Where does she get those wonderful recipes?

Penultimate Stuffed Mushrooms

Once the pride of my hors d’oeuvres repertoire, these almost meatless hot appetizers have won me countless compliments and immeasurable laud over the past decade. Then, a few years ago, I had one of Mrs. H’s stuffed mushrooms, and my mouth cheered while my stomach sank. Hopefully, she’ll donate her recipe within the next few posts, but this will tide you over in the meantime, since you don’t yet know what you’re missing. Mrs. H, I should mention, threw a superb Christmas party last night, and rolled out her best spread yet. Well done, Mrs. Hamilton!

24 white button mushrooms
1/4 C tbsp plain bread crumbs (bonus over-the-top points if you make your own from a stale baguette)
2 tbsp fresh grated Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp black pepper

Set your oven to 350. Pull and wiggle the stems out of the mushrooms, leaving each cap with a 1/4″-1/2″ cavity. Finely chop the stems and put them in a medium mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, oil, vinegar, parsley and pepper, and combine well.

Mash the anchovies into a paste. You could use a fork and cutting board, or you could take the time to find that mortar and pestle you swore you couldn’t live without back in 1997 and finally remove it from its packaging. Incorporate the mashed anchovies into the mushroom mixture with your hands; they act as the only source of salt, so take care to disperse the paste thoroughly.

Pack each mushroom cap full of the mixture, forming moderate mounds on the tops. Space them at least 1″ apart on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Test to make sure they’re hot through (eat one), and plate on something delightful from Shreve, Crump and Low, or the less ostentatious Target (French pronunciation, please).

She might as well call them oriental.

Tiny Meatballs

“Amuse bouche” is a term that makes me want to pistol-whip the utterer. I love the French language, the cheeses, the handful of representatives that I’ve met, but there is a dainty threshold, and “amuse bouche” crosses it. When “nibbly num-num” provides a less infuriating alternative, it’s time to consider reining in the cuteness. Or, we could just stop the categorizing at hors d’oeuvres and call individual items what they are. This self-explanatory HD is my simplified version of Martha’s Asian Meatballs on Snow Pea Picks, the introduction to which begins, “meatballs are an important part of classic Chinese cooking.” Her switch between the continental and national as synonyms troubles me, but we’re all bigots on some level(s), and I’ll own up to cleaning my house extra hard if my Puerto Rican in-laws are coming to visit. I can’t help it, their spotless floors put me to shame.

1 pound ground pork
6 oz sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing (I suspect this may be where Martha’s recipe veers from the traditional Chinese)
1/2 C chicken stock
1/4 C finely chopped water chestnuts
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 tsp ginger (powder)
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp chili paste
salt and pepper

Set your oven to 400. In a large bowl, combine the pork, sausage, shallot, water chestnuts, ginger and cilantro, and 2 tsp soy sauce with your hands, squishing the meats into one another until no distinction remains. Roll the mixture into 1″ balls and put them in a roasting pan. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, shaking the pan at 10 and 20 to encourage even cooking. Take the meatballs out and cut one in half to verify that they’re done, then transfer the balls to a heat-proof bowl and put them back in the oven at 200 to keep warm.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1 tbsp water. Set the roasting pan over a burner and turn the heat on to medium. Add the garlic to the pan, then the chicken stock, and whisk well, scrapping the bottom and sides to loosen any sticky bits. Stir in the rest of the soy sauce, the brown sugar and the chili paste. Once the mixture reaches a boil, whisk in the cornstarch liquid and cook to thicken for about a minute. Take the meatballs out of the oven, put them in a serving bowl, and pour the sauce over them, stirring gently to distribute.

You’ll see I’ve omitted the snow peas from Martha’s recipe. They’re an unnecessary and tropey distraction, since we’ve already established that we’re going for “asian-ish,” what with the Italian sausage. If you must, go ahead and throw some finely ringed scallions over the whole thing. Make sure that toothpicks and small plates are within reach of these, as they’re sticky and you don’t want guests getting creative about wiping their fingers.

