Tierney’s Famous Codfish Balls

Codfish BallsSuzanne here, with a heriloom recipe! Can anyone remember every detail of Christmases past? I remember the colorful-and-always-tangled tree lights, the carrots left out for Santa’s reindeer, and the endless hours (okay, minutes) we spent lying awake, waiting for Mom and Dad to get up so we could race down to see what Santa brought us.

The truth is, my adult Christmas memories are better then those of my childhood. I can’t pinpoint the exact year, but best Christmas Eves started for me during college. I would return home from school, tired from exams, ready to see old friends, and enjoy some home cooking. Even in my 20’s, I’ll admit I still got as excited as a six-year old when Christmas Eve rolled around. I did enjoy opening a few well-thought out and much needed gifts from M&D. Mostly, though, I enjoyed the carefully planned and exquisitely executed eve menu at my house.

Cocktail hour was the best: my mom’s perfect codfish balls paired with Dad’s vintage champagnes was, and is, my favorite thing to eat and drink all year.

Now, back then, it was Mom who worked tirelessly in the kitchen, soaking, mashing, assembling, and frying these delicate fish delights. Fast forward a decade. Graduation, marriage, kids, and retirements changed the location and the chef in charge of the celebration, but the menu? Hardly a change at all. Read more

Mariscos en Escabeche for VNA Event!

Pickles and fish, you say? Wipe that look off your face – pickled fish is wonderful anytime, but especially in the summertime because you can make it ahead and let it meld. The Italians do a version of this, but I like the spicy Mexican version offered here. You can use fish or shellfish, but you must fry the fish – or, at least, grill it. This is not ceviche, where citrus juice is used to “cook” the fish.

We like to take this to events – we’re doing it for the Natick Visiting Nurses Association annual Fresh Taste event tonight –  because it’s a great make-ahead dish and people like to try new fish preparation. And next time you’re invited to a barbecue, bring this along. Read more

Ask the Magic Cheese Ball

Are the holidays fast approaching? Without a doubt. Will you need a delicious party appetizer recipe? Most likely. Must this recipe be fast and easy? Yes – definitely. Do you have a delicious, fast, and easy recipe on hand? Sources say “no”.

Ah, the cheese ball! I had almost forgotten about it until last week at the CU Orphan’s Thanksgiving gathering. It was a potluck affair and Chef Heather contributed several different cheese balls as appetizers. She went with the classic single fastpitch softball size. Contemporary recipes favor two-bite single balls, overdusted with spices or herbs, and usually served in  those twee amuse-bouche spoons. We’ll stick with the retro cheese ball size ‘n shape. It has a special appeal;will not be ignored. Resting in its collar of Wheat Thins, enrobed in nuts, the giant cheese orb is mysterious, knowing…magical.

The Magic Cheese Ball. Will your guests love it? Signs point to yes.

Mean Green Cheese Ball
(8-10 appetizer servings)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbed
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove mashed with ½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried mint
¾ Cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the pistachios). Taste and adjust seasonings. Form into a ball and chill 15 minutes. Roll in pistachios to cover; press gently to make the nuts adhere. Cover and chill until firm, about 2 hours.




A Honey of a Hummus

Rosh Hashanah is here! 

Okay, it arrived last night, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes to celebrate the day, since there’s tons of it left! This is a variation on that old stand-by, hummus. Everyone seem to like the ubiquitous chickpea mash: it’s great for the GF and vegetarian crowd and it’s easy to make. (It’s even easier to buy, but commercial varieties manage to be creepy, bland, and expensive.) The original recipe here was from an old National Honey Board recipe pamphlet picked up at some long-ago aggie fair. As usual around here, the original recipe has been tweaked!

Tahini is an essential ingredient in hummus, a sesame seed paste – sesame “peanut butter”,  so to speak. Because honey has the same viscosity as tahini, it’s a great substitute. This hummus has a little kick, too, from the harissa, a North African condiment that can be pretty fiery. If you can’t find harissa, use ground cayenne pepper or Sriracha sauce to taste.

Because honey and Rosh Hashanah are traditional (for a sweet new year), this hummus is my favorite variation for this fall holiday. Good Yom Tov!

