Once I decided I would select Albariño as my first wine for recipe pairings, I knew I had to create a ceviche. There was just one problem.
I’m just too Midwestern. Coastal home cooks can just pop off to their local fish market and select the freshest seafood for their ceviche. Here in Metro Detroit, seafood comes from the supermarket and all of it is previously frozen. I never know how fresh my seafood is, so to create a recipe centered around raw seafood is questionable at best.
And then I read that hearts of palm make a great vegan seafood substitute, similar to how jackfruit can be a vegan pulled pork alternative. I was intrigued and knew I had my solution to the ceviche dilemma.
Would I mistake the hearts of palm for scallops or fish in this recipe? Honestly, I don’t think so (although I was expecting the hearts of palm flavor, so it was hardly a blind test), but I will say this vegan ceviche is delicious and that’s what matters. Serving it on an avocado half elevates it to an elegant appetizer.
If you have never had hearts of palm, you’ll look for it in the canned vegetable aisle. It is tender with a mild flavor and tastes a little like artichoke hearts.
I was in college the first time I tried crab. There are two reasons for this. The first was I didn’t come from a seafood eating family. My sister and I both believed that Red Lobster commercials were the grossest thing on TV, and we had no desire to eat crustaceans. (We have since both repented of this.) The second was I was the pickiest eater alive as a child. Today, I am excited by new foods but once upon a time, new foods gave me anxiety. I also rejected things based on smell, and seafood is nothing if not smelly. When I married into a family of picky eaters, I couldn’t help but feel that this was punishment for what I put my mother through when I was a child.
Therefore, I was 21 and a senior in college the first time I tried crab. Reader, it was instant love. Nevermind, that it was merely crab cakes I tried as an experiment while on spring break in Florida (I tried actual crab legs soon after), I immediately understood that I had denied myself something delicious for two full decades of my life.
These tostadas are a casual weeknight-friendly way to eat crab. If your grocery bills aren’t giving you as much pain as mine are, feel free to increase the amount of crab in the recipe and decrease the veggies. As written, this recipe is fairly mild. For a spicier version, add more jalapeno and use a hotter pico de gallo. Like all of the recipes to be posted in June, these tostadas will pair perfectly with Albariño.
Cheesy Crab Tostadas
Servings: 4 dinner portions or 8 appetizer portions
Check on your hypochondriac friends. We are not okay.
Omicron’s symptoms are pretty close to that of allergies, which I suffer from year round, and therefore I think he’s a jerk. I had a COVID-19 test scheduled for this morning, a just in case measure before I see my elderly parents and also family visiting from California. I’ve had a gremlin lodged up my right nostril since the day after Christmas, and while he’s likely just an angry bout of allergies, I keep reading about people with mild cases of the sniffles and positive COVID tests. (I really need to get off Twitter. It’s worse than WebMD.)
I’ve taken a handful of COVID tests, both before and after vaccination, and they’ve all been negative. There’s no reason this time should be different, but I am still worried about dismissing a real threat and infecting my family, so I pushed down all my fears of being the girl who cried COVID and sought available testing. After striking out with COVID testing at local CVS pharmacies and the local urgent care, I found a testing site near my old neighborhood in Canton. It had terrible reviews, but it was listed on a government website, so I figured it was legit and probably just had stressed out staff with a terrible bedside (carside?) manner. I was able to snag an 11 am appointment with an ease that should have alarmed me. I answered a view questions, then had a time confirmed, and then did a pre registration that involved adding my insurance card and drivers license numbers in both image and text box forms.
After driving nearly 20 minutes and getting lost in the most generic office building area (I really should not have been that lost. It was a 2 minute drive from my old house and directly behind my cat’s veterinarian office), I found the office/testing site. It had a handwritten sign on the door saying it was out of tests and to try their other location in another city. Suddenly the 1-star review of “They weren’t even there” I had read online made more sense. I started trying to work out if any attempt at identity theft can be accomplished with one’s driver’s license number and insurance policy number (no idea), but then met another couple who also registered online and had been to this site before. Apparently it is a legit testing site (they’d been here on an occasion when there were tests) and they had been trying to find testing since Christmas Eve, and this was common elsewhere.
