Monday, July 23, 2012

Easy Recipes from a Tiny, Remote Kitchen: Appetizers (that double up for other meals)

(I welcome your comments, recipe suggestions, and questions through the "comments" option below any entry. --Laura)

UPDATED: See Tomato Nut tapenade and Tomato Puff Pastry at the very bottom of list.

Do you have a tiny kitchen, limited time, a bare pantry?  Perhaps the following recipes will appeal to you. 

Living a half-hour flight from a town, out in the boonies, I cook 2-4 meals a day for months at a time.  No restaurants.  No pizza take out.  As a break, my husband kindly offers to cook all day once a month (which usually means “do you want the bag of green leftovers or brown leftovers?”)

 So by the combination of frequent necessity and boredom, I endeavored to make the process of cooking easier and more interesting to me, within the constraints of a tiny kitchen and no spontaneous access to a supermarket.  My favorite recipes, such as those below, meet the following criteria: 1) few ingredients (most below use only 3-5 ingredients, not including herbs), 2) few preparation steps/bowls/space requirements, 3) ingredients that store well or expand easily for groups or large harvests of produce or fish.  4) Less than ten minutes of preparation time (other than cooking or making dough) and, in most cases, 5) versatile.  Most of the 14 recipes below include 2-5 alternatives, each, and most can be used in various ways, for example, as a dip one day, a sandwich spread later, and a sauce for meat or pasta on another occasion.   

 Of the appetizers, my husband particularly favors the creamy ones and I like the sour/tart ones.  With a combination, I find I please most guests, too.  We like strong flavors, so for people with tender palates, from places like Minnesota (where I gather the flavorings consist of salt, pepper and ketchup), you can easily leave out my frequent references to jalapenos and garlic. 

 Some of you may be frustrated by the flexible proportions of ingredients, but if you think about segregating the key ingredients from the flavoring ones, you’ll be able to create a version just the way you like it.

a)      Nut stuffed dates wrapped in bacon: Stuff a date with unsalted nuts (almonds are flat and firm, walnuts may break as you insert them).  Wrap each with half a piece of bacon.  Put in a hot oven (400 degrees), preferably in a pan over a rack so the bacon will drain.  Cook for about 10 minutes, checking to turn.  Best hot, but if well drained, good cold, too.  Men love these – sweet and salty.

b)      Olive and sun dried tomato tapenade: In a food processor, process equal volumes of pitted olives (fine if stuffed) with sundried tomatoes.  If the tomatoes are dry, add several TBS of olive oil. If the tomatoes are stored in oil, the tomatoes you extract from the jar will probably carry enough oil.  Add Italian herbs, fresh or dried, and some garlic cloves or a few TBS of jalapenos or red pepper flakes. Process.  The consistency you want is spreadable or dippable for crackers or bread.  Add more olive oil if desired. Let the tapenade sit for several hours before serving.  This is also tasty slathered on a chicken breast sandwich or, if thinned with broth, as a pasta sauce.  If you like a creamy version, add equal proportions of mayonnaise and cream cheese totaling less than 1/3 to ½  of the volume of the solid ingredients (for example  less than 1 cup of dairy to more than 2 cups of vegetable mixture).   

c)       Artichoke, tomato, and lemon tapenade: This recipe works better with hand cutting than with a food processor:  combine equal volumes of marinated artichoke hearts, drained, and fresh tomatoes, both chopped coarsely.  Depending on quantity and preference, flavor with a TBS or more of lemon juice and and a TSP or more of lemon zest (the yellow of the rind).  We add garlic to just about anything, including this but you can omit it.  The appearance, scent, and flavor is very fresh and springy tasting. If you like a creamy version that is less astringent, add a dollop containing equal amounts of sour cream or yogurt and mayonnaise until you get the balance of flavor and texture you like.  Attractive and tasty with a white fish.

