Category Archives: Appetizer

Game Time Nosh (Vegan!): Lentil-Walnut Dip

Okay, big time confession: in high school, I was (gulp) a cheerleader. Yes. I was. I was one of those high pony-tailed stiff-arm clapping cheer girls that dreamed up cheers in her sleep and wore the cheerleading outfit to school on game days. So yeah, even though I dropped out my senior year (and traded my letter jacket for a black leather motorcycle one–a la Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2), I was that girl, the cheerleader.

I worked hard at cheering. I went to cheer camp (yes, seriously). I tried really hard not to drop girls when tossing them into the air for the all-important basket toss (we dropped a few every now and then–our football team was never very good, so we considered it extra bang for our fans’ viewing pleasure. I mean picture us, two girls, arms clamped together to form a square, tossing some blonde featherweight 15 feet in the air–never straight up, mind you–and then following her shadow so we wouldn’t miss her, at least not very often, on her decent.). What I never really paid attention to was the game going on behind me. First and ten? I knew the cheer, but what did it all really mean? To this day, I don’t have a clue. Though I cheered for three years, I couldn’t tell you a foul from a goal (wait, is that even football?).

But I was good at cheering (and now, all of you who have seen me scream and cheer and hoot and whistle for people I don’t know running the NYC Marathon, you know where it all comes from). I was also good at cooking. There was many a time when, post Friday night lights, we’d find some deserted fast food parking lot to convene at, do something(s) illegal, and then retire to a home with no parentals present. While others were making out in closets and sucking down Milwaukee’s Best from funnels and plastic tubing, I’d often be in the kitchen making cookies. How I never burnt down a kitchen I’ll never know. And don’t ask me what anything tasted like. Who knows (I never even used a recipe–just threw stuff together in a bowl). I think we enjoyed whatever it was at the time. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like anyone had the brain power to complain.

All this to say that whatever the game of the day is, be it baseball, football, or Harry Potter Hogwarts Legos, I really could care because my mind is where the most important plays are being hatched anyway: the kitchen. And whether you’re into ball games or board games (such as 221 Baker Street, a super fun detective game like Clue but better), food is always a focal point. Buffalo wings, chili, a devilishly runny Robiola. They enhance the game play and keep you sated for the long stretch.

My absolute favorite dip is onion dip with potato chips. Oh man, if you serve that to me you better establish a ten-foot boundary around that bowl because like white on rice, I am on it and will eat the whole bowl. But do you know what makes onion dip so slammin’ good? Lots. Of. Fat. Not that I mind, but paired with potato chips and beer, it makes for a not-so-great post-game feeling. So I got to thinking. What’s a dip that feels as great to eat as it tastes?

And I recalled lentil-walnut pâté. Now quit your eye rolling, okay? It is honestly and truly delicious. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving, we visited some friends in Philly and they had a deli container of lentil-walnut pâté from the local coop. No sooner had the top been peeled back than the dip had disappeared. Just like that, it vanished. It was creamy and earthy and sweet and hearty and  tasted right, especially after a ridiculously delicious yet insanely rich meal the day before.

Lentil-walnut dip is like hummus but softer, more mellow and earthy and honestly, more party-friendly since it doesn’t have the sharp garlicky-lemony hit that hummus can have. To keep the texture airy instead of heavy, I use very little oil and quite a bit of the lentil cooking liquid (note that it does solidify a bit in the fridge, so if you want to make it ahead of time and want it to retain its fluff, let it sit at room temp for a stretch before serving). I barely toast the walnuts, just letting them warm up in the oven to give them a surface gloss without heavy toasty notes that threaten the lentils’ softness. A little fresh garlic, some salt, and neutral oil (I use grapeseed), buzz away in the food processor and it’s done. As a dip or a sandwich spread it’s fantastically healthy, protein-packed, and nutritious.

If I only knew about lentil-walnut pâté when I was 17. But then again, with the blade of a food processor and boiling water to contend with, maybe it’s better that I didn’t.

