Delicious Delights to Ring in the New Year
A fresh coating of pure white snow is just what we needed to complete the setting for the holidays! The calendar seems to be getting fuller by the minute as we jot down invitation reminders. New Year celebrations in the Berkshires are a wonderful mix of sophisticated elegance intermingled with New England simplicity and charm.
Some of the greatest meals begin with a simple roasted meat such as a Crown Rib Roast or Prime Rib. One of my favorite places to purchase phenomenal cuts of meat is at the Meat Market in Great Barrington. Their meat is all locally sourced, and so the animals grow up on the beautiful grass and fresh air of the Berkshires.
I offer you three elegant recipes that look spectacular on the plate but belie their easy preparation: an appetizer, side dish, and dessert to help ring in your New Year with Berkshire Style!
The appetizer recipe is actually my own little tribute to Nelson Mandela. The colors reflect the flag of South Africa – and the base is a South African pepper, the Peppadew. It’s sweet and tangy with a little bit of heat – and comes in an easy-to-use cupped shape. In the Berkshires, you can often find Peppadews in salad bars, alongside the olives. You may also purchase them in jars. I’ve purchased 3-color Peppadews and also the mini-crabcakes at Big Y grocery stores in the area. Keep some on hand for a quick appetizer!
For each appetizer you’ll need:
3 Peppadews (use one of each color per serving: yellow, green and red)
One medium premade crabcake or 3 mini crabcakes
Aioli or tartar sauce
The preparation of this dish is simple. Stuff each Peppadew with crabcake and heat in the oven or microwave until nice and hot.
For each serving, place 3 stuffed Peppadews on an appetizer plate and garnish on the side with arugula leaves.
Top each Peppadew with a touch of Aioli or a little tartar sauce.
The side dish is a fancy version of an old-standard recipe, the baked potato. Like the standard, this recipe can be garnished with your favorite baked potato topping when served. The recipe originated in Sweden, where it’s called Hasselback Potatoes.
Plan on one large russet (baking) potato per person.
The secret to the preparation lies in the “shingling” of the potato. Peel the potato and place it on a cutting board. You can use a chopstick on either long side as cutting guides. If you’re making several potatoes, keep them submerged in a bowl of cold water so they don’t begin to discolor.
Slice about ¾ of the way through the potato at very thin intervals - being very careful not to slice fully through the potato. You want it to fan out as it bakes.
Drizzle the potato with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
Bake for 1 hour at 425 degrees until nicely browned.
Serve with your favorite baked-potato toppings… butter, sour cream, cooked and crumbled bacon, chopped chives.
Another variation for the shingled potatoes would be to tuck a few very thinly sliced garlic cloves between some of the slices. You can also make it more savory by baking for 40 minutes – then topping with some grated Parmesan cheese mixed with breadcrumbs, then baking for 20 minutes more. This creates a nice crunchy top! Once you make Shingled Potatoes you’ll find that a regular baked potato seems so mundane. It doesn’t take a lot of work to elevate the humble potato to an elegant side dish.
And finally, I have to admit that I absolutely hate making desserts. I’m not one of those people who takes great pleasure in baking a pie or heaven-forbid, a cake. They always seem to turn out so lopsided and non-photogenic despite my hard work. Nonetheless, dinner guests always expect a dessert, and I’ve played the ice-cream card too many times. So I look for dessert recipes that are easy, look beautiful and taste delicious despite my lack of expertise in the area.
This dessert goes by the name of “palmiers” (little palm trees) or also by the name of Elephant Ears. If I’m going with an African Theme (with my Mandela Peppadews) I’ll call them Elephant Ears, but if I’m craving warmer climates, I’ll call them Palmiers.
I suggest you keep a supply of puff-pastry in the freezer, of if you’ll be using it soon, in the fridge. If you have it in the freezer, let it thaw overnight in the fridge.
For these cookies all you need is some puff pastry sheets and some sugar. Sprinkle your work surface with sugar. Turbinado sugar looks pretty and works very well for this recipe.
Roll out each sheet of pull pastry – on the sugar- to form a rectangle. In the simplest version, sprinkle more sugar on top of the pastry, then roll up each long side until they meet in the middle. Let the dough chill for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator to make it firmer and easier to cut.
Slice the pastry into ½ inch-thick slices and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the top with more sugar and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes until nicely browned. Check the palmiers at about 15 minutes to make sure the sugar is not burning.
You can get pretty creative with this simple recipe by sprinkling the inside of the cookies with a cinnamon-sugar mixture, or by adding some lemon zest to the sugar. If you like Indian-scented spices, feel free to add Garam Masala or some powdered cardamom to the sugar. I’ve even seen some recipes that use the Puff Pastry/Palmier base, but spread a little pesto and romano cheese for a savory appetizer instead of a dessert. The variations are endless!
Wishing you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year - I hope these simple recipes offer you a bit more time to relax and enjoy your holiday company in classic Berkshire Style!