By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 24, 2014 | APPETIZERS


First things first, is this crostini or bruschetta? And if it’s the latter, do you say broo-sheh-ta or broo-skeh-ta?

Oh, who cares? Hush up and eat it. Why? Because it may be the single best piece of toast topped with creamy cheese and tangy, garlicky cherry tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.

For the record, I say broo-sket-eh, because that’s how my Italian friends say it, and bruschetta is traditionally toasted bread topped with tomatoes and garlic.

Crostini is small, toasted (or fried) bread – think sliced baguette — served with any variety of toppings.

I know, I know, these days bruschetta is topped with the all kinds of stuff. A certain Phoenix restaurant built their reputation on the plethora of bruschetta they serve.

I’m not here to judge what you call it or how you pronounce it. I’m here to tell you how to make this incredibly simple, lip-smacking, moan inducing, easy snack.

There is a caveat. With so few ingredients, each one is crucial to the bruschetta’s success. Let’s start with the tomatoes.


Summer cherry tomatoes are the most important component. The smaller the better for sweetness and tender skin. If possible, source them from a local farmer. You’re likely to get heirloom varieties like currant gold, red pear and candy red.

The bread is critical, too, so look for a sturdy, hearty artisan type with a dense crumb to hold up the weight of the ingredients.


I’m using a roasted garlic, whole grain bread, but I’ve also used a dense, chewy multi-grain — both from local bakers — with great success.


The remaining ingredients are sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, ricotta cheese, garlic and chives. And salt and pepper, of course. I cannot overemphasize the importance of sherry vinegar in this dish. It is the secret weapon, so use one that you like.

I use a toaster oven when I’m making a small quantity. Feel free to double this recipe, but you don’t need to double all the ingredients, just the tomatoes, garlic, bread and ricotta. You can get away with 1-1/2 times the oil, vinegar, chives, salt and pepper.


Here’s the blah blah version (the full recipe is below).

Toss the tomatoes with some oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and roast in a hot oven just until the garlic turns toasty brown and the tomatoes have burst. Save the vinegar for post-roasting.


Speaking of saving, I hope you saved that bowl you tossed the tomatoes in because you can use it again — without washing — to gently scrape the tomatoes into before the vinegar sprinkle.

Gently toss the tomatoes with the vinegar — you don’t want to obliterate the shape of the tomatoes completely.


Now slice your artisan bread (and it’s OK to use the word “artisan” here because this is the real meaning of the word — you listening Domino’s? Tostitos?)

Brush one side of the bread with extra virgin olive oil and toast either after the tomatoes have roasted (if you are using a toaster oven) or concurrently in a toaster while the tomatoes roast.

You can toast the bread and roast the tomatoes ahead of time, but don’t assemble the bruschetta until just before serving. To me, serving it a skosh warmer than room temperature is best, so I generally make this just before I plan to serve it.

I cut the toast in half, on the diagonal, just because it looks cool.


After slathering the ricotta cheese on the toasted bread, spoon on the tomatoes (there will be a cook’s extra bite or two of the tomatoes), sprinkle with chives (here is how to micro-mince chives) and add more freshly cracked black pepper if you like. Or red pepper flakes if you fancy a little chile heat.


And then share.

Or not.


Cherry Tomato Bruschetta
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Author: Gwen Ashley Walters
Serves: 2
Talk about flavor explosion! Cherry tomatoes are one of summer’s greatest gifts and this recipe honors them appropriately. Buy the smallest ones you can find. Sherry vinegar is the secret weapon here, adding just the right amount of zing. With so few ingredients, the bread is important, too. Find an artisan loaf, the sturdier the better. I used roasted garlic bread from a local baker, but I’ve also used a dense multi-grain to great success.
  • 8 ounces baby cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (~ 2 medium cloves)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • ————–
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • —————
  • 2 slices rustic bread (1/2-inch thick)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • —————
  • 1/4 cup fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced chives
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. (I use a toaster oven for this small of a quantity).
  2. Toss the baby tomatoes in a small bowl with the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Spread mixture on a small baking sheet (save the bowl for the next step) and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, until the garlic turns light brown and the tomatoes have burst.
  4. Remove from the oven and gently slide tomatoes (and juice, garlic and oil) back into the tossing bowl.
  5. Sprinkle with the vinegar and gently toss with a spoon, trying not to obliterate the tomatoes. You want them to retain some of their original shape.
  6. While the tomatoes are roasting, brush one side of the bread slices with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
  7. When the tomatoes come out of the toaster oven, turn the setting to toast and toast the bread until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Alternatively, toast the bread in a toaster while the tomatoes are roasting in the oven.
  8. Cut the toasted bread into two pieces on the diagonal. Spread evenly with the ricotta.
  9. Place on a serving plate or platter. Spoon the tomatoes over the cheese. Sprinkle with the minced chives. Serve immediately.



