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Polenta Crostini with Pickled Onions and Gorgonzola Crumbles

Think of a mouth full of creamy and savory polenta deliciousness with a wisp of its grilled crunchy surround.  Top it with a tart, juicy, sweet layer of fruity wine pickled onion, and add the rich pungent fullness of ripe gorgonzola cheese crumbles, and grassy aromatic fresh herbs. This beautiful and delectable “Crostini”, Italian for “little crust”, my rendition made with polenta, is enigmatic of traditional Northern Italian Cuisine, morphed by international fusion. It is perfect for any size party because of its wow factor and ease of assembly.

Currently, polenta is known as a corn based recipe, though originally it was made from aggregate grains and legumes mixed with various flavorings of vegetables, meats, herbs and spices. The beauty of its contrivance is that it can be as simple and easy or as complex as you choose it to be. What counts is flavor and eye appeal. You can start from scratch, buy a quick cook variety, or buy a tube of pre-made polenta. Which ever you choose, follow package directions and add some of your own imagination and flavor. Slice and grill the chilled firm polenta as a platform for countless accouterments. Build your own creation from there.

Keeping in mind that the basic proportion for cooking polenta from scratch is three parts water or broth to one part corn flour, here is my rendition of a fun, beautiful and delicious grilled or pan fried polenta appetizer.

Polenta Recipe

  • 2 cups yellow corn flour
  • 6 cups salted water to taste, or light colored broth
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot
  • 1/4 cup minced red bell pepper, no seeds or ribs
  • 1/4 cup finely minced jalepeno pepper, no seeds or ribs
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro, parsley, or your herb of choice
  1.  in a 3-4 quart pot, saute vegetables in half of the olive oil on medium low heat until soft, reserving chopped herbs.
  2. Add water to the pot, turning up the heat to bring it to a boil.
  3. Add the corn flour slowly while stirring until the mixture amalgamates and thickens, lowering heat as needed to avoid sticking, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Stir chopped herbs into the mix quickly.
  5. Pour onto a greased 1/2 sheet or jelly-roll pan and smooth with an off set spatula to even out the thickness.
  6. Let cool until very firm, about one hour. You can speed the process in the refrigerator.
  7. Cover with waxed paper and turn out onto a cutting board rapping on the bottom of the pan sharply.
  8. Cut into desired size and shapes with a knife or cookie/ biscuit cutter.
  9. Grill in a well oiled pan, or under or over a flame until golden brown and crusty.

Wine Pickled Onions

Red

  • 2 small red onions
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice or any clear red pure fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves (6-8)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked allspice berries (3-4)

White

  • 2 small white onions
  • 1 cup white grape juice
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
  1. Julienne onions into points by cutting them in half length wise, peel off skin and tough outer layers, then continue slicing them end to end into crescents with the widest center measure at about 1/4 inch.
  2. Separately, in two one quart sauce pans, bring all ingredients of red and white pickling elements, except the onions, to a boil stirring to homogenize the flavors.
  3. Add the onions to their respective pickles, and continue to boil, reducing the heat slightly to slow evaporation, until they absorb color and  flavor but are still slightly crunchy, 5-10 minutes.
  4. Drain, reserving liquid for another time. Cool separately on two trays to keep colors from touching each other, single layer in the refrigerator.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap, once cooled. Keep refrigerated until use.
  6. Store leftover pickled onions in sealed jars with a small amount of their liquid. They are delicious added to many dishes.

Building Ingredients and Styling Tips

  • Grilled Polenta Rounds
  • Red & White Pickled Onions
  • Gorgonzola crumbles
  • Sprigs and leaves of your favorite herb for garnish

Building the appetizers are pretty self explanatory using the photo image as reference. Using your innate intuitive sense, somewhat alternate the white and red pickled onions a top the crostini rounds in a circular spiraling swirl. Top each round with a proportionate amount of Gorgonzola crumbles and garnish with small herbal leaves or sprigs.