d)      Slow cooked kale “chips:  Kale grows beautifully (and profusely) in Alaska, so I incorporate it into lots of stews and soups, but the following recipe is a stand alone appetizer that is particularly pretty and easy. Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature your oven offers, usually 170 – 200 degrees.  Get out as many cookie sheets as you have oven racks to fill, because it will be hard to make enough of these appetizers.   Lightly oil both sides of each kale leaf (any color, flat or crinkly) and sprinkle each side with coarse salt.  You could try other oils or herbs, too. Bake slowly for 2 – 2.5 hours, turning mid-way.  When the leaves are crispy, serve them up.  These are good cold, too, but better warm.  Warning:  these will practically turn to ash if you try to “reheat them” on a higher oven temperature.  Eat the leaves like you would a chip, but perhaps not the center stem band of bigger leaves, which may be stringy, so have a bowl for discards.

e)      Topped potatoes: When I harvest a string of potatoes, the sizes vary from the size of my fist to golf balls and even smaller.  They are the prettiest, cleanest potatoes I have ever seen.  I let the big ones dry for later and often use the smaller ones as a base for appetizer toppings, as an alternative to crackers or bread.   The following recipes would work well for store bought red potatoes (small) or fingerlings:  Cook the potatoes through – firm, not mushy.  Split them in half and slice a bit off the outside so they’ll lie flat on a plate.  

a.       Version 1: Put a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (or the following onion dip) on each potato half. Lay a sliver of smoked or baked salmon or trout or any fish on top.  Spritz with lemon juice and sprinkle with dill or add a slice of pickled jalapeno.  Salt and pepper to taste.

b.      Version 2:  Put a dollop of mustard/mayo on each potato half.  Top the potato with a slice of cheddar or other cheese and cooked ham. 

c.       Version 3:  Put a dollop of cream cheese on each potato half.  Top with a small slice of tomato and a crisp slice of bacon.

d.      Version 4: Put a dollop of creamy horseradish on each potato half.  Top with a slice of cooked beef or pork.   

f)       Hummus.  My husband and I love hummus, in all sorts of flavor combinations.  It is a nice alternative to offer guests who want a creamy texture but not dairy.   Drain one can of garbanzo beans or chickpeas (same thing) reserving the liquid to thin the dip.   In a food processor, process the beans with tahini (a sesame seed puree that is not as assertive as sesame oil, both found in the Asian aisle) or peanut butter.  Since tahini is so mild, you might add as much as a quarter of a cup to a can of beans but since peanut butter is more assertive, start with a TBS. Process.  The consistency you want is a VERY smooth puree, just shy of dripping off a spoon.  If it too thick, add the reserved liquid from the can and then olive oil or more tahini but probably not more peanut butter.  Once you have the consistency and major flavor proportions balanced, add flavorings.  The sky is the limit.  To one can of beans, we’ve added all of the following for one dip or another:  a TBS of curry or several TBS of soy sauce or a quarter cup of sundried tomatoes and 2 garlic cloves, or several TBS lemon juice and several TSP of lemon zest to taste, or a TBS of jalapenos  or ¼ to ½ chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (start small – these are hot).   

g)      Homemade onion dip:  This recipe is easy to make if you have a few partial onions in the fridge or if you want to make a vast quantity.  It is great as a side dip for fish or steak or a topping for burgers, as well as for the predictable chips and crudites.   Slow cook (on low-medium) as many sliced onions (yellow or white, preferred for aesthetics) as you want in enough butter or oil that they won’t burn.  Stir occasionally, but keep the lid on the pot, partly to keep the onions from drying out and partly to reduce the scent in the kitchen.  Cooking will take 10 - 20 minutes, depending on temperature and volume.  Optional: add about 1 TSP to TBS of jalapenos and 1 clove of garlic per onion for a spicy dip. When the onions have cooked down and cooled, chop finely by hand or process in a food processor.  Depending on how goopy you want it (wetter for dipping with delicate chips, firmer as a spread or sauce for burgers, fish or steak), add a dairy component of equal portions of sour cream or yogurt or cream cheese mixed with mayonnaise.  Start with one cup of dairy for 2-3 onions.  Salt and pepper.  Let the flavors mingle for a few hours before serving.  Salt and pepper.  Can add a bit of vingegar, too.