By Linda Avery | MARCH 24, 2014 | APPETIZERS

Editor’s Note: Linda Avery returns with a look at two new books dedicated to cheese. Want to learn more about cheese? You might lean toward Cowgirl Creamery Cooks. Looking for inspired recipes built around cheese? Both books are inspirational, but The Cheesemonger’s Seasons adds a seasonal twist.


Cowgirl Creamery Cooks

by Sue Conley & Peggy Smith
Photographs © Hirsheimer & Hamilton

Facts: Chronicle Books, 256 pages, $35.00, Digital: $24.99 (or Amazon Hardcover $25.07, Kindle $9.50)
Photos: about 72
Recipes: 71 including techniques

The induction of new members to the Guilde des Fromagers Confrérie de Saint-Uguzon took place last November during a conference of Les Dames d’Escoffier International in Austin, Texas. The Guilde, founded in France, honors “dairy professionals” or cheese producers; the Confrérie is for educators, writers, chefs, i.e., those who share the knowledge. I was expecting a rather solemn ceremony when I saw the robes, insignia and medallions worn by the members, but they were having great fun, obviously based in their common love of cheese.

That doesn’t diminish their serious attitude about cheese-making and who they induct. The Guilde has more than 5,600 members world wide and includes Sue Conley & Peggy Smith, the “cowgirls” of Cowgirl Creamery, founded in 1994. Since then they have received numerous awards for their flavorful cheeses.

Their recently released Cowgirl Creamery Cooks underscores their cheesemaker ability and educates. It answers questions. Can I drink tea instead of wine with cheese? Should I eat the rind? What do I need to consider for a cheese course? What should I serve with the cheese? What is a vertical flight of cheese vs. a horizontal flight? (Personally, I was rather surprised that it had nothing to do with whether one is standing at a bar or lying on a sofa).

The recipes are divided by fresh cheeses (Crème Fraîche Scones, Ricotta-Asparagus Soufflé), soft, young-aged cheeses (Gougères), aged cheeses (Raclette with Boiled Potatoes and Quick Pickles), grating cheeses (Cheese Fricos, Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Paillard), blue cheeses (Sweet Smokey Blue and Bacon Soufflé) and (almost as important) the end bits (Classic Mac and Cheese).

Consider the techniques and summary section, combine those with the photography of Hirsheimer & Hamilton (our friends from The Canal House), and the result is an informative, thought-provoking and mouth-watering book.

The Cheesemonger’s Seasons

by Chester Hastings
Photographs © Joseph De Leo and Chester Hastings

Facts: Chronicle Books, 192 pages, $35.00; Digital: $27.00 (or Amazon Hardcover $25.37, Kindle $15.39)
Photos: 37
Recipes: 90

Chester Hastings is a chef and cheesemonger. His 25 years of experience and the training under Carlo Middone at Vivande Porta Via in San Francisco sharpened his palate.

This man creates enticing combinations. I could almost taste the dishes from the names of his recipes in The Cheesemonger’s Seasons: Roasted Broccoli Romanesco with Scamorza − Lemon Olive Oil, and Toasted Sesame Seed − Roasted Beets and Fresh Strawberries with Orange Syrup and Goat Cheese − Savory Pumpkin Tarts with Bûcheron – Cannellini Beans with Sage and Parmigiano-Reggiano. YUM – you know how those recipes are going to taste!

As implied by the title, the book is divided by season. Of the 90 recipes, 30 are summertime recipes. My guess is that is the result of the availability of so many fresh fruits and veggies. There is no pantry, nor glossary. No techniques section, nor where to shop. Just intriguing recipes with great headnotes which are the bridge between us and Chef Chester Hastings.


