snacks


Every time I have a party, it’s a struggle not to have the menu be all Smitten Kitchen, all the time. When I threw a party a couple of weeks ago, I think I succeeded—only two of the six or so items I cooked were from her blog. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of those two—these leek toasts with blue cheese—was the tastiest thing there, by my reckoning.

Leeking.

The other one I screwed up, but had I not read “1/3 cup sour cream” when the recipe clearly called for “1 cup sour cream,” it probably would have the second-most delicious thing at my party. Which makes me wonder why I bother trying to limit myself to not-all-Smitten recipes.

Anyway. I love leeks, I love blue cheese, I love toast. I never would have thought to combine them, but someone ingenious did, and I am thankful.

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I celebrated Passover this year by figuring out the most unholy ways I could think of to eat matzo balls. I came up with (1) deep-fried with bacon fat, and (2) wrapped in bacon.

1. Deep-fried

2. Wrapped in bacon

I think people very slightly favored the bacon-wrapped version, but it was a close call. Both were sacrilicious.

I also feel compelled to note that a half slice of bacon is precisely the right size to go around a matzo ball, which I take as a sign that the two were meant to be together.

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Nutritional news is often dire: less white flour, less sugar, less butter, less sodium. But sometimes the news is rather splendid—coffee is good for you! so is chocolate! and red wine!

I count homemade popcorn in the latter category. First of all, it’s a whole grain. And while both movie theater popcorn and standard microwave popcorn have some scary stuff in them, you can make non-scary and even more delicious popcorn at home really easily.

Here’s what you do: put some popcorn kernels in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a plate set slightly askew to allow steam to vent. (Thanks to The Kitchn commenters for teaching me this trick!)

Note the solitary escaped kernel. Run, kernel, run!

Microwave until the popping slows substantially. The time depends on how many kernels you put in and the power of your microwave.

Then flavor as you wish! Lately I’ve been tossing with olive oil and za’atar, Old Bay (in the photo below), or berbere spices. But you could use anything—parmesan, truffle oil or salt, even cocoa powder. Last time I checked, they don’t give you those options at the movie theater or the microwave popcorn aisle.

Post-pop.

I love chickpeas and all the things that can be done with them. There’s hummus and falafel, of course. But there’s also socca, a kind of chickpea pancake, chickpea fries, Ethiopian shiro, and my favorite Sri Lankan breakfast chickpeas.

And I have very recently made the acquaintance of another amazing way to eat chickpeas: as a delightful snack, all by themselves. It turns out that when you roast them past the point of no return, you are left with pure crunch. These are basically to chickpeas what corn nuts are to corn, only much better.

snack time!

The blog where I found the recipe calls for five-spice powder, but these can be spiced however you like. I’ve used smoked paprika, curry powder, and Ethiopian berbere spice, and all have come out beautifully. Each time I’ve made them, my sole regret has been that I only made one can of chickpeas.

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Did you, like Felony Kirsch, find yourself forced to purchase not just one but an entire bag of sweet potatoes to make Indian-spiced vegetable latkes? Oh, you didn’t? Crap.

Well, let’s pretend that you did. And then you’d have to find some way to use up those sweet potatoes—and shockingly, you need a brief hiatus from frying things. Plus you still have Indian spices on the brain. What to do??

This is what to do.

You slice the sweet potatoes thinly and then roast the living daylights out of them, that’s what. And then, if you’re still thinking about Indian spices, you sprinkle some curry powder and salt on them. Voila: best snack ever.

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Sorry, I got distracted there for a minute. Where was I? Oh, right–these beauties:

Poofy!

You can’t tell from the photo, but they are oozing with goodness. Even though I knew better, I managed to burn my tongue pretty substantially by snarfing one the moment they came out of the oven. (Have I learned my lesson? No.)

I first had these at a dinner party eons ago, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. I’m mystified as to why it took me so long to make them—I think I’m stuck on the idea that puff pastry is COMPLICATED.  When, in fact, it is SIMPLE and AMAZING. (Unless you make it yourself, which I suppose theoretically I might do, someday, but it’s awfully hard to justify the effort when food snobs applaud the frozen stuff.)  I swear, these triangles were mangled blobs when they went in the oven. But the magic of puff pastry made them both look and taste delicious. The stuff is pure genius.

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I’m from a part of the South that’s not very southern, and my mother always cooked healthy food. As a result, I don’t actually have fond childhood memories of most traditional southern foods. It’s only as an adult that I’ve learned to cook things like fried green tomatoes and biscuits—and I still haven’t  mustered the courage to tackle fried chicken.

I do, however, have childhood memories of cheese straws. Not because my mother made them, or because they were “almost always present at celebrations,” as this recipe claims, but because they were sold at A Southern Season, the local gourmet emporium. I loved those things, but yes, even my cheese straws managed to be inauthentic and rather yuppie.

But now, having made the real thing, I see what all the fuss is about. They look like a strange malignant french fry—parsnip fries, maybe?—but they’re cheesy and crunchy and fabulous. And they are, as the recipe suggests, the perfect party snack.

Smile and say "parsnip fries."

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