Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spicy Sardine Rillettes


This one is for your fancy-schmancy appetizer file. Between you and me, it's fancy, but not really schmancy ~ it's a one-bowl affair, inexpensive, and once you get the spoon-wrangling down, you'll own this. And when someone asks, "So, what are you bringing to the cocktail party?" You can say, "Oh, well, I have ten minutes between picking up the kids from soccer and my Zumba workout, so I thought I'd throw together some sardine rillettes." And they will totally hate you for being a rockstar. Which you are.

Now, you see the crackers my rillettes are reclining on? Those are Walkers Mini Oatcakes. The very nice folks at Walkers sent me a selection of their oatcakes ~ or oat crackers, as we Yanks like to say ~ so that I could have some fun playing around with recipe ideas. And much fun was had! (Stay tuned for more recipes down the road in the holiday season.)
I've served these wonderful oatcakes from Walkers many times before, and they're especially good with hard cheese (check out the picture of my gorgeous black currant and apple cheese from England ~ so good).
I am very fond of these oatcakes for toppings that require some substance in their supporting players ~ you want a cracker with enough gusto to stand up to your spread, not fall apart and leave your delicious sardine rillette on the floor for the cat.

And so, before we get down to whipping up our terribly luxe party snacks, let's take a look at a few deets:
  • Don't get hamstrung by the French ~ it's pronounced "ree-YEHTS." Practice so you can say it loud and proud.
  • What exactly is a rillette? Long story short, it's some variety of meat (e.g., pork, rabbit, fois gras, poultry, or fish) that is cooked with seasonings and fat and then ground into a paste along with additional fat and then chilled ~ sometimes molded ~ until it is smooth and similar in consistency to pate. In this case, sardines are the meat and butter is our fat. 
  • Don't fuss too much over the shape ~ it's best, that is, most traditional, if you can form a quenelle ~ tres chic! ~ but if you can't be bothered, just perch a healthy dollop artfully onto a cracker. 
  • Chill the the quenelles ~ but not the crackers ~ until right before serving. Here's a tip ~ form your quenelles and place them on thin slices of radish, then place these on a plate in the fridge. Right before serving, arrange your crackers (or flatbread or toasted baguette slices) on a platter and then place one radish slice/quenelle atop each and garnish with parsley or something green and spriggy. Serve immediately and accept your accolades gracefully.
 
Spicy Sardine Rillettes
  • 1 can sardines in hot sauce or mustard, drained and spines removed
  • 3 tablespoons good-quality butter at room temperature (either salted or unsalted)
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 generous tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in small mixing bowl and mash with fork until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings. Form into small quenelles using two teaspoons, chill for 30 minutes, and serve on oatcakes or crackers, garnished with radish or cucumber slices and parsley sprigs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Counting My Blessing ~ November 8

Today I'm thankful for  . . . butter.

Sweet cream butter for baking. Lemon-yellow salted Irish butter on freshly baked bread. Butter steaming apart the crisp layers of feuilletage in an exquisitely rendered mille-feuille. Butter on the bucket of popcorn passed among the hands of my family in a darkened theater on movie night.

In Thanksgiving pies, Christmas cookies, Valentine's truffles, Easter cakes, and melting down the sugar-sweet rows of Independence Day ears of corn on the cob.

Butter on home-baked wheat bread at my grandmother's. Buttered matzos at a friend's. "It was the best butter." ~ The March Hare 

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Counting My Blessings: November 7, 2010

Today I'm thankful for . . . tissues.
Tissues are one of those things we always tend to take for granted when we don't need them. They can for sit ages, snug in their boxes, inconspicuous and disregarded, on every tabletop in sight, gathering dust and being ignored. Once in a while we might grab one, not thinking, not really appreciating the convenience of having them at our disposal.

But the second we require a tissue and there is none at hand ~ suddenly, where are all those blocky boxes of comforting lightweight paper hankies? The need to blow the nose, dab the eye, discard the overchewed piece of gum is raging and ~ really? ~ not a single tissue to be found! But it happens all the time.

So today, I thought about this. I reached for the tissue box mindfully. I was deliberately glad that the box was nearly full of tissues and there were plenty more where those came from. I thought about stowing some in the pockets of my coat for one of those less-well-equipped times, but I didn't want to be panicky about it.

