In Texas, where I grew up, the state fair is legendary. In fact, it's so famous that in 1962 Rodgers and Hammerstein made a musical about it called State Fair. I have always loved a good fair with the stuffed monkeys on a wand, the Ferris Wheel, felt hats with your name magically embroidered on in minutes, and of course CORN DOGS! Here in Calaveras County we also have a legendary county fair called the Jumping Frog Jubilee, made famous by Mark Twain's short story about the "celebrated jumping frog." Every third week in May people come from all over and bring or borrow a frog. They then compete to see how far they can get their frog to jump, hoping to be the next big winner. The Frog Jump is great, but the first thing I look for every year is the food trailer with the hand dipped corn dogs—none of those frozen, inauthentic ones for me! I am 'old school' about these crunchy, tasty dogs and eat mine with a side of mustard. They are also good with catsup if you must. See you out at the fair!
Miniature Corn Dogs
40 miniature sausages or cut regular hot dogs into thirds
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t cayenne
2 T plus 1 t sugar
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 T water
Mix the dry ingredients together. Mix the buttermilk and water together in a separate, larger bowl. Add the dry ingredients and stir. Mixture will be lumpy. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes. In a high sided 8 qt pot, heat 4 cups of veggie oil to 375 degrees (use a candy thermometer). Stick each sausage with a 4" skewer or a toothpick. Make sure you leave enough sticking out to grab on to. Give the batter a stir and transfer into a smaller, deeper container if easier. Dip each sausage into the batter and holding the toothpick end, drop into the oil, frying only 3 at a time. Turn with a slotted spoon until golden. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Serve with mustard and catsup or whatever your favorite condiment is. Makes 40.
I think I have told you about my book club, we meet for dinner once a month and always cook something inspired by the book. Last week I made this Cremini mushroom crostata. Cremini mushrooms are simply white button mushrooms allowed to grow a bit longer, so they have a bit more texture and flavor. We had just finished reading a book called "Circling the Sun" about a woman living in Kenya around the turn of the last century. In one of the chapters, she threw a party and made a mushroom crostata. A crostata is a rustic, free-form tart, usually filled with fruit but veggies work well too! It was actually easy to make the crust in the food processor and easy to handle so don't be intimidated. I served this as an appetizer but it would also be delicious as a light lunch dish served with a simple green salad.
Cremini Mushroom, Roasted Garlic, Fontina & Thyme Crostata
First, make the dough (it has to chill for an hour or make it a day ahead) and then get the garlic roasting.
3/4 c all purpose flour
3/4 c (6 oz) cold butter, diced
1/2 t salt
1/4 c ice cold water (you will add 1/8 c first and more as needed)
1 egg (for egg wash)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour and salt in a food processor. Add cold butter and pulse until sandy. Add 1/8 cup cold water. Mix or pulse until dough begins to form. Add more water as needed until dough forms. Gather dough, flatten into a pancake, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for one hour or refrigerate over night. Flour surface and roll out dough to a 1/8 inch thick round (won't be perfect, this is rustic!). It will be thinner than you think necessary, but this makes for a great crust. Roll the edges of the crust inward a few times to form a proper edge. Place dough on cookie sheet. Cover dough with a piece of aluminum foil, add weights or dry beans, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, remove foil and weights, poke all over the bottom with a fork and bake for 7 minutes. Beat egg. Coat entire dough in egg wash and bake for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool for 10 minutes.
8 medium sized cloves of garlic, whole & unpeeled
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap garlic cloves in aluminum foil and drizzle with oil. Throw in some fresh thyme stalks and bake for 40 minutes, until soft. Cool. Peel garlic cloves and spread the soft roasted garlic over the bottom of the crust in a light even layer.
1 lb Cremini mushrooms (you could mix in some wild ones too, if you like)
1 T fresh thyme leaves stripped from their stem
4 oz Italian fontina cheese, shredded (any soft, melting cheese with good flavor works)
2 T butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T extra virgin olive oil
After you have prepared the crust with the roasted garlic spread, raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Clean, trim, and chop mushrooms and stems. Put the mushrooms aside in medium size bowl. Drizzle 1 T olive oil over mushrooms, add a large pinch of salt, and toss. Melt butter in large sauté pan until sizzling and then add the mushrooms. Sprinkle with half of the thyme leaves. Cook over medium to medium high heat until all liquid is absorbed, about ten minutes. Toss in the rest of the thyme, a big dash of salt and pepper and cook for a minute. With a slotted spoon remove mushrooms from the pan. Put back into medium sized bowl. Let cool for ten minutes. Add shredded cheese and combine. Spread mushrooms and cheese evenly across the garlic schmeared crust. Return to oven and cook 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and serve. This is also great at room temperature or the next morning cold from the fridge.
If you are looking for an easy appetizer to serve to friends and family over the coming weekend, it doesn't get much easier or delicious than these potatoes. Yukon Gold potatoes are perfect for roasting, taking on a creamy consistency and buttery flavor when cooked. Smoked paprika, made from peppers which are dried by smoking over a low fire for 10-15 days, comes from Spain. Being in the nightshade family it pairs well with other nightshade family members such as potatoes and tomatoes. The smoked paprika added to the aioli adds a captivating, smokey aroma that will seductively pull you in for the ultimate potato dipping experience. Whoa...
