Category Archives: Appetizers

Crostini with Peas, Ricotta and Spring Garlic

Pea-Garlic-Ricotta CrostiniSpring Pea Crostini with Ricotta and Fresh Garlic

Along with the Radish and Chive-Butter Crostini that I mentioned last week, that same trip to the Greenmarket also inspired another menu addition: Spring Pea Crostini with Ricotta and Fresh Garlic.  This bright, verdant small bite makes a colorful contrast on a plate when paired with the radish crostini.  We were offering these as a small plate item as they are a great match for any beverage to kick off an evening meal.

Shelling fresh peasShelling fresh peas

I know that the television shows highlight the glamor and excitement of working in professional kitchens, but there’s lots of other jobs, too.  Coming in on a Sunday to find a pile of smashed glasses on the floor of the kitchen (no one has yet owned up doing to this) and having to clean it up, was just one of my many tasks the in past few weeks.  Others include throwing all that expired food out of the walk-in refrigerator.  Think it’s not a great job to do at home; try doing it when the volume and “mystery food” factor is multiplied.  Having bought fresh peas at the market, I took on another necessary but mundane cook’s task – shelling peas.  Someone has to do it.

Spring GarlicSpring Garlic

Then, I worked on the rest of the dish.  I didn’t want it to be too pea-forward.  (Being related to someone who absolutely, vehemently cannot stand peas, along the lines of the way that I dislike raisins in things, I am sensitive to the pea-adverse community.)  The spring garlic is the stage between ramps and the bulbs that we buy year-round.  It has a bright garlicky flavor with the greens lending it some of the herbaciousness that ramp tops have.  Then I tempered it a bit with the ricotta to make it more spreadable on the crostini.  These were another hit with the staff who tried them.  Alas, I couldn’t get the non-pea-eaters among them even to take a nibble, although they did admit it was pretty to look at.

Spring Pea Crostini with Ricotta and Fresh Garlic

Prep Time: Less than 30 minutes

Serving Size: Makes about 1 pint of chive butter, enough for 40 or so crostini



1 recipe Crostini (see here)
1 lb. Peas, freshly shelled (will yield 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 large pinch Salt
3 stalks Spring Garlic, white and green parts
1/2 Lemon, juice and rind
2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup Ricotta Cheese
Microgreens for garnish (recommended ones are micro watercress or micro basil)


Blanching peasBlanching peas


For this recipe the peas need to be cooked briefly, just enough to soften them up a bit but not too much to actually cook them through to the mushy stage.  To do this, put a saucepan of water on the heat to boil.  When the water comes to a boil, add a large pinch of salt and the peas.  Count 30 seconds and then pull the peas off the water, drain them, and dunk them in an ice bath.*
Ingredients in blenderIngredients in blender


Pour the cooled, cooked peas into a blender or food processor (We use a Vitamix which I also have at home.) along with the spring garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, 2 tsp. of the olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Blend until everything is a relatively smooth paste and there are no visible chunks of peas or the garlic.
Pea & Garlic pureePea-Garlic Mixture


When you are done, it should look like the photo above.  To get the mixture to this consistency, it takes about a minute or so in the Vitamix, perhaps a bit longer in the food processor.  Scoop the pea-garlic mixture out of the blender and place it in a bowl.
Pea-Garlic Puree with RicottaPea-Garlic-Ricotta mixture


Add the ricotta and the lemon zest and fold to combine thoroughly with the pea-garlic mixture.  Taste.  Adjust for seasoning, adding a bit more salt, pepper, olive oil, or lemon juice as it needs.

Pea-Garlic-Ricotta CrostiniSpring Pea Crostini with Ricotta and Fresh Garlic and Microcress

Slather some of the pea-garlic-ricotta mixture on the crostini (they should be room temperature and not just out of the oven at this stage).  Top with a sprinkle of microgreens and serve.  The microgreens should be added at the last minute, but the crostini can be made up to 20 minutes in advance.

Buon appetito!


*Kitchen Witch Tip:
Cooked peasBlanched peas


A little trick I’ve learned from blanching cases of vegetables is that it’s much easier if you drain the hot liquid and peas in a sieve or colander and then place that, peas and all, into the ice-water combo.  That way, you don’t have to spend time fishing errant peas from the liquid, and you can drain the peas simple by lifting the strainer out of the water.