So I’m tired. And sniffly. And torn about whether to go to my parents’ house.
It’s probably allergies, right?
Anyway, back to the post topic, which is New Year’s Eve appetizer recipes.
As there is a very infectious disease raging, may I make a suggestion for your New Years Eve? Stay home. Have a dance party with your significant other, your kids, or your dog or cat. (If you have a dance party with your dog, please, please get this on video and send it to me.) Open a bottle of bubbly, whether it’s fancy champagne, cava, prosecco, or a non-alcoholic bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider (the best non-alcoholic bubbly in my opinion) and all make all of the appetizers.
New Years Eve Menu:
Air Fried Artichoke Hearts with Roasted Garlic Aioli
Ginger Lime Shrimp
Air Fried Artichoke Hearts with Spiced Aioli
In full disclosure, I got the idea to air fry frozen artichoke hearts on a Trader Joe’s Facebook group from a lovely woman named Maria, so only the aioli is my own recipe. Since grocery availability varies by region, I feel I should add that Trader Joe’s is the only place I have reliably found frozen artichoke hearts.
12 oz bag frozen artichoke hearts
Salt and pepper
5 oz plain Greek nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons mayo
¼ teaspoon garlic
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Mix together aioli ingredients. Set aside.
Toss artichoke hearts (do not thaw) with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place in a single layer in your air fryer.
Set air fryer to 400° and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until crispy and golden.
Variation: You could also bread the artichoke hearts. I prefer to keep these simple and unbreaded.
Variations: If you don’t like cream cheese, try filling the peppers with either guacamole or hummus and some diced veggies. If peppers aren’t your favorite, top cucumber slices with cream cheese and Everything seasoning.
Ginger Lime Shrimp
1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic minced
Juice of 1 lime (approx. 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
16 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined
Mix together all ingredients for marinade in a large bowl.
Add shrimp. Let marinate in the refrigerator for anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Drain shrimp and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Bake shrimp for 6 to 8 minutes.
Place on toothpicks or skewers for easier serving.
Variation: For a spicier version, add either red pepper flakes or a deseeded hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano) to the marinade.
Seventeen-year-old Marie does not meet medieval expectations of femininity. Declared too tall and too plain for marriage, she is banished from Eleanor of Aquitane’s court and sent to a failing abbey, where the nuns are dying of starvation. The abbess is kind but ineffective as a leader. Initially acting as prioress, Marie slowly gains more control over the running of the abbey. She brings a secular view to abbey administration and an independent noblewoman’s head for business. Instead of assigning each nun to tasks she is poorly suited to, with a goal of fostering a Christ-like humility, she reverses the abbey’s practices and assigns the women jobs according to their strength. One of Marie’s greatest strengths is the ability to see the potential and the danger in the women around her. In time, Marie herself becomes a powerful figure in England, in spite of or because of her plain appearance.
Based on the life of Marie de France, Matrix examines both the power that medieval women held and the limitations. Eleanor and Marie initially seem to be opposites, and the scene where Eleanor tells Marie she is to be sent to an abbey seems cruel and mocking, especially as the reader knows that Marie is in love with Eleanor. But later in life, after Marie has become abbess, the two women meet again, not quite as equals, but as two female leaders who understand each other’s struggles better than any of their companions could. From that point, the two women begin a strong and affectionate correspondence.
