Last minute Oscar app: Gorgonzola potato chips

Ridiculously easy version of a popular bar nosh for your Oscar fete

1 12 to 14 ounce bag salted Kettle cooked potato chips
6 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
3 slices hickory smoked, crispy, crumbled bacon
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
Freshly minced parsley

Adjust oven rack to center of oven and heat broiler to high. Line a baking tray with parchment paper

Arrange potato chips on tray in an even layer. Sprinkle the chips evenly with the cheese, bacon and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Broil until fragrant and bubbling. Use a spatula to remove the chips to a serving platter and garnish with parsley

Serve Gorgonzola potato chips hot

Cinnamon sugar cashews

Nuts are de rigueur at any party and shouldn’t be thought of just as holiday fare

When I’m putting together a party I want to make sure that I have a variety in the way things are served; that is, I don’t want everything to be served on a toothpick or a piece of toast. Varying each thing you serve and the way it is served adds interest and fun

One such thing to consider is a bowl of snack sized crackers or nuts that you have taken the time to add your own special touch. When serving such snacks in a communal bowl, be sure to add a spoon or two so that guests can serve themselves and keep the bowl of nibbles from becoming contaminated

These cashews are pleasantly crispy with a warm sweetness

Recipe can be doubled

1 egg white, whisked until very frothy
1 tablespoon water
3 cups salt roasted cashews (substitute almonds, pecans, or walnuts as desired)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 heaping teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine grey sea salt, then to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional, then to taste

Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper

Add the egg whites and nuts to a large bowl and stir to coat evenly. Add the sugars, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne, if using, and stir to coat evenly

Turn nuts out onto to prepared pan and spread them into an even layer

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until very fragrant (do not roast longer than 30 to 33 minutes or the cashews may burn) Coating may appear quite soupy and wet in the center of the tray even when cashews are ready to be pulled from oven. While it may seem they should bake longer so the coating dries out more, trust and believe that it will firm up dramatically as cashews cool

Remove cashews to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes (see Note)

When nuts are cool enough to handle break apart into clusters

Serve Cinnamon sugar cashews in a decorative bowl with a sugar or teaspoon so guests can scoop and serve themselves

Leftovers, if there are any, can be stored in airtight containers and will keep for at least 1 month

Note: Extra crispy and crunchy cashews can be achieved by leaving the nuts on the pan, uncovered, at room temperature overnight

Party app: Shrimp & clam dip

Anyone having an Oscars party on Sunday? Or any party soon … or later? I will be posting a handful of party-worthy hors d’oeuvres that are delicious and easy to make in the next few days in anticipation of Hollywood’s biggest night

When I’m putting together a party I want to make sure that I have something for everyone, including something vegetarian and something that is gluten-free. Now that doesn’t mean you have to break your neck coming up with something new because typically anything you are serving will probably have some kind of vegetable with it and something may already be gluten-free and you didn’t even know it!

Up first, this delicious pantry-concoction straight out of the orange plaid kitchen of my early youth, a throw-it-together appetizer I have tried to ‘improve’ with some fresh ingredients, but it just never worked. In fact, it wasn’t until even very recently that I learned that one of the ingredients (lemon juice) wasn’t even meant to come from fresh lemons (!) The one thing I DID improve was the texture by leaving the cut of the clams and the shrimp just as they are when they come out of the can instead of chopping them any further (stirring will break down the shrimp a bit, but that is part of the signature texture of the dish). I think it is nice to get different size pieces of both when enjoying this

The one thing I will say about the plastic lemon with the reconstituted lemon juice is that it does work in certain applications, like this one. I am not suggesting that you use it everywhere that you need lemon juice

This appetizer does improve with age but it can be thrown together just before service and it will be just as welcome

2 6.5 ounce cans chopped clams (not minced), chilled, drained
2 4 ounce cans medium shrimp, chilled, drained
6 ounces best-quality bottled cocktail sauce, chilled, then to taste
1 4.5 fluid ounce plastic lemon with reconstituted lemon juice, chilled
Nabisco brand Sociables crackers, for serving

