Month: December 2009

Holiday Noshing Made Easy

As soon as Thanksgiving breezes by, I start obsessing about Christmas and all the celebrations — and preparations — that the holiday season brings. Each year I vow to make my life easier by hosting smaller parties and concocting simpler menus. Yet, each year I invariably end up sweating over a steaming stockpot of coq au vin for 16 or frantically whisking together 20 individual mocha pot de cremes on Christmas Eve. So much for easy. In 2009 I swear to halve my stress level by following four basic rules: Keep the appetizers easy. Offer only one entree. Don’t turn down offers from guests of appetizers or side dishes. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, don’t go wild with new, complicated, or made-to-order desserts. Gone are the days when I offer hot-out-of-the-oven mini red pepper quiches and steamy Gruyere mushroom puffs as two of a dozen homemade hors d’ouevres. This year friends and family will nosh on such quick, uncomplicated appetizers as “apricot medallions,” smoked salmon pate, spiced nuts and olives. And, if time slips away …

Make a Change with Chutney

Whether sweet, sour, spicy or a tad salty, condiments have added flavor and flare to food for countless centuries. While the most familiar – ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise – still bring pleasure to the palate, something more unusual, such as chutney, can add much needed excitement to your dinner plate. From the East Indian word “chatni” comes chutney, a tangy condiment featuring minced herbs, fruits, vegetables and spices. Freshly prepared for each meal, chutney appears alongside curries, as a spread for bread, as a topping for cheese and as a flavor enhancer for milder dishes such as rice and dals. The ingredients in this sauce vary according to region and personal taste. In Southern India creamy coconut is all the rage while in Western India spicy herb reigns supreme. Whether from ripe or green tomatoes, tomato chutney is a hit across the country as is the silky, piquant tamarind chutney. Of the myriad of chutneys produced and consumed, only one has become an international sensation – the sweetly tart and chunky mango chutney. Made from …

For the Love of Sprouts

As a child, I could think of no words more terrifying at dinnertime than “Brussels sprouts.”  Invariably overcooked and, as a result, smelling of rotten eggs, these nutritious, cruciferous vegetables became the bane of family meals. As my dread grew so did my deceptive eating habits.  When my parents’ gazes were averted, I slipped individual sprouts beneath the table to a dog that would, and did, eat anything.  When the dog had reached her limit, I tucked the offending vegetables into my napkin or hid them beneath an untouched slice of buttered bread.  Whatever I could I did to avoid eating that night’s veg. Twenty years later I am pleased to report that my fear of Brussels sprouts has come to a happy end.  I owe this breakthrough to learning how to select, store, and prepare these vitamin C-rich plants. In Belgium Brussels sprouts dominate the produce stands.  Resembling tiny, green cabbages clinging to tall, thick stalks, they are uniquely Belgian.  Although scholars debate the date of their emergence, placing this anywhere from the 12th …