And then I was just grateful that way back in the 1920s, Kleenex were invented, even if they were intended to remove cold cream, and nose-blowing was a serendipitous off-label use that blew the original purpose quite away.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Counting My Blessings ~ November 4

Today I'm thankful for . . . ice cream. It's my favorite dessert, bar none. When my son had his tonsils out, he ate nothing but ice cream for nearly a week, and I was okay with that. When I'm happy, I eat ice cream. When I'm sad, likewise. One of my all-time favorite things to make as a pastry chef is ice cream. Ice cream just makes people happy.

Tonight was girls' night for my daughter and I. (My husband and son missed out on this because they were out watching some guy named Roger Waters play the guitar.) We sat on the couch, ate the leftovers of a dinner party I cooked for, and watched her favorite TV show. Then we ate ice cream. It was a good night. Because that's what ice cream does.

Here are some of my favorites to try, if you feel like making your own. (I highly recommend it.)
Cinnamon Brown Sugar Ice Cream ~ great with apple or pumpkin pie!
Fresh Bay Leaf and Ginger Ice Cream ~ subtle and elegant.
Philly Vanilla ~ classic for a la mode desserts, and eggless.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blessings Countdown ~ November 2

I'm thankful for . . . my husband's sense of humor. My husband is a smart, funny guy. He's not a practical joker ~ I never fear a blitzkrieg of humiliation on April 1. He's irreverent but not mean; sarcastic, sometimes, but not biting. People laugh when they're around him. Sometimes they laugh in spite of themselves. (I sometimes feel absolutely compelled to feign disapproval ~ but it's difficult.)

Considering that we've been together longer than I've been alive without him (it's not as confusing at it sounds: we started dating when I was 18 . . . I'm 41 now), have been married for 20 years, have two teenage children, and live in the same hometown as both sets of our parents and our siblings . . . well, you need a heavy-duty, extra-strength, all-purpose bionic funny bone (with built-in "love of the absurd" option) to make your way through that successfully, and that's something we both share.

So, I'm grateful for my husband's ability to make me laugh, at the world and at myself. Because sometimes comic relief is the only relief you get.

What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Taking Back November ~ 3rd Annual Blessings Countdown

I'm going to be blunt: this past year has been one of the hardest years of my life. Loss was a major hallmark this year ~ dramatic, ugly, shocking loss, the kind that happens to "other people," that you see on the news and think, "Wow, can you imagine?" They don't even make a sympathy card for this sort of thing; words I heard over and over at the time were, "I'm so sorry . . . I don't even know what to say."

Even so, there were plenty of good things too. Really good things, in fact. But it took me a while to appreciate them. I was knocked off course for a while, and even after things started aligning themselves again, I developed the really bad habit of focusing not on what I had, but on what I had lost. And this one great loss carried over into the rest of my life, like a single drop of dye spreading through and staining an entire glass of water. I became preoccupied with things that were missing, and so I began to miss out on what was actually present, available, and even wonderful.

But the good news is, tragedy has a way of bringing a unique sort of clarity to us. If we are willing, we start to see, after a while, what really matters and what maybe doesn't matter nearly as much as we thought it did, before. I believe that if you can learn from something, even something terrible, you can redeem it. And so I've tried, really tried, to learn from the things that have occurred this year.

I've learned that people can be amazingly gracious, kind, and merciful. I've learned (again!) to never say never ~ and to realize that sometimes that means something good, and sometimes it means the polar opposite. I've learned that I don't know anything about some things, and more than I'd like about others. And I've learned a very valuable, painful lesson in empathy.

So coming up on this year's Month of Thanksgiving 3rd Annual Blessings Countdown, I'm excited to look over my blessings with an eye freshened by tears and sharpened by regret. I'm taking scrupulously careful stock of my blessings, not just the large, life-changing ones like the personal relationship I share with Jesus Christ, or my husband and children and family, or my health and home . . . but any little thing that inspires my heart toward gratitude in the course of "regular" days.

And you. I'd love to hear about your blessings, too. The simple gifts, the gentle reminders of how you are loved, the ways you remember what it is to be happy. Let's give thanks ~ not just on one day sandwiched between Halloween candy and Christmas decorations. Let's take back November. We have plenty of blessings to share.

~ Para mi tia, MMS, con besos . . . te amo.

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