Amuse Bouche...That's not English, Right?

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Oh the French, they do give us some wonderful food and great phrases.  And the one that starts it all off is the Amuse-bouche.  The literal translation is mouth amuser.  In a restaurant, this is the appetizer before the appetizer. Not ordered from the menu by a customer, but given as a complimentary single bite from the chef to start your meal.  It is meant to amuse the mouth. Get it ready for the meal. Whet the appetite and get the patron excited for what is to come. 

Only the French would think of amusing your mouth. I dare say that the Italians aren't into amusing so much, but straight up satisfying from the onset.  I do love the idea of tickling the tongue with a little nosh to get you primed.  A little food foreplay, wouldn't you say?

This practice doesn't need to be limited to restaurants. As JuanCarlos and I prepare for a trip to France, I reasoned that this was a perfect time to honor their tradition and share some ideas on the subject. So go ahead,  treat your guests to an Amuse Bouche.  You like them, don't you?  So amuse their bouche.

Remember this is meant to be just one little bite not a full blown appetizer. However,  any of these can be an appetizer. (Just love when things can do double duty).  An amuse bouche can range from the elaborate to a very simple offering. 

Here are six offerings, each providing the all important combination of salty, sweet, tang, texture to get the mouth party off to the races.

Goat Cheese & Nut Topped Grapes

These are an easy, pop in your mouth kind of bite.  Refreshing and textural, and create the "more please" effect. 

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  • Use the stemmed end as the base, as this will help the grape stand up.

  • Slice a tiny bit off the top of the grape to have a level landing spot for a dollop of goat cheese.

  • Using a small spoon gather 1/2 tsp of room temp goat cheese and place it atop the grape. (I use my clean fingers to create a little dollop)

  • Dip it in the crushed/ground nuts (such as pistachios or a mix of pecans, walnuts or whatever nut you like). These can be made ahead of time, but save the nut dipping til just before serving. You don't want the nuts to get soggy in the refrigerate. NOBODY likes soggy nuts.

Prep yourself with everything at the ready. Look how simple this is. 3 ingredients. 3 steps: Slice, dollop and dip

Prep yourself with everything at the ready. Look how simple this is. 3 ingredients. 3 steps: Slice, dollop and dip

You can store in the fridge like this with plastic wrap

You can store in the fridge like this with plastic wrap

Dip right before serving.

Dip right before serving.

Salmon Topped Cucumber or Apple

Alright, this may be two bites, but satisfying ones, for sure. These deliver a creamy texture paired with a cool crisp  and salty bite.

Salmon / cream cheese roll up a top a cucumber slice.

Salmon / cream cheese roll up a top a cucumber slice.

  • Cut a 1/2" slice of cucumber.

  • Pipe a dollop of soften cream cheese on top.

  • Place a small piece of smoked salmon laid down in a crossed fashion.

  • Pipe another dollop of cream cheese in the center and top with capers and dill.
    (You can also use the Salmon Roll method. On a large piece of plastic wrap lay the salmon down, making sure to overlay slightly. Spread softened cream cheese on top. Sprinkle with capers, then roll up like a sushi roll, Refrigerate. Once chilled, cut into 1/2” rounds placing atop each cucumber slice. Adorn with dill, as seen above.)

Refreshing on a slice of apple. This is from my   Lox on What?   idea.

Refreshing on a slice of apple. This is from my Lox on What? idea.

Pea Soup Shooter

A chilled, tall drink of spring. (I have not tried these recipes but wanted to provide a few links for your reference.)
Pea Soup Shooter
Pea Shooter
Pea Soup

These were part of the offering at a catering event I did with Regina Mallon Enterprises, food by  Special Attentions .

These were part of the offering at a catering event I did with Regina Mallon Enterprises, food by Special Attentions.

Dates Packed & Wrapped

Boy, does this one get every part of your mouth ready.  It's got salty, sweet, crunch and tang.

Another 3 step method, Slice, stuff and roll.

Another 3 step method, Slice, stuff and roll.

  • Slice open a Meedjol date just enough to remove pit and replace with something better.

  • Stuff it with gorgonzola cheese and a marcona salted almond.

  • Wrap the date with Serrano or Prosciutto ham.

Simple set up of jamón Serrano, gorgonzola, marconas & dates.

Simple set up of jamón Serrano, gorgonzola, marconas & dates.

Just a little slice, yank out the pit and replace with yumminess.

Just a little slice, yank out the pit and replace with yumminess.

Cranked up Caprese Skewers

This is an amped up Caprese salad on a stick.

Ratcheted up a notch by grilling them until they are just warmed then dipped in grated cheese. Oh the melt, the sweet, the salt.

Ratcheted up a notch by grilling them until they are just warmed then dipped in grated cheese. Oh the melt, the sweet, the salt.

Another simple set up with just a few ingredients.

Another simple set up with just a few ingredients.

Once grilled, roll them in grated cheese. Want some heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, too.

Once grilled, roll them in grated cheese. Want some heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, too.

  • Skewer a grape tomato, a bocconcino, piece of basil and another grape tomato. (You can certainly serve them as is. But I highly recommend you go the next steps. Also, you can prepare these ahead of time and refrigerate until grilling.)

  • Coat with oil, salt and pepper and lightly grill, then roll in Parmesano Reggiano, and serve immediately.

Chorizo-Manchego-Olive Skewer

A one bite tapa mix that makes a hearty first nibble. 

Warm, cold. Savory, salty, creamy. Need I say more?

Warm, cold. Savory, salty, creamy. Need I say more?

Honestly, I feel like I could create one every week.  The options and ideas are 'to infinity and beyond'.  Just think of little bites that would get your guests ready for more.  Oh la la to the French for their playful amusement.  What a fun game of enticement. 

 
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Grilled Romaine & Blue Cheese Salad with Warm Vinaigrette

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It's a frigid, white winter, so who feels like eating salad?  Not me, Answered everyone.

But getting your greens even in wintertime is essential. The inspiration for this salad came by way of my muse, AKA my sister Jill, who loves herself a good Wedge Salad and who would be joining us for dinner that night.  I only had a few ingredients to work with but all the ones she loves; lettuce, onions and blue cheese.  So I got thinking about how to bring in the warmth because it was way too nippy for a cold, crisp salad, and no way was iceberg lettuce entering my house.  I hate to be snooty but well, I am.  If you are going to make the effort to eat lettuce go one step further and buy one with actual nutrients.  (Let me just clarify my sister's iceberg indulgence.  She doesn't buy that kind of lettuce, but does enjoy ordering that Wedge thing in a restaurant. Guilty pleasure.)

As I step down off my soapbox, I'm here to confess that grilling lettuce is not my usual thing.  I have tried grilling radicchio and have found that it often increases the bitterness.  A bit too much bite for me.  But like I mentioned, we needed to eat salad of sorts and ingesting a cold dish was not in the cards.  So I harkened back to my idea of combining temperatures in a salad, only this time the actual lettuce was the one providing the hot.  I was also inspired to share this recipe since one of my readers told me that she was making my recipe for Salad: Hot & Cold to bring to a New Year's Eve party.  How great was that! My own little new year's cheer.

So here's my take on a Wedge Salad but one that warms your tummy and delivers more that just empty calories.

Ingredients
 

(Serves 4 as a side or 2 main)

2 Hearts of Romaine
2 scallions, sliced
3/4 c Blue cheese of your choice
2 small yellow onions, sliced
bacon, optional

For the dressing
1/3 c shallots, fine dice
1/3 c  olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
lemon zest

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First things first, get the slices of onion, seasoned with salt, pepper and drizzle of oil in a 400 degree oven. Let them get really roasted to bring out the earthy flavor.

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While the onions are in the oven, begin making the warm vinaigrette by sautéing the shallots in 2 T of oil.  Once softened, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining oil and heat slowly over a low flame.  Remove from heat and right before serving whisk in the lemon juice.

Cut the whole heads of romaine right down the middle keeping the core so they stay in tact.  Season with salt, pepper and oil and place them cut side down on the grill.  These will not take long. You only want to get some grill marks and warm them up, not completely cook or wilt them.

