Polenta Bites with Arugula Tapenade

Polenta Bites with Arugula Tapenade is a festive appetizer to serve before a Christmas dinner.

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Polenta Bites with Arugula Tapenade
(Mark Kelly, 2014)

Makes 32 bites

2 (16-ounce) logs of prepared polenta at room temperature
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup arugula, finely chopped
4 Tbsp green olives, chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 radishes, very thinly sliced

Trim rounded edges from polenta logs. Create 32 cubes. Spread Panko in a shallow bowl or dish. Press the polenta cubes into the Panko to cover all surfaces with breadcrumbs.

In a medium bowl, mix 2 tablespoons olive oil with lemon juice and whisk to emulsify. Add the arugula, olives, and radishes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil to a shimmer. Cook the polenta cubes on all sides in the oil to golden brown and crisp. Place on a paper-towel lined rack.

To serve, pace the polenta bites on serving platter. Top each bite with the arugula tapenade and a slice of radish.

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Soft-Cooked Zucchini with Green Onion and Poblanos

Soft-Cooked Zucchini with Green Onion and Poblanos gives a Mexican flair to zucchini. The subtle peppery spice of the poblano and the salty Cotija cheese make this dish unique and a perfect side dish to serve with fish tacos or enchiladas.

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Soft-Cooked Zucchini with Green Onion and Poblanos
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton, 2014)

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs. green zucchini
1 bunch green onions
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium poblano pepper
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup Cotija cheese
Kosher salt

Wash zucchini and wipe dry. Cut into 3/4″-thick disks. Cut the green onions into 1/4″-thick rings using both the white and green parts. Remove stem, seeds and veins from the poblano and cut it into 1/4″-thick strips.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-low heat and melt one-third of the butter. Add the onions, peppers and garlic, season with salt, and sweat for 2 – 3 minutes, with the lid on, letting the accumulated steam runback into the pot. Add the zucchini and season, again, with salt, to taste. Add another one-third of the butter. Stir well to coat the zucchini and sweat briefly, uncovered.

Add the remaining one-third of the butter and cover and allow to braise for 20 – 25 minutes, until soft and nearly falling apart. Sprinkle with cheese before serving.

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Tebo’s Stuffed Jalapenos

Tebo’s Stuffed Jalapenos is a great appetizer that has been perfected by Ample Bites friend and fellow foodie, Henry “Tebo” Wells. Think about this simple, easy to prepare appetizer if that is your assigned dish for an upcoming holiday party. Ample Bites likes to make the filling a day ahead of time to allow the flavor to develop.

To some a recipe entitled stuffed jalapenos might be a turn-off because of fears that the jalapenos might be too spicy. That is not the case with this recipe. By removing the seeds and white veins the heat is virtually eliminated.

As Tebo notes on his original recipe, any leftover filling is a good dip or spread to use with celery or crackers.

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Tebo’s Stuffed Jalapenos
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Henry “Tebo” Wells)

4 oz. chorizo sausage
1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
8 oz. Onion and Chive Cream Cheese
1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp dark beer (like Shiner Bock)
2 tsp Louisiana Hot Sauce or Sriracha
Kosher salt
12 medium jalapeno peppers

Saute sausage, onion and garlic over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes. Set aside.

Combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, beer, hot sauce and a pinch of salt in the food processor and pulse until well-combined. Add sausage mixture and scrapings from the pan. Pulse again until smooth and well-combined. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Cut tops off jalapenos and halve them lengthwise. Remove seeds and veins.

Stuff the jalapeno halves with the cheese and sausage filling. Place the Stuffed Jalapenos on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes. Jalapenos should be tender but not limp.

Let the Stuffed Jalapenos sit for about 10 minutes before serving so they are warm but not hot.

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Coffee and Stout Braised Short Ribs with Polenta

Coffee and Stout Braised Short Ribs with Polenta is a dish that I developed with input from a number of different recipes and articles about braising short ribs and other cuts of beef. Short ribs, like oxtails, are a beef “scrap” meat that require and benefit greatly from the long braising process.

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Coffee and Stout Braised Short Ribs with Polenta
(Mark Kelly, 2014)

Serves 4

6 – 8 (8-ounce) bone-in beef short ribs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 celery ribs, each quartered
3 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
1 large yellow onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 (12-ounce) bottles Guinness Stout
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 cup water
1 cup coffee
Creamy Polenta (see recipe below)

Pat the short ribs dry and season them with salt and pepper.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons oil. When the oil shimmers begin browning the ribs in batches taking care not to crowd them in the pot. Brown the ribs for about 2 minutes per side to achieve a good caramelization. Remove the ribs and set them aside.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Reduce heat to medium. Add celery, carrots, and onion to the pot with another tablespoon of oil. Soften the vegetables stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, beer, beef broth, a couple pinches of salt, and pepper to the pot. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to break browned bits free. Bring the mixture to a boil; then reduce to a simmer. Return the ribs to the pot; cover and transfer to middle rack of oven. Braise until meat is very tender, about 4 – 5 hours, add water about halfway through. When the ribs are done, remove them from the braising liquid, cover them and set them aside.

Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh colander into a large bowl, pressing solids to extract the liquid. Discard solids. Refrigerate the liquid for about 1 hour to allow the fat to rise to the top. Skim the fat from the liquid.

Transfer the braising liquid to back to the Dutch oven. Add coffee and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the liquid until it has a syrupy consistency, which could take as much as an hour. Add the ribs back to the pot and coat them with the reduced braising liquid.

Serve the ribs over Creamy Polenta with additional reduction.

