Sunday, 22 January 2012

Not All Appetizers (and Doughs) Are Created Equally: Winter Hors d'Œuvres in Granville

All hors d'œuvres are appetizers but not all appetizers are hors d'œuvres; and really the difference comes down to how many bites it takes to eat them. As I type this, I'm reminded of the classic '80s Tootsie Pop commercial I grew up seeing alongside my One Saturday Morning cartoons.

Among the many things I like about cooking--or even more simply, preparing food--is the exchange of ideas and directions that takes place in (and out of) the kitchen. This was certainly the case last night; and in blogging about these experiences, I get to extend this exchange past the relatively isolated event. In retrospect of the great help I received this evening to prepare three appetizers, I want to emphasize and properly call the work we accomplished as "hors d'œuvres" for the simple reason that the presentation of the food naturally took center stage (and technically they were all one-bite apps). There's an art form in itself for presenting food and, contrary to the thought that "it doesn't matter what the food looks like," recognising food presentation for the art that it is (and arguably should be) is incredibly important to our senses and overall appreciation for the food we consume.  Though somewhat a rather strange way of beginning this post, I assure you there's a reason behind all this. Amidst all the work we've been planning for our semester-long celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow, one of my co-workers--Beth--had mentioned the possibility (weather permitting) of a small gathering she would be preparing over the weekend in celebration of her husband Jim's birthday in a few days' time. As it turned out, the gathering would indeed take place and she asked if I would be interested in helping out with putting together some items for it. Quite naturally, my response was... of course!

In thinking of what I would be making, the inspiration of it all was in the timely (i.e. wintery) brie en croute. The thought of warm brie encased in puff pastry (and I emphasize here the importance of puff pastry, versus phyllo or pie dough) is one of the first things that jumps to mind as part of a multi-course meal and in this case a cocktail party where easily edible and transportable food are key. In any case, after all the planning around thinking up dishes that would compliment the brie, puff pastry never actually made it to Beth's house and so it was up to the other ingredients that did make it into the kitchen to have their own spotlight. And so, to start things off, I began with my bacon wrapped scallops. As far as prep goes, I defrosted two bags of bay scallops and drained a can of pineapple chunks, making sure to save the juice. After slicing two packages of bacon in half, I skewered (err, toothpicked) one end of the bacon through the meat (don't skewer through the fat or else it'll all fall apart as you cook it) followed by a bay scallop, a pineapple chunk, another bay scallop, and then slightly stretched the bacon so that the the other end of the toothpick went through at about the halfway point. Slightly stretching the bacon again, I encapsulated the scallop sandwich by wrapping it all up and bringing the bacon back to the beginning. Do this for all of the bacon slice but four. In all actuality, this couldn't be any easier, but with time ticking away, it was certainly time consuming. This being said, I eventually enlisted the help of one of Beth's sons, Carter, and as batches were completed, I moved them into a sauté pan to sear on medium heat, and then began prep for the second appetizer.

During Beth's grocery shopping trip, she found a box of smoked salmon (something that looked like this, only it was a 14 oz filet) which I didn't know even existed. What I had expected were slices of smoked salmon (like the ones I used for my smoked salmon wrapped asparagus) but instead got quite literally a block of smoked salmon. Adapting a recipe on the back of the salmon box, I cut a 4 oz portion to use for a salmon dip. As I cut into it, I realised this salmon's flaky consistency--although unexpected--would work very well for this dip (and I guess it should because they've published the recipe as such). Anyway, use a fork to soften up two 8 oz packages of cream cheese and add to this a guesstimated 1/2 c heavy cream. Mix this lot very well until you get a smooth consistency.

To this, add two finely chopped green onions (I used all but 1/2" to the root), two big shakes of hot sauce (feel free to control the spice level) and the juice of half a lemon. Once combined, flake in your smoked salmon (do this now because it'll be easier to combine, as opposed to just lumping it all in there). Considering the aesthetics of the dip, I also gently scraped as much of the blackened skin as I could. A doubled version of the box's recipe (which I prepped last night) also calls for two avocados. The avocados we had to work with were too tough and so I had to abandon those; and quite frankly it worked without them. (Besides, one of the guests--Susan--made her quick version of guacamole, so we definitely had our avocado present.)

