For autumn I have created a crate of cool weather ingredients for a collection of easy appetizers, including three new Basic Recipes, Simple Crostini, Candied Maple Pecans and an Autumn Appetizer Board. After a quick trip to the produce section, keep your kitchen stocked with these basic ingredients and you’ll be ready to host a fall cocktail party or an autumn evening of fondue. All Autumn Appetizer Crate recipes serve 8 people.
Olives, Kalamata Pitted
Olive Oil, Extra Virgin
Puff Pastry, Frozen
A baguette’s crisp crust and size makes it the perfect for crostini. I prefer to buy smaller baguettes, also called demi-baguettes, that are around 12 inches in length. Seek out a baguette from a local bakery for the best quality.
I am from the Midwest, let’s remember, so I cannot imagine entertaining nor surviving the holidays without some cream cheese in the refrigerator. It adds a quick creaminess to appetizers and vegetables. Buy the full-fat (regular) version that comes in the 8-ounce foil package and box, never whipped (whipped cream cheese contains lots of air and won’t work in these recipes).
Swiss cheese is a generalized American term for Swiss-styled cheeses we generally associate with an easy-to-melt cheese that has holes. For the recipes in this crate any semi-hard or hard melting cheese will do such as Jarlesberg, Gruyère, Comté, Emmentaler, Raclette, or anything labeled “Swiss Cheese” in a grocery store.
Made from mini-gherkin cucumbers, cornichons are small, vinegar-brined pickles traditionally served with charcuterie and cheese. Keep a jar in your pantry and you’ll have a quick snack or pre-dinner bite before for guests.
Eggs are one of the least expensive sources of protein. I like to buy two dozen at a time from the farmers market, keeping one dozen on hand for cooking and the second for hard boiled eggs. They are great for a quick snack. Free range and organic are the best type of eggs you can buy, preferably from a farmers market. Unfortunate boiled egg tidbit: the fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel off the shell. If you have eggs that have been sitting in your refrigerator for a while, hard boiling them is a great use.
I try not to eat too much added sugar but there are occasions when it’s absolutely necessary. Living and cooking primarily in New York and Michigan I luckily have access to great local maple syrup at farmers markets. Seek out 100% pure maple syrup (not “maple-flavored” corn syrup!). Any grade of syrup will do for these recipes.
Pitted Kalamata Olives
These dark purple olives are soaked in a vinegar and oil brine, which is where they get their flavor. I love putting out some marinated olives on the table for entertaining. These salty bites can calm hunger pangs. When cooking with olives, save yourself the trouble and buy them pitted. Please.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Liquid gold. Second only to organic meat, olive oil is where you should be spending the most money with your grocery shopping. Buy the best quality you can afford. Not all olive oils are created equal! I have a year subscription from Especially Puglia that sends me a 3 liter tin ever quarter. Quality oil makes all the difference in simple recipes. I like to drizzle it over fresh cheeses, grilled meats and fish and also use it to finish soups. A small drizzle of olive oil to finish a dish adds a fresh and herbabicous flavor. I often keep a slightly less expensive bottle on hand for sauteing or frying, but I use olive oil for all my cooking.
I love to keep pecans in my kitchen because they are great both for cooking and as a snack. When candied they are delicious on their own or in a salad and pair wonderfully with any type of squash. I use halves halves and buy them in bulk to save money. Store nuts in a sealed, freezer bag in your freezer to extend their freshness.
I buy black peppercorns in bulk and grind them very coarsely as I cook, never far in advance, in a Peugeot grinder. When pepper is too finely ground it tastes somewhat dirty to me. There’s also no need to buy fancy colors – black is fine.
Frozen Puff Pastry
There aren’t many processed food products I keep in my kitchen, but frozen puff pastry is a life saver. I made puff pastry while in culinary school several times and don’t have the patience to try my hand at it ever again. Pepperidge Farm is a great brand and you can find it in most grocery stores. Thaw puff pastry in the frigerator overnight or on your counter top, I find it usually takes about 30 minutes at room temperature.
Salami are cured, air-dried sausages. Choose a high-quality salami flavor you enjoy. At parties you can offer an assortment, from a spicy salami to one cured in herbs.
I love salt. Culinary school and working in a restaurant will turn you in to a saltaholic. Don’t think of it as sodium – understand that salt enhances the natural flavors in food. Salt your food as you cook it as opposed to adding it all at the end. In the spring and early summer I like to blanch my vegetables and salt is essential in bringing out the flavor. While there are many types of salt I’ve tested the recipes with Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which comes in a red box. I keep a small bowl of it on my counter while I cook. Skip the salt grinders you can buy at the grocery store. Cook with salt you can grab with your finger tips.
I like to use cider vinegar with autumn dishes because of it’s acidic and tart apple bite. It’s delicious in vinaigrettes for raw vegetable salads. I like to buy Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, which is raw and unfiltered.
Sparkling wine contains carbon dioxide which makes it fizzy. The bubbly drink can make any occasion feel festive and special. Most associate sparkling wine with the sometimes pricey Champagne, a prestigious sparkler made in the Champagne region of France. But there are a lot of great, reasonably priced sparkling wines other than Champagne. Cava from Spain, Sekt from Germany, Prosecco and Moscato d’Asti from Italy and varieties of Cremant from France are a few examples of excellent sparkling wines.
Roasted, raw, puréed – I love the versatility and sweetness of carrot. If serving crudités it’s pretty to use an assortment of colors with the vegetables. Farmers markets generally sell yellow and purple carrots along with the traditional orange. Buy fresh, whole carrots, preferably with their green tops intact, and never “baby” carrots in presealed plastic bags. Remove the greens before storing carrots in the refrigerator.
Cauliflower is another great vegetable, delicious raw, cooked or pickled, and also is available in a variety of colors. Avoid buying cauliflower heads containing any brown spots.
Buy whole heads of garlic with tightly attached cloves that are free of any green sprouts. Keep the heads whole, breaking off cloves only as needed. Store garlic in a dry and dark area of your kitchen, and not in a sealed container.
Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables. I like to keep it simple, by roasting or slicing it, raw, for a salad. Buy firm fennel bulbs with the green fronds still attached. Chop the delicate fronds and use them as a garnish like you would with a fresh herb.
Red onions have a mild and sweet flavor that only get sweeter as you cook them. They serve as a delicious base for soups and become like candy when you caramelize them. Store red onions in a dark and cool spot in your kitchen.
Ripe pears have a softer, less acidic texture and taste than their apple cousins. Any type of pear will work in these recipes just as long is it’s ripe. I like to use a variety of green and red pears for autumn color.
Fresh is the most versatile herb in my kitchen. It’s delicious any time of year with meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and also compliments nuts and beverages. Thyme sprigs last longer than any other herb stored in the refrigerator.
With over a dozen common varieties, my favorite winter squashes are butternut, carnival and delicata. Purchased winter squash can last sometimes more than a month if kept in a cool, dry spot in your kitchen. Save the squash seeds and toast them in the oven with a little salt and olive oil.