Cocotte Eggs American

Cocotte Eggs American

Photo by David Bishop

This elegant, delectable & delightful breakfast, brunch or dinner entree is as soothing and delicious, if not as seductive, as it’s French predecessor. I was inspired by a recipe from our beloved Jacques Pepin, and changed it up a bit so that we can see all of the ingredients in a wider scope, then added more flavor and visual ingredients. The definition of Cocotte is an egg cooked individually in cream or butter in a small ramekin.

I used six inch stainless steel double handled personal braising pans because of the presentation possibilities. As a food stylist I gravitate toward palettes that can showcase the food in it’s entirety. The traditional Cocotte obscures most of the ingredients because they are on top of each other, like a parfait with opaque sides. I used 2 medium eggs instead of one large egg for symmetry and added various baby vegetables for; balanced scale and textural mouth appeal, color for eye popping lasciviousness, and flavor for the soul to savor and devour.

The end product is enticingly simple, easy and fast, while being lusciously delicious.

Ingredients per person/pan:

  • 1 slice of whole grain bread, toasted and buttered, cut into sticks for dipping into the egg dish
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • 1 tablespoon cognac
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sliced shallots
  • 3 sliced button mushrooms
  • 2 sliced baby zucchini
  • 2 sliced baby patty pan summer squash
  • 1/2 sliced red baby bell pepper (1 tablespoon)
  • 2 medium raw eggs
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Gruyere cheese
  1. Heat pan on medium low heat with olive oil for a moment until it is just hot.
  2. Add shallot, squash, peppers and some seasoning. Cook until tender, about two minutes.
  3. Turn up the heat a tiny bit and add mushrooms, cooking them until they release their water and begin to brown a bit. Stir the mixture.
  4. Add cream and cognac, stirring the mixture again and tasting for balance. Add more seasoning if necessary. Simmer for a moment to thicken a little. It will thicken more in the next step.
  5. Make two welts in the mixture for the eggs.
  6. Crack the eggs into the welts and lower the heat a tiny bit.
  7. Garnish the cheese onto the eggs and veges.
  8. Let them braise in the liquid until they are cooked to your desired doneness of yolk, making sure that the whites are not still mucus like. You may have to spoon some of the liquid over the whites to ensure even cooking, without over cooking the yolks.

Serve hot with the side of toast sticks for dipping. Add the beverage of your choice, depending on the corresponding meal…Orange juice, Green tea, Prosecco… whatever your heart desires.

Medium Hard Boiled Egg in Chicken Stock Aspic

Photo by David Bishop

I have co-opted this twist on a traditional French appetizer of eggs in aspic, an old-school French charcuterie: the Oeuf en Gelée, as a pretty and tasty starter for Easter dinner. It’s simplicity renders it not only easier to achieve than the traditional and more complex old fashioned versions, it is also more visually successful.

The first part of the quotient is to negotiate making the best tasting and looking “hard boiled eggs” ever. I say hard boiled in jest because they are not boiled and are barely hard, rendering them vibrantly yellow, moist, tender and delicious.

Medium Hard Eggs

Photo by David Bishop

Most people hard boil eggs thoughtlessly, leaving them overcooked, dry, tasteless, and with an unsightly green sulfurous ring around the perimeter of the yolk. It takes only a little bit of stayed attention to greatly improve these issues.

  1. Have a large bowl of lightly salted iced water standing by to receive your cooked eggs and stop the cooking in their tracks.
  2. Put room temperature medium sized eggs covered in slightly salted tap water in a sauce pan or pot and put over medium heat.
  3. Bring the water to an almost boil, a murmur of a boil, a gently nearly bubbling boil. Pay attention and adjust your heat to make it so.
  4. Leave it as such for 8 minutes for medium eggs, 9 minutes for large eggs and 10 minutes for extra large eggs. If you are doing lots of eggs at a time, you can test one to make sure it is exactly what you want by plunging one into the ice water and cutting it in 2 two, (without shelling it).
  5. When you have the desired color, plunge the eggs into the iced water to stop the cooking immediately.
  6. Roll each egg onto a hard surface to gently crack the shells, and return them to the iced water for at least 15 minutes, letting the water seep into the space between the shell and the membrane. This will enable you to shell the eggs easily.
  7. Shell each egg carefully to avoid marring the surface of the egg whites.
  8. Use a thin wire cheese cutter or very sharp thin knife, to slice the eggs length wise.
  9. At this point you can use the eggs for many things, including deviled eggs and our featured “Jellied Easter Eggs”.