Men are strangely absent from the narrative, even more so than one would expect from a book about nuns. In retrospect, I cannot recall if a man is ever referred to by name in Matrix or merely referred to as the father or husband of a female character. In Marie’s memories of life at court, we only learn of the ladies, nothing of the men. Even when Marie begins having visions, they are always of the Virgin Mary (and, on one occasion, Eve) and never of Jesus. Her life is entirely without male influence. She was raised by a mother, but not a father; as a teenager at court, she is surrounded by women; and the abbey is, of course, populated by women, and Marie later guards the abbess by building a labyrinth, ensuring men cannot get into the grounds. It is perhaps because Marie has never seen herself reflected in the eyes of a man that is able to develop her notions of what a woman should be and what she should want.
Original and character-driven, Matrix is a must-read for lovers of historical fiction. While the time period initially seems difficult to relate to–the Crusades are ongoing and people bathe only a few times a year–the characters are as relatable as any modern characters. The relationships between the nuns are not unlike that of office colleagues, with personality clashes and strange alliances. And when Eleanor and Marie are treated with distrust for being powerful women, you realize that not much has changed over time.
Book Club Menu:
I haven’t gone too literal with this month’s book club menu. If I did that, you’d be feeding your book club nun-approved turnip soup and brown bread. While I have no doubt that Heidi Swanson, or some other great vegetarian cook, could make turnip soup into something delicious with nods to two or more different types of cuisine, I’m not Heidi Swanson. So we are going with a seasonal menu for appetizers and then a dessert that is more book appropriate.
I knew that any book club menu for Matrix would involve apricots. One thing that Marie takes from the court of Eleanor of Aquitane is a couple of apricots. She later plants the pits, and the trees flourish, much like Marie, in the new soil. Of course, it is November, and apricots are very much out of season, so I worked with dried apricots. Initially, I thought maybe cookies, like a rugelach, but then I remembered that I have been meaning to make an olive oil cake. If you’ve never had an olive oil cake, don’t be concerned about the olive oil flavor. It’s very delicate and it complements sweeter flavors surprisingly well.
Roasted Potato Rounds with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraiche (recipe below)
Veggies with your favorite dip(s)
Apricot Amaretto Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Glaze (recipe below)
Rosé sparkling wine
Non-alcoholic sparkling cider
Roasted Potato Rounds with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraiche
Two large potatoes, sliced into thin rounds
6 oz smoked salmon
Chives, washed, dried, and minced
Everything but the bagel seasoning (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425.
Slice your potatoes into thin rounds (less than 1/4 inch). Brush each side of the potato rounds with olive oil and arrange in a single layer on cookie sheets. (You’ll likely need two cookie sheets to avoid overlap.) Slightly salt and pepper your potato rounds.
Roast for 10 minutes, then flip your potato rounds, and roast for another 10 minutes. While your potatoes are roasting, slice your salmon into small thin slices.
Top each potato round with a slice of smoked salmon, a drop of crème fraiche, Everything But the Bagel seasoning, and chives.
Variations: Since not everyone is a fan of smoked salmon, another option would be to use a half slice (or a third of a slice, depending on the size of your potato slices) of turkey bacon in place of the smoked salmon. If going the turkey bacon route, consider broiling the potato rounds briefly with cheddar cheese before adding the toppings.
If you can’t find crème fraiche, either sour cream or plain Greek yogurt would be good substitutes.
Apricot Amaretto Olive Oil Cake
My freezer is now full of this cake, as I had to make this three times before I got the recipe exactly how I wanted it. I guess the upside of that is I now know the baking times for a cake pan (actually I used a pie pan), mini loaves, and muffins. I also have tried this with lemon glaze and lemon cheese frosting and can say that the lemon glaze was definitely preferred.
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup Amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 375.
Grease your pan or muffin tin or loaf pans and set aside.
Mix together apricots, Amaretto, and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat 3 eggs, and then add milk, olive oil, and sugar.
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the apricot Amaretto mixture.
Pour the batter into your cake pan or muffin tins. Baking times are 40-50 minutes for a cake pan; 30-35 minutes for mini loaf pans; and 20 minutes for muffins.
Lemon Glaze (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup powdered sugar
Mix together until smooth. Pour over cooled cake or loaves or muffins.