Radish and Chive-Butter Crostini

Radish and Chive Butter CrostiniRadish and Chive-Butter Crostini

This past weekend, I hosted a couple from Virginia for a short visit to the Big Apple.  When I asked them what they’d like to see/explore/do/take in on their brief trip up here, he replied, “What do New Yorkers typically do on Saturdays?”  I said that sometimes we head to the Greenmarket to pick up seasonal produce, before correcting myself and responding, “Actually, the first thing we do is to check the MTA website to see what subway trains are running, and then we figure out what we’re going to do that day.”  With so many subway lines under construction or repair alerts these days, the latter statement is much closer to the truth.

Onion chivesOnion Chives

The intermittent subway disruptions plus my kitchen work schedule have made Wednesday my usual day to visit the market at Union Square.  Now that we are past the bleakest of the winter months and charging full speed ahead into summertime’s seasonal bounty, more colorful and vibrant products are appearing each week.  A couple of weeks ago, I designed a few small plate items for the menu, taking advantage of some of them.  These gorgeous Onion Chives were just begging to be purchased.  What to do with them, I wondered?

Radishes - slicedSliced radishes

A pile of red finger nail polish-colored radishes had caught my eye when I’d been roaming around the market earlier.  Knowing that we had a bunch of bread that needed to be used for crostini sitting in the walk-in refrigerator at the restaurant, this dish started to form in my head.  It is a spin on a French-style snack or breakfast of radishes dipped in sea salt and then served with a luxurious slash of rich, cultured butter on a fresh baguette.  For our menu, I figured that mixing up the onion chives with Ronnybrook Farm‘s (also a vendor at the market) unsalted butter then topping that with the radishes and a few pea shoots would make a nice version of that treat.  These small bites got a big thumbs up from the staff who graciously offered to taste test it.

Radish and Chive-Butter Crostini

Prep time: Less than 30 minutes

Serving size: Makes about 1 pint of chive butter, enough for 40 or so crostini


1 Baguette or a couple of mini baguettes

Extra virgin olive oil

8 oz. (2 sticks) Unsalted Butter (good quality butter is best), softened

2 tsp. Kosher Salt

1/2 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 1/2- 2 Tbsp Onion Chives, chopped finely

1 bunch Radishes (red, white, red and white – your preference)

2 oz. Pea Shoots (I used Dwarf Grey Sugar Snow Pea Shoots from Windfall Farms)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place however many pieces of bread you are planning to serve (allow 3-4 per person) on a parchment paper-lined baking tray.  Using a pastry brush, dab each piece of bread with olive oil.  Bake for 5-10 minutes until lightly colored and crisp.

Pay close attention to these as, depending upon your oven, they can go from unbaked to burnt quite quickly (see the Eddie Izzard routine about making toast, as it is very apt).  Remove from oven and set aside to until ready to use.  As you don’t want the butter to melt into the crostini for this recipe, you’ll want them to cool off before you put them together.  (These can also be prepared in advance, per this Kitchen Witch Tip.)

Chopped chives added to butterChives added to the butter

While the bread is toasting, chop up the chives.  Once the bread is out of the oven and cooling, you can turn your attention to mixing the ingredients for the chive butter.  Add the salt, pepper, and chives to the butter and combine thoroughly.  This is a good task to do by hand, as it just takes a few minutes to come together.

Trim the green tops from the radishes or have them do it at the farmers market.  These would also be delicious pan fried with a bit of the butter and served as a side dish.  Slice the radishes very thinly.

Slather a bit of the butter on the now-cooled crostini.  Add a few radish slices on top of that and then sprinkle a couple of pea shoots on top of the radishes.  These make a perfect appetizer or snack and can be prepared a little bit ahead of serving (not more than 30 minutes).

Radish and Chive Butter CrostiniRadish and Chive-Butter Crostini with Pea Shoots

Buon appetito!

Crostini with Ramp-Ricotta Pesto & Spring Pea Shoots

Crostini with Ramp-Ricotta PestoCrostini with Ramp-Ricotta Pesto & Spring Pea Shoots

The gorgeous green hues on this plate, to me, epitomize spring eating.  After all the browns, tans, and beiges of wintertime fare, the pop of color makes my palate perk up in anticipation of all the beautiful berries, corn, tomatoes, and other summertime produce yet to arrive in the local farmers market.  As with my previous post for Ramp Butter Popcorn, this is a bit of a recycled recipe in a new format.  I’ve written about making Ramp Pesto in the past as a way to prolonging this vegetable’s lifespan in your refrigerator.

