Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Evening In Small Bites

A friend came over for dinner last night and I didn't want to be distracted by the chaos I can sometimes impose on myself in the kitchen. The last minute little detail things always seem to catch up to me, the last minute. Then I find myself scrambling around trying to juggle several dishes and get hot yummy food on the table, not crap burnt food all while feigning attention to the conversation.

I also currently don't have any kitchen chairs. It's a long furniture swapping story that involves my brother - and my kitchen chairs.

So in planning a little menu for my very special friend, I took all of these things into consideration and came up with a coffee table appetizer picnic of sorts. My master plan would not only cover the "yummy food" base, it would also give me a chance to prep most of the plates ahead of time, to lounge on the couch munching and chatting.

I mean seriously, I should probably be ashamed to even post these pics. The excitement over talking about the food has blurred my sense of dignity and decency I tell you! So, keeping in mind that I am a craptacular photographer,(oddly enough my skills and magic don't get any better after a glass of Chardonnay and the food being seriously picked over) let's take a photo food journey from last night, shall we? Alrighty, let's get started....

In the bottom right corner there is a sneak peek at Peppers Agrodolce. The literal translation being sour/sweet, Agrodolce is a Sicilian method of reducing sweet and sour elements in cooking. Traditionally this is a combination of vinegar and sugar. It's believed that the Arabs originally introduced this cuisine style to Sicilians.

This was a new recipe for me actually. I was able to cook it ahead of time and serve it chilled. The little balancing act the sweet and sour do on bell peppers and onion is pretty damn tasty. I think Agrodolce will have to go on my repeat hit list.

Next up, above that is the postively decrepit little remains of the cheese board yummyness. I just sliced some Fontina cheese and a Mozzarella/Prosciutto log and paired it with some pepperoncini and sea salt pita chips. Amongst the dwindling carnage is a representative of each though.

Beyond that you will see a blue fish head deadpanning just out of reach of full photo recognition. That my friends was some of the tastiest smoked salmon I have had in a while. Smoky and fresh smelling, very tender - I could have made a meal of just that platter once I got started on it. I simply flaked it off of the main piece I bought, sprinkled it with some cracked black pepper, flanked it with some lemon wedges and bread cubes, and set out a little cream cheese along side of it.

On the right in the white oblong platter is what I like to call our little ballish baker's dozen. The top half of the platter is Arancini. Another Sicilian treat, Arancini were the original invention born of the necessity to use up left over risotto. There are many variations on the recipe, but you are basically talking about a rice ball covered in breadcrumbs that has a little chuck of Fontina cheese nestled in the middle. You then fry these bad boys and sit back and pop them in your bocca. Tasty, tasty!

After telling you all of that, let me say that I did not make these Arancini. I found them at the store and was pleasantly surprised at how good they were. Since I don't understand the concept of leftover risotto, nor do I like to get my hands egged and breadcrumbed, I will gladly buy these again.

Sharing the platter are Sicilian mini meatballs. I Frankensteined these myself a few months ago by blending three different recipes I liked for different elements they contained. I have made them twice now and I am pretty happy with them.

Last but not least are the butternut squash ravioli in that greenish/gray plate there. My stepmom made the ravs and I had a couple dozen of them in the freezer. I looked up a brown butter Sage sauce to go with them. It had a great blend of Fall spices to compliment the squash. The richness of the butter went so well with the warmth and sweet of the rav filling - absolutely fabuloso!

Oops - I almost forgot the olives! See that little green bowl with the varied color bumps peeking out at you back there? Those are orange scented greek olives. They were super simple but so worth the extra step. I simply took a container of prepared Greek olive medley, drained them, zested the orange over them, added half the juice and a splash of olive oil. You will get the most out of this trip to flavor town if you do this to your olives the day before you plan to enjoy them and then pop them in the fridge. The next day be sure and set them out at least an hour before you serve. Orange you glad I remembered to tell you all of that?....Sorry.

My food coma flooded my senses towards the end of the evening and I didn't even remember to take a picture of our dessert. I made a Bourbon Banana bread, cubed it, and then kissed the bottom half of each piece in semi-sweet chocolate. Always nice to end the evening with a little kiss, right?

Recipes, anyone?

For Peppers Agrodolce from the Julia Child of Sicily (Eleonora Consoli) you can click here

There are quite a few recipes for Arancini. Here is one to get you started.

Click here for the Maple Sage butter sauce I used on the ravs.

Below is my recipe for the Sicilian mini meatballs (neck bolts not included)

Meatballs are a universal dish, but are more popular in some areas than others. In Italy, for example, they're more common in the south than the north. These grilled meatballs are a delicious Sicilian specialty. To serve 6, you'll need:
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

* 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) ground pork or veal
* 5 ounces (125 g) ground pecorino, ideally the Sicilian variety that's made with peppercorns
* 1 cup bread crumbs, soaked 3 minutes in milk and the excess squeezed out (it should be loose and in small pieces)
* 3 eggs
* 2 tablespoons minced parsley
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 1 teaspoon allspice
* pinch of crushed red pepper
* Salt and freshly ground pepper
* Currants
* Optional: grated lemon zest, or lemon or orange juice
* Optional: ricotta

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the currants and breadcrumbs. Squeeze out excess milk from the soaking bread (it should be loose and in small pieces) then add it to the meat mixture and mix everything with your hands to combine. Then form slightly flattened meatballs, roll into mini balls - 1 1/2 inches across - placing one or two currants in the center of each. Arrange on a nonstick cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degree F for 10 to 12 minutes or until firm and lightly golden.

The Bourbon Banana bread is from the Smitten Kitchen blog and you can get that recipe here (chocolate kiss dip not included -- that's a Daniellaland original variation right there folks!)

I hope you enjoyed the trip around my coffee table!

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