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.

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.

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.

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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Heavenly Halloumi and how to have it. What the heck, you ask, is halloumi? It is a goat-sheep’s milk cheese that has been brined. You can find it at stores that specialize in Middle Eastern products and better cheese markets (think Murray’s or Whole Foods). And it is divine. The best way to eat it is to drain and pat it dry, slice it, brown it on a non stick pan or grill, top it with a pepper jelly or a fig jelly or even honey, slice it into cubes, and skewer. You can even have slices for breakfast topped with syrup and maybe some nuts. Store uncooked leftovers in water until ready to use again. Cyprus is home to this cheese, so for the not so faint of heart, maybe a glass of arak or Pernod to go with it, but I just drink wine. Color optional.

Tiny Tomato Tidbit, with a seafood twist. The farmers’ markets are filled with beautiful grape tomatoes of all colors. This bite calls for their use. In addition, you will need Panko, a pinch of garlic powder to taste, a pinch of dried oregano or thyme to taste, olive oil, smoked oysters or clams or mussels (you make the call), and salt and pepper to taste. To begin, add some olive oil to a pan. Combine the panko, garlic powder, oregano or thyme and add to oil to toast. Be mindful, it cooks fast, you want it browned not burned. Set crumble aside to cool until ready to serve. This can be done in advance. Slice your tomatoes tomatoes in half, toss with a bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. This can also be done in advance. When ready to serve, you can prepare in two ways. My favorite is to make a tomato sandwich. Toss the tomato in the crumble, add the smoked shellfish of your choice as a filling and skewer. Option B is to top the prepared tomatoes with the shellfish and crumble and skewer as well. Same taste, different look. You don’t like or can’t eat shellfish? Ok, do the same thing with a piece of smoked salmon and if you do that maybe a pinch of onion powder in the panko crumble in place of the garlic. The main thing is to keep it stress free and use what you love. And a nice big glass of icy Rose doesn’t hurt.

Ricotta Salata. It’s good for more than shaving over watermelon salad. The idea for this little 3 ingredient treat comes from the imagination of my dear friend, Ann Fegan. She thinly slices Ricotta Salata, which in many cases comes in the desired triangular shape, tops with pesto, and adds chopped walnuts. Creamy, salty, with a bit of crunch. Ticks all the boxes. You can make your own pesto which is a very simple thing to do especially with basil very much in season, or purchase a small jar of ready made. You can use whatever nuts you have on hand, or chop a mixture. Here I am using pignoli, but use whatever you like. If you don’t like pesto or you don’t have it, no problem. You can top with any type of spread (many of which are available in small jars) such as sun dried tomato, tapenade, artichoke, you get the idea. If you don’t like nuts, top with fennel seed or cumin seed, toasted if you want-something that will give a bit of crunch. Add a glass of wine.

These lovely little crostini are a perfect pre dinner bite. This recipe will make 12 pieces. What you need: 1/4 cup of peas-fresh if available or frozen(about 1/2 box if frozen), 1/4 cup ricotta cheese, juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, a splash of olive oil, 1 Tablespoon chopped mint, salt and pepper to taste and 12 round slices of baguette, toasted. Prepare a bowl of water and add some ice cubes to get the water really cold. Set aside. Bring a pot of water to boil, add a pinch of salt and the peas. Cook until just tender, you should be able to flatten between your fingers with just a bit of resistance. When peas are done, drain and add to the cold water to stop the cooking. When cool, place on a board and mash slightly, you want some texture to the mixture. Taste for salt. Set aside. Mix the ricotta, lemon zest and juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the chopped mint, and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Spread 1 teaspoon of the mixture on each of the crostini and top with a teaspoon of the peas. Scatter remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of mint leaves over top. Eat. Variations on a theme? Add some finely chopped prosciutto to the ricotta mixture. Or add red pepper flakes to the ricotta mixture. Or top with caramelized onion. Or for color, add thinly sliced radish. It all works.

 

Tis Tomato Time. What is the first thing you think of? Yep, Caprese Salad. But just simple Caprese Salad. No balsamic, no onions, no capers, no bread on the plate. Great in season tomatoes, Heirlooms, different colors and shapes. Best mozzarella. Torn basil. Olive oil. Flaky sea salt (Maldon if you can find it) and pepper to taste. Period. Cut tomatoes into rounds, quarters, slices–vary the shape, they look beautiful on the plate. Then take the mozzarella and tear it into pieces, don’t cut it. Next, olive oil to taste. Scatter torn basil pieces over top. Finally, add the sea salt and pepper to taste. Too hot to cook? Make the salad bigger and serve for dinner, maybe with some fresh bread on the side and a plate of prosciutto and cheese. In any case, don’t forget the wine.

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