Hummus for the New Year
(1 Cup)

15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon (or more!) harissa
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

In the food processor, puree garbanzo beans, honey, lemon juice, garlic, harissa, cumin, and salt until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning – it should be sweet and a little spicy. If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin to the consistency you like.

Scrape into a bowl and stir in the cilantro or parsley. Serve with apple slices for dipping.

Lobstah Rangoon!

This year, lobster prices are lower than they’ve been in 20 years – cheaper than cold cuts. So start heatin’ the watta in tha lobstah pot! There’s no reason not to take advantage of these bad boys this summer. You don’t even have to go through the hassle of cooking them yourself: most fishmongers can steam them for you.

But if you’re going to cook up lobster for a clambake yourself, throw an extra one into the pot for use in this variation on a favorite appetizer. (You could use leftover lobster meat, but we’ve never experienced the “leftover” thing at our clambakes.) Skip the deep-frying step and bake them instead. It’s easier and, if you line up your wontons assembly-line fashion as we do, the whole process is a breeze.

Back in the day, lobsters were served not with melted butter but sprinkled with vinegar. They’re quite good that way, actually, so we’ve used a spicy vinegar dipping sauce here; it’s more in keeping with Asian cuisines. (Of course, these appetizers aren’t Asian at all. They were popularized at Trader Vic’s, a Polynesian-themed restaurant, back in the 1950s.)  Feel free to use your favorite dipping sauce. Either way, these Rangoon are a far cry from the restaurant variety (which often, mysteriously, seem to be missing the seafood…)

Lobster Rangoon with Hot Vinegar Dipping Sauce
(24 appetizers)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¾ Cup cooked lobster meat, chopped finely
¼ Cup thinly sliced scallion
1-2 teaspoons A-1 sauce
Dash garlic powder
24 won ton wrappers

¼ Cup rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix together cream cheese, lobster meat, scallion, A-1, and garlic powder.

Lay out the wonton wrappers. Place 1 teaspoon of filling onto one half of a wonton wrapper. Lightly wet the edges with water. Fold the wrapper in half to form a triangle. Seal well and arrange on the cookie sheet. Brush lightly with canola oil or melted butter.

Bake 12-15 minutes, until edges are golden brown and filling is heated through. Serve warm.

While the wonton bake, whisk the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl. Taste it  and add more salt or more chili peppers, to taste.

Ugly But Good

Every cuisine has colorful and descriptive names for food, but the Italians have elevated it to poetry. A fine example is their meringue-and-nut drop cookie called brutti ma buoni – “ugly but good”. Yes, and yes! These cookies are lumpy, brown, and nondescript on the plate, but pop one in your mouth and you immediately close your eyes and sigh. Sensuality distilled into three little words that capture the experience so succinctly.

Okay, that introduction was to prepare you for the following recipe, spuma di tonno, or tuna mousse. Spuma is the Italian word for foam, which sounds a lot more poetic than mousse. But “tuna foam” doesn’t really roll off the tongue in a good way, does it? However, this spread is almost as light as foam and it’s very delicious. There are those who don’t like tuna or believe that white albacore tuna packed in spring water is good. It is not. Italian tuna packed in olive oil is the real thing and it’s worth seeking out a good brand, paying a little more for it, and keeping it on the pantry shelf for making this quick appetizer. Since there are always crackers in the cupboard or baguettes in the freezer, this is one of those last-minute appetizers we always have on hand.
Of course, the spuma looks truly brutti. The capers on top don’t help much in the looks department. But one bite and you’ll discover how rich and bold and lemony it is, and you’ll wonder what you thought you were eating when you were eating all that dried-out albacore.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with the poem Italian Food by the late Shel Silverstein from his collection, Everthing On It:

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Crostini di Spuma di Tonno (Tuna Mousse)
(4-6 servings)

7-ounce can Italian tuna in oil, drained
1 Tablespoon softened butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted baguette slices or crackers
Drained capers, for a garnish

In bowl of food processor, pulse all the ingredients until smooth. Taste it carefully: could it use a little more lemon juice? Salt is probably not necessary.
Spread thinly sliced, toasted bread with pate; sprinkle tops with a few capers.  Serve immediately.