Pea Shoots with Burrata, Lemon Olive Oil, and Toasted Sesame Seeds

photo © Joseph De Leo

Serves 4

When I was visiting Princess Marina Colonna many years ago in Rome, she was in the process of developing a line of citrus-infused olive oils, and tasked my mentor, Carlo, and me with developing a few recipes featuring these exotic creations.

“Infused” is not really the right word here, however, as these oils are made by crushing whole citrus fruits (peels, seed, and all) with the olives at the time of pressing to create a blend of oil so deeply permeated with fruit it will blow your mind. Agrumato, in Abruzzo, is another producer who uses the same technique to create a variety of oils that are outstanding for drizzling raw over grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, and salad greens.

If you can’t get your hands on a lemon olive oil for this recipe, use a good fruit extra-virgin olive oil and add freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste. There should be a nice balance of acidity to fat.

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 cups/115 g fresh pea shoots
1 pound/455 g fresh Burrata cheese
4 tablespoons/60 ml/ lemon-infused olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Toast the sesame seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, until just barely turning golden, taking care not to burn them. Remove from the heat and immediately pour the seeds into a small bowl. Let cool completely.

2. Trim any tough lower leaves from the pea shoots, then rise and dry well.

3. Cut the Burrata into four equal pieces and lay them, cut sides up, on a serving platter or four individual plate.

4. Divide the pea shoots evenly around the Burrata pieces. Drizzle the olive oil over the pea shoots and Burrata and scatter the sesame seeds over the top. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

By Linda Avery | JANUARY 05, 2014 | APPETIZERS

Editor’s note: Got gift cards? Linda Avery returns with a look at Jeff Koehler’s Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Costal Waters of Andalucía. Read her review to see if it’s a book for your collection. 


by Jeff Koehler
Photographs by Jeff Koehler

Facts: Chronicle Books, 352 pages, $40.00 (or at Amazon Hardcover: $27.79; Kindle: $16.19)
Photos: over 200
Recipes: 172

Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucía

Let me begin by saying that I’m totally jealous of Jeff Koehler. It began when I read and made recipes from his book Morocco. Now I’m pouring over recipes from the Basque Country to Andalucía and the image of my passport is mentally stamped on each page.

Koehler met his wife in London and moved to Spain shortly before marrying. He has an intimate knowledge of the country which comes through loud and clear in the book. He begins with a regional culinary tour and provides a map of the regions for those of us who don’t know Castilla is in the center of Spain with La Rioja and Navarra to the north (it’s quite helpful). The book has 15 chapters. Soups, fish, rice, meat and other mundane foodstuffs are slotted between pulses, shellfish, game and snails, innards and extremities. Did you just go to google to find pulses?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention salt cod or bacalao (the Catalan word happens to be the same word as Italian bacallà, in the Basque country it’s bakailoo). “Some of the most classic, even celebrated, dishes in Spain are made with bacalao.” Koehler presents nine salt cod recipes and in the glossary you’ll find how to desalt salt cod along with using saffron, preparing fresh snails for cooking, cleaning squid, cuttlefish, mussels and sundry other techniques.

Each chapter is led by interesting information whether it’s the history of tapas, or how and why consumption of certain food has changed or just an entertaining story. He quotes a funny line in the introduction to Innards and Extremities reflecting how a Spaniard feels about eating a whole animal. It essentially translates to “taking advantage of everything except the way that a pig walks.”

Wrapping up the book are desserts including Galician Crepes with Fresh Whipped Cream and Honey, Flatbread with Pine Nuts, Sugar and Anise; plus drinks like Slushy Lemon Granita and sangrias; and then conserves such as Dried Apricots Macerated in Sweet Wine and Creamy Quince Paste.

I predict that Jeff Koehler has a well-deserved award in his future for this book.

The following recipe has no season – It’s a hit for lunch, dinner or cut in smaller servings, an appetizer.


Potato and Onions Egg Tortilla
Tortilla de Patatas y Cebolla

photo © Jeff Koehler

One of the most classic and popular of all Spanish dishes, the egg and potato tortilla is, simply, iconic. It was, fittingly, the first dish I learned to make when I moved to Spain in 1996, in a lesson given to me by my future brother-in-law, Robert. Preparing a tortilla with potato alone is fine, but using an equal amount of onions produces a sweeter, moister, and, in my mind, superior result. While the key to a good tortilla is keeping it moist in the center, the real trick, he showed me, comes in flipping it. Or rather, flipping the tortilla without the bottom sticking.