Lentil-Walnut Dip

Serves 6

For a touch of spice, I sometimes sprinkle it with a little za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice made from sumac, marjoram, thyme,  toasted sesame seeds, and salt (see my version below). It gives it more of a hummus taste and looks pretty too. Double or triple the batch of dip and you won’t be sorry. Serve some at your game day event and save the rest for a wrap/sandwich or to snack on with pita chips or celery sticks.

  • 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed under cold water
  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Pita chips, seeded flatbread,  crackers, or veg sticks for serving
  1. Bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the lentils, return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and creamy (scoop a few out with a fork to test them), 12 to 15 minutes.
  2. Place a sieve over a large bowl and drain the lentils through the sieve. Reserve 1/2 cup of the lentil water and set aside (freeze the remaining lentil liquid and use it like you would water or chicken broth for making rice, flavoring chili, or bean soup). Set the lentils aside to cool completely, about 1 hour (shake the sieve every so often to redistribute the lentils and let off some steam).
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet pan and toast just until they become glossy and slightly fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a large plate, and set aside to cool.
  4. Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds to combine. Add the cooled lentils, canola oil, salt, and reserved lentil cooking liquid. Process until the pâté lightens in color and becomes very airy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve with pita chips.

Homemade Za’atar

Makes about 1/4 cup

This ancient herb blend is obviously excellent sprinkled over Lentil-Walnut Pâté, hummus, babaghanouj, and grilled meats. But it’s also tasty in untraditional ways too: like sprinkled over deviled eggs, added to ground meat before making burgers, combined with oil and lemon juice to use as a simple salad dressing, or patted on to a creamy log of chèvre and drizzled with fruity olive oil for a cheese course.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 3/4 teaspoon sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
  1. Mix the marjoram, sumac, and thyme together in a small bowl.
  2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast, shaking the skillet often, until the seeds are golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and the marjoram mixture and toss to combine.
  3. Transfer to a rimmed plate to cool. Store in a glass jar and use within 1 month.


Filed under Appetizer, Holiday, Recipe, Vegan, Vegetarian

Easy Appetizer: Creamy Chèvre, Caraway, and Caramelized Onion Toasts

Around this time of year, my refrigerator becomes slightly schizophrenic. Whereas I usually have an orderly selection of fresh vegetables in the crisper, one or two cheeses in the cheese box, meat or seafood on the shelves, and other staples (eggs, butter, Sriracha) stockpiled, during the holidays when it’s all about entertaining–whether at home or away–it’s an anything-goes scenario. Which is absolutely exciting and fun and I totally embrace the chaos. Right now in my fridge there is bear fat (yes, the rendered fat of a bear), enough heavy cream to send a calorie counter into shock, grape must jam, homemade crème fraîche, and other random odds and ends: chicken stock, halved lemons, Parm bones (leftover rinds–great for soup!), a pork tenderloin, a pound of sea bass, and gingerbread people piled high with candies and sparkles (courtesy of Julian and his classmates). Also in the mix: a container of leftover creamy chèvre

Creamy chèvre is one of my favorite go-to party toppings. It’s goat cheese whipped with heavy cream and a few pinches of salt. Once that extra fat is whipped in, the tang of the goat cheese is curbed and its mouthfeel enriched by a million degrees. It becomes silky and airy and positively luscious.

I like pairing the spread with slowly caramelized onions, earthy caraway seeds, and olive oil-doused  baguette slices that get gently toasted so they’re crunchy on the outside and tender within. A drop of balsamic tweaks the taste of the onion jam ever so slightly, perking up sum total of the toast with its zippy twang. Serve the toasts spread and ready to go or encumber a platter with a pile of plain toasts and place the creamy chèvre and caramelized onions off to the side so people can schmear, dip, and doctor as they like.

