Sauces and Salsas The Book

140. Tapenade p.890

No recipe is online for this one.

I’m never sure what to do with tapenade. I like it, but it’s far too salty to eat all on its own. I’ve used it as an accompaniment to grilled meats and fish, served it with cheese, spread it on sandwiches, or used it as an accent to hummus, but I’m never quite satisfied. It’s been OK the couple of times dishes have called for it, but it’s rarely something I would seek out. That’s kind of odd because I love olives and eat them often. Most of the time, I’d rather just eat an olive than spread tapenade on something. Way back in the beginning of the project I wrote about the Olive and Eggplant Spread, which is like a tapenade, but cut with roasted eggplant. That was thoroughly enjoyable, and mild enough to eat without any accompaniment.

Although I’m not sure what to use it for, this tapenade was pretty good. The recipe is short and sweet, blend Kalamata olives, garlic, and capers, then add olive oil in a slow stream ’till it’s smooth. The recipe calls for pitted olives, but I’m biased against them. Maybe it’s just me being superstitious, but I feel like pitted olives are often of lower quality than the whole ones. Whether or not there’s any basis to that, but I almost always buy whole olives and pit them myself.

This tapenade was all about bold flavours working together. The olives, garlic, and capers have very strong and distinctive flavours, but they’re tied together by the fruity floral undertones they share. If any one of those flavours had been missing the dish would have fallen apart. Unfortunately this tapenade was insanely salty, all tapenades are salty, but this went further. It could have been my olives, but more than likely it was the capers. I really enjoyed the extra flavour the capers brought to the tapenade, but it would have been nice if they’d come without the salt. It’s one of the things that bothers me about tapenade in general. The things is tastes best with, often tend to be salty themselves, and that can push the salt quotient past pleasure into revulsion.

On the day I made this I served it with hummus, cheese, and a few other dips. It was fine, and people ate a fair amount of it, but it wasn’t the star of the show by any means. I used a bit of the leftovers with some grilled chicken, but left most of it on my plate. The rest mouldered in the fridge ’till we had to throw it out. Other than the salt there was absolutely nothing wrong with this tapenade, and a lot of things right about it. But, it just didn’t appeal to me all that much.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

72. Tuna Empanaditas p.37

The recipe

These bite sized party favours are built with the duct tape of the home entertaining wold: puff pastry. A filling of oil-packed tuna, pimientos, capers, and onion is added to rounds of puff pastry, which are folded into semicircles and crimped. They can be frozen at this point, and baked whenever your heart desires.

The filling was very salty, and didn’t really taste like tuna. As I mentioned yesterday I don’t have much love in my heart for pimiento-stuffed olives, and they failed to impress me again here. The capers were really the saving grace, they contributed to the salt problem, but they brought a lot of flavour along with them. With more tuna, and better olives I think this could have worked out really well though. The ideas are sound, but I get the feeling they tried to make the dish too easy. Asking us to pit a quarter cup of olives isn’t an unreasonable demand, and they certainly don’t shy away from it in other sections of The Book.

The puff pastry section of the recipe was trickier than I would have guessed. The recipe calls for a round cookie cutter in the special equipment section. I didn’t have one and tried to make do with the edge of a wine glass. This isn’t a good idea, both because my glass couldn’t cut through and it took forever to go around the edges with a pairing knife, and because using a blunt instrument on puff pastry interferes with the puff. Puff pastry is made by layering butter and pastry, and when it hits the heat the water in the butter creates steam, thus puffing the pastry. Smooshing the pastry too much can compress the pastry layers, and displace butter messing with the puffing. In any case, this recipe makes 50 hors d’oeuvres, and the cutting, folding, crimping process takes quite a while. The recipe suggests it should take one hour active time, but I’m sure it took me two. I was quite late to the dinner party I was bringing them to, which is pretty bad form when you’re bringing the appetizers.

Before you’re ready to serve the empanaditas are baked on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees. The recipe says this should take 20 to 25 minutes. Mine were overcooked and dry within 15. As I was cooking these at a party, I had no way of checking that the temperature I set the oven to was really the temperature inside the box, but that’s a pretty big discrepancy.

In the end these didn’t come out too well. A few changes to the lineup in the filling, and more attentive baking on my part might have improved them dramatically. As is, mine were dried out and heavily salted. I like the concept of an empanadita, people might feel sheepish admitting it, but everyone likes mini versions of regular sized food. In this case the execution left something to be desired though.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

21. Olive and Eggplant Spread p.11

the recipe

This was a great appetizer, it’s basically a tapenade cut with roasted eggplant. I love eggplant, and I love olives, together they’re even better. Eggplant dips naturally tend to turn out a kind of grey-brown that’s not the most inviting. The olives helped it turn a delightful shade of purple with a nice lustre. Also, a straight ahead tapenade can be a bit too much olive, even for olive lovers. Using eggplant cut the intensity and made this very affordable. I’d say this was the best of both worlds. I like that all the saltiness of the dip came from the olives and capers, no need to add more.

The result here had loads of olive flavour, with the almost meaty background of the eggplant. It worked well as a dip, which I find nicer than having to spread a thin layer as you would with a more potent tapenade. This was a really solid recipe that I’d happily make again.

Poultry The Book

7. Colombian Chicken, Corn, and Potato Stew p. 370

the recipe

This is a stew is thick and rich. I made it in the middle of July. What was I thinking? It may have gone something like:

me: I feel like chicken.
ME: But it’s hot out, and your apartment is already 35 degrees.
me: Don’t people in hot countries eat chicken?
ME: You’re right, it’s hot in Columbia… make this stew.
me: Stew? it’s hot I don’t want stew!
ME: What do you know about hot weather eating? If it’s good enough for Columbians it’s good enough for you.
me: OK, let’s do it.

By the time I finished cooking my apartment was up to about 40 degrees, and I was ready to pass out. I ate a few obligatory spoonfuls and decided that the rest should be frozen ’till the fall. Unfortunately I didn’t retrieve it ’till a couple of weeks ago, and the freezer burn didn’t do anything to improve it.

Despite my foolish timing for this dish, it was actually fairly good. It had great chicken flavour, and grating half the potatoes left the sauce nicely thickened with some potato chunks to bite into. The stew itself is bland, so I’d top it with a healthy dose of the capers and cilantro. The flavour in the stew mostly comes from the chicken, so don’t skimp on browning it.