Dwarf Snow Pea ShootsDwarf Grey Sugar Snow Pea Shoots

Also in season at the moment, if you can find them, are these pea shoots.  They have a delicate pea-like flavor and wonderful crunch.  For those pea-averse (including several people to whom I’m related), I say, try them.  They are a bit more like salad greens than those green orbs you detest.  For this dish, they add a nice balance of color and a fresh, crispness that balances out the creamy, garlicky-ness of the pesto.  These tidbits are an item that I had created a few weeks back to add to the restaurant menu, so that we could have a locally-sourced, seasonal small plate for patrons to enjoy while sipping on their beers.


From time to time we run some type of crostini on our food selections, and they always tend to be quite popular.  They are substantial enough in flavor to satisfy one’s tastebuds while at the same time light enough to be enjoyed as a pre-dinner snack or late-night nibble.  Again, these have proven to be a popular item on our menu, as they always sell out, well in advance of my being able to make enough of the toppings.

Crostini with Ramp-Ricotta Pesto & Spring Pea Shoots

Serving Size: Makes about 1 cup of mix

Prep Time: 20-30 minutes


Baguette or mini-baguettes

Olive Oil for toasting baguettes

1 recipe Ramp Pesto

6-8 oz. Ricotta Cheese

1-2 tsp. Lemon Juice

1 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)


Freshly-ground Black Pepper

4 oz. Dwarf Grey Sugar Snow Pea Shoots (you can also substitute seasonal microgreens)

Lemon Zest


Slicing bread for crostiniBread rounds for crostini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place however many pieces of bread you are planning to serve (allow 3-4 per person) on a parchment paper-lined baking tray.  Using a pastry brush, dab each piece of bread with olive oil.  Bake for 5-10 minutes until lightly colored and crisp.  Pay close attention to these as, depending upon your oven, they can go from unbaked to burnt quite quickly.  Remove from oven a set aside to until ready to use.

Ramp PestoRamp Pesto

Make a batch of Ramp Pesto (click on recipe link).  If not eating the crostini immediately or within a few hours, set aside the pesto in an air-tight container and place in the refrigerator.  The ramp-ricotta mixture is best eaten as close to the time it is made as possible.

Ramp Pesto & RicottaRamp Pesto with Ricotta

Just before getting ready to serve the crostini, combine ramp pesto with ricotta.  It should be a roughly 50-50 mixture.  If you can find (or make) fresh ricotta, that would also give a great flavor to this dish.  Add 1 tsp. of the lemon juice, a dash of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.  Taste.  Adjust seasoning as necessary, adding a bit more lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and/or pepper.  The pesto should have a fresh, not overwhelmingly garlic taste, and a light creaminess from the cheese.

Crostini with Pesto & Pea ShootsRamp-Ricotta Pesto and Spring Pea Shoots on Crostini 

Spread a thin layer of the ramp-ricotta mixture on the crostini.  Sprinkle each piece with a few of the snow pea shoots, tearing them into 1-inch pieces, so there aren’t any unwieldy, long tangles of them hanging over the crostini.  Grate a bit of fresh lemon zest on top of each crostino.  Enjoy for yourself or share with others!

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Crostini in general are an item perfect for cocktail parties, as a starter before dinner, or even as an afternoon break.  They are also easy to prepare in advance, keeping the toasted bread separate from the topping until just about ready to serve them.  These can be made the day of use, or stored for a few days in an air-tight container and kept out of the refrigerator.  I’ve made piles of them for catered events and the special, themed, dinners that we have in the restaurant, so having the bread base pre-made makes serving them to the hungry guests a much smoother task.

Ramp Butter Popcorn

Ramp butter ingredientsRamp butter ingredients

I have made Ramp Butter in the past, but it has been a little while.  Today, I took a trip to the Union Square Greenmarket in the afternoon and managed to pick up a few bunches of ramps as well as some butter from Ronnybrook Farm.  My usual M.O. is to whip of batches of the butter and pesto during this vegetable’s short season and save it to use throughout the year.  So, I decided to put the first batch of this season’s ramp butter recipe to a great use – in popcorn!*

Ramp greens mixed inRamp butter mixed together

I know, it doesn’t sounds like much of a recipe, but when I made this at the restaurant where I do some kitchen managing and prep work a couple of times a week for networking event held there, it was a big hit.  It is a lightly garlic-flavored, kind of herby popcorn with a nice pop of salt.  (Someone mistakenly sent us 50 pounds of popcorn, instead of the 5 we actually ordered, so I’ve been experimenting with different popcorn recipes to try to use up the whole tub of it that we have in our walk-in refrigerator.)

