All posts filed under: Snacks

Sizzling Shrimp Spring Rolls

Thanks to my step-father-in-law, travel and Asian cooking classes, I’ve unintentionally become a master at making fried shrimp spring rolls or cha giò tôm. Accident or not, I’m thankful for this skill for spring rolls have turned out to be a fun group activity, popular cooking lesson and intriguing hot appetizer at parties. Just imagine your — or my — friends’ faces when offered a warm, crunchy, golden hors d’oeuvre and hearing the words, “Want to try some crunchy shrimp spring rolls? Nope, they’re not from the Chinese restaurant down the street. I made them myself!” Talk about impressing guests! Although I came to shrimp spring rolls through Vietnamese cuisine, these snacks have their origins in China. During the Tang Dynasty, between the 7th and 10th century, people began serving spring rolls to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the planting of the new season’s crops. The early version of this finger food featured sliced spring vegetables rolled up in a delicate pastry or pancake. Thus how it got the name “spring roll.” Once sealed, …

Pad Thai in Thailand

Pad Thai was my gateway into Thai cuisine. In my early 20s and unsure of what to order at a new, neighborhood, Southeast Asian restaurant, I opted for a simple noodle dish that promised complex flavors, interesting textures and a touch of the exotic. With hints of piquant tamarind, crunchy peanuts and salty fish sauce pad Thai delivered on its word. After that first satisfying encounter it became my go-to meal when dining or ordering out. After 15 years of sampling this specialty on American soil, I wanted it to be the first thing that I ate in Thailand. I’d tried countless Western interpretations of this stir fry. It was time to experience the real deal. This proved surprisingly easy for you can find noodle carts, shops and restaurants serving phàt Thai on almost every street in Bangkok. The same holds true in Northern Thailand. Popular with locals as well as food-obsessed tourists, this dish has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s inexpensive. Depending on where you buy it in Thailand, you can …

Toasted Almond Joy Aquavit

It has become a beloved, albeit unusual, Easter tradition. For the past few years on Easter eve my husband and I have gathered together with friends to nosh on such Scandinavian specialities as gravlax, pickled herring, rye crisps and pickled beets and sample each other’s take on infused vodka or, as we like to call our creations, homemade aquavit. In the past I’ve made sweet concoctions such as raspberry and apple pie aquavits. This time around I decided to take a savory approach and steep bouquets garnis of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, marjoram and crushed red peppercorns. I assumed that the resulting liquor would go well in Bloody Marys or on its own as a Mediterranean-inspired libation. Unfortunately, my pairing resulted in a decent drain cleaner but an atrocious smelling and tasting drink. Luckily, we had a Plan B and Plan C in place. A few weekends before the fete my husband drove to our old neighbors Frank and Jane’s farm and dug up some roots from a sassafras tree. Ever hear of sassafras? It’s the …

Bavaria-Inspired Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

Thanks to this winter’s intense cold and frequent snows, I’ve been doing a fair amount of armchair traveling, looking at trip photos, thumbing through travel books and imagining slightly warmer times. One book that’s especially piqued my interest is a biergarten cookbook. Picked up on a recent trip to Germany, it includes a recipe for something that I’ve long enjoyed but never made at home, soft pretzels. I cannot recall the first time that I ate a pretzel. I can, however, remember my initial bite of German brezel. Purchased at a jam-packed Christmas market in Cologne, it was softer and more bread-like than what I habitually bought at home. Unlike the dry, chewy pretzels consumed at my office desk, this didn’t leave me parched or with an indigestible ball of dough in my stomach. Unfortunately, the cookbook that I carted across the Atlantic does not contain a reliable pretzel recipe. What it offers contains too little liquid, too much flour and too few directions. Starting from scratch, I came up with the following Bavaria-inspired recipe. …

Luscious Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

In spite of my annual pledge not to binge from Thanksgiving through Christmas I’ve done what I do every year — eat, eat and then eat some more. Breads. Dips. Spiced nuts, crackers and chips. Not to mention the pies, tarts, cakes, cookies and trifles. How can I forget eggnog, Bloody Marys and poinsettia cocktails? By the time that New Year’s rolls around I need not only a diet but also detox! Tapped out on heavy holiday foods and hours spent in the kitchen, this New Year’s I’m opting out of the usual homemade sauerkraut, butter-drenched mashed potatoes and faux pork offering. Instead, on January 1 I’m serving Lemon-Garlic Shrimp. Even sticklers who insist on eating “lucky foods” on New Year’s Day can appreciate this dish. With it they get the color yellow or gold, signifying money or good fortune in the new year. Plus, they eat seafood, which somewhat satisfies the old custom of consuming fish on January 1. Tradition dictates that, because fish swim upstream, one should eat fish to ensure advancement in …

