Savory Snacks

I made the mistake of asking my father what he might want for a fathers day treat. I was imagining all sorts of decadent chocolate concoctions, perhaps with gooey peanut butter or crispy bits of toffee. But to my surprise, when I asked, he told me he was trying to lay off of chocolate for a while. I was lost. I had no idea what to make. Somehow all the other flavorings you might add to sweets - berries and citrus, spice, coconut . . . they all seemed somehow feminine, and so inappropriate for fathers day. I decided I had to steer clear of sweets altogether.

I landed on Sesame Crackers and Mixed Nuts with Capers and Lemon. Both are delicious despite being very simple to put together, and both should last atleast a week, kept in an airtight container, making them a perfect choice for care packages, or just yummy make ahead party snacks.

I was expecting a cracker recipe to be loaded with butter. But these seem to get most of their fat from the sesame seeds themselves. Which gives them a nice rounded buttery flavor and a lovely golden brown crispness. To be honest, they're not overwhelmingly sesame-y. If I were naming them, I'm not sure I'd emphasize the sesame as the combination of thyme and pepper dominates their flavor.

Sesame Crackers
Originally Sesame Rounds, Martha Stewart, Holiday 2007

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp lemon zest
pinch cayene pepper
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp sesame seeds, unhulled
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg white

Heat oven to 350.

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, peppers, zest, thyme, and 2 tbsp sesame seeds. Pulse, then add butter and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup cold water and process until dough comes together.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8". Cut into desired shapes. I did rectagles, but the orignial recipe calls for 2 1/2" circles. Transfer pieces to an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush with egg white and sprinkle on remaining sesame seeds and coarse salt. Bake until firm and golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

With crispy fried capers that melt on your tongue and a delicate dusting of lemon zest and pepper, these are fairly addictive.

Peppered Mixed Nuts with Lemon and Capers
Adapted from Martha Stewart, Holiday 2007
Makes about 4.5 cups

1 1/2 cups drained capers
3 cups assorted mixed nuts, unsalted
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp lemon zest
canola oil for frying, enough to cover the pan by 1"

Preheat the oven to 300.

Drain capers on a paper towel for about an hour, or until dry. Heat oil in a stockpot until it registers 350 on a deep fry thermometer. Add 1/4 of the capers and fry until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Continue to fry in batches and drain on a paper towel.

Combine 2 tbsp cooking oil (from capers) with nuts, lemon juice, and pepper on a lined baking sheet. Toast in oven for 25 minutes, let cool. Sprinkle with lemon zest and combine with capers. Store in an airtight container, up to 2 weeks.

And despite the lack of chocolate gooeyness, my dad loved them both.


Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

I've seen this cake in the June issue of Gourmet, and then on SmittenKitchen, and then on several other blogs. If fact, I feel like I've seen it, or a version of it just about everywhere I look lately. And, I've been wanting to try it for some time. The original recipe features raspberries, but suggests it would be equally yummy with other berries, and since I'd picked up some luscious, and ready-to-use-right-now strawberries from the store, I decided strawberry it was!

This cake is quite a bit sweeter than most desserts I would make. The batter in fact smells a lot like a typical cake mix, but in a really divine smells-like-childhood kind of way (not that my mom used cake mixes often, but I've been around them once or twice). To be honest, I almost liked the batter better, but the finished product is also quite good. And the whole thing comes together rather easily with minimal prep.

The Gourmet recipe only butters and flours the pans, which worked on one ( I doubled the recipe), but one of my cakes was not so lucky - the strawberries formed little soft sticky spots in the finished cake that stuck to the pan and only half my cake released, with quite a lot of effort. Next time, I would definitely use a greased parchment round in the bottom (the sides did not stick) to prevent this. Or, you could also just serve it from the pan.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake
Serves 6

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp sugar, divided
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh strawberries, cut into quarters

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a mdium mixing bowl, cream together 2/3 cup sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and continue to beat until well incorporated. Alternate additions of flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a 9" cake pan. Cut a 9" round of parchment, place on bottom of buttered pan, butter parchment. Pour batter into prepared cake pan spreading evenly. Scatter strawberries ontop and sprinkle over remaining sugar.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes, invert, and place on a rack to cool completely or serve warm.

Tofu-Asparagus Salad

I'm not a huge fan of sushi restaurants. Sure they'll often have atleast a couple vegetarian options, but they're often uninspired and leave you feeling as though you'd like a real meal after that nice light snack you just had. But recently Jon and I went to a new sushi place in Ballard (MoshiMoshi) that I loved! Mostly because of their asparagus tofu salad, with silken tofu, blanched asparagus, avocado, and an addictive sesame vinaigrette. For dinner, I paired it with some edamame and a veggie roll, but it makes a great light lunch all it's own.