Again, mindful of presentation, I taught Carter and one of his friends who came to join us at this point how to quenelle the salmon dip which would then be served on a slice of cucumber. Transfer any remaining dip to a bowl and serve with more sliced cucumber. Against the backdrop of richer (think fried and creamy) foods, the cucumber itself added a refreshing taste to the palate which few appetizers in general tend to accomplish. The alternative of course is to serve the dip with crackers and the like but if you decide to make this, I would strongly urge you to go with the veggie alternative.

As all of this was going on, I kept an eye on the bacon wrapped scallops with pineapple which I continued to cook in a pan (now) on med-lo heat. As you cook these, what you find on the bottom of the pan is the rendered bacon grease having combined with the caramelised sugar from the pineapple. Do not clean up the pan as you cook these and just simply go with it. I ended up crowding my pan as much as possible and used the saved pineapple juice to deglaze the pan every so often. This not only pulled up the flavours cooking in the pan but the sauté action helped to speed up the cooking process. I should note that, even though the bacon may look to be two chewy, I can assure you it will have cooked when the exterior of the bacon has fried up and picked up some caramelisation. You also don't want to overcook these or else the scallops themselves can veer on the rubbery side. Halfway through this cooking process, another guest and close family friend of Beth's--Liz--had arrived and was able to help keep an eye on the scallop dish so they didn't indeed overcook.

When all the bacon wrapped scallops had cooked, I roughly chopped the four reserved half slices of bacon and added these to the pan which I deglazed with the rest of the pineapple juice. To this, I added the remaining scallops and, stirring everything together, sautéed them for about 8-10 minutes on med-lo heat before transferring them to a serving bowl.

With two dishes done, I moved onto the last of the trio and worked with phyllo [filo/fillo] dough (actually, for the first time). Start by preheating the oven to 350 °F. On the back of this box was a recipe for spanakopita which I again adapted for time and ingredients. In the end, my simplified version contained only three ingredients: 9 oz microwaved (about 4 minutes), well-drained and roughly shredded frozen spinach; about 3 oz crumbled feta cheese; and one whole beaten egg. Into a bowl, combine these ingredients very well with a fork. Working fairly quickly (because the phyllo dough will dry out), take three sheets and between each of them use cooking spray to get them to stick together. [The alternative here would be to use butter.] Instead of going with the traditional triangle shape, I decided to make cups out of them. Cutting into the first trio of sheets into squares, I easily got a dozen mini cups which I nestled into my mini muffin pan that I brought just in case I could find a use for it. This said, I prepped another three sheets for another dozen cups. If you notice any cracks or rips in the dough, it's because it's too dry and therefore not all that flexible. To remedy this, just use more cooking spray or butter and seal it up with some more phyllo. Fill each cup with the spinach mixture, give them all a final light spray of cooking spray and get them into the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. [At this juncture, I feel the need to note here that though they could arguably (at best) be claimed as substitutes for the other, do not substitute phyllo dough for puff pastry and vice versa. Yes, they're both pâtes feuillitées but they yield completely different results. (Culturally speaking, go ahead and substitute but only under the premise of food fusion.)]

As each dish is completed, plate them up and add them to the rest of the table to feed the hungry ccrod, decorated by a variety of hors d'œuvres that other guests had brought over.

And puff pastry or not, we still needed to enjoy the purchased brie. I wanted the brie to have the warm, gooey texture as if it had been baked, and so I microwaved it in three intervals, twice at 20 seconds, and the third for 30. Carefully transferring this to the serving board, the brie was also served with red grapes and sliced green apples (coated first with lemon juice to prevent browning), and a spiced red jelly.

As I share these photos, as well as the rest which can be found by clicking here, I'm reminded again that food truly brings people together. In the end, isn't the sharing of resources, traditions and stories the root of our interactions with one another?

No comments:

Post a Comment