Eating Well: Appetizing bites from Maine's Stonewall Kitchen

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My favorite Stonewall Kitchen recipe used to be beef tenderloin with horseradish crust, roasted potatoes, and garlic, from their “Winter Celebrations” (Chronicle Books, 2009).

But now, I’m drooling over their roasted garlic bruschetta with steak tips from “Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers: Finger Foods and Small Plates” by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst (Chronicle Books, 2010).

Well, there’s that, and the five-onion dip, the polenta “cupcakes” with wild mushroom ragout, the pork and shrimp dumplings, Vietnamese-style spring rolls with dipping sauce, the potato and scallion tortilla, linguica-stuffed potatoes, the smoked salmon and caper spread, and the spanakopita.

But wait – there are more must-taste appetizers in this book. You’ll have to try the cheese twists with Parmesan, rosemary and cayenne; the Indian-spiced cauliflower soup with spiced cashews, and the crab tostadas with avocado and lime-cilantro cream.

Jim Stott made the photographs of everything, so you’ll know how to present the dishes. He and Jonathan King and Kathy Gunst wrote the simplest, most detailed recipes – there are 50 – you’ll find for these appetizing bites.

The book begins with a dash of encouragement – relax, plan, cook, present, enjoy – and explains that, for an appetizer party, you should do as much as possible ahead of party time, serve some hot as well as cold foods, have plain things set out when guests arrive, and bring out the more complex dishes at intervals. The Stonewall Kitchen cooks agree that presentation is important – serve a taste of an appetizing soup in little espresso cups, they suggest – and tell you how to make twists of lemon and orange peels and how to line a dish with herbs.

The book has menus for various types of parties to make entertaining easy. Enjoy!

Five-Onion Dip

Remember making onion dip by stirring a packet of dried onion soup mix with a container of sour cream? It was good, but this fresh, creamy Stonewall Kitchen onion dip is better.

It is made with five members of the onion family – red onions, sweet Vidalia onions, shallots, leeks, and garlic – cooked for a long time at a low temperature, so their natural sugars emerge. The caramelized onions are deglazed with balsamic vinegar and mixed with sour cream.

Serve the dip with potato chips, pita crackers or raw vegetables.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red onions (about 10 ounces) very thinly sliced
1 large Vidalia onion (about 8 ounces) very thinly sliced
1 large leek (about 6 ounces) cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 shallots (about 4 ounces) thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups sour cream
Hot pepper sauce

1 — Heat the oil in a very large skillet over low heat. Add the onions, leek, shallots, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. The onions are ready when they are soft, golden, and sweet. Add the vinegar and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture is golden brown. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

2 — In the container of a food processor, puree the onion mixture with the sour cream until somewhat thick and chunky. Remove to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Add salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce to taste.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Roasted Garlic Bruschetta with Steak Tips

When you want to serve something elegant and delicious that can be mostly made ahead of time, this is the dish you are looking for. Stonewall Kitchen roasts a whole head of garlic and mashes the soft cloves with olive oil. They spread the roasted garlic on toasted slices of crusty ciabatta or French bread and top them with thin slices of grilled or sauteed steak tips. Stonewall Kitchen offers some tasty variations and the recipe can be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.

1 head garlic, 1/4 inch cut off the top just to expose the cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Eight 1/2-inch slices crusty ciabatta, French bread, or Italian bread
12 ounces steak tips or flatiron steak, cut into 1 1/2-inch strips
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 — Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2 — Place the garlic in a small ovenproof skillet or gratin dish and pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the garlic onto the exposed cloves. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast the garlic for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when you squeeze them or test them with a small, sharp knife. Remove the garlic from the oven and let it cool for just a few minutes.

3 — Once the garlic is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, squeeze the cloves from the skins into a bowl (discard the skins). Sprinkle lightly with salt and, using a regular kitchen fork, mash the garlic into a thick paste. Add 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil to the puree and season with salt and pepper. The garlic puree can be made 1 hour ahead of time. Cover and keep in a cool, dark spot; it need not be refrigerated.

4 — Preheat the broiler.

5 — Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Broil them for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the bread begins to turn a golden brown. Do not let it burn. Remove from the oven and flip the bread over. Divide the garlic puree among the toasts and spread it evenly on each slice. Broil for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the toasts just begin to brown. Remove from the oven. The toasts can be made several hours ahead of time: cover loosely and keep in a cool, dark spot. They need not be refrigerated.

6 — Just before serving, heat a large skillet over high heat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add the steak tips, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. Carefully flip the meat over, season again, and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat is well browned and medium-rare inside. Alternately, you can cook the beef on a hot gas or charcoal grill. Remove from the heat and let the meat sit for 1 minute. Thinly slice the meat on the diagonal. Place 2 to 3 thin slices of beef on top of each piece of garlic bread and sprinkle lightly with parsley.

Serves 3 to 4.

Variations: You can add any of the following toppings to the beef:

• Thinly sliced jarred sweet pequillo peppers.

• Crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese.

• Thin strips of roasted red bell peppers.

• Dab of chili paste.

• Thin slices of sun-dried tomatoes drained of their oil.

• Julienned strips of fresh basil.

Sidebar Elements

Susan Lovell and her husband John, a great cook, live near Pat’s Meat Market & Cafe in Portland, with a hungry Maine coon cat and a poodle who eats cat food. An eighth-generation Mainer, she likes shellfish, steak, baked beans, cole slaw, corn bread, blueberry pie and Moxie. Her great great-grandfather, from Wellfleet, Mass., and his cousin founded Boston’s Union Oyster House and she really likes oysters and Guinness. And Boston cream pie.“Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers: Finger Foods and Small Plates.”