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!

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.

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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.

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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.