Add the clams, with their juices and the drained shrimp to a medium bowl. Add the cocktail sauce and stir gently to combine. Add half of the contents of the lemon and then taste to see if more is needed (the reconstituted juice is the ‘secret ingredient’ to this dish; do not try to substitute freshly squeezed, it just is not strong enough to match the canned fish) Do not be surprised if you use most of it, it is almost impossible to add ‘too much’

Scrape the dip into a pretty bowl and surround on a platter with Sociables (poppy seed crackers)

Serve Shrimp & clamp dip cold with pâté knives for schmearing onto the crackers

Culinary confession: A corned beef epiphany

I grew up eating corned beef, typically around St Patrick’s Day. Let me correct that: I grew up avoiding corned beef. I was not a fan, to say the least. I won’t insinuate those who made it for me, suffice to say, they really had no idea how to prepare it
Dial-ahead 100 years (what!?) and I finally had an epiphany about corned beef. Seriously, it wasn’t until recently, after a dozen decades (what!?) of avoiding and refusing, choosing something else on the menu or declining dinner invites for the same, that I had the choice: corned beef sandwich … or nothing. OK, I’ll try it
Whoa! This is not the over-cooked, tough, bitter meat I’d come to known. This was tender and fully and properly seasoned. I admit that I made a few adjustments to the sandwich, but honestly it did not need those enhancements, it was purrfect just the way it was
As it was told to me during this epiphany: “Of course it’s delicious! Protestants don’t know how to make corned beef”

Recipe of the week: Steakhouse macaroni & cheese

What makes this mac n cheese recipe all ‘Steakhouse’? Its multiple cheeses and crème fraiche for extra-richness and smoked paprika for a hint of smokey heat

1 pound dried bite-size pasta tubes
6 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
6 tablespoons flour
1 bay leaf
1 fresh nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, then to taste (see Note)
4 cups half & half
1 1/4 cups crème fraiche
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grey sea salt, plus extra as needed
3 cups freshly shredded Gruyere cheese
1 3/4 cups freshly shredded aged cheddar cheese
3/4 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 4 quart square baking dish

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente

Melt the butter in a 4 quart sauce pan. Whisk continuously and sprinkle in the flour. Continue to wish and cook until the roux starts to take on a lightly golden color. Add the bay leaf and, whisking continuously, gradually pour in the half and half and cook until smooth. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, 14 to 16 minutes. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, cayenne and freshly ground black pepper. Retrieve and discard the bay leaf. Whisk in the crème fraîche and salt and bring the mixture to a simmer

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 1/4 cups each of the Gruyere and Cheddar until melted

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Stir in 2 cups more of the Gruyere and the 3/4 cup mozzarella. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyere and Cheddar evenly over the top and finish with an even sprinkling of breadcrumbs

Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the oven and cook until it is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and let sit for 10 minutes

Serve Steakhouse macaroni and cheese very warm with a vinaigrette salad and Chenin blanc

Note: Smoked paprika is readily available in every major grocery store. If you cannot find or do not have smoked paprika, substitute ground cayenne pepper


Make my brunch! Bacon

No brunch worth its salt is complete without bacon. Whether it is the substitute for Canadian bacon in Eggs Benedict or served in a generous portion on a big platter or sunk into a Bloody Mary, bacon is de rigueur at brunch

My method for cooking bacon is un-traditional, but it takes the mess and the guess work out of making sure it is perfectly rendered and thereby perfectly cooked

The tip here is to render it slowly, as you would with any protein that is very well marbled with fat. The slowest way that I know to render something as small as bacon is to start it in a cold oven. By the time the oven is fully heated, the bacon is almost fully rendered. Even better, it takes the same amount of time as if you started in a hot oven and you get better bacon

The cleverness is in the method

Position an oven rack in the center position

Set a baking rack inside a half sheet pan (rimmed baking sheet)

Portion classic cut bacon (see Note), anywhere from 3 to 8 slices per pan, evenly spaced from the center outward on the rack

Set the pan in the oven, close the door and set the oven to 355 degrees Fahrenheit