And so I've done my best to recreate it at home. I left out the avocado and replaced it with cucumber, but feel free to improvise with other light vegetables - blanched young peas might also work well.

Tofu-Asparagus Salad
Serves 1

6-8 medium asparagus stalks, trimmed
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
3" length of english cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 handful of young lettuce, or butter lettuce
1/4 avocado, diced (optional)
1/3 block of firm silken tofu

2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mirin
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp tahini
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1/8 tsp chili paste

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Blanch the asparagus until bright green and just tender. Remove and immediately rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Combine soy sauce, mirin, vinegar, oil, and tahini in a small bowl, and whisk until well blended, add chili paste and garlic. Assemble salad, starting with lettuce leaves as a base and piling vegetables seperately on top. Spoon dressing over and top with sesame seeds and scallions.


Pink Grapefruit Margaritas

Of course I'm way too classy to buy jugs of margarita mix. But, I'm not above frozen drinks, and I'm not above adding a little extra fruit. Pink Grapefruit is an obvious choice, it is refreshing, tangy, a little bit sweet, and adds a lovely pink blush to the drink. Plus, it's not so "girly" that boys are necessarily opposed to drinking it.

This recipe makes a rather slushy, and immediately drinkable consistency. If you prefer your margaritas to be mounded up above the rim of the glass, freeze the grapefruit juice in ice cube trays for at least 2 hours ahead of time.

Pink Grapefruit Margaritas
Serves 2-4

coarse salt
grapefruit wedges (slice midsection from grapefruit used for juicing)

1 grapefruit, about 5 ounces
2 limes, about 2 ounces
4 ounces reposado tequila (such as Hornitos)
1 ounce triple sec
1/2 - 1 ounce simple syrup*
2 rounded cups of ice cubes

Using grapefruit wedge, lightly coat rim of glass with juice. On a small plate, spread a semi circle of salt and dip half of glass into salt.

Squeeze juices from grapefruit and limes and combine with remaining ingredients in a blender. Pulse until ice is thoroughly blended. Pour into prepared glasses and garnish with a grapefruit wedge. Serve immediately.

* To prepare simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until boiling, let simmer for about 1 minute and turn off the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature and if not using right away, bottle and refrigerate for up to one month.


Homemade Veggie Burgers

Back before you could find garden burgers in every grocery store and on the menu at just about every diner, sports bar, and burger joint it was a lot of work to make a vegetarian burger. Growing up there were 2 kinds I liked - one was a powdered mix, similar to a falafel mix that rehydrates and formed a pretty tasty grain based burger, the other were my mom's tofu burgers. Her recipe combined crumbled tofu, egg, bread crumbs, and cooked rice with a few flavorful ingredients - cheddar cheese, ketchup, minced onion. They were firm, and fairly neutral in flavor, perfect for loading on the toppings. My version is based on her recipe with a few updated ingredients. I've replaced the rice with quinoa for added protein and a bit more earthiness and added grated carrots sauteed mushrooms and walnuts for moisture and a 'meatier' flavor. They are sturdier than most bean based burgers, but rather delicate compared to a beef burger, and won't hold up well on the grill. But they are really good, much better than a garden burger (and I've grown to like garden burgers) and I feel better eating something made from fresh wholesome ingredients naturally high in protein than their highly processed counterparts. This recipe makes an All-American burger that pairs well with ketchup and traditional fixins, but the vegetables and seasonings can easily be adjusted to make them better bases for other condiments.

Homemade Veggie Burgers
Makes 4 large patties

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
2 cups crumbled tofu
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 grated carrot
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
6-8 crimini or button mushrooms, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 egg
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp ketchup
1/8 tsp celery salt
pinch cayene pepper, to taste
salt and pepper to taste*

Saute mushrooms in 1 tsp olive oil until browned, season with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients with mushrooms, thoroughly mix with your hands. Place in the fridge for atleast 20 minutes before forming 3/4" thick patties. Preheat oven to 350. Heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a large oven proof skillet over medium high. Add burgers and cook on each side for about 2 minutes until a golden brown crust forms. Transfer to the oven to cook through, about 10-15 minutes.

* I like to combine all ingredients expect for the egg and taste for seasoning before adding the egg. If you'd like to make these vegan, or divide the recipe, you can replace the egg with some vegan (or regular) mayonnaise.

I made the Food & Wine Cheddar BLT burgers for Jon and shared the suggested condiments and fixins, sans bacon. It's a really nice All-American burger and the Tarragon Russian Dressing really makes it special. And on the side we had some spicy roasted potatoes with yogurt dill sauce and a fresh succotash salad.