Creamy Polenta

Makes 3 cup

3 cups milk, water or a combination
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put the liquid and butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle boil, add cornmeal, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Cook until creamy and thick. Season generously with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add Parmesan. Stir until completely melted. Serve warm.

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Pissaladiere

Pissaladiere is a versatile recipe that produces a dish that can be used as an entree, and appetizer or just a little snack. The diamond pattern on the finished pizza-like product gives a festive appearance to a relatively simple dish.

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Pissaladiere
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of The Tucci Table, Stanley Tucci, 2014)

Serves 8

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 lbs onions, finely sliced
8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Leaves from 8 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tsp light brown sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pizza dough
20 large anchovy fillets
1 cup pitted large black olives

In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions and soften them for 5 to 10 minutes, then add the garlic, thyme, and brown sugar. Reduce the heat and continue to cook until the onions start to caramelize and are tender. This could take an hour or more. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F.

After the pizza dough has risen once. Lightly oil two 10-by-14 baking sheets and sprinkle each with a little flour. Divide the dough and spread it out on each tray pushing it to the edge of the pans. Cover the doughs with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes.

When the doughs have proofed again, remove the plastic wrap and spread the onions over top. Place the anchovies on top in a diamond pattern and place an olive in the middle of each diamond. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown and the onions are hot.

Serve hot, room temperature or cold.

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White Button Mushroom Stew

White Button Mushroom Stew is way to impart great flavor to the relatively flavorless white button mushroom. A combination of pureed tomato, garlic, red chile flakes, and paprika give the mushrooms a piquant zest. Serve alongside any grilled meat or as a topping for broiled salmon.

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White Button Mushroom Stew
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of My Portugal, Genevieve Ko, 2014)

Serves 4

1 lb. white button mushrooms
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small white onion, very finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes
3/4 cup tomato puree
Fresh parsley, two sprigs (one sprig whole, one finely chopped)
1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika

Trim the ends of the mushroom stems. Quarter the mushrooms. Place the mushrooms in a bowl, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Coat the pan with oil, then add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Season with salt. Sweat the onions, stirring constantly, and scraping down the sides to prevent browning, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chile flakes and continue sweating, 2 minutes more.

Stir in tomato puree and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the mushrooms, parsley sprig, and paprika until well-coated. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, cover, and simmer until the mushrooms are just tender, about 20 minutes. Adjust the heat to maintain a slow bubble.

For optimum flavor, cook a day ahead and refrigerate, then reheat.

Prior to serving, re-season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves and parsley sprig. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

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Tuna Nicoise Salad

Tuna Nicoise Salad is a classic salad that is best with warm potatoes, medium-rare tuna direct from the grill, and a vinegary citrus vinaigrette. Much of this dish can be prepared ahead such as the hard-boiled potatoes, the blanched green beans, and the vinaigrette.

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Tuna Nicoise Salad
(Mark Kelly, 2014)

Makes 4 entree servings

16 oz. sashimi-grade ahi tuna, room temperature
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of two lemons
4-6 hard-boiled eggs, halved
1 shallot minced
1 Tbsp capers, drained and chopped
2 tsp anchovy paste
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard (heaping)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing tuna
1 lb. green beans, trimmed, rinsed, blanched and chilled
1 lb. small new potatoes or fingerlings, boiled, drained and halved
4 oz. pitted black and green olives, halved
8 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
strips of cheese (provolone, parmesan, or softer, white cheese such as brie)

To make the vinaigrette:
In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, shallot, capers, anchovy paste and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. While whisking constantly, drizzle in 2/3 cup of oil. Pour vinaigrette into a mason jar, seal and keep at room temperature until serving salad or refrigerate if being made more than a few hours ahead of time.

To prepare salad:
Preheat grill to medium-high. Brush tuna with oil. Season with salt. Sear for 2 minutes. Turn over and sear for 1 minute more. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

On a large platter arrange a layer of green beans, potatoes, olives, tomatoes, eggs, and cheese around the platter. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the tuna into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Arrange the tuna on top of the vegetables. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

Guest then serve themselves to their own plates and use the remaining vinaigrette.

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Potato-Stuffing Waffle Bites

Potato-Stuffing Waffle Bites is a way to use Thanksgiving sides to make something fun and unique using your waffle maker instead of just reheating or microwaving your leftovers. Serve Potato-Stuffing Waffle Bites with leftover turkey gravy or top them with a dollop of sour cream, a scallion garnish and couple dashes of Sriracha.

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Potato-Stuffing Waffle Bites
(Mark Kelly, 2014)

Makes about 16 servings

2 cups leftover potatoes (white or sweet or some combination)
2 cups leftover stuffing
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp chopped scallions (white and green parts), plus more for garnish
1/2 cup grated cheese (cheddar or mozzarella)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Coat waffle maker with cooking spray and preheat.

Combine potatoes, stuffing, flour, scallions, cheese and egg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Spoon 1/4 cup onto the center of the waffle maker, close and cook until golden brown. Repeat with remaining mixture.

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Oyster Stuffing

Oyster Stuffing is a traditional recipe made popular on the east and gulf coasts of the United States where oysters abound. Though visually unspectacular (hence no accompanying picture), this dish is a taste treat.

Oyster Stuffing
(Mark Kelly, 2014)

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
1 pint oysters, liquid discarded, rinsed and patted dry, chopped in to halves or quarters depending on size
1 1/4 cups lower sodium, fat free chicken stock
1 Tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves finely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
5 cups dry stuffing mix
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute onion and celery until lightly browned and softened. Add oyster, chicken stock, spices and butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, stir until butter is melted. In a large bowl, combine oyster mixture with stuffing mix. Stir until moist. Transfer stuffing to an oven-safe dish. Let stand, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour before baking.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes after baking.

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