h)      Aioli:  Real aioli is made with egg yolk and olive oil.  If you are leery of eating raw eggs, try the following alternative.  Mix equal proportions of mayonnaise with yogurt or sour cream.  Add an acid, like lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar.  To one cup of white base, add about 4 TBS of the acid, tasting to get it the way you like it.  Balsamic vinegar tastes fine but the dark color may not be attractive to people.  If you use real fruit (you can freeze them whole, you know) definitely scrape the zest (the outside of the lemon or lime).   Add 3-4 cloves of finely chopped garlic.  This is refreshing with crudités and delicious with steak, fish, or chicken, and pretty with small cherry tomatoes or peppers of various colors.

i)        Peanut soy dip:  This is tasty on cabbage slaw, chicken, fish, or, to my husband, on just about any solid surface.  As you combine the dominant flavors of soy sauce, peanut butter, and vinegar, the goal is to balance the sweet, salty, and acid flavors.  Beware of high salt content in normal soy sauce, and then again in the peanut butter.  Start with   1/4 c low salt soy sauce or teriyaki sauce (the latter is oilier and sweeter), ½ cup peanut butter, and ½ cup vinegar.  Taste.  Adjust as needed.  (If this or any liquid, like a soup, is too salty, drop a cut potato into it to absorb some of the excess salt and then remove.) If you want it thinner but want to cut the amount of vinegar, replace some of that liquid with an oil, like sesame, tahini, or vegetable.  We add chopped garlic cloves and red pepper flakes or Sriracha sauce.   For a dressing over cabbage, I make it thinner with more vinegar.  For a dip with chicken, I make it thicker, like a sate dip.  You can add texture by using crunchy peanut butter or sprinkling the top of the salad or served meat with crushed peanuts.

j)        Chimichurri sauce: We love the fresh, tangy flavor of cilantro.  But it doesn’t grow well in Alaska and doesn’t last long in a refrigerator either.  What to do?  Make chimichurri sauce, since vinegar will enable it to last longer in the refrigerator, and the sauce freezes well, too.  I buy rather lame looking bunches in an Anchorage supermarket and do the following shortly upon arrival at the cabin.  Chop up a good sized bunch of cilantro leaves (about 2 cups) and the stems that connect them (but do not include the long stems in this recipe).  Pour in ½ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of olive or other oil.  Add three – four cloves of garlic.  Blend.  You will have a bright green, sprightly flavored sauce to top or marinate any meat or fish (or baked potatoes).  Beautiful appetizers are a crostini (toasted bread) spread with chimichurri and topped by a cherry tomato slice or mushroom caps stuffed with a chimichurri and cream cheese mixture (1/2 and ½) and cooked at 350 for 15-20 minutes, depending on whether you want the mushrooms firm for hand eating or soft for fork eating. Alternatives:  This idea of mixing bright herbs with vinegar and oil is basically a vinaigrette.  The recipe proportions above work for parsley, too.  (Other green leaves, like spinach or kale, offer color but not the tang.)

k)      Quesadillas: Having lived in Texas for many years before moving to Alaska, we cook with a lot of tortillas. They freeze and transport so easily that they are a dependable ingredient for many last minute appetizers and dinners involving leftovers.  Because frozen, store bought flour tortillas can taste like cardboard, I pan fry my tortilla dishes.  The dry heat really elevates both the texture and the flavor. I find it easiest to make and serve individual portions from one tortilla folded in half for cooking and then cut in half for meals or in thirds for appetizers.  The flavor combinations are endless, but below are a few ideas.  These cook quickly, so have all ingredients ready.  Lightly oil a pan or griddle and set it on a medium or medium low heat. Beware of a higher heat since tortillas can burn quickly.  Assemble delicious quesadillas by  using one or two ingredients from each lettered section:

a.       A light layer of your sauce:  pesto or salsa or chipotle or mole or a lemon/garlic mayo   

b.      Cheese:  Mexican combination, soft Italian (like mozzerella),  cheddar, feta  

c.       Vegetables: Raw or grilled onions, peppers, spinach, kale, tomatoes

d.      Pre-cooked meat, shredded or cut up, or hummus or soft beans (refried, baked, etc).        

