Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Small Plates; Not so Small Flavors

If my customers are any guide, America's fascination with all things served on small plates, in even smaller bites, doesn't seem to be waning any time soon. Many associate this small bites craze to the Spanish tapas menu, but, in my opinion, the best small plates dishes are much more multi-ethnic. Drawing from Southeast Asian street food, Chinese dim sum, Middle Eastern tea menus, as well as more traditional Mediterranean meze; the possibilities for cooking a varied feast of mini-meals is endless.

One of my more popular offerings, small plate events serve many purposes: they are inherently social in that you and your guests aren't fixed at a place setting for a multi-coursed meal, they allow everyone to sample multiple culinary creations (my small plate menus start at seven different options), and they are inherently casual, seemingly a party essential these days.

To get you started on your small plate odyssey, here's a great Southeast Asian-inspired summertime "shooter" made from ripe cantalope.

Kaffir Lime-Melon "Shooter" with Sesame Wafers

Cantaloupe, Peeled/Seeded/Diced 1 medium
Fresh Lime Juice 4 limes

Simple Syrup, (1/2 water/1/2 sugar) 1 1/2 cups
Kaffir Lime Leaves (fresh or frozen) 2
Coriander Seeds (cracked) 15
Green Cardamom pods (cracked) 5

Coconut Milk 1 cup
Heavy Cream 1/2 cup

Spring roll wrappers 4 sheets
Eggs, beaten 1
Oyster sauce, Hoisin sauce or soy sauce 1 Tablespoon
Sesame Seeds (Black and White) as needed

Preparation Procedure: Preheat oven to 325˚.

Bring simple syrup, lime leaves, coriander and cardamom to boil. Remove from stove and allow to steep 30 minutes to one hour. Strain and chill.

Meanwhile beat heavy cream in mixer until peaks start to form, fold in coconut milk and mix until thick. Refrigerate.

When syrup is cold pour over melon and lime juice in blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate.

Brush springroll wrappers (cut in an appealing shape) with egg wash mixed with oyster sauce or hoisin or soy. Sprinkle with sesame while still wet.
Lay out on silpat or parchment lined sheet pan, cover with sheet of parchment or another silpat. Bake 10-15 minutes until brown.

Fill shot glass 2/3 full of melon soup, top with dollup of cold coconut chantilly and garnish with sesame wafer.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Olives Vertes Avec Kirk

As is usually the case when I find myself in Chicago, I managed to fit in time for a quick snack at one of my favorite restaurants in the Windy City: avec. A tiny, Mediterranean small-plates inspired restaurant off Randolph (owned by the same fellas who own the seminal 'Blackbird'), avec is the type of restaurant I love: creative but not outlandish with a format that allows you to try a lot of different foods and wines. It's easy to craft a diverse meal out of 6 to 10 different small things and try a few obscure, yet affordable, French, Italian, Spanish or Portugese wines. As I look forward to a couple trips to Europe over the next few months, nothing gets my palate in the mood better than this place. Here's my recipe for delicious marinated green olives, similar to the delicious olives I always get at avec, just remember to serve them at room-temperature, or even a little warm.

Marinated Green Olives

Makes 4 Cups

4 Cups Green Olives (Manzanilla, Lucques or Picholine) cracked with a knife
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Strips Lemon Peel, with Pith Removed
3 Cloves Garlic, Smashed
1 Bay Leaf
1 Fresh Thyme Sprig

Preparation Procedure-

Make sure the olives are cracked so that the marinade permeates to the core. Combine and marinate for several hours at room temperature. Keep refrigerated but always allow to come to room temperature before serving.