Put it on Toast. 25 ways to start Thanksgiving.
Help!   Thanksgiving is 72 hours away and while you have been dog-earing cookbooks for weeks, shopped the weekend before, and even managed to avoid the elbow to your shoulder by the feisty octogenarian who was going to in NO WAY let you have the store's last quart of whipping cream (this actually happened to me in graduate school), you just realized that you totally forgot to plan for something to occupy your relatives while you get the food ready for the table.  And so inevitably they will end up equally split between hovering directly in your path in your tiny overheated kitchen or rehashing the recent election and whatswrongwiththiscountry requiring a last-minute rearrangement of the pilgrim place cards.  Again.

Oh, right, and you have overzealously planned an almost too complicated multi-course meal culled from your favorite food blogs, and have no time left in the schedule or room in the oven to make another darn thing.

So, put it on toast.  Or bread, or thick oat-y crackers or toasted wedges of pita.

Here are a bunch of ideas, some quicker than others, for holiday-worthy crostini.  If you have the time, or children with idle hands, these all look pretty assembled and arranged on a platter, particularly the repetition of the shape and colors.  However, if you are pressed for time, just put all of the elements on a platter in small bowls with a heap of sliced bread rounds and your guests will love getting all interactive.

If you can manage, you can slice say a baguette on a deep angle to make long elegant oval slices, maybe brush it with olive oil or rub it with garlic and toast it in a low oven on a cookie sheet.  Or grill it quickly to get nice grill marks.  But again, fresh sliced good crusty bread is great just as is.  Also check with local food markets to see if any have frozen par-baked baguettes that you can finish in the oven yourself.

Here are several ideas, but definitely come up with your own with what you have on hand.  Just try to mix tastes and textures.  Layer something creamy/mushy on the bottom so it all sticks to the bread, and maybe top with something crunchy or colorful, or fresh herbs.

Gobble gobble.


Good fresh ricotta (make your own!) + lemon zest + chopped parsley + pepper + olive oil

Ricotta + fresh sliced fig + honey

Ricotta + roasted red peppers + a basil leaf

Ricotta + Parsley Pesto (parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt)

Creamy gorgonzola + sliced green apple + honey + chopped pecans

Brie + apricot jam + a basil leaf

Goat cheese + mushroom duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms + shallots sauteed with butter, thyme and wine)

Goat cheese + kalamata olive tapenade (pitted olives, parsley, lemon zest & juice, 1 anchovy fillet and olive oil in a food processor)

Goat cheese + diced roasted beets + chopped toasted hazelnuts + parsley

Cream cheese + smoked salmon + thinly sliced cucumber + sliver of red onion + lemon zest

cream cheese + smoked trout + thinly sliced cucumber + sprig of fresh dill

warm lobster or crab meat + melted butter (particularly good on brioche or soft mini rolls)

crab meat + diced avocado + diced cucumber + diced fresh red pepper + lime juice + cilantro

olive oil drizzled on the bread + Avocado mashed with lemon juice + a few hot red pepper flakes

Avocado + shrimp-cilantro salad (chopped shrimp with cilantro pesto)

Edamame humus (shelled cooked edamame pureed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt)

Chickpea humus + thinly sliced marinated carrots or roasted cherry tomatoes (Ruth Reichl's hummus recipe is etherial.)

White bean humus (pureed white beans with olive oil, lemon, parsley + salt) + chard sauteed with garlic

Baba Ganoush + crumbed feta cheese + sliced roasted red peppers

spinach or chard sauteed with diced onions, when cool, mixed with crumbed feta and fresh dill

Generous spread of great butter + thinly sliced radish + sprinkle of sea salt (trust me!)

Rub toast with a halved fresh tomato top with thinly sliced jamon imberico or prosciutto

Romesco sauce + chopped grilled scallions

Thinly sliced rare roast beef + horseradish cream + watercress

And this roasted squash on toast recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten is next on my list to try.


Little Neck Clams with White Wine Cream Sauce

Here is an elegant meal or appetizer, that takes not more than minutes to whip up.  Warm, rich and creamy, it is a great recipe to keep in mind for winter holidays.  Serve it with crusty bread for soaking up the outrageously good sauce left behind, or serve the whole thing over pasta for a more substantial dish.

Little Neck Clams with White Wine Cream Sauce
by Catie Schwalb

Makes four appetizers, or two main courses, or four main courses if served on pasta.

3 dozen little neck clams, cleaned (see information on how to clean clams here)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, minced
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream, reduced slightly
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest
-no salt- (the clams should be plenty salty)

Heat butter and oil together in large, lidded, heavy bottomed pot.  Add garlic and shallots and saute until fragrant over medium-high heat.  Gently add clams and white wine, and cover.  Allow the clams to cook in the wine mixture, in the covered pot, until opened, about five minutes.

When all, or the majority, of the clams have opened, carefully remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and cover them to keep warm.  Discard any clams that have remained closed.

Add the reduced cream to the wine clam broth in the pot, and continue to reduce a bit for a couple of minutes, over medium-low heat, if the sauce feels to thin.  Return the clams to the pot and gently mix to evenly cover with the sauce.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley and lemon zest.

Serve immediately, either with bread or add cooked pasta to the pot and portion out dishes.

Technique Tuesday: How to Clean Clams

Not just for summer fetes on the beach, clams and other bivalves are a spectacular, and traditional, addition to the holiday table, and perhaps even more importantly, the holiday cocktail hour.

A few critical steps can help insure a grit-free mouthful, and will dramatically reduce your chances of getting that one bad clam.


Buying the freshest seafood you can get is always the most important place to start, and the best way to help with this is to get to know the people at the seafood counter.