Ingredients for a Happy Holiday Feast

Right now I have a story running at Zester Daily and MSN about what it takes to throw a fantastic holiday party. After writing that piece, I started thinking about the ingredients that I keep on hand to ensure that, no matter who or when someone drops by, there will be something warm and tasty on the table to eat. Bread, eggs, milk and butter are givens. With these I can fry up French toast, egg-in-a-hole and egg sandwiches or make scrambled eggs and toast. I also like to keep the following items around, things that I dub the ingredients for a happy holiday feast. With them I can pull together a nice meal, one that looks as though I’ve spent hours hovering over a hot stove when, in fact, I’ve thrown the dish together in 30 minutes or less. PUFF PASTRY: Defrost a sheet or two of puff pastry and in 30 minutes I have everything from breakfast to dessert. I’ve used puff pastry to make a simple pizza— partially bake the pastry, remove …

Apple Pie Aquavit

The word aquavit means “water of life” and for Scandinavians that definition holds pretty true. In Denmark no traditional lunch or smørrebrød (open-face sandwich) would be complete without a shot of chilled ‘akvavit’ followed by a cold beer. A common accompaniment to the country’s beloved pickled herring, this potent liquor reputedly aids in digestion. In Sweden it’s known as “snaps” and downed in one gulp with beer and drinking songs to follow. In Norway it’s sipped alongside the evening meal. What is aquavit? It’s a potato- or grain-based vodka infused with caraway seeds. Caraway not your thing? Take heart — depending upon the region and distiller, dill, fennel, coriander seeds or star anise may stand in for the customary spice. Warned by Swedish friends of the high cost of alcohol in their homeland, my first taste of aquavit came courtesy of a hastily purchased sampler pack at Arlanda Airport. Pulling out one of the tiny bottles and twisting off its cap, I took a swig of the clear liquid and shuddered. It was horrendous. In …

Easy Peasy Popcorn

I know. What could be a simpler savory snack than popcorn? Other than pretzels, nuts and olives, not much. When I want to put out a bowl of popcorn and not have friends react with, “Gee, that’s all I rate? Kernels of dried corn?” I sprinkle some seasonings over top. In an instant the low key movie theater staple becomes gourmet noshings. For the sake of storage space I don’t own an air or oil popper. Instead I just tumble kernels into a frying pan, clamp on a lid, place the pan on the stove top, flip a burner on high and, shaking the pan periodically, let heat do its trick. From there it’s a short trip from hot, bland kernels to such exciting snacks as the following. Note that for 8 cups popped popcorn you’ll need roughly 1/4 cup kernels. All recipes yield 8 cups/servings of flavored popcorn. SMOKED POPCORN 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 1 teaspoon fine sea salt 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon chili powder 1/8 teaspoon cayenne 2 tablespoons olive oil …

Doubly Delicious, Double Apple Muffins

Walk out your front door on any given day this week and what do you see? Withered leaves scattered everywhere. Portly pumpkins plunked on stairways. Colorful mums planted here and there. On the sidewalks people stroll by in coats and scarves, warming their bare hands with take-away coffee cups. For me, these sights can only mean one thing. Apple-picking time is here. Whether you raid your old neighbors’ orchard as I brazenly do or come by your apples honestly, you may soon find yourself glutted with this pome fruit. What to do with that extra pound, peck or bushel is an age-old quandary. When you’re tired of baking apple pies and tarts and boiling down applesauce and apple butter, I’d suggest moving on to moist cakes, breads and muffins. Back in March I shared an apple cake recipe inspired by a winter trip to Switzerland. As its name suggested, apple-almond kuchen was packed with tart apples and sweetly savory almonds. Want to reduce your apple supply by a few pounds and enjoy a deliciously fruity …

Delightful Danish Brown Bread

At the end of summer I spent two idyllic weeks in the magical, Scandinavian land known as the Kingdom of Denmark. Vikings, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Hans Christian Anderson as well as Legos, Lars von Trier and Chef Rene Redzepi have all called this series of lovely islands home. Frequently ranked as the world’s happiest country, Denmark has the world’s highest minimum wage, a high per capita income, environmental and historic preservation, free university education and universal healthcare. It’s a country of breathtaking architecture, influential designers, renowned writers, fervent cyclists, golden fields, rugged coastlines and amazingly fresh, tasty, wholesome foods. Weeks after returning from vacation I remain wildly smitten with Denmark. Top among my obsessions are Danish pastries, films, mystery writers, the TV series Forbrydelsen, Ilse Jacobsen rain boots and the country’s dark, nutty brown bread. I first tried this hearty specialty six years ago in Sweden. There it’s known simply as Danish bread. In Denmark it’s called rugbrød, a flavorful, dark rye bread chocked full of whole grains and fiber. Danes eat it at breakfast. …