Now for the fun part. I found little old fashioned fluted tin molds that were exactly the right size for medium sized eggs. Traditionally, the molds are boring, straight sided ovals, but I like the fluted chocolate candy molds for such festive occasions.

Look at the size of your eggs compared to the size of your molds, making sure that there is ample space around the eggs so that the Gelée, or Jelly, fills that space so that the eggs don’t touch the edge of the molds. This is why I chose medium sized eggs, which are usually only available in organic, free range eggs, and are also, by the way, more yellow and tasty.

The next steps are the recipe for the Jelly/Gelée.

  1. For every cup of cold chicken stock, the clearer the better ( I use Kitchen Classics, available at Whole Foods and Food Emporium)) use 2 packets of unflavored gelatine.
  2. Quickly whisk into the stock, the powdered gelatine, making sure it is entirely wet, and let it plump for a minute or so.
  3. Either put the solution onto a double boiler or microwave it until the gelatine granules are all completely dissolved.
  4. Pour a tiny bit of the completely desolved gelatine stock into each mold and let it cool and set a bit before you proceed.
  5. Take a small graceful sprig of herb, such as thyme, and place it onto the center of the egg yolk and set the egg half into the jelly, cut side down. While holding it down with your finger, add more of the gelatine stock, until it fills the mold, making sure the egg doesn’t rise and separate from the bottom of the mold.
  6. Once you are sure that the egg and gelatine are in the correct posture, place the molds carefully into a level refrigerator shelf to gel for at least an hour or so.
  7.  Test them with a touch from your finger. They should be quite firm.
  8. The most intricate part of the process is the un-molding, though it is made easier because the molds are metal, and therefore conduct heat.
  9. Using a just above body temperature water bath, dip the molds of gelatine, one at a time, into the warm water bath, making sure that the water never, ever excels the top of the mold. You are merely freeing the gelatine molds through tansduction of heat, not flooding it.
  10. Touch the surface of the gelatine with your finger to test if it is free of the mold. You may have to dip it again into the warm water. If the water is too hot or you dip it too much, you may lose the details of the mold. As soon as you know it is free, turn it over and rap it onto the surface that you wish to deliver it unto.
  11. Your best devise for having a future choice to the final destination of your mold, is to smear a thinly, finger applied layer of cold water onto the back side of the mold, so that you can slide it onto any surface you desire. Don’t hesitate too long to decide, or the gelatine will impart itself onto whatever you have laid it on, making it difficult to move your creation.

My choice of presentation for this lovely personal appetizer is a bed of Boston or Bibb lettuce, on a small individual dish. You choose accordingly to your own design.

If you are vegan, or want an alternate design, you may apply the same directions to our same molds, with vegetable broth and without the eggs, as seen below. They are tiny, personalized sized molds, incorporating mini veges, and can be just as beautiful, if not more, and savory.

Vegetable Aspic Salad Appetizer

Photo By David Bishop

Whatever you choose, may your life be filled with the joy and happiness of shared time together.

Baked Potato with Melting Butter Pat

Baked Potato with Melting Butter Pat

Photo by David Bishop

Light and Fluffy baked potatoes are not just great platforms for rich creamy butter and anything else you choose to put on them, they are beautiful and delicious in themselves. Achieving the quintessential textural potato pleasure is quite simple but often not done well. After decades of doing baked potatoes for photography and television, I have a very straight forward formula.

  1. Arrange your oven racks toward the center of the oven.
  2.  Pre-heat the oven to 400’F
  3. Wash the potato skins and do not puncture them.
  4.  Bake the potatoes for 30 minutes.
  5.  Turn them over and bake for another 30 minutes or until they are soft and give easily to the touch.
  6. Remove potatoes from the oven and roll them on a hard surface to loosen their interior texture.
  7. Using a fork, starting at one end of the top of the potato, penetrate the skin and flesh in a downward motion to the ends of the tines and with your thumb push against the potato and fork as you pull the fork towards you and your thumb. Continue this motion all the way around the potato top until the entire top of the potato is opened. I use a cocktail fork for more petite petals. Gently squeeze the potato to open it more. Fluff the interior of the potato with the fork. Insert a butter pat, letting it melt.
  8. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy.