Horsey Doovers

Terrines for Tots

I’d never given much consideration to children before having one. Some of Mr. P’s extended family once witnessed me holding a baby (my family didn’t have many) and they all had a good long chuckle at the spectacle. Now that I have my own, I’m much more on board with the whole 0 through 12 age group. One thing I have in common with young children is that we both get very excited about tiny food made especially for us. The following is an hors d’oeuvre my mother’s family would make for youngsters at get-togethers, and while I find it nearly unthinkable as an adult, as a child I appreciated the consideration as well as the bologna.

4 slices bologna
cream cheese
4 sweet gherkin pickles (not the baby variety)

Lie a slice of bologna on a plate at spread the whole thing with a thin layer of cream cheese. Place a pickle at the edge of the slice and roll it up in the bologna, pig-in-a-blanket style. Slice the resulting meat finger into 1/2″ rounds, then spear each with a toothpick to secure the bologna. Plate em up and warn any parents you suspect are above lunch meats.


Zingy Toms

These little cherry bombs can be prepared well in advance, clear all dietary restrictions aside from non-carbon based, and serve as the ultimate palate cleanser between mixed drinks. I should mention these are based on a recipe from the Martha Stewart H’ors D’Oeuvres Handbook  (1999), a book I highly recommend, both for its fantastic recipes and over a hundred pages of saliva-inducing close-ups bordering on food porn.

24 large cherry tomatoes
1/4 C finely chopped black olives (French or Italian, your choice. Not that there’s no difference, I’m just not much of an olive person.)
1/4 C finely chopped green olives (again, they just need to be green)
3 finely chopped white button mushrooms
1/4 C finely chopped red onion
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

You can prepare the tomato cups up to 24 hours in advance, then keep them wrapped and chilled. The tapenade can also be made ahead of time, but it gets zingier by the hour.

The top of the cherry tomato is the flattest part, so this will be the bottom of the cup. Using a small sharp knife, slice the not-stem end off, far enough up the tomato to hit seed. Use whatever you have on hand to gut the tomatoes; I use a metal quarter-teaspoon, Mrs. H prefers a melon baller. Place the cups face down on a dinner plate lined with a paper towel, wrap the whole thing up and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour to get the tomatoes firm and chilly.

To make the tapenade, mix up all the other ingredients. An anticlimactic ratio of prep work to execution, right? Stuff the tomatoes as full as possible without splitting the skin in your vigor, and plate them up on something fancy.

I’m in the mood for cheese.

Fantsy-Pantsy Caprese Toasts

I rock my few vices hard. I smoke like a salmon, will probably die from aspartame, and have a penchant for cheeses that blur the line between cream and butter. My version of a dirty weekend involves an empty house, a BBC Victorian miniseries, four baguettes, and two wheels of Camembert or triple créme. When it comes to cooking, however, I find a big fresh ball of mozzarella yields some of the most gratifying results. Mrs. H, who you’ll remember from the post before last, tipped me off to freezing mozzarella before grating to avoid the mangled cheese limb effect. For the following hors d’oeuvres, I prefer slicing the mozzarella into thin chunks for a more rustic presentation. I don’t know if buffalo mozzarella makes a huge difference, but I think we can agree that it’s fun to imagine someone milking a water buffalo.

1 French baguette
1 1/2 C seeded and diced plum tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 C fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced into thin chunks
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine the tomatoes, basil, 2 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Wrap it up and stick it the fridge for an hour.

Set the over to 350. Take a bite of the tomatoes and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Slice the baguette into 1/2″-thick rounds and place them on a cookie sheet. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then saute the garlic for a minute until it softens, but don’t let it burn. Brush the baguette slices with the garlic oil, pile each with a few tablespoons of tomatoes, and top with two mozzarella chunks. Bake at 350 until the mozzarella melts and just starts to show some flecks of brown.

These cool quickly, so start shoveling.

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