Creamy Chèvre, Caraway, and Caramelized Onion Toasts

Makes about 2 dozen toasts

The flavor of earthy caraway seed and the sweetness of caramelized onions works beautifully with a whole wheat baguette. That said, a traditional baguette works just fine.

  • 1 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (or 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary or thyme)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus a few good pinches
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 baguette (preferably whole wheat), thinly sliced on a bias
  • Flaky salt
  • 4-ounce log of fresh goat’s milk cheese (chèvre)
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the caraway seeds and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the onions are very sticky and dark brown, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. If the onions start to stick or burn at the bottom of the pan, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and stir and scrape up any browned bits into the onion mixture. Once the onions are caramelized, stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat, stir in the balsamic vinegar, and transfer the onions to a small bowl. Pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the onions and set aside.
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F. Place the baguette slices on a rimmed baking sheet and brush the them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the flaky salt and toast in the oven just until the edges are browned and crisp and the top of the bread slices is dry but still gives to light pressure, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then transfer to a platter.
  3. Place the chèvre in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed to break it up. Add 4 tablespoons of the heavy cream and a few pinches of salt and beat. If the mixture is still pasty and thick, add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating between each addition, until the mixture is airy and light. Spread some of the caramelized onions on top of each cooled toast. Top with the chèvre cream and serve.

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Filed under Appetizer, Cheese, Holiday, Recipe, Vegetarian

A Turkey Day Pre-Feast Nosh: Feta Dip and Crunchy Veg

It’s easy to get caught up in the hullabaloo of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and forget to eat anything for the, oh, eight hours prior (let alone feed children, visitors, and housebroken beasts). That’s why I put as much thought into  easy snacks and have-around noshes as I do the big feast. The key is to have these small bites be simple, yet special. I mean, hummus and pita chips might be fine for friends and play dates, but kids, this is Thanksgiving. Upping your game is expected.

I first made this feta dip over the summer. The boys were hungry and I was late to get the grill on—we all needed something in our bellies pronto. I started pulling together everything I’d need to make a quick blue cheese dip until I realized I had no blue cheese. I did have feta…and the resulting dip was as creamy and tangy and even more of a crowd pleaser than its blue cousin.

A poke around the crisper offered a none-too-exciting selection of carrots, cucumbers, and wilting Romaine. I stripped away the spent outer leaves to find still lovely and crisp hearts inside—perfect for dunking and super kid friendly to boot. So I made a platter. And we all had veggies and this fantastic homemade dip—we gobbled it up (note that if I made this as a salad, the kids wouldn’t have touched it.). This dip will definitely be in a Tupperware headed to Philly for our Thanksgiving spread this year. (And if I think of it, I’ll squirrel some away for day-after Thanksgiving gyros: pan-fried dark meat with Mediterranean herbs—oregano/thyme/and the life.—and stuff into pita, douse with feta dip, and end with lettuce and red onions, preferably quick pickled with white vinegar, a few pinches of sugar and a few pinches of salt.)

Feta Dip and Crunchy Veg

Makes about 1/2 cup (easily doubles, triples, and so forth.)

Serving ideas: Romaine hearts separated into individual boats, endive leaves, carrots sticks, cucumber sticks, pitted or stuffed giant olives (have toothpicks nearby for easy dipping), cauliflower florets, steamed and cooled broccoli, red pepper strips, and cherry or grape tomatoes (ditto on toothpick tip above).

  • 1/3 cup feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk (or more if necessary)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Few twists fresh black pepper
  • 2 scallions, tough green ends removed, whites halved lengthwise and finely chopped

1. Place the feta in a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise and sour cream and use a fork to mash and stir it all together. It doesn’t have to be totally smooth—a few lumps are nice.

2. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the milk, the salt, and pepper. I like the dip on the drippy side so I add the extra tablespoon. You may choose to leave it out—it’s your call. Stir in the scallions and serve with fresh veg.

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Filed under Appetizer, Holiday, Recipe, Vegetable, Vegetarian

Midnight Brunch Meatballs! This time, in Sicilian!

