I have a confession. Although I bake a lot I don’t really have a sweet tooth. Salt is what I crave, especially anything that combines sweet and salty flavors. These savory thyme shortbread “cocktail cookies” fit the bill. They dress up a cheese plate and will be a perfect New Year’s Eve nibble with a glass of bubbles. I packaged them up in pretty Christmas cookie boxes and gave them to holiday party hosts this year. I credit legendary baker and cookbook author Dodie Greenspan for creating the term “cocktail cookies” for her latest book “Dorie’s Cookies.”
Whisk flour, cornmeal and salt together in a small bowl.
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar.
Add egg yolks and chopped thyme leaves.
Add dry ingredients and mix just until dough holds together.
Roll dough into two logs about two inches in diameter. It will be a very crumbly, so you will have to shape them into logs with your hands. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill until firm, about an hour.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
When logs are chilled. Slice into 1/4 inch thick disks.
Place on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake until edges start to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch them carefully because they will bake quickly.
Remove from oven, let cool on a wire rack.
You can substitute other chopped herbs for the thyme.
Spiced pecans have become my signature holiday party food gift. Crunchy, salty and sweet with a touch of heat, they are an irresistible cocktail snack. They also add personality to a cheese plate or a simple green salad.
A homemade food gift is more personal and saves money, and who doesn’t want to save money at this time of the year? I buy the pecans at a warehouse club and package them in repurposed mason or jam jars decorated with a bit of Christmas ribbon or a sprig of fresh holly or rosemary from the garden.
I find a well-appointed cheese board hard to resist. By that I mean, not just a selection of different kinds of cheese, but nuts, jams, fruit and interesting bread or crackers. Even though I bake, I am always more tempted by salty, savory treats than sweets. Last Saturday, I attended the annual Ireland Network Chicago Ball at the elegant Drake Hotel and was very happy that the Irish Dairy Board/Kerrygold provided a selection of wonderful Irish cheeses after dinner. I know this might seem freakish to some of you chocoholics, but I actually passed on the chocolate mousse dessert in favor of a plate of cheese. It reminded me that I recently experimented using Kerrygold’s Cashel Blue in a savory shortbread recipe.
I was recently intrigued by a recipe for Stilton sables (a fancy French word for thin shortbread biscuits) by Beca Lyne-Pirkis, one of the contestants in BBC’s “Great British Bake Off.” To make it my own, I started with her basic recipe for the shortbread but substituted something Irish — Cashel Blue cheese — and something American – California black mission figs — for the British ingredients. The dried figs benefit from being rehydrated for a few minutes before adding them to the dough.
I haven’t come across savory shortbread much in the States, but these tasty biscuits are a nice addition to a cheese board and are definitely worth trying. They are also lovely served on their own as simple canapes when friends come round for drinks. A bonus is the dough can be made ahead and frozen so you always have something on hand for unexpected guests.
4 oz.cold Cashel Blue cheese, chilled and cut into small pieces
3 oz. dried Black Mission Figs, cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
4 oz. walnuts, ground in a food processor
Soak the chopped figs for 10 minutes in just enough cold water to just cover them. Drain.
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Put the flour, butter, cheese and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like large breadcrumbs, but be careful not to over mix.
Add the chopped figs and egg yolk and pulse until the dough forms a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Press it out to form a disk, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. If not baking right away, at this stage the dough can be placed in a plastic freezer bag and frozen for future use.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Grind walnuts in a food processor, then spread out on a large plate.
Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Place between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. Using a 2 inch round biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Coat the rounds in the ground walnuts and place on the lined baking sheets.
Bake for 16 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.
My coworker Pete has begun a new practice of potluck lunches in the office to mark some kind of holiday or date. Almost everyone participates and shows off either their culinary skills or a great food vendor in their neighborhood (thinking about Churro Factory, Yvette.) It started last March with Pi Day, as in the number PI 3.14,.and has continued with real or imagined holidays (Mother Goose Day?) This Monday we celebrated Bastille Day. Pete asked me to bring in a French-Irish mashup. I thought immediately about a recipe for chicken liver pate that was given to me when I was a university student by my Auntie Chrissie’s best friend Sheila Boyle, a wonderful home cook and lovely person. That was more than 30 years ago and Sheila was making this recipe long before she passed it along to me. It’s one of my mother’s favorites. She requests it for Christmas and as a hostess gift for relatives during the holidays. My Dublin friend Liz even bought me a special Christmas serving dish to encourage me to make it for Christmas parties.