 

Turkey Meatball Appetizer Extraordinaire

Photo by David Bishop

Spoons from Sur Le Table

Everyone loves meatballs, unless you are vegetarian. They show up in every culture world wide. Almost all of these ethnic gems have a few ingredients in common: ground meat, eggs, carbohydrate bits such a bread crumbs, liquid such as milk or stock, onions and spices.

The important elements in all of the recipes are designed to render them light, tender and moist, enabling them to soak up sauce and flavor. Solid meat balls tend to be leaden and dry. This appetizer ensemble recipe is a Thanksgiving meal in a mouthful. The presentation spoons make them a hit at any dinner party. Makes 24

Meatballs

  • 1 Lb. ground turkey
  • 1 egg,beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk or poultry stock
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot
  • 1/2 minced apple
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350’F

  1. Saute apple and shallot in olive oil until tender.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients with your clean hands or a wooden spoon thoroughly.
  3. Form 24 balls of mixture, placing them on a parchment lined 1/2 sheet pan (cookie sheet). I use a one inch release style ice cream scoop and roll the balls in wet hands. Ice cream scoops come in a plethora of sizes and are one of my favorite dispensing and forming tools.
  4. Bake for about ten minutes until just firm.
  5. Cover and keep warm.

Glaze

  • 2 cups Merlot wine
  • 2 cups veal demi glaze
  • 1/2 cup cherry jelly, jam or preserves
  • 1/4 – 1 teaspoon sea salt to taste. Start with 1/4 and adjust up when the sauce is fully cooked.
  1. Combine all ingredients and slow boil on medium low heat until the syrup coats a spoon, about 10 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Cover and set aside to finish appetizers.

Parsnip Souffle Puffs

increase oven heat to 400’F

  • 8 ounces each peeled half inch cubes of parsnip, sweet potato, and turnip.
  • 2 quarts of sea salted water, about 2 tablespoons salt.
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 4 tablespoons potato starch
  1. Boil the vegetables in the salted water until quite tender, about 12- 15 minutes.
  2. Drain vegetables reserving water.
  3. Mash vegetables together until smooth. I use an immersion blender.
  4. Blend eggs and starch into vegetable puree.
  5. Place mixture, in small batches, into a pastry bag with a star tip.
  6. Pipe 1 1/2 to 2 inch rings of puree onto an oiled parchment lined 1/2 sheet pan. I would bake one or two as a test to make sure they fit the meatballs nicely and that the mixture is not too thick or thin. You can add more starch or reserved liquid to adjust. When you are sure what size ring you like, and the consistency of the batter is right, bake the rest off until the edges are beautifully browned.

Assemblage

  1. With a small spatula, carefully move parsnip puffs to the presentation spoons or tiny plates.
  2. Top puffs with warm meat balls.
  3. Generously spoon warm Cherry Merlot Glaze onto the heavenly bites and serve immediately.

 

Photo by David Bishop

As a food stylist I am always striving to make my recipes visually delectable. As a human being I endeavor to create healthy, nutritionally sound and delicious food. This past holiday season I created a loaded vege-fruit and nut loaf that went over really big with all who sampled its power packed deliciousness.

My inspiration for the holiday loaf was from my childhood memory of a favorite breakfast fare, my mother’s zucchini nut bread accompanied by fruit salad and tea. Carrot cake has also always held a special place in my heart, so I melded the two with my own vision.

I imagined a loaf that would encompass all of my favorite ingredients and be nutritionally sound, while moist and delicious. The result is a recipe that embodies a wide array of textures, colors, flavors, nutrients and fiber, with low sugar, and delights most everyone. I’ve shown it here with a butter curl, which is very elegant for special occasions, but it is great by itself or with a dollop of yogurt. Toasting slices enhances the mouth feel and flavors. Here is the recipe for your own enjoyment.