By the time the oven is almost fully heated, you should be smelling the bacon. Check for doneness when the oven alerts you that it is fully heated: If you like your bacon a little softer, it is probably almost ready or completely ready. If you crispier bacon, check for doneness 3 to 5 minutes longer

CAREFULLY remove the pan from the oven (the bottom of the pan contains hot liquid fat!) and transfer to a cooling rack. Use a pair of tongs to transfer the bacon to a plate lined with brown paper bag or paper towels to drain

Serve bacon at room temperature

Note: If you prefer thick-cut bacon it will simply take a little longer

Cocktail Friday: Meyer lemon whiskey sour

Cocktail …because Friday!
3/4 cup Jack Daniels
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from about 6 lemons) (see Note)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4 limes)
2/3 cup Simple syrup
Dolce Italian cherries, for garnish
Wedges of Meyer lemon, for garnish
Combine the whiskey, lemon juice, lime juice, and Simple syrup in a jar or pitcher
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and pour in the drink mix 2/3 full. Shake for 15 seconds and strain into glasses filled with ice
Add a dolce cherry, a wedge of Meyer lemon and serve immediately
Note: If you do not have or cannot find Meyer lemons, substitute 1 tangerine or other similarly sized sweet orange skinned citrus for 1 one of the lemons

Method of the week: Wedge salad

The recipe is in the method: make the dressing, cut the lettuce, dress the lettuce. Easy peasy

Puree 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup blue cheese crumbles, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1 peeled shallot, zest from 1 lemon, juice from half the zested lemon, 3 shakes of Worcestershire sauce, a handful of parsley, a big pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade … conversely, mince the shallot and parsley and whisk together with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl

Cut 2 chilled Boston lettuce into quarters. Plate 2 wedges among 4 chilled salad plates and divide the dressing over each serving

Press 3 hard cooked eggs through a fine mesh strainer with the back of a dinner tablespoon (you just made an egg mimosa)

Garnish the wedges with egg mimosa and crispy bacon


Dessert Monday: Almost-flourless chocolate cake

Dessert Monday: Almost-flourless chocolate cake

Because you have to have something to look forward to on Monday

1 tablespoon butter, for pan
3 tablespoons cocoa, for pan

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), finely chopped
1 cup butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Special equipment
Springform pan

Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour with cocoa a 10 inch springform pan

Stir chocolate and butter together in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan over low heat until chocolate  melts and mixture is smooth. Beat eggs and sugar together in large bowl until well blended and mixture begins to thicken

Sift flour and baking powder over eggs and gently fold in. Gently fold in chocolate mixture. Pour batter to prepared pan

Bake cake 20 minutes then, carefully remove pan from oven and carefully over pan with foil. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs still attached, about 30 minutes longer. Uncover cake, place on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature, 3 hours (cake will fall as it cools)

Cut around perimeter of cake and release ring mold

Cut Almost-flourless cake into wedges and garnish with 10X sugar, Any berry coulis, whipped cream, fresh berries, or nothing at all

Cocktail Friday: Lemon drop faux-tini

This week’s cocktail is actually a mocktail, that is, a cocktail without the alcohol

The flavor of the traditional lemon drop is one thing, but there is also the texture. I have replicated it here using simple syrup infused with citrus. Citrus oils are used in place of extracts to keep everything completely alcohol free

Superfine sugar
Fresh lemon

Lemon simple syrup
Orange simple syrup
Lemon oil
Orange oil

Fill a martini glass with ice and then with water and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes

Meanwhile, sprinkle 1/3 cup superfine sugar onto a plate wider than the width of your martini glass

Dump the ice water from the martini glass

Rub the flesh of the fresh lemon around the rim of the martini glass. Invert the glass and press it into the sugar, lifting and pressing to ensure a well coated sugar rim. Invert the glass and set aside

Fill a cocktail shaker half with ice. Add 3 ounces of lemon simple syrup, 1/2 ounce orange simple syrup, 2 ounces water, 2 drops lemon oil, 1 drop orange oil. Secure the lid and shake vigorously for 30 seconds

Remove the top from the cocktail shaker and strain into the perfectly chilled and sugar rimmed martini glass

Enjoy immediately