Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Big Brown

We gathered up the usual suspects to watch the Belmont Stakes last Saturday. I was so excited, just sure Big Brown would be our first Triple Crown winner in three decades. Fortunately his loss did not dampen the party for too long!

I wanted a simple meal, so I decided on oven fried chicken and herby potato salad. The market had fresh, wild caught Mahi Mahi, so I bought a nice slab of that and oven roasted it per my friend Catherine’s recipe - topped with equal parts (about a tablespoon of each) soy, coarse Dijon mustard and honey. All could be made earlier in the day and served at room temperature. What could be easier?

While we waited for the race, I thought a buffet of savory dishes would be interesting. Except for three dishes, which I held in the warming drawer, everything was room temp. Here’s the line up -

Warm dishes:

Oven roasted mushrooms with a sage and parsley gremolata. The sage was a flavorful variation on using just parsley. I have become a real fan of this easy topping for just about any dish. Vary the herbs and amount of garlic to suit and it adds a nice “chef-ly” finishing touch.

A medley of red and yellow peppers strips tossed with olive oil, shallots and garlic, dabbed with tomato paste, sprinkled with parsley and roasted in the oven.

Spicey shrimp - lots of garlic and butter and red pepper flakes with a touch
of oil.

Room temp dishes:

Brie and Manchega cheeses, oil cured olives, green piquant olives and homemade crackers.

Proscuitto wrapped strawberries with balsamic vinegar for dipping.

Parmesan crisps - I always get comments on these little snacks. People are surprised by them and think the recipe must be complicated. Not so! Just pile grated parmesan cheese on a cookie sheet lightly coated with oil or cooking spray. About quarter size piles. Throw in a touch of cayenne if you are feeling daring. Bake at 375 for 8 to 12 minutes - depends on your oven until light tan. Watch like a hawk at the end as they can go too far in a flash. Move to a rack to cool right away. They store very well in a plastic container.

Tuscan white bean dip with slices of fennel - the light anise flavor of the fennel complimented the garlicky bean dip perfectly. Unique as well as low calorie, instead of crackers.

Dessert was a heavenly chocolate bread pudding brought by one of the guests.

I have been thinking about making my own crackers and have been gathering recipes for a while. I was inspired to attempt this after paying $4.50 for a miniscule package of flaxseed crackers at the Camden Farmers Market last summer. Cheapness - though I like to think of it as thriftiness from the Scottish part of my parentage - has got to be the Dowager Aunt of invention in my humble opinion! This was my first attempt and I was quite pleased with the result. These get better each day, by the way, so making them ahead is fine. I rolled them by hand but they came out a bit thick. Still good, but I think thinner would be better. Thus, I had the perfect excuse to order a pasta roller for my Kitchen Aid mixer, once again living up to my middle name: Iwantitall. I topped each cracker with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and that was a marriage made in heaven! The cracker was a real showcase for this special salt and the salt elevated the cracker‘s taste.

The recipe I used came from one of my favorite blogs, 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson has a wonderful way with words, photos and finding choice recipes. Here is the LINK to the recipe. I only had all purpose flour on hand, so that’s what I used, but I sure intend to try it with semolina.

Next up is a garlic parmesan flaxseed cracker recipe. Stay tuned!

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