Makes one 10-inch/25-cm tortilla
Serves 6 to 8


1 1 ⁄4 pounds/570 g medium white potatoes
1 1 ⁄4 pounds/570 g medium onions
1 quart/1 l mild olive oil or sunflower oil
10 eggs

1. Peel the potatoes, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice crosswise. Peel the onions, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice crosswise.

2. In a large sauté pan or deep skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the potatoes and onions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring from time to time, until they soften and just begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and onions to a colander to thoroughly drain. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the oil.

3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly with a hand whisk until frothy. Season with salt. Pour the drained potatoes and onions into the egg. Gently push down to cover with egg. Let sit and absorb for 10 minutes.

4. In a 10-inch/25-cm nonstick skillet, heat the reserved 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Pour in the egg mixture. Immediately turn the heat to low and swirl the pan in a circular motion for a few seconds to keep the egg from sticking. Cook until the bottom is golden and the tortilla set, about 6 minutes.

5. Wearing an oven mitt, place a flat, tight-fitting plate over the tortilla. Firmly pressing the plate against the pan, carefully and quickly turn the tortilla over onto the plate, and then slide the tortilla off the plate and back into the pan. Swirl the pan in a circular motion to settle the tortilla and keep it from sticking. Tuck any edges down with a spatula. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until firm but still moist in the center.

6. Flip the tortilla onto a clean plate. Dab off any excess oil with a paper towel. Let cool before slicing it into fat wedges to serve.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 23, 2013 | APPETIZERS


Friends were coming for dinner. Two were steak-and-potato-loving friends, and two were vegetarians.

I wanted an appetizer that would wow the vegetarians, but not turn off the meat-eaters.

Voilá! Quinoa lettuce wraps.


I show you how to cook quinoa in this post. The rest is just some chopping, dicing and whisking.

Easy. And versatile. I’ve chosen a Mexican flavor for this rendition but it could easily speak Greek with feta, cucumbers and olives. Or Italian with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Or any number of combinations.


Once all the ingredients are chopped, toss them together with the honey lime vinaigrette and spoon them into washed butter lettuce leaf cups –then ring the chow bell.

Fresh tasting and bursting with flavor, these lettuce wraps wowed everyone — including meat-loving me.


Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

[print recipe]

Serves 6 (makes 12 wraps)

Honey Lime Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons lime juice (1 to 1-1/2 limes)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Generous pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Quinoa Lettuce Wraps:
2 small heads of butter (Boston bibb) lettuce

1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa*
1 cup peeled and small diced jicama
1/2 cup small diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup small diced red onion
1/4 cup currants (or raisins)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the vinaigrette, whisk the lime juice with all ingredients except the olive oil until smooth. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. It should be very tart with a slight sweet finish.

To make the quinoa wraps, separate the butter lettuce leaves. Save the outer large leaves and the yellowish, small inner leaves for another salad. Shoot for 12 whole leaf cups. Wash the leaves and spin or pat dry. Place in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

To make the filling, toss the quinoa with the next 6 ingredients (jicama through mint). Season with generous pinch of salt and pepper. Toss with 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette.

Place the lettuce cups on a platter and drizzle with a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vinaigrette. Spoon about 1/4 cup (more or less depending upon the size of the lettuce wraps) into the wrap. If there is any remaining vinaigrette, drizzle it over the quinoa wraps.

*Note: 1 cup of dry quinoa will make about 4 cups of cooked.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 14, 2013 | APPETIZERS


Sweltering summer days call for something cool and refreshing, like this chunky gazpacho.

The recipe, from my third cookbook, Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook, includes shrimp, but you can make it vegetarian by dropping the shrimp altogether. If you do forgo the shrimp, add the minced raw garlic into the tomato mixture.

You can also make this refreshing appetizer (or call it a soup if you’d like) in advance, up to 8 hours before you plan on serving it. Add a couple of crisp cervezas and chill out by the pool.

Chunky Gazpacho with Shrimp (or not)

[print recipe]

Adapted from Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound (26/30 count) fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 teaspoon minced garlic, about 1 large
1-1/2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup V-8® juice (regular or low-sodium)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Generous dash of hot sauce
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons drained capers
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (remove seeds for mild heat)
1 cup seeded, chopped red tomatoes
1 cup seeded, chopped yellow tomatoes (or yellow bell pepper)
Pinch sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1 lime, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wheels for garnish

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Stir in shrimp and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp is pink and just done, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Chill shrimp.

Stir the next 12 ingredients (tomato juice through yellow tomatoes) together. Season with pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. Add more hot sauce if you like.

Layer the following in a margarita or short cocktail glass:
1/4 cup tomato mixture
2 tablespoons avocado
2 to 3 pieces of shrimp

Repeat layers, ending with a touch of tomato mixture. Garnish with a lime wheel. The shrimp and tomato mixture can be made up to 8 hours in advance. Keep in the refrigerator. Don’t cut the avocado until ready to serve to avoid it turning brown.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | MAY 12, 2013 | APPETIZERS


Sometimes you don’t need a recipe, you need an idea.

Take this amazing tomato avocado ricotta toast for example. You don’t need a recipe, but you do need top notch ingredients.

Start with the best multi-grain bread you can buy.

Brush a slice or two with olive oil (all the better if your oil is garlic-infused*).

Toast the bread for a few minutes, just until the edge of the bread is starting to crisp, but the center is still a little soft.

Spread the barely toasted bread with a generous tablespoon (or two) of fresh ricotta — local is best and I’m blessed with Gina’s Homemade.

Top with a few thin slices of a ripe, juicy, heirloom tomato.

Lay slices of a ripe avocado on top of the tomato.

Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, like Maldon. Grind some fresh black pepper on top of that.

If you are so inclined, throw a few dashes of hot sauce on for good measure. I’m partial to Louisiana’s mild, tangy Crystal Hot Sauce in this application.

Take a bite, but first you might want to sit down. Your knees could go wobbly. It’s that good.


Epilog: I feel compelled to tell you that my friend George thinks a few crumbles of crisp, applewood smoked bacon would improve this near-perfect toast. I don’t doubt that, but I really love it just the way it is.

*This is how I infuse olive oil with garlic: Mince a medium (or large) size clove of peeled garlic. Place it in a small saucepan. Pour in 1/4 cup of good olive oil. Heat on low until warm, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Pour it into a small container. Cover and refrigerate. Stir before using (the garlic settles on the bottom). Use it to brush on bread before toasting, or use a teaspoon or so for sautéing. I make it about once a week, keep it in the fridge and use it all week long.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | APRIL 28, 2013 | APPETIZERS

Perhaps mousse is a misnomer, but it certainly sounds sexier than trout spread.

There was a time (like now) that I didn’t really care for fish. I eat it because I know it’s good for me, but my preference is steak. Or vegetables. Or pretty much anything other than fish.


Fortunately, this delicious smoked trout mousse doesn’t make me think I’m eating fish.

It has lots of other flavors that I love: garlic, onion, lemon, dill, and smoke.


The first thing you do is simmer some aromatics (in this case I’m using black peppercorns, celery, scallions and lemon) in water. This is called a court bouillon.

While the trout gently poaches in its fragrant bath, beat cream cheese in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes. You want to loosen up the cream cheese and make it fluffy.


And then you can beat in the other aromatics you’ve been chopping while the fish poaches and the cream cheese is beating (I love multi-tasking), namely garlic, red onion, dill and chives.

And a little liquid smoke.


That’s my favorite part. I love liquid smoke but a little goes a long way, so don’t measure the teaspoon the recipe calls for over the cream cheese mixture, in case you over pour. I’ve done that and it’s not pretty. Or tasty.

After the fish poaches (it will take about 10 minutes), remove it from the court bouillon and let it cool.


After it’s cool, remove the skin and break the trout into small chunks.


Add it to the cream cheese mixture and mix on low for about a minute. You don’t want to “cream” the fish. You could just mix by hand at this point but 1 minute in the mixer isn’t going to hurt anything.


I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the mixture in the bowl above looks all that appetizing, but dang it, it tastes fabulous, and you will forget that you are even eating fish.

Fortunately, they make these darling crocks (I found mine at Fry’s but I’ve seen them at The Container Store, too) and a crock full of smoked trout mousse is just what you should take to your next party.

Whether you call it smoked trout mousse or smoked trout spread, this appetizer is a keeper.


Smoked Trout Mousse

[print recipe]

(adapted from my own cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook — yes, I can do that. You can adapt it, too, if you’d like.)

Makes about 4 cups, enough to fill two, 2-cup crocks*

For the court bouillon:
8 cups water
1 lemon, cut in half
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
4 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
For the mousse:
6 trout fillets (about 2 pounds)
1 pound cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped (almost minced) red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Squeeze all the juice from the lemon halves into the water and toss the spent halves in, too. Add the celery, scallions and whole black peppercorns. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat to low. Add the trout fillets, skin-side up. Gently poach (the water should not be bubbling) the trout until just done, about 8 to 12 minutes depending upon the thickness of the trout. Remove fillets and let cool.

While the fish is poaching, beat the cream cheese with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Beat for 5 minutes. The cream cheese will be light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the fish) and beat another minute or two. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again until all the ingredients are blended evenly into the cream cheese.

When the fish is cool, remove the skin and discard. Break the flesh into chunks and add to the cream cheese mixture. Beat on low speed for just a minute or so, long enough to incorporate the fish.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. You may want to add more lemon, or salt and pepper.

Refrigerate, covered for at least 30 minutes. Keeps four to five days, if covered in the refrigerator.

Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.

* If you cut the recipe in half, do not cut the court bouillon ingredients in half. You need that amount of water and aromatics whether you are poaching 3 fillets or 6.



By Gwen Ashley Walters | FEBRUARY 12, 2012 | APPETIZERS

Jaclyn Douma did something lots of people dream of doing but never do: she published a cookbook.

It isn’t fancy or filled with page-after-page of glorious food close-ups (although there is a small section at the beginning with 28 professional photos of some of the dishes).

Instead, the book is filled with simple, easy to read and understand recipes. These aren’t the kind of dishes I would cook, but darn if I’m not smitten with this book and the way Douma put it together.

Our First Year is a compilation of recipes (84 in all) Douma developed during her first year of marriage. She figured there were other newlyweds who didn’t know where to begin in the kitchen, so she drew them a map from here to there, beginning with a pantry list and section called “Bits of Advice.”

She put together 13 party ideas and gives tips on how to execute them. There’s a section on menus, too, so the new bride knows how to put a meal together, and just in case there’s a question about an ingredient or cooking technique, she penned a basic glossary.

Her voice is breezy and relaxed. She gives recipes cutesy names, like “Hubby Melts” and ” Go-To Cucumber Sandwich” and the from scratch “Gooey Hamburger Casserole”, which is far better than making dinner from a box of Hamburger Helper. She does rely on frozen vegetables and canned soup for some other recipes, like her chicken pot pie (but she makes the crust from scratch). That said, she’s not opposed to using refrigerated biscuit or cookie dough, either. (Perhaps by her second cookbook, she will have mastered these from scratch, too).

This simple, easy cookbook offers the beginner cook (or even someone with no cooking skills) a chance to cook with success. No fancy ingredients or cooking techniques or special cooking equipment needed beyond the basics. Instead of recipe introductions (headnotes) every recipe ends with “Just a Little Secret”, a tidbit on how to serve the dish, or whether the dish freezes, or how to make the most of the leftovers.

When I married my husband 20-something years ago, I didn’t know how to cook at all. I could have used a basic book like this.

©Troeger Photography

Snuggle Pigs

Makes 40 wieners

1 (14-oz.) package cocktail wieners/little sausage smokies
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (loosely packed)
10 strips of bacon

Preheat oven: 400° F. Place sausages in a bowl so they are easier to handle. Cut uncooked bacon into 4 sections and wrap each wiener with bacon, securing with a toothpick. Place wrapped wieners in a 9″ X 9″ casserole dish and cover with brown sugar. Make sure you cannot see any wieners. Then cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400 ºF for 18 to 20 minutes covered and an additional 15 minutes uncovered or until brown sugar has turned into a liquid.

Just a little Secret

No need to keep these babies warm. Snuggle Pigs are great at room temperature as well.

Jaclyn Douma’s website: and blog: 

By Linda Avery | FEBRUARY 05, 2012 | APPETIZERS

Editor’s note: Linda Avery returns with a look at Colman Andrews’ new cookbook, The Country Cooking of Italy and an easy recipe for frico (cheese crisps). Interestingly, Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter, was in Phoenix recently for a book signing  and said ” if we think we have enough Italian cookbooks, we don’t and — and we need his The Country Cooking of Italy.”