Roasted Yukon Golds
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes per person
ex virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the potatoes lengthwise into halves and then again, lengthwise into 3 spears per half for a total of 6 pieces per potato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and enough olive oil to coat them well. Spread out on a sheet pan with one cut side down. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning over halfway through the time, until they are browned. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the parsley or cilantro, if using. Serve warm or at room temp with the smoked paprika aioli.
Smoked Paprika Aioli
1 c 'Best Foods' mayonnaise
1/2 t smoked paprika (really fresh)
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 T ex virgin olive oil
pinch of cayenne
1/2 t lemon juice
pinch of salt
a couple of grinds of pepper
Mix all together in a small bowl, let sit for a few minutes and then taste for seasonings.
I thought I had an original idea the other day when I thought of using butternut squash to make a holiday version of hummus...nope. There were several recipes already on the internet and after reading a few, I settled on one from Ina Garten. She's my hero, I want to BE her. I changed a couple of things to make it 'mine' and it turned out delicious. Seasonal and beautiful, it can be made a few days ahead of time so you can tick off the box that says "appetizer" and get to more important things like time with family and raising toasts.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus
1 1/4 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut in a 1" dice
3 T good olive oil
1 t ground cinnamon
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained with liquid reserved
1/2 c plain Greek yogurt (I use Fage)
1/4 c tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 lemons juiced
2 medium cloves minced garlic
pinch of cayenne
pure Grade A maple syrup, to drizzle on top (optional)
parsley chopped for garnish
toasted and salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), for garnish
*toasted pita bread , for dipping or store bought pita chips
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the cinnamon, 2 t salt, and 1 t pepper. Toss with your hands and spread the squash out in one layer on the pan. Roast for 35 minutes, stirring once, until tender, and set aside for 15 minutes to cool.
Reserve ¼ cup of squash for the garnish and transfer the rest to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the chickpeas, yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pulse until coarsely processed but not pureed. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved chickpea liquid and pulse a few times to combine. If the hummus is too thick, add more liquid a few tablespoons at a time (I did add more to get to the consistency I liked). Taste for seasonings, transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the reserved butternut squash, chopped parsley, toasted pumpkin seeds and drizzle with maple syrup, if desired. Serve at room temperature with toasted pita bread. For a less sweet version, substitute curry powder or cumin for the cinnamon, lime juice for the lemon juice and cilantro for the parsley.
*to make toasted pita chips
Cut store bought pita bread into 6 or 8 wedges. Pull apart the wedges from two layers to one layer and place on a sheet pan. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees until light brown and crispy.
As a caterer, I am often asked to provide dishes that are vegan, vegetarian and/or gluten free. Paired with a gluten free bread or cracker and served with a vegan yogurt (think soy or almond milk) this dip fits the bill for all three. I don't have any dietary restrictions myself, so I often look for ideas in cookbooks, on the internet (blogs like mine) or from friends who cook. I found the idea for this dip from a favorite chef of mine, Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook, Plenty More. I might not usually use carrots as the centerpiece for an appetizer, but in this dip, they are magically transformed and taste incredible. The spicy carrots atop the lemon-y garlic yogurt is a perfect, winning combination. I took this dip to my last bocce game and heard nothing but rave reviews!
Smashed Carrots with Lemon-Garlic Yogurt
1 T olive oil, plus extra to finish
1 T unsalted butter
10 large carrots, peeled and cut into slices 3/4" thick
1 c vegetable stock
grated zest of 1 orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 t *harissa paste
grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 T lemon juice
1 c Greek yogurt
3 1/2 T shelled, salted or unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
salt and black pepper
Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring often; they need to soften and take on a bit of color. Add the stock, turn down the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook for another 25 minutes, until the carrots are completely soft and there is hardly any liquid left. Transfer the carrots to a food processor, add 3/4 teaspoon salt, and process briefly to form a coarse paste. Leave to cool and then add the orange zest, garlic, harissa, half the lemon zest, and some black pepper. Pulse briefly to combine.
Mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, the remaining lemon zest, and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
Spread the yogurt our on a serving platter and spoon the carrot mixture on top. Sprinkle with the pistachios, drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve with the pita chips. Serves 8-10 as an appetizer.
Zaatar Toasted Pitas
1 pkg plain or whole wheat pitas
4 T butter, melted
2 T **Zaatar seasoning
Cut the pitas into 8 triangles then pull apart to make 16. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle with the Zaatar. Bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees.
*Harissa is a North African and Middle Eastern condiment that is made from garlic, cumin, caraway, pounded chili peppers, salt and a dash of olive oil. Pretty much any chili-based hot sauce will work as a substitute.
** Zaatar is available at The Spice Tin in Murphys or by mail order.
As a caterer for over 30 years, I have established a reputation for consistently creating original menus inspired by the occasion and the season, presenting them with an ease and elegance uniquely my own. Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are the basis of my creative “from scratch” menus, which range from the classically elegant to rustic and whimsical.
"Love your recipes! Pat made your avocado toast a few weeks ago, delish! I'm taking them to a party in a few weeks, although the mushroom crostata looks pretty darn good!"