Sunday, November 2, 2014

Holiday Hosting
What’s cooking? Marinated Olives, Sweet and Spicy Nuts, and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

“How about if I ask the group to come for a glass of wine before we go out to dinner?” says my darling hubby.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Even Grumpy wants to do a bit of hosting. Then he adds those endearing words that speak volumes to wives everywhere: “Don’t worry – you won’t have to do anything.”

I nod and smile, and of course I say “Fine,” even as I roll my eyes and try to imagine how much cleaning up – before and after – it’ll take. Because – let’s face it, folks – men don’t see things the way women do.

Now, of course, this is just my view, but I think women walk into a room and survey the scene. They’re performing a scattershot analysis – pillows on the sofa, hors d’oeuvres on the coffee table, chairs moved around to allow group seating, maybe even flowers on that chest against the wall. Looks like it’s set for a party. Except for that balled-up paper napkin on the wing chair.

Men are more single-minded. They walk into a room and see... nothing. Yep – it’s a room. Probably the living room. But unless they’re, like, on the hunt for the big-screen TV, not much else registers. Wing chair? Balled-up napkin? Huh?

Case in point: I went to water aerobics one morning last week, and when I got back, I felt strongly in need of a short nap. I put on my bright pink robe and lay down on the bed – on top of the blue coverlet, in our very blue bedroom. And just as I was drifting off, the bed shook rather violently, and I heard the sound of a suitcase zipper moving around its track. He’s packing for that golf trip. But if I don’t say anything, he’ll see that I’m sleeping and go away. That’s what I figured.

Sure enough, after a few seconds, he left the room quietly. Then about 5 minutes later, the bed shook again, and I heard the sounds of shoes dropping onto the chest at the end of our bed. Now, when I’m tired, I will admit to not being my usual kind and cheerful self. But when I sat up and said something sharp, along the lines of “What the ...,” he almost jumped out of his skin. He hadn’t seen me.

In the discussion that followed, we agreed that:
(1) I should adopt a more civil tone when speaking to the man I love; and
(2) He should try to notice when I’m in the room/on the bed/not dressed in camouflage.

So while this story starts out being about how “You won’t have to do anything” is a laughable statement for many women, I think it mostly illustrates one more difference in the way men and women go through life. Women actively accumulate information, while men are going, “TV here? No. Ok, next room.”

Being Prepared

I actually do enjoy hosting during the holiday season. And I’ve learned that one way to make the next couple of months less stressful is to have a handful of noshy foods available for those spur-of-the-moment gatherings, or to ease the amount of last-minute prep you have to do for a dinner party.

Olives and nuts, for instance, are great nibbly foods to have on hand. But even better is if you take the time now – well in advance of any thought of entertaining – to add some small touches to those foods that will have your friends thinking you are amazing.

And then there are the dips/spreads you can make and freeze for whenever. Many recipes make enough to split the batch in half and freeze one half while you use the other.

So today, the Kitchen Goddess offers you three ways to plan ahead – or rather, just do ahead and don’t bother with the planning. The first is a recipe for marinated olives, inspired by one I saw in the A16 Food + Wine book I mentioned last week. I thought it needed just the tiniest bit of sweetness, so I added the orange strips, and as usual, I substituted Aleppo pepper instead of chile flakes. These olives will keep at least a month in the fridge, though after you taste them, you’ll think it’s a miracle they’d last more than a week.

The second recipe, for sugared and spiced nuts, is a merging of one from the Silver Palate New Basics cookbook and one from Gourmet magazine (September 1999). The Kitchen Goddess tinkered with the combination of spices and sugar until she got what she thought was the perfect balance.

The third is a sun-dried tomato pesto adapted from the Silver Palate New Basics book, and it is a guaranteed winner. Moreover, it freezes beautifully. I like to serve it with endive leaves and lightly blanched asparagus, but it works well as a dip with any crudité platter. You can also serve small dollops of it on top of ricotta mounded on crostini.

Happy entertaining, everyone!

Marinated Olives

Adapted from A16 Food + Wine.

For this recipe, the Kitchen Goddess used large green and black Cerignola olives, but any good quality mix will do. Just don’t use pitted olives, which will inevitably get smashed in the cooking process and look terrible. The Kitchen Goddess places a small ceramic or glass pitcher next to the olive bowl, where guests can discretely discard the pits.

¾ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed using the side of a knife
1 sprig fresh rosemary
¼-½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon dried chile flakes)
4 four-inch strips orange peel, separated (Use a vegetable peeler, and with a paring knife, remove any white pith from the underside)
1 cup green olives
1 cup black olives

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Stir in the garlic, rosemary, Aleppo pepper, and 2 of the orange strips. Adjust the heat to allow the oil to simmer until it’s aromatic and the garlic turns golden, about 3 minutes.

Add the olives to the oil and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the olives steep in the oil until cool. Replace the cooked orange peel with the reserved strips. Cover and marinate for 6 hours before serving, or put the mixture into a large jar and store in the fridge for 2-3 days. Remove the rosemary before serving.

The olives will keep in the refrigerator for a month.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

Makes 4 cups of nuts.

½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups whole almonds or pecan halves or a mix of both
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon water
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325º.

In a small bowl, mix the first 7 ingredients well and set aside.

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over low heat, add the spice mix, and stir well. Simmer 3-4 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the nuts and the spice/oil mixture, and toss well. Spread the nuts out on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice.

Let the nuts cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally if you want to speed the cooling process.

When the nuts are cooled, reduce the oven temperature to 250º. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. (You can use the same one as above – just wipe it clean or use baker’s parchment.)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg white with the water until foamy. Stir in the nuts (and any spices that didn’t adhere to them in the baking), mixing well to coat all the nuts with the egg white. Combine the brown sugar and the salt, and stir well into the nuts.

Spread the nuts onto the greased baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven until dry, about 60-65 minutes. Let the nuts cool before you touch them, then break them into bite-sized chunks.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Adapted from the Silver Palate New Basics cookbook.

Makes about 2½ cups.

2½ tablespoons good quality olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large can (28 ounces) whole Italian plum tomatoes in purée
1 jar (8 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

You need to get the canned tomatoes from this...
In a large skillet (I prefer either cast iron or enamel-coated cast iron), heat the olive oil and add the garlic. Cook gently for 3 minutes without browning. (Browning makes garlic taste bitter.)

Add the plum tomatoes (with the purée from the can), and using a wooden spoon, crush them gently against the bottom of the skillet. Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce becomes very thick, which will take 60-70 minutes.

... to this.

While the tomatoes cook down, strain the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and reserve ¼ cup of the oil. Coarsely chop the sun-dried tomatoes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Cover and let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the tomato mix to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, adding the reserved ¼ cup of sun-dried tomato oil in a slow stream while the processor runs. Add the salt and pepper and pulse until well combined.

Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. You can make the pesto 3-4 days in advance, or freeze it in a tightly covered container, where it will be good for about a year.

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