Thank you to everyone who came out for Midnight Brunch on 11/11/11! Who knew I could stay up past midnight, let alone eat lamb vindaloo (that’s me plating the lamb vindaloo above) and chicken curry in the wee hours of the morning without turning into a pumpkin? What a fantastic time–what a great crowd! Brian Quinn’s extra-smooth cocktails were superb (the Dutch Derby was my personal fave), and I absolutely fell in love with Emily Cavalier’s Persian rice (scroll down, and the last photo is Emily and myself in Scott and Jessica’s amazing cave-cum-portal to ancient Egypt!). An extra thanks to the event volunteers: Brian, Rachael, Dani, Bryce, Stacie, and Topher (that’s him with the bowl of meatballs) as well as the American Lamb Board for generously sending us a gorgeous leg of lamb for the vindaloo.

The Sicilian meatballs I made  were a massive hit–I made about 125 meatballs and they were all devoured within 20 minutes! Now that’s serious eating. I figured it would be extra swell of me to share the recipe, which is based on a meatball recipe I learned while growing up in Chicago from the Campo family (hey Mr. and Mrs. Campo!). I posted a more traditional version earlier this fall that I made for Eugene Mirman’s Brooklyn Comedy Festival. Needless to say, those went pretty fast too–I had meatball groupies following me out of the even asking if I had any more “magical meatballs.” Lucky for them, not only are my meatballs “magical” but they’re also legal.

Sicilian Meatballs

Makes about 2 dozen golf ball-sized meatballs

These meatballs are based on the ones I made for the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in September–with a few shakeups like a pork and beef combo, currants, and mint. A disclaimer: I have never been to Sicily, however, this is how I imagine a Sicilian meatball tastes, perhaps with pine nuts added too (I think they get in the way of a nice ball cross-section, and don’t care for their earthy undertones, but hey, try it out and let me know your conclusions!).

  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus a good pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese plus 3/4 cup for sprinkling
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1  pound 80- to 85% lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups neutral oil (I like grapeseed)

1. Place the currants in a small bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the panko, a good pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl and add the milk. Set the mixture aside until the panko has absorbed all of the milk (about 10 minutes).

3. Whisk in the eggs and then and the Pecorino, shallots, garlic, basil, mint, salt, and pepper. Drain the currants and add to the breadcrumb mixture. Stir to combine.

4. Add the ground beef and ground pork, gently breaking them into small knobs as you add them to the bowl. Using your hands,  gently toss the mixture together until combined. Be careful not to knead or overmix and knead the meatball mixture. If you warm up the fat in the ground beef too much, your meatballs will be tough and stressed and your meatballs won’t be succulent and juicy.

5. Heat the olive oil and neutral oil in a large, deep skillet (I like busting out the cast iron for this) over medium heat. Once the oil is fragrant gently press and roll a chunk of the meatball mixture into a golf ball-sized ball. Add the meatball to the oil and fry it on all sides. Taste it for seasoning and adjust the salt or pepper if needed.

6. Shape the remaining meatball mixture into balls flattening them slightly (this allows you to easily brown them on all sides). Add 8 to 10 to the pan taking care to leave about 1-inch between meatballs (the frying meatballs should sound like a even-keeled applause, not angry white noise—adjust the heat if necessary). Cook the meatballs until both sides deeply browned, about 10 minutes total. Rest the meatballs on their sides around the pan’s perimeter to brown the edges, turning them as necessary. Add more raw meatballs to the center of the pan. Continue to cook the meatballs, turning them as needed, until browned on all sides. As they are done, use tongs to transfer them to a plate and sprinkle with lots of Pecorino, piling the meatballs on top of one another as you go, and always sprinkle Pecorino on top of the sizzling hot meatballs. Serve hot or at room temperature.

A special thank you to Clay Williams who took the photographs–thanks for making me look so good!