Put the filled, half-moon shaped, folded tortillas on the pan.  Flip when brown and the cheese melted.  There are never any leftovers.


l)        Obviously, we catch a lot of fish in Alaska.  Our lake is filled with pike which can grow to be huge.  The largest we’ve caught off our dock is 42 inches.   At a stream nearby, we enjoy runs of salmon, trout, and grayling.  Below are a few fish based recipes you could make with canned, smoked, or baked fish of your preference. 

a.       Fish cakes:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl combine the key ingredients of fish, egg, mayonnaise, and bread crumbs.  (If using canned fish, drain it) How much of each depends on the texture you want.  I like a very loose, light appetizer, almost like a meringue.  You may prefer a denser cake.  For about six ounces of fish (the size of a flat can), I add one egg,  a quarter cup of mayonnaise, and  then 1/3 – ½ cup of bread crumbs (depending on how dry or watery the fish is) until I could form loose golf ball shapes.  But before shaping them, blend in any of the following flavor combinations: 

                                                               i.      Mustard and red pepper

                                                             ii.      Finely diced onions and jalapenos or green peppers 

                                                            iii.      1/2 cup of grated, meltable cheese (like mozzarella) adds a flavor and texture like a cheese puff. 

                                                           iv.      Or just plain!

For golf ball size appetizers, cook for 15 minutes.  I turn mine at 10 minutes to that two sides of the angular ball will crisp up while the rest is soft.  For larger, denser, flat cakes, add more bread crumbs and five more minutes of cooking time.  These are best eaten straight out of the oven, and can be served with a dip appropriate to the flavorings. 

                                                             v.      A sweet and spicy remoulade  (mayo with a bit of mustard and a bit of marmalade)

                                                           vi.      A creamy salsa (salsa with sour cream/mayo).

                                                          vii.      A creamy teriyaki sauce (teriyaki with cream cheese or mayo)

                                                        viii.      A creamy horseradish sauce

                                                           ix.      Chimichurri sauce (see recipe, above)

b) Fish dip:  Pike does not freeze well, so when we catch a big one (3 feet long), I’ll make three meals right away, one grilled or sautéed, one a stew or jumbalaya, and one a goopy bowl for sandwiches or dips, like a tuna salad.  If we catch a lot of salmon, I do the same; I may freeze some in our solar and wind powered chest freezer, or smoke it, but I also cook several dishes while it is fresh.  We may have fish several times a day in various preparations.  In the case of pike, which has so many small bones that are difficult to fillet away, I slow cook it in a very low oven so the little bones will dissolve (but then have to pick through a messy bowl full anyway) without drying out the meat too much.  The effort is worthwhile because the flavor of this white fish is so mild that it is terrifically versatile.  The main ingredients of a fish dip are fish and mayonnaise.  Combine in a proportion appropriate for your goal, generally drier for sandwiches and wetter for dips.  Then add any of the following flavorings:

                                                             x.      A dominating flavor such as pesto or curry or teriyaki sauce, or keep it plain with mayonnaise (or the onion dip above), salt and pepper

                                                           xi.      Finely diced onions, and any combination of colored peppers 

                                                          xii.      For cold or toasted sandwiches, or lettuce/kale wraps, or salad (but not in dips), add something crunchy.  In various batches try walnuts, almonds, pecans, apples, celery or water chestnuts.  You can add other fruits, too, like pineapple or dried cranberries or raisins.  (The pineapple may make the dip watery and the mayonnaise separate, so this is only for immediate use).  If the dip is too thin, thicken with bread crumbs or drain it a bit. 


l.              Pizza:     I’m not a great bread baker, but I like my pizza dough.  If you haven’t made it at home, give it a try.  It is pretty forgiving.  Otherwise, you can buy frozen or prepared pizza dough in many supermarkets, so I won’t offer a dough recipe here.   Like the quesadillas above, pizza somehow makes leftovers festive and it works easily well for a meal or for hearty appetizers.  Caveat:  You can try this in any oven with a cookie sheet, but I found that a perforated pizza pan delivered the crispy, light texture I wanted and made it much easier to free the cooked dough from the pan.  Since our kitchen is so small, I rarely buy specialty pots or pans, but this is one case where I made an exception (and besides, since it is flat, it stores easily between the propane and wood stoves). 