If picking them out yourself, look for clams that are not chipped, cracked, or have a damaged shell in anyway.  If buying them already bundled, discard any that are broken.  Always buy a few more than you need in case of broken shells or clams that don’t open.


Store clams in a bowl in the refrigerator covered with a damp cloth.  They can keep for a day or two, but the sooner you use them the better for all.


The day you want to cook them again go through all of the clams and discard any that have a damaged shell.  (when in doubt…throw it out.).  Scrub the outside of each shell thoroughly to remove any dirt.

As you are going through, one by one, if you find a clam that is open, gently tap it on the counter.  If it doesn’t close within a minute or two, it is dead and should be thrown out.  This is a critical step, as it will look like all the others that have also opened, after they all cook, and yet could potentially make you sick.  Any that are dead at the start need to go.

Place all of the scrubbed clams in a large bowl, or the sink, and cover with cold water by an inch or two.  Allow the clams to sit for twenty minutes in the water.  The clams will spit out any grit they have inside their shell.  Don’t leave them in the water for much longer than twenty minutes, or they will die.

Remove the clams gently, by hand, from the bowl, leaving the dirt and sand behind at the bottom.  Pouring them into a colander or scooping them out abruptly could stir up the grit and get it back in the shells.

Cook as desired (more on this later this week.).  And discard any clams that have not opened during the cooking process.

Give the gift of cooking.
Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks ever.  And more than that, they are also my favorite cookbooks to give as gifts.  Each are beautiful to just read and admire the artwork and photos, but also offer unique information, recipes, instruction or skills, that sets them apart from the dozens and dozens and dozens I have on my shelves.

Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best, by Darina Allen.  Head of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork, Ireland, Allen, with completely charming text and gorgeous photos, walks you through a multitude of "wait, I can do that at home?!?" culinary projects in more than 700 recipes.  From how to make butter, pluck a chicken, cure bacon, or whip up homemade limoncello, this book has not left my bedside since I first received it and is by far one of my very favorite finds ever.  Perfect for so many, from locavore homesteader to DIY hipster to grandma, and everyone in between.

Stir by Barbara Lunch.  A stunning book from James Beard-award winning, Boston chef Barbara Lynch.  Just flipping through this book in the store made me go directly to the market to find ingredients just to experiment with.  Both incredibly inspirational and accessible, this collection of recipes are a total pleasure to read, but also ones that will have you cooking again and again.

Inspired by Ingredients, by Bill Telepan.  One of my favorite books for years now, by one of my favorite chefs, and school lunch champion, in New York.  Set up by seasons and menus, this book is a beautiful locavore cooking class, highlighting the best the markets, or our gardens, have to offer at that place and time.  I'm drooling thinking of the beet greens pierogi, pea pancakes, and lavender crepes with blueberries.  Also, the introduction is so thoughtfully written and full of incredible culinary wisdom, that it was the first time I had considered writing a food fan letter, when I read it 5 years ago.  I had the honor of getting to work with Bill later on, so got thank him in person instead.

The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.  Containing an unimaginable amount of work and research, this ingredient dictionary of sorts, catalogues almost any food or flavor you can think of, with a long list of flavors and ingredients that it naturally pairs with.  I picked this book up while in culinary school, as I was starting to develop my own recipes, but wish I had had it years earlier, for those evenings of excavating the fridge, and the "now how am I going to make dinner out of this?" moments.  It also lays out the flavor and spice profiles of most international cuisines.  FYI cauliflower has a natural affinity for achovies, apple, bread crumbs, brown butter, capers, cardamom, cheese (emmental, goat, gruyere), chile peppers, chives, cream, currants, dill, leeks, lemon, mint, mussels, dijon mustard, nutmeg, olives, orange, pine nuts, poppy seeds, saffron, scallops, white truffles, watercress and yogurt.

The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine, from the French Culinary Institute. This 496 page gorgeous resource, from one of the top professional culinary schools in the country, is an excellent choice for a any cook who wants to expand their knowledge of basic culinary techniques.  From stocks, to pastry dough, to braising and filleting, all the fundamental building blocks are broken down in incredibly thorough description and photographs.  I received my chef degree from the FCI, and return to this book all the time, as it is step by step, exactly what we learned, from recipes to plating, in the first of six levels of the professional program.  Filled with accessible recipes, and teaching technique along the way, it offers guidance, recipes and instruction from our legendary culinary deans Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner, and Alain Sailhac.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg MD and Zoe Francois.  This book is currently covered in flour and has not been returned to my bookshelf since it arrived.  I love bread baking, and bread bakers, and have taken some incredibly inspiring classes full of slow rising and yeasty starters.  However, as life grows increasingly more complicated, I just couldn't find a full day to devote to kneading, rising and punching down as frequently as I craved to.  A super talented friend brought a crusty-chewy loaf of magic to a dinner party and my bread days were changed.  This book offers a new bread method, with a short cut that allows you to have fresh, crusty, artisan bread any day of the week with about an hour's notice and no schmancy skill needed.  I have given this book as a gift more than any other this year, and it has made dinner time very warm and happy at my house.

Edible Gift Series: Make Your Own Cookie Cutters
I just saw this great tutorial on Instuctables.com on how to make your own cookie cutters.

[caption id="attachment_928" align="alignnone" width="560" caption="photo by j_l_larson, on instructables.com"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_929" align="alignnone" width="560" caption="photo by j_l_larson, on instuctables.com"][/caption]

Genius idea.  Particularly for hard-to-shop-for-relatives-with-quirky-interests (you know who you are...).  Make a cutter that suits them, whip up a batch of cookies, bundle up said cookies, and tie their custom cutter on top with a big shiny bow for their own future batches.  Maybe even include a cookie recipe card if you are feeling particularly jolly.  Thanks j_l_larson and instructables.com!

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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