Filed under Appetizer, Beef, Dinner, Pork, Press/Appearances, Recipe

Better Off Veg: Veggie Bahn Mi

There are some dishes in which meat seems superfluous at best. Like nachos. I mean with all that cheese, the sour cream, the salsa, the guac, the beans—is meat piled on top really necessary? Same goes for the McDonald’s cheeseburger—get it without the meat and I swear you’ll be thanking me. Bahn mi falls into this category too. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I love pâté. Like with toast points and cornichon and seedy mustard. But with the sweet-tang of the marinated carrots and daikon, the heat of the jalapeño, the citrus-herb kapow of cilantro, and the hot hit of Sriracha, porky pâté just kind of gets in the way, you know?

Which is why I started ordering it without. Oh, I got a few hairy raised brows—no meat? Did I want sautéed mushrooms instead (no.)? Tofu (no.)? Chicken (no.)? I got tired of justifying my no-meat bahn mi, so I decided to make it mi self (sorry, couldn’t resist).

For satiety’s sake, I make a killer spread-y sauce out of silken tofu, cilantro, jalapeños, and a spoonful of mayo (vegans can use vegan mayo, of course). This spread is so good you’ll be making it for tailgating and baby showers instead of onion dip, I swear (it’s also great made into bite-sized bahn-mi bruschetta). Next, I quickly dunk ribbons of carrots and daikon in a fish sauce-rice vinegar marinade (again, vegans can do a lime juice-sugar-tomato paste combo as a decent stand-in). I pile it all on a warm, crisp baguette (preferably a pillowy supermarket-style baguette and not a super crusty artisanal one—more times than not they’re just too tough) with a smear of sriracha, fresh cilantro, and chopped jalapeños. It’s a sandwich that’s all about getting it right, not trying to make do without.

Veggie Bahn Mi

Makes 4 sandwiches

1 12-ounce brick silken tofu

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

3-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 jalapeños, 1 finely chopped, 1 roughly chopped (seeded for less heat)

4 6-inch long Italian rolls or 2 small baguettes, ends trimmed, each loaf divided into two pieces

8 ounces daikon, peeled into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or shaved on a mandolin

3 carrots, peeled into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or shaved on a mandolin

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch thick rounds

1 cup fresh whole cilantro leaves

Sriracha chili sauce

Place the tofu, mayonnaise, ginger, the roughly chopped jalapeño, and the salt in a small food processor and purée. Transfer the sauce into a small bowl and refrigerate until you’re ready to make the sandwiches (it will thicken a little as it chills).

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set the rolls on a rimmed baking sheet and place them in the oven until warm and the crust crackles when squeezed, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the rolls on a cutting board. Slice the rolls open leaving them connected at one side and set aside.

Place the daikon, carrots, fish sauce, and rice vinegar in a medium bowl and toss to combine.

Smear some of the tofu spread on the top half of each warm roll. Sprinkle the finely chopped jalapeños (if using) over the spread. Divide the carrot and daikon mixture between the rolls and top with a layer of cucumbers. Place some cilantro on top and then squeeze a few dots of Sriracha over the cilantro. Use the back of a spoon to push all of the ingredients toward the center of the roll. Press the roll closed and eat!

For Vegans: Use tofu-based mayonnaise in place of regular mayonnaise and substitute 3 tablespoons of lime juice whisked with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of tomato paste for the fish sauce. Check the label of the hot sauce to make sure there isn’t fish sauce in it.

Make Ahead: The tofu sauce can be made up to three days in advance. It makes a great dipping sauce for raw veggies, too.

Bahn Mi Bruschetta: Slice a baguette crosswise into 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick slices. Toast the slices in a 350°F oven just until dry and no longer spongy, but not truly toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then spread each slice with some tofu spread and then a few dots of Sriracha. Top with some diced jalapeños, a cucumber slice, some dressed carrots and daikon, and cilantro leaves. Serve.

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Filed under Appetizer, Dinner, Recipe, Sandwich, Vegan, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main