Popcorn with ramp butterPopcorn with ramp butter

It was by far the most popular of the plates of nibbles that I put out that evening.  I made several trips back and forth to refill the bowls, so it must have a been a huge hit.  I guess it also went well with the drinks they were serving, as I saw folks pulling the bowls of it a little closer to them during the evening.

Ramp Butter Popcorn

Serving Size: As much popcorn as you want to eat

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes


One recipe Ramp Butter

Popcorn kernels

Canola Oil


Finished popcornPopcorn (plain)

Make Ramp Butter.  Pop popcorn.  My favorite method, and one I use in the restaurant, is to put a thin film of canola oil on the bottom of a heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour in a single layer of popcorn, cover the pan with a lid (or foil), turn on the heat, and let nature and the properties of heat + steam do their work.  You can also make the air-popped version or whatever kind you’d like.

Bowl of ramp butter popcornPopcorn with ramp butter

Sprinkle a few pinches of salt over the popcorn.  Melt the ramp butter (just the amount that you need to dress the popcorn, save the rest for a later use).  Drizzle the butter over the popcorn and toss together to coat each kernel evenly.  Taste.  Add more salt and more butter to suit your tastebuds.  Enjoy!

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Ramp Butter Ready for the freezerRamp butter ready for the freezer

The unused portion of this batch of ramp butter is in the all wrapped up and in freezer for another day.  It keeps for quite a while, if double-wrapped in plastic wrap.  When those cold winter winds are blowing, a slab of this butter mixed into pasta sauce or added to scrambled eggs gives a nice lift to a meal and reminds us that warmer weather and days full of sunshine are just around the corner!

Blue Cheese Dressing

Crudite DisplayCrudité display from client event (photo courtesy Kim Elphinstone)

With the Super Bowl frenzy at fever pitch around these parts, due to the game being played just across the river this year, I debated about adding yet another recipe to the list of those that have been passed around as suggestions for serving to your guests.  Then, this week, I received the photos from a wedding that I’d catered on New Year’s Eve 2013 and realized that one of the platters that I had put together would be a perfect (and easy to compose) addition to any party, including the ones that many folks are planning for tomorrow.  I had created a crudité display so that the guests could nibble on something while they gathered for the ceremony.  To go along with it, I prepared one of my family’s recipes: Blue Cheese Dressing.

Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe cardRecipe card from my file

This recipe came from my mother’s mother, who passed away when my mother was in high school, so I never met her.  The family stories say that she was an accomplished cook, which was something that my mother definitely inherited from her.  We have a few of her cookbooks, with recipes scribbled in the margins, including this one.  My mother fiddled with the recipe herself over the years, as have I.  The little extra of serving easy-to-prepare, homemade dips, like the Blue Cheese Dressing and the Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean one (below), elevates these vegetables to a be a very special snack, so don’t be surprised if you see the kids going back for extra helpings of vegetables when you put this on the table, as happened at this wedding.  Oh, and even after the game is over, this dip might be something to keep on hand for any party or even just to nosh on when you feel a bit peckish.

Rosemary-White Bean-Garlic DipRosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip (photo courtesy Kim Elphinstone)

Also pictured in the above crudité display is one of my stand-by favorite dips to make: Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip.  I like to call it my “Alterna-Hummus.”  It has some of the same ingredients as hummus, but the white beans give it a slightly different taste while still having a wonderfully creamy texture.  It’s also completely vegan, if you are looking for recipes that don’t use animal products.  You can find the recipe for it here.

Blue Cheese Dressing

Prep time:  15 minutes, best if prepared a few hours in advance or even overnight to allow flavors to develop

Serving size: 1 1/2-2 cups dressing


1/2 c. Sour Cream

1/2 c. Mayonnaise

1/2 c. Blue Cheese, crumbled (Maytag, Danish, or any aged blue cