Friday, January 11, 2013

Salami and Cream Cheese Roll-ups


My favorite late night indulgence is salami and cream cheese on crackers. Salty cured sausage, sweet creamy cheese, crisp buttery crackers, served with a refreshing chilled beverage...doesn't get much better than that! However there are a few problems translating this delicious little snack into the ideal appetizer for a crowd. The traditional method of applying cream cheese to the cracker and adding a piece of salami results in a soggy cracker if left in the refrigerator for any length of time. The sodden cracker was the most important hurdle to overcome, but then came the painstaking effort and endless trials I had to put myself and the family through to get the salami to cheese ratio just right. Somehow we endured and these addictive little roll-ups have solved all the problems inherent to serving these tasty tidbits to guests, as a bonus they came out rather beautiful in the process.  Feel free to add additional ingredients to/instead of the green pepper, such as jalapeno, shredded cheddar, thinly sliced swiss, or hot pepper cheese depending on your mood.

The three ingredients needed are raw, no actual cooking involved, but you will need a good sharp knife to cut the rolls. When entertaining I make up the roll 1-3 days ahead and on the day of the party I slice them thin and stack them in rows between wax paper, returning them to the refrigerator. To serve, I line a platter with crackers and then simply lay a sliced roll on each, they can be stacked pretty high with this method and it makes an impressive display. This keeps the crackers fresh and crisp but also makes assembly super quick and easy. Each roll will make between 55-70 crackers.

Salami and Cream Cheese Roll-ups




1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 -3/4 pounds salami sliced thin (thinner is better as it rolls easier)
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced


Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap on the work surface. Place the cream cheese on top of the plastic wrap and cover with another piece of wrap the same size.  With a rolling pin roll the cream cheese out into an even layer, approximately 1/4-inch thick. Watch the edges of the cream cheese as it rolls out because the top wrap can work its way under the cheese. To avoid this, occasionally pull the wrap off and replace it to continue rolling the cheese into a rectangle.


Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and add the salami, overlapping the slices until all the cream cheese is covered, lightly press the salami into the cream cheese to make it stick. Replace the plastic wrap and carefully flip the salami and cheese so that the cream cheese is again on top.  Remove the wrap and place the sliced green peppers over the cheese.


Roll the salami over the cream cheese being careful not to leave any air space (this make it harder to cut later) and use the plastic wrap to pull it tight as you work. Roll the meat log and press the outer layers tight to hold it all together.  Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight (it can be cut without chilling, but the longer it chills the easier it is to cut.)  Cut the meat slices thin, taste one on a cracker, as large crackers may need a thicker slice, while smaller crackers will need one cut thinner. Enjoy with your favorite beverage.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kafta


Kafta are Lebanese meatballs, they are easily mainstream enough to appeal to just about any palate but they have enough pizzazz to seem a bit exotic too. The recipe is easy but it does require pine nuts, which might be just outside the standard kitchen staples of the average American kitchen. We serve almost all Arabic inspired meat with labneh, a thick Greek style yoghurt that adds a creamy tang; both a welcome note against the tomato and perhaps an unexpected but somewhat familiar accent to anyone new to Arabic food.

Kafta are traditionally cooked two ways, the most popular being over a hot grill, wrapped in flat bread and accompanied by a fresh salad and yogurt. Grilling differs from the baked instructions here only in omitting the tomato sauce and instead placing the meatballs on skewers to facilitate grilling. The onion and parsley ratios would be the same. Baked kafta can be made days ahead, cooked through, refrigerated, and reheated. Since they only improve in flavor when allowed to marinate in that tasty meat sauce, if you can keep your family from eating them straight out of the fridge, they are an ideal dish for entertaining.

Kafta

3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 bunch parsley (approximately 1 cup), leaves only
1 large onion, cut into chunks
2 lbs 85% (or greater) ground beef
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
12 oz crushed tomato

In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add pine nuts. Stir nuts continually until golden brown. Pine nuts burn easily, do not take your eye off of them.

Place the onion and parsley in a food processor and pulse until both are finely minced. Remove to a large bowl with the ground beef, add cinnamon, allspice, salt and black pepper.  Mix well by hand, evenly blending all the ingredients together.

