Monday, April 9, 2012

A Bridge between Two Holidays

Sometimes it just works out this way.  I was born on April 7th.  So, my birthday can be on Passover, or on  Easter - or, as this year on a gorgeous Hudson Valley Saturday sandwiched between both holy days.  Like most people born under the sign of Aries the ram, I have some rather headstrong ideas about the way things should be.  Like celebrations.  I like to celebrate, to mark occasions - almost always with food.  The celebrations don't have to be loud, or dressy, or involve printed invitations - they must, however, have a good selection of guests, food and drink. And so, with those essentials in mind, I invited a group of people that I had recently met in Hudson, some people that I have known for ages, and others who live in the area to stop by for a drink and some food between 4:30 - 7:30 on Saturday afternoon.   The majority had no idea that it was my birthday - and I was happy to leave it that way.  I liked being in on a secret.
I made a menu that included some of my all time favorite  afternoon snacks -  kind of tea party/cocktail party fare.

SWEET AND SALTY ALMONDS - these tasty nuts come straight out of my friend, Amy Chaplin's granola.  Amy moistens her legendary granola with olive oil and - this is important, brown rice syrup which gives all the granola ingredients a kind of crackling glaze.  So, I extrapolated the almonds that are part of the granola mix and coated them with them with extra virgin olive oil, brown rice syrup and sea salt and roasted them at 325 degrees F. for 15 or 20 minutes - until deep gold.

FEGATINI DI POLLO ALLA TOSCANA - which is Tuscan chopped liver.  My nod to Passover.  I sauteed chopped onions with fresh sage leaves in lots of unsalted butter until the onion was translucent.  I added chicken livers to the butter and tossed to coat with the other ingredients.  I added a generous splash of dry white Vermouth, the juice of a lemon and some salt preserved capers.  Simmer until the liver is no longer pink.  Remove from the heat and let cool. You might taste for salt and add as needed.  Since I don't rinse the salt-preseerved capers - they add enough salt.  Add to a food processor and blend until smooth.   I served the liver paste with cornichons and matzos.

CUCUMBER, DILL AND CHIVES SANDWICHES.  To my mind there is no afternoon party without cucumber sandwiches.  They are the food that refreshes. These sandwiches add the crunch and moisture that's needed as a antidote to the other richer offerings.   Hothouse cucumbers are found in most supermarkets year 'round.

Make 4 dozen 2 bite sandwiches

24 very thin slices white bread
one hot house cucumber (the ones shrink-wrapped in cellophane) rind peeled off in stripes and thinly sliced. Store for a few hours in double layers of paper towels so the cucumber can sweat and won't make soggy sandwiches
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup good-quality commercial mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1.  Line up the bread in pairs, 4 - 6 at a time.
"mask " each slice with a thin film of butter (masking the bread not only adds flavor to the sandwich, but also protects it from becoming soggy).
2.  Stir the dill, chives, salt and pepper into the mayonnaise.  Spread each bread slice with a thin layer of it.
3.  Cover one side of each pair with the sliced cucumbers.  Cover with the other slice of bread pressing gently but  firmly.  Trim away the crusts and cut on the diagonal to make 4 triangular 2-bite sandwiches.
4.  Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered with damp paper towels until ready to serve.

SMOKED SALMON FOCACCIA.   This very thin focaccia (recipe to come in another post) is covered with sliced red onions before it's baked.  I coat the cooled strips of focaccia with an ersatz mascarpone - sweet butter blended with cream cheese, some lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.  The cheese mixture is topped with sliced smoked salmon and cut into 1-inch strips.  I like to serve strips piled onto a platter in log cabin pattern groups.  

EGG SALAD SANDWICHES.  I woke up on Saturday morning in a panic.  I worried that I didn't have enough  food.  Isn't that an age old worry?   I also heard my friend, Nally's voice in my ear saying that I "had to have something with eggs for Easter."   Okay.  I was on my way to the Hudson Farmer's Market so I picked up 2 dozen eggs instead of one.  I came home and hard cooked 8 eggs while I put together the cucumber sandwiches.     Because the eggs were very fresh I added copious amounts of salt to the water which eases the peeling.  Sort of.    I peeled the cooled eggs. Then separated the yolks from the whites. I pushed the yolks through a sieve and finely chopped the whites.  I added some mayonnaise, chopped dill, chives, salt and pepper.  The finished mixture should resemble an egg salad paste. It makes for a less oozing-out-the-edges tea sandwich.
Line up very thin white bread as you do for the cucumber sandwiches and mask each side with softened unsalted butter.   Spread egg salad on one slice and cover with the other.  Trim away the crusts and carefully cut on the diagonal to make 4 triangular 2-bite sandwiches.

The offering was supplemented with my favorite buttery, salty black olive shortbread cookies made by my friend, Cynthia.  And  to-die-for pecan bars made by my friend, Margaret,  And a sumptuous variety of chocolate dragees filled with praline, with marzipan and with salted caramel made by the French company, Maison Pecou brought by my friend, Clementine.

It was a lovely party.  Nice to see everyone.


At this time of year when there's a large variety of potted flowering plants I like to decorate the house with them instead of cut flowers.  Just take them out of their unattractive plastic containers and put them into terra cotta pots, ceramic bowls or glass vases.  I'm especially fond of the pink-flowering strawberry plants. 

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