I was recently invited to do a cooking demonstration at Nassau Community College (where my more usual role is as a full-time ESL lecturer in a language immersion program) for the Mom’s Club, a campus club for student-parents where they get support in their struggle to complete their college education while raising children and often simultaneously holding a full-time job!
So these are women who needed a fun mini-workshop that would include some nifty snacks, some honest conversation and maybe even a few ideas for inexpensive and easy appetizers they can easily prepare for their families. I think this line-up delivered.
It was a pleasure to cook for this small group — thanks to professors Beth Goering and Molly Phelps Ludmar for inviting me and also providing an electric skillet, bread and soft drinks.
Together — I put everyone to work, of course — we made Spanish-style garlic mushrooms, cilantro-sunflower seed pesto, black olive and walnut paste, and white cheese and red grape skewers. Everything was done within a half hour, so we had time to sit and eat, which is a rare treat for busy moms!
Here are the recipes:
White Cheese and Red Grapes (requires toothpicks!)
Cut Latin style white cheese into cubes about the size of the grapes. Skewer a single grape and a single cube of cheese onto each toothpick (this is a job kids love! and it keeps them busy while you are trying to do other things.) and arrange on a serving platter. The cubed cheese is the base.
Cilantro-Sunflower Seed Pesto (sunflower seeds are a terrific alternative to pine nuts or walnuts for those with nut allergies)
One bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped (YES you can use the stems)
2-3-4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 Cup sunflower seeds (roasted and salted seeds add a lot of flavor)
Squeeze of freeze lemon
pinch of hot red pepper flakes (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
abundant grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano or Locatelli cheese
salt to taste
Place cilantro, garlic, sunflower seeds, lemon, and optional pepper flakes in a food processor or blender and whirr until chopped. Add olive oil bit by bit (in a thin stream if you can pour while blending) until you achieve a thick paste. Add cheese to taste (start with about 1/4 Cup) and serve over pasta or as a spread for bruschetta, crackers or sliced bread.
For an easy basil pesto (my second grader makes it!) click here.
Black Olive and Walnut Paste (Tapenade)
1 can pitted black olives (or one cup good seedless black olives if you can afford them), drained indifferently
1/4 Cup walnuts (but add them Tbs by Tbs)
1 tsp capers drained indifferently
2-3 anchovies from a jar, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
leaves from 3-4 thyme sprigs
optional extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients (except optional olive oil) in a food processor and blend till smooth, adding olive oil as necessary. Serve as a spread for toast or crackers.
For another version heavier on the anchovies, click here.
Spanish style Garlic Mushrooms
2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
12 oz white or Cremini mushrooms, stems removed (and saved in the freezer for stock) and wiped clean with paper towel.
3 Tbs dry red wine (I took some mushrooms out at this point to accommodate someone who doesn’t consume alcohol)
1 Tbs chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pan, heat the oil until loose and fragrant. Lower heat to medium low garlic and cook gently until golden brown.
Add mushrooms and stir to coat., Allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms start to brown deeply and release their juices. Add wine and raise hand eat to a fast simmer for about 5 minutes, until alcohol has cooked off but there is still liquid. Sprinkle with parsley salt and serve with crusty bread.
For a more complex version of these mushrooms that includes butter, click here.