Q: Do you have any good ideas for room temperature appetizers I can make in advance? I'm having a large party and don't have the time, refrigerator space, or oven space to make too many hot or cold things. Thanks!
When I was a child, there weren't a lot of sweets in our house, but come Christmastime, little teasing bits of my mom's holiday toffee would show up in my normally sugar-starved lunch bag during the week before school let out. Then, during our annual Christmas Eve tamale party, huge platters would appear, with piles of the stuff stacked high like poker chips.
These cute little turtle clusters are so much more than meets the eye. It's hard to resist their addictive combination of buttery pecans and chewy homemade caramel nestled under a creamy milk chocolate shell. So hard to resist, in fact, that I recommend making a double batch if you have any hopes of sharing.
This right here is what I like to call my "snacking granola." We're talking about big chunky clusters of lightly-sweet granola studded with pistachios and dried cherries. A handful of this makes all other afternoon snacks look puny by comparison — and a whole bag of it makes the ultimate gift for everyone from the friends in your book group to the babysitter.
Rendering lard was one of those things I had on my list: big, complicated cooking projects I wanted to try. Months ago, one of my favorite farmers' market vendors offered me a bag of pork fat. Who wouldn't take a free bag of pork fat? He suggested that I try rendering it and I couldn't wait to give it a try.
So why did I leave it in the freezer for so long? I figured I would need a whole day. As it happens, it's a lot easier than that and I can do it right in my slow cooker.
These might just be the crackers to top all other crackers. They're flecked all the way through with roasted nuts and chewy bits of cranberry, and they're crunchy enough to satisfy any snack-addict. Rosemary adds its piney, fresh presence, while whole wheat gives them a savory depth. The crackers are sturdy enough to spread with cheese or hold some dip, but they're also fantastic on all on their own as a mid-afternoon snack. For pre-dinner cheese plate or a handy hostess gift, trust me: these crackers bring it to win it.
When I was in my 20s I decided to live alone, finally, after sharing homes and apartments with an ever-changing stream of roommates. That first year in my solo apartment was the genesis of my desire to learn how to cook well. I knew how to follow a recipe, but I realized there's so much more to becoming a cook at ease in the kitchen. I remember staring at a pile of brown and wilted vegetables in my fridge and thinking how recipes are nothing more than the gleaming tip of the iceberg, shiny and alluring, but not signaling the many demands they make on a cook: how to shop, how to plan, how to make the most of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry every single day.
There were a few recipes that got me through those early days of starting to acquire the 95% of kitchen knowledge that isn't found in recipes. No matter how empty my fridge, I always had eggs, lentils, and spices, and maybe you do too. If so, this is the simplest weeknight meal — homey and comforting.
Side dishes are accompaniments that should complement a main dish, make it better, and accentuate its positives. Plunking down an afterthought on the table next to the pièce de résistance is like telling your date to a black tie affair that it’s ok to wear underwear. Some sides are quick and easy like this spicy kale. Others turn a usual suspect on its side, as in the case of this butternut squash. Salads like this slaw, aren’t “just a salad,” but rather attention-getters in their own right.
And sometimes a side dish requires more effort than the main dish it’s meant to bolster. These beans fit into that category and yield results that are worth your time.
Boeuf Bourguignon is so much more than just another beef stew. This classic French dish, made so popular by a certain Ms. Julia Child, is the kind of stew that can earn marriage proposals. The aroma alone — that deeply savory aroma of onions, slow-cooked beef, and red wine — is enough to make your eyes roll skyward and your knees go weak. Make Boeuf Bourguignon once and you'll wonder why anyone ever bothers making anything else.