Tag Archives: appetizer

Use it or lose it sometimes makes a great recipe

The old “use by” date challenge was facing me – again – when I opened the fridge this morning. I don’t know what kind of time warp happens in my refrigerator, because items that I swear I just put in there are suddenly teetering on the edge of badness.

Today’s contestants were a full container of ricotta cheese and half a jar of fig preserves that was opened in August. No mold – check. No bad smells – check.

Time to get busy.

The great thing about ricotta is that it is so versatile. Think outside the lasagna and stuffed shells, and you have options for desserts, apps and dips.

I decided on making a sweetish appetizer that could also make a great brunch dish or dip. You can make it ahead of time and heat or reheat just before serving. This is winning points all around, but the biggest score is its simplicity. We’re quickly approaching the open house/pot luck/drop by season, so why not have a winning recipe in your corner? And don’t worry about those people you know (and we all know them) who hate figs. The preserves add just the right amount of sweetness without making this taste like a Fig Newton.

I stuffed the Ricotta and Fig Dip into mini puff pastry cups, but it would also be great as a dip for gingersnaps, (giving everyone a break from the ubiquitous pumpkin/cream cheese dip). Or you can make a quick brunch dish by baking it inside a puff pastry, with the bacon served on the side.

Ricotta Fig Dip

6 pieces of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled

16 mini puff pastry shells

1 cup ricotta

1/2 cup fig preserves

juice of half a lemon

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In an oven-proof dish, mix the ricotta, preserves, lemon juice and thyme. Cover with lid or foil and place in oven.

Bake the puff pastry shells according to package directions at the same time the dip is cooking.

Remove the shells from the oven, and let the dip bake another 10 minutes.

Take the dip from the oven, remove the lid and let it cool five minutes.

While dip cools, remove the tops from the pastry shells.

Spoon the dip into each shell and top with crumbled bacon. Serve immediately.

To make this dish ahead of time, cook and crumble the bacon and refrigerate. Make the ricotta mixture and refrigerate or freeze it. (If frozen, let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking). Reheat the bacon in a skillet over low heat.

Tamarind is the ticket to taste

Let’s get exotic here, and talk about tamarind. A little-known, ugly fruit that’s native to Asia, its pulp tastes like a combination of dates and lemon, a sweet/sour combination that really wakes up a palate. It’s one of the key ingredients that gives Worcestershire sauce that unique bite.

Although I love the taste of tamarind, it has two major downsides. It’s hard to find around here, and when it does show up on the shelf, it usually is in square bricks of pulp that require a long soak in boiling water, then some vigorous scraping over a strainer to extract the juice. That’s not exactly the kind of time I want to spend when I’m slapping together a dish. So, instead, I usually substitute a mixture of an equal amount of molasses, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce.

However, I probably got a little too excited when I recently snagged a bottle of tamarind syrup off the shelf at Yafa Cafe and Market in Charlotte.

True, tamarind syrup is usually mixed with club soda or sparkling water to make a really tasty drink, but I’m using this bottle for adding a twist to glazes, sauces and desserts. Its sweet tartness works like cranberries to offset roasted chicken or meat, and mixed with a spoonful of mustard it will bring out the best in pan-fried pork chops. I’m going to experiment with brushing it on strips of bacon and then oven-frying them, too.

Several years ago, we begged to know the ingredients of a tamarind dipping sauce from the bartender at one of our favorite restaurants. The place served the sauce with its avocado egg rolls and the combination was mind-blowing. He scribbled down the ingredients for us, but, given the above mentioned difficulties of tamarind, we squirreled the recipe away. Now, armed with a bottle of promise, we have resurrected the dish, and will enjoy it in honor of the restaurant, which, unfortunately, is long gone. We bake the egg rolls instead of deep frying them to make things a little healthier and less messy.

Baked Avocado Egg Rolls with Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Egg Rolls

2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced

1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 cup frozen corn, thawed

2 Tbsp. green onion, diced

2 Tbsp. cilantro, diced

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cumin

8 egg roll wrappers

2-3 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

Tamarind dipping sauce

1/4 cup tamarind syrup

1/2 cup cilantro

1/4 cup cashews, lightly toasted

1 green onion, chopped coarsely

juice of one lime

For egg rolls:

Preheat oven to 425 and coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a bowl, gently stir together the avocado, lime juice, corn, onion, cilantro salt and cumin.  Have a small bowl of water at hand to moisten the edges of the egg rolls wrappers. Place a wrapper on a sheet of waxed paper, spoon a line of filling horizontally down the middle, Fold the bottom up over the ingredients. Use your fingers to dampen the edges of the folded wrapper. Fold in the two sides, dampen the tops and fold the top of the wrapper over them to make a closed packet. Repeat with other wrappers, place, folded sides down, on the baking sheet. With a pastry brush, coat them thinly with the grapeseed oil and bake for 8 minutes. Flip the egg rolls over, brush with oil and and bake an additional 8 minutes.

While egg rolls are baking make the dipping sauce by placing all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor. If the sauce is too thick for your tastes, add a little more tamarind syrup or sherry.