Pate is typically a French dish, but it’s very popular in Ireland. You can even find it in little corner shops that have a deli case. It’s not that difficult to make, but seems impressive. I do think the quality of the chicken livers makes a difference, try to get organic livers if possible. I’ve found supermarket chicken livers from the large national poultry producers to be a bit tasteless, but garlic, fresh herbs, and brandy boost the flavor so they will do in a pinch.
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1 lb. chicken livers – well-rinsed (kosher or organic chicken livers are best)
1 oz. butter
1 oz. cream
Chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. brandy or sherry
¼ tsp. coriander seeds
4 slices American bacon to line a loaf pan
Pre-heat oven to Gas mark 4, 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees celcius.
Rinse chicken livers well. Cut off connective tissue. Put livers in blender or food processor on low for one minute.
Add all other ingredients.
Line a loaf pan with bacon slices. Add liver mixture. Cover with tin foil.
Fill a larger pan or oven safe dish – large enough to hold the loaf pan and deep enough so that when water is added it can come up a quarter way on the loaf pan. Place larger dish on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven. Place tin foil covered loaf pan into the larger dish. Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours. The paté is cooked when it shrinks from the sides of the loaf pan and the juices run clear. You can also stick a sharp knife into the center, it will come out clean when the pate is cooked.
Remove loaf pan from the oven. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
Spread pate on toast and serve.
Use Kosher or organic chicken livers if possible, they have a better flavor.
This recipe combines two very traditional Irish foods, potato cakes and smoked salmon, to create an elegant and easy first course or brunch dish. It’s a nice way to use up extra mashed potatoes and smoked salmon leftover from holiday meals and would be a lovely addition to a New Year’s brunch with a mimosa. I find it works best with moist mashed potatoes that are made with butter and cream or milk.
Potato cakes, also known as fadge in Northern Ireland, are more typically served along with “the full Irish” breakfast and are delicious, if not heart healthy, when reheated by frying in bacon fat. I have fond childhood memories of my Uncle Jim making potato cakes for us on Sunday mornings, slathered with lots of butter.
My friend Anne suggested an alternative version to this dish for a quick, impressive appetizer for unexpected New Year’s guests. Substitute good quality– such as olive oil — potato chips for the potato cakes and place the smoked salmon, creme fraiche and chives on top of each chip.
2 cups mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes made with butter and cream or milk work best)
2 tbsps. melted butter plus 2 tbsps. for frying
4 tbsps. flour
pinch of salt
3 tbsps. chopped fresh chives plus 2 tbsps. chopped chives for garnish
4 oz. smoked Atlantic salmon
5 tsps. creme fraiche
Add 2 tbsps. melted butter to the mashed potatoes in a medium bowl.
Stir in the flour, salt and 3 tbsps. of chopped chives.
Turn out onto a floured board.
Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness as if rolling pastry and, using a 3 inch biscuit cutter, cut into rounds.
Melt 2 tbsps. butter in a cast iron or heavy pan or griddle.
Add the potato cakes to the pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side until golden brown.
While the cakes are frying, cut the smoked salmon into 1 inch pieces and form into rosettes. Set aside.
Remove the potato cakes from the pan onto serving plate. Place 1/2 tsp. of creme fraiche on each cake. Arrange the salmon rosettes on each cake. Squeeze lemon juice onto each salmon rosette. Garnish with chopped chives. Serve.
Using a fluted biscuit cutter will result in a prettier potato cake.
I was unexpectedly free on Wednesday morning because I am locked out of work due to the government shutdown. On my way to the Green City Market in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, I stopped for a latte at Elaine’s coffee shop in Hotel Lincoln where I was surprised and excited to see Irish singer-songwriter and Oscar winner Glen Hansard of “Once” fame ahead of me in the line. I celebrated my birthday last June with a picnic at his Millenium Park concert with the Frames. I told him how much I had enjoyed the show and the eerie finale when they played the “Ould Triangle” as the fog from Lake Michigan enveloped the stage. He said that it was certainly one of the band’s most memorable shows. “Once the Musical” opens next week at the Oriental Theater. Watch videos of songs from Glen Hansard’s new solo album”Rhythm and Repose” at:
Bumping into Glen Hansard reminded me of the lovely Millenium Park picnic I shared with friends last summer. The spread included Irish snacks such as mini sausage rolls (recipe posted here http://40shadesofflavor.com/2013/07/28/mini-irish-sausage-rolls/) and salmon pate with brown bread. This simple salmon pate recipe is from Darina Allen’s “Simply Delicious” cookbook and RTE television series of the same name. Since sweet Irish salmon is not available here, I added more lemon juice and salt and pepper to boost the flavor of the pate.