When Hannah Howard started her first restaurant job as a host, she fell in love with the food industry. Food had been a significant part of Howard’s childhood, but it quickly became her calling, and while she found success in her chosen industry, her obsession with food had a darker side: disordered eating had made food into a thing she both loved and feared. At the time of writing Plenty, Howard is a former restaurant manager turned food writer, and she has left binge eating behind but still struggles with body image. In this memoir, Howard not only tells her story, but that of women in the food industry. She writes about chefs, culinary teachers, entrepreneurs, and even a barge captain working in food-related tourism. Plenty addresses being a woman in a male-dominated environment, struggling with body image while working in food, and choosing motherhood while also chasing career goals.
While Plenty examines all the barriers that are unique to women in the industry, it is ultimately a celebration of food, family, female friendships, and chasing dreams. The women she profiles are interesting and diverse, and all of them are people she befriended while at work. She writes about a young chef just starting out, a chef who tired of the sexual harassment in the industry and transitioned to teaching, and woman who became a barge captain in the Bordeaux region, first by default and then by choice. I think the most inspiring story to me was that of Eat Offbeat, an organization which employs refugee women with no previous professional cooking experience but who are talented home cooks willing to learn to cook for a living. Howard also addresses what happened to all of these women during the pandemic, as they adapted to the changing industry.
I think Plenty would be enjoyed by foodies and by women who work in male-dominated industries. It would also be a natural book club selection, because it lends itself to sharing stories about work, family food traditions, and motherhood. If either eating disorders or miscarriage are triggering topics for you, you might want to pass on this. Miscarriage is part of my own story, so I may have spent that part of the book curled up with a box of tissues, crying for both her and me. No regrets for reading it, but I did want to offer a warning to anyone who may need it.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Plenty on Amazon First Reads. It did not affect my review as I only review books I recommend.
Hannah Howard describes herself as a “writer and cheese maven” on her website, so the only acceptable food offering for a book club is a cheese plate or a charcuterie board. September is a great time to add some fall flavors into the mix, such as figs, pears, apples, and grapes.
Recommended book club menu:
Charcuterie board: One soft cheese and one firm cheese (brie and cheddar pictured), pear slices, figs, sugared prosecco grapes (recipe below), roasted grapes (pictured on brie, recipe also below), baguette, crackers, macarons
Cocktail: French 75 (recipe below)
Mocktail: Apple ginger mocktail (recipe below)
Sugared Prosecco Grapes
The first thing you need to know is that you’ll be draining most of the prosecco, so don’t use a fancy bottle. A $5 bottle works just fine here. Also note my lack of measurements here. You don’t need any terribly specific ratios here as the grapes are merely soaking in the wine. If you are preparing this for a crowd (a couple lbs. of grapes), then you’ll want to use a full bottle of wine. If you are using a small bunch of grapes like I did, you’ll use a third of a bottle at most.
Place grapes in a bowl. Pour enough prosecco over to cover the grapes completely.
Cover and refrigerate overnight (or several hours).
Drain grapes, but don’t dry completely.
Pour sugar into a baking sheet. Add grapes and roll in sugar until coated evenly.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Variation: Prosecco grapes can also be frozen. I didn’t do so here, as this is a fall-themed board, but frozen grapes would be delicious for an outdoor summer party. If you freeze them, just make sure to do so in a single layer so they don’t stick together like a sparkling bundle of disappointment.
Grapes may be a fruit we are accustomed to eating only raw, but that’s a sad underestimation of this delicious fruit.
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425.
Toss grapes on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary (if using).
Bake for 25 minutes.
First things first. Do you have simple syrup in your house? If you don’t, it’s easy enough to make at home, but you need to make it a bit in advance as it needs to cool before you use it. I’d recommend making it while your grapes are roasting. Just add equal amounts sugar and water in a small saucepan. (I used 1/3 cup of each.) Heat on low and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool.
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces sparkling wine
Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.