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All that is left to do is plate your salad.  On one platter, place the grilled romaine cut side up, top with the onions, sprinkle the slices scallions and dot with the lots cubes of blue cheese.  Jill and I agreed that more cheese the merrier we were.  Drizzle the warm dressing over top.

Hearty bean, potato and escarole soup similar style to my Kale, Potato soup, recipe below

Hearty bean, potato and escarole soup similar style to my Kale, Potato soup, recipe below

So with a few ingredients roasted, grilled and warmed up you too can cozy up to a salad in the winter without chilling your insides.  Serve this, as I did,  with a hearty bean and escarole soup and kick the chill to the curb.  (Sure I could have amped this up by pouring my homemade blue cheese dressing on it, but thought we would keep the calorie count down. Maybe not so much for Jill, but for me.)

A few other recipes that are warm and would snuggle up nicely to this salad.

Kale, Potato, Lentil Soup
Loaded Potato - Healthy Style
Polenta Stuffed Peppers
Meaty Ragu

Now that my fears of grilling lettuce are over, maybe I'll give radicchio another chance to prove herself.

Happy Wintertime Grilling.

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Summer Salad Full of Fruits

Now that the weather seems to be cooperating and we have returned to summer, it's time to reset our menus back to regularly scheduled programming of offering foods of the season again.

Batter up: Fruits and Vegetables.  How many times have you heard your mom say "eat your fruits and veggies"? As we have all come to learn, moms know best.  These two food groups are the real powerhouses of the food chain, packing all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you could ever want.  So it made perfect sense that I would combine both in a summer salad to take full advantage of all those heathy benefits.  

I think it's pretty evident by now that my salads contain the not so obvious ingredients.  Thus today's combo should not come as a surprise.  No lettuce and tomatoes pairing here.  Call me odd, that's ok.  I am, but in a good way.

I have an intense fondness of combining textures and flavors.  Sweet and savory.  Soft and crunchy. The fruits and vegetables of summer hit all the right notes,  checking those objectives off my list with the extra bonus of adding freshness and interesting flavor profile

My thoughts on this salad were how many seasonal stunners of the moment I could put together in one dish. Corn, blueberries, nectarines, arugula.

Not much more to this story, other than flavor, flavor, flavor.

Summer's bounty of the moment.

Summer's bounty of the moment.

Ingredients                                               Dressing

1 bunch arugula  (6-7 c)                                                       2/3 nectarine
3 nectarines (1 for the dressing)                                          1/4 c scallion, rough slice
1/3 c blueberries                                                                  1/2 T balsamic vinegar
1 ear of corn, grilled                                                             4 T olive oil
1/3 c blue cheese                                                                 1/2 t course sea salt
1/4 c red onion, thinly sliced                                                1/4 t cracked black pepper

Instructions

Wash the arugula well.  It tends to have a ton of sand, so soak it in cold water in a strainer and lift it out of the water so the sand stays on the bottom.  You may need to do this several times. Dry and arrange in a large platter.

Oil, salt and pepper the corn, then grill it.  I like using a cast iron grill pan but use whatever is most readily available.

While the corn is grilling. Slice the onions and nectarines.

Once the corn is done, you can begin assembling the salad, layering all the different ingredients atop the arugula in a pleasing manner.  I cut some of the kernels off of one side of the cob, then cut the cob in half and place onto the salad.

For the dressing, blend the nectarine, scallion, salt and pepper into a paste. Add the vinegar, oil and pulse until blended. It will be a thick dressing.

You can serve the dressing on the side or drizzle on top.

The flavors of this summer salad creates little flavor bombs in each bite.  The arugula provides a peppery note perfectly juxtaposed to the sweetness of the nectarine and blueberries.  The red onion has a spicy bite that stands up to the crunchy, savory kernels of corn. Then the salty, sharpness of the blue cheese is mellowed by the creamy sweetness of the dressing.  This is party in your mouth kind of salad. Perfect to celebrate summer's bounty.  Ideal pairings: hamburgers (with cheese & caramelized onion), grilled pork chops, grilled white flesh fish (ie: Rainbow Trout, Flounder). Summer fun in a bowl. The easiest, and best way to eat your fruits and veggies!