Form the meatballs by placing 1/4 cup of the meat mixture in one hand and press a divot down the middle. Place approximately 1/2 teaspoon (10-12) of the browned pine nuts in the divot and close the meat around them forming a long football-like shape. Continue to form all the meatballs in the same manner, placing them in a large casserole dish in a single layer as you work. Pour the crushed tomato over the meatballs and bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 1 hour until the meatballs are cooked through.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vegan Coconut Cake with Buttercream Frosting



Normally I have to tweak a recipe to my liking, but this one is perfect just the way it is written and it comes from a blog called 'Vegan Thyme'. Kelly has some terrific looking vegan desserts on her site, so instead of posting any recipe to this delicious coconut cake here, I think it is far more appropriate to direct you to the source. The real goal of my blog after all is to create a diary of sorts so that we never face the "Nothing looks/sounds good" scenario, and this cake is even better tasting than it looks: blog criteria met!      

So follow the link, you won't be sorry. The instructions are detailed so that even an inexperienced baker could follow them, but be sure you look around while you are there, I know I will be visiting there myself plenty!

Find the recipe here: Vegan Coconut Cake with Buttercream Frosting

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tofu Shipwreck


I have learned to love tofu, but it is easy to see why it gets such a bad rap in the food world. Tofu's white, nearly flavorless, gelatin-like texture is not very appealing straight out of the box, but it does provide a big kick of protein to the vegan diet. My appreciation for this culinary underdog started with this dish which morphs tofu into a rather convincing substitute for scrambled eggs. The addition of turmeric and paprika add a yellow hue that  fools both the eye and the palate to such a degree that I have served this to meat eaters and they didn't even realize it was tofu.

This 'Shipwreck' makes the most of masking tofu's deficits by providing a backdrop of complimenting textures in the form of potatoes, onions, and pepper. Mushrooms are also a terrific addition, but what makes the dish really come together are the pepperoncini and/or banana pepper rings which provide just a spot of heat and an acid element that perfectly accentuate all the rest of the flavors.

One thing I've learned over the years of making hashbrowns is that the best are cooked in far more oil than you would ever want to admit. The second trick I've stumbled upon is that the onions and peppers have to be added at the end to keep that lovely crisp/sweet bite otherwise they burn/brown/dissolve into oblivion long before the potatoes get to crispy (and they release water which keeps the potatoes from browning.)
Any potatoes will work in this recipe, but hands down the best hashbrowns are made from baked russet potatoes. My second choice is frozen hashbrowns (cubed or shredded), since raw cut potatoes tend to get slimy and greasy when fried if not soaked in water to remove the starch first -- not to mention they are just a lot faster and easier!  So don't let the potatoes intimidate you, buy frozen if you don't have baked and season them to your taste; just make sure they are cooked until golden and crispy.

Both the tofu and the potatoes take a bit of cooking time, so it helps to have two nonstick skillets to make this dish. Don't try to cook them together. Tofu is loaded with water and if cooked with the potatoes in the same pan, nothing will ever get a golden-brown surface (and we all know golden-brown is good!) If limited by only one nonstick skillet (tofu sticks like crazy) cook the tofu and the veggies first and remove to a platter, cook the potatoes next, combine it all at the end and bring it back up to heat before serving. Serves 4-6

Tofu Shipwreck

3/4 cup margarine/butter
19 ounces Firm tofu
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
3-4 large baked potatoes, chopped OR 1 package frozen hashbrowns of your choice
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne pepper, dash
1 small onion, chopped
1 red/yellow pepper, chopped
1/4 cup pepperoncini and/or banana pepper rings, chopped

Melt 1/4 cup margarine/butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour off the water surrounding the tofu and crumble it into the pan by hand, squeezing it into small chunks similar in size to clumps of scrambled egg. As the tofu fries it will release its moisture, then add the spices, turmeric, paprika, salt, garlic, and onion powders and toss well for even coverage. Allow the tofu to firm up by cooking until enough water has simmered off to the point where it just begins to brown.  This takes some time, start the potatoes frying while the tofu cooks and turn down the heat once the tofu is to the browning stage.

In a second large nonstick skillet melt half of the remaining oil and add potatoes. Fry potatoes until gold brown on all side, adding remaining oil and perhaps some additional vegetable oil as they fry, watch that the potatoes remain frying in the pan (oil should be visibly frying the edges, but not sitting in oil.) Salt and pepper to taste, and add the cayenne as they cook.

When the potatoes are nearly done, (they should be golden and crispy) add the the peppers and onions to the tofu skillet, increasing the heat, tossing occasionally and cooking the vegetables just until tender. Combine the fried tofu in the potato skillet and add the chopped peppers.  Toss to combine, salt to taste if needed and serve.

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