The Country Cooking of Italy

by Colman Andrews
photos by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Facts: Chronicle Books, 392 pages, $50.00 (or Amazon at $29.56)
Photos: I counted 60 in the first 150 pages – let’s consider that representative
Recipes: Hundreds – literally
Give To: passionate home cooks, Italian food lovers

When I reviewed Colman Andrews’ The Country Cooking of Ireland in 2009, I wondered how long it him took to put together such a collection. Apparently the answer is about two years. This is a man who grabs the bull by the horns; a man who doesn’t do anything slipshod.

After the success and awards garnered by “Ireland” (his sixth James Beard and the Julia Child/IACP award), he kicked it into high gear and two years later, another voluminous cookbook is introduced: The Country Cooking of Italy. He again partnered with noted photographer Christopher Hirsheimer. (By the way, Andrews and Hirsheimer were two of the co-founders of Saveur Magazine in 1994.)

The book is formatted like the Ireland book. Beautifully photographed recipes are peppered with page-long stories, some historical, some educational, some anecdotal from Andrews’ travels. Although images of recipe dishes abound, lifestyle photos deepen the interest and are testimony to Hirsheimer’s talent.

These aren’t the recipes of fine restaurants but of the casalinga (housewife) or what one would be served at an agriturismo (an Italian farm property offering accommodations and meals).

Most pan-Italy cookbooks forget about the little known regions so I was gratified to see numerous mentions of Le Marche, birthplace of my grandparents and Olive all’Ascolana, the deep-fried olives stuffed with meat particularly famous in Le Marche and served in local bars from Venice to Tuscany.

Go to Amazon and use their “Search Inside This Book” feature to see the index of recipes. Remarkable. In no time you’ll be humming “That’s Amore!”

Frico  (Friulano Cheese Crisps)

© photo by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Makes about 20 fritters; serves 6 to 8

These easy-to-make cheese crisps or fritters are a specialty of Friuli, and are best made with Montasio, a firm cow’s milk cheese from that corner of Italy. there is also a cheese from Valcellina in Friuli’s Pordenone Province, rarely seen today, called frico Balacia, specifically meant to be fried. Some purists insist that the cheese must be fried in lard. (A source for Montasio is Corti Brothers).

1 pound/500 grams Montasio or Asiago, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Combine the cheese and flour in a large bowl, and mix together well but gently with your hands.

2. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, and add 2 tablespoons of oil.

3. When the oil-butter mixture is hot, working in batches, use a spoon to form fritters 2 to 3 inches/5 to 7.5 centimeters in diameter, using about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture for each fritter and gently tamping down each fritter with a spatula. Make sure the edges of the fritters don’t touch.

4. Cook the fritters, without moving them, until their edges turn golden brown, about 3 minutes.

5. Then, using the spatula, carefully turn them and cook until golden, about 2 minutes longer. As the fritters are ready, drain them on paper towels.

6. Serve the fritters at room temperature.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JUNE 25, 2011 | APPETIZERS

Sometimes you’re just in the mood for potato skins.

This recipe is from my Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook, but I have to warn you, they’re spa potato skins — meaning they’re made with low fat cheddar cheese and low fat sour cream.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to trim a few calories here and there.

There’s also nothing wrong with replacing the low fat ingredients in this recipe with the real stuff, and topping the skins with crumbled bacon.

Either way, it’s an easy recipe that hits the spot when you’re craving potato skins.

Spa (or not) Potato Skins

Serves 4


2 baking potatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds)
1/4 cup shredded low fat (or not) cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons low fat (or not) sour cream
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions (cut on the diagonal)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 slices thick bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (optional…or not)


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Prick potatoes with a fork a few times. Bake until almost done, about 40 minutes. Cool potatoes.

2. Slice potatoes lengthwise and scoop out flesh, leaving about 1/4-inch flesh on skins. Reserve potato flesh for another recipe (such as hash browns).

3. Cut each skin in half crosswise, to yield 4 pieces per potato.

4. Reheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet (or spray with nonstick spray). Place skins on baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Remove skins from oven and top each skin with 1 tablespoon of cheese. Return to oven to melt cheese, about 2 to 3 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and top each skin with 1-1/2 teaspoons sour cream and sprinkle with smoked paprika, green onions and bacon (if using) and serve immediately.


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