Pre-heat your oven to as high a temperature as you can, usually 450-475 degrees.   If you use a pizza stone, pre-heat that, too.  Lightly oil the pizza pan.   (Recommendation: Use an oil with a high smoke point, like peanut oil).   On the pan, place the store bought dough or stretch out the home-made or frozen dough and layer the other ingredients: cheese first, then any wet sauce, then toppings of vegetables and meat.

i.         Sprinkle a cheese that melts well first (before the sauce), like mozzarella or mixed Italian or gruyere.   Add dry herbs, like Italian.   If you stop at this point, you will be able to serve it up as cheesy crackers.   

ii.                   Otherwise, add more ingredients.  Add tomato sauce if you like (optional).  I find that in a home oven that doesn’t reach the firey temperatures of a commercial pizzeria, if I add the sauce first it is absorbed into the dough, making it heavy.  A prior layer of cheese melts fast and protects the dough.

iii.                  Add vegetables.  If you want them crunchy, add them raw; if you want them softer, pre-cook them or better yet, use leftovers.  Dense or fibrous vegetables like broccoli should be pre-cooked.  Frozen vegetables will become really wet when cooked, so drain and squeeze them first.  Leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, or bok choy are easier to eat if thin sliced.  

iv.                 Add a precooked meat, if desired.  I haven’t made my own sausage yet, but we are always delighted to get some delicious caribou, bear, and moose sausage from hunters who go to the trouble to make their own special sausage recipes.  If you are one who finds many game sausages too dry, serving them with the accompanying pizza ingredients is a flavorful way to mitigate that.  Fish and chicken don’t fare so well at such a hot temperature, so I add them half way through the pizza’s cook time.  In this way, I have made a tasty pike and pesto pizza. 

Depending on the size of your pizza and the temperature you can attain, cook 20 – 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted, and the edges of the crust are getting crispy and brown.

Tomato Nut Tapenade

Since we don’t have a greenhouse yet, we have been unable to grow tomatoes past the pretty flowering and green tomato stage (at the very end of very warm summers). So I am delighted to discover that cherry and jewel tomatoes bought in town last more than a month. When they start to get wrinkly, I make this dip.

Toast 1 cup almonds or other nuts of your choice in the oven or on the stove, watching carefully so they don’t burn. Toasting makes them much more flavorful and can rejuvenate “tired” nuts that have been getting humid in the pantry. In a food processor, combine 2 normal tomato or 2 cups of cherry or jewel tomatoes, any color, and 3-5 garlic cloves, 2/3 cup olive oil, 4-5 TBS cider or red wine or balsamic vinegar, a bit of salt and something to add a bit of heat, like some cayenne or red pepper flakes or a TBS of pickled jalapeno. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight, out or in a refrigerator, so the flavors will combine well. Alternatives: spoon over regular, garlic, or cheese toast (a spreadable cheese, like goat, or melted cheese, like cheddar). Serve with a bowl of olives. Stuff inside pasta.

Tomato Puff Pastry

This is one of my husband’s favorite all time appetizers
Thaw and bake a puff pastry sheet according to directions, generally at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, on a towel, thickly slice (about 1/3 “) tomatoes and salt them so they will drain some of their liquid. (You want enough slices to cover the area of the pastry) If you use different colored tomatoes, this appetizer will be particularly attractive, but any color is fine. Pat them dry. When the pastry is cooked, remove it from the oven and press the puffed pastry down with a spatula, leaving the outer edge high all around. Turn the oven down to 350 or plan to cook the second stage at that temperature later. Sprinkle with 1 ½ cups shredded cheese. (Italian or Mozzarella will make it slightly gooey, Mexican or other blends will make it less so). Layer the top of the cheese with all the tomatoes, touching. Sprinkle Italian herbs on top, and perhaps nestle some diced garlic amongst the tomatoes. This will be delicious as is, or you can dot the tomatoes with pesto before cooking or add fresh basil after you take it out of the oven. Put the assembled dish back in the oven until warmed through and aromatic, usually another 20 minutes. Slice into squares with a pizza wheel or knife. Serve as hand food or with fork and knife and napkins. Because of the flaky pastry, it can be messy eating.

(I welcome your comments and questions through the "comments" option below any entry. --Laura)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, these recipes look not only healthy, but simple!! Thank you so much for typing these all out! I'm having a lot of fun reading through your blog posts, I will be able to use a lot of your ideas in our cabin in the PNW. -Spinninghands