teenager. One items that would appear at the last minute were these puff appetizers. Mom would take a loaf of white bread, cut off the crusts, quarter the slices into triangles to make it more “party-like”, give the bread a quick toast in the oven, and finish them with all matters of whipped egg whites tossed with crab meat or cheddar cheese or clams and a dash of paprika. They would be popped under the broiler at the last minute to be served hot. I loved them. Here is the recipe: two egg whites whipped up, a dash of cream of tartar to stabilize them, and grated cheddar cheese folded in. I had some mushrooms in the fridge, so I filled them with the mixture, but truth be told, my mother’s 1965 version with white bread was much better. Sometimes, retro is just what you need. Here’s to mom on this Columbus Day Observance.

This is a great recipe for a spread or something more exotic (that comes later). When I a make my weekly visits to Chinatown, I always end up buying more mushrooms than I need. So there are always packages clogging up the veggie drawer in the fridge. Here is a really tasty and easy way to use them. The finished product can either be used immediately or can be frozen to reuse at a future date. MUSHROOM DUXELLES. What you need for 1 cup of duxelles are 8 ounces of mushrooms of any type or a combination thereof. An aside here–mushrooms generally come in 5 ounce packages so a couple of packages will suffice with a bit left over. Just use the whole package. You won’t go to Duxelles Jail, I promise. Also you will need 2-3 Tablespoons butter, a garlic clove, minced, 2 large shallots, minced (about 3 Tablespoons) and a Tablespoon of chopped parsley. Shallots are the traditional ingredient, but if you don’t have shallots, a small white onion or a few chopped scallions will work to the same quantity. See above comment re Duxelles jail. Now on to how to make. First, chop the mushrooms. I generally do this in the food processor with a few pulses, much easier. You need a fine chop, don’t go overboard and make mush, see photo below. Remove and set aside. Next, also in the food processor, chop the garlic and shallots. You want as fine a mince as you can get, again , see below. At medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet large enough to hold your ingredients, add the garlic and shallots and sweat, don’t brown. The best way to do this is to add some water to the pan with the butter and the garlic/shallot mixture. The water will boil away and while it does that, it will sweat the vegetables. Listen for a sizzle, the louder the sizzle, the closer you are to the right stage. Now add the mushrooms, another pinch of salt and pepper and cook down for about 10 minutes. The mushrooms have alot of water, you need to cook all that out. You want a dried finished product. Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of pan to avoid burning the mushrooms. After 10 minutes or when mushrooms are dried (see below), add the parsley. Stir through and take off heat. Set aside to cool. At this point, the duxelles can be frozen if not used right away. I generally store in 2 Tablespoon servings in a freezer bag. Here are some great ways to eat. Idea 1: Mushroom crostini are a very popular snack to go with aperitivi in Tuscan cuisine. Just toast some baguette slices and top with duxelles. Idea 2: Seve to your vegetarian friends as mushroom fried rice. Why not, cauliflower fried rice is all the rage, and this is soooo much better! Idea 3: use as a filling for Sunday brunch omelets. Idea 4: thicken gravy to use with roast chicken or for whatever you may be making gravy (that Thanksgiving turkey comes to mind). And now for the mother of all uses. At the beginning of this post I promised you something exotic. As a topping for beef. But not just any beef, easy Beef Wellington. Remember those sheets of puff pastry we used to make straws the other day? Here is another use for them. Traditional Beef Wellington utilizes a large and costly cut of meat. Rather than buying the “chateaubriand”, buy individual filet mignons, one per serving. Cook in your traditional manner until the steaks are 1/2 done. Allow steaks to cool completely. You can do this hours even a day before serving. You need the beef cool because it will help the puff pastry puff and you don’t want to over cook the beef when it goes into the oven a second time. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350. Melt some butter to top the Wellingtons. Lightly roll out a one of your squares, one for each serving. Place a tablespoon of duxelles on top of each steak and lay a square of pastry on top of all. You can fuss with wrapping if you like, but I promised easy. Place each Wellington on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and top with melted butter. If you are artsy, you can slice a design on top of the pastry but DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH! Also, if you have cooked your steak for different degrees of doneness for your guests, you can mark the Wellingtons with either their initials or R for rare, M for medium, or, God forgive me, W for well. Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden and cooked through. Pour yourself a glass of Gigondas, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Cabernet, whatever you like. You’ve earned it. Your dinner will be gorgeous, easy to prepare, and you will look like a rock star. Bon Appetit!

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.