Ultimate Zucchini Carrot Whole Grain Fruit & Nut Bread

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup all purpose flour or whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup total; golden & black raisins and dried cranberries
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup minced apple
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup whole grain hot style cereal (ground)
  • ¼ cup ground almonds
  • ¼ cup vegetable or nut oil
  • 1/8 cup agave nectar
  • ¼ cup chopped toasted pecans
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed tangerine or orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon tangerine or orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350’F.

  1. Mix raisins, cranberries and juice together and let macerate for 60 minutes. Then drain and reserve liquid for Bellinis.
  2. Simmer multi grain cereal with water for 5 minutes. Set aside to let cool.
  3. Whisk wet ingredients together; eggs, oil, vanilla extract, agave, yogurt and citrus zest.
  4. Whisk dry ingredients together, except nuts but including ground almonds.
  5. Mix nuts into dried fruit.
  6. Mix shredded vegetables and apples together into raisin-nut mixture.
  7. Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients.
  8. Oil well, two 8”X 4” inch loaf pans.
  9. Spoon completed dough into oiled loaf pans.
  10. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until knife comes out clean.
  11. Cool on a rack.
  12. Loosen sides with a knife and turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.
  13. Slice with a serrated knife and serve alone or with yogurt, cream cheese or butter of choice.

This is great for breakfast or anytime. Use the reserved fruit juice soaking liquid to add to champagne or seltzer for Bellini cocktails.

Note:

I really love the book “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman, M.D. He says it all in his quotient for Health in an American Society that addresses the obesity dilemma that underlines diabetes. His formula states that the ratio of nutients/calories is all we need to live a balanced and healthy life.

I hope that this recipe will inspire you to enrich your life with bountiful flavor. My ulterior motive was to treat my boyfriend, who is diabetic, to new horizons, possibilities and choices in culinary options.

Assorted Chocolate Truffles

Photo by Colin Cooke

 

Everyone loves chocolate truffles. They are the perfect holiday gift and a most welcome bring along party accoutrement. We buy them by the ounce at great expense but they can be made at home inexpensively. The secret about chocolate truffles is that they are so easy to make. The recipe is little guarded, but it is the presentation that will really make you a star. Regardless, these little mouth melting gems of sensuous delight are sought after and can have a huge impact on the success of your dinner party.

The simple recipe is equal parts heavy cream and a very good dark chocolate, preferably at least 72-85% so that it is not too sweet. First, chop the chocolate into small pieces for easy and even melting. In a sauce pan, heat the cream slowly over low heat, never letting it boil. Take it off the heat and add in the chopped chocolate. Stir it slowly until the mixture is completely smooth, then let it cool in the refrigerator until it is firm, about one hour.  Scoop one inch balls onto a wax paper lined tray with a #100 release style scoop. Roll them into your coatings of choice, such as cacao powder, ground nuts or coconut, powdered sugar or finely chopped dried fruits. Place them into paper lined decorative boxes for an elegant presentation. Refrigerate until your are ready to serve them.

Coating Queue

Photo by Colin Cooke

The variations in flavor and texture are the infusions and the coatings. While heating the heavy cream you can add vanilla beans, spices or liquor infusions, as you like, such as citrus peels, fruit essences, extracts, cognac or rum, etc. All of these will be about your taste, imagination and creativity. You may want to strain the hot cream to take out any flavor particles, once infused, to keep a smooth texture.

For  party favors you might choose many variations to please the crowd.  Tiny candy cups from your party store are available to serve them in, as a presentation alternative. They look like tiny cupcake cups and come in a variety of colors. Put them in small boxes, single layered, lined with colored tissue paper. They will be a hit at yours or any party.

This recipe is really a basic ganache, which is quite versatile. While it is still warm you can pour it over a cake or cup cakes. Once cool, it becomes an elegant, glossy, firm delicious coating. You can also choose to spoon it over ice cream for a rich sundae topping, or layer a fruit parfait. It will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for months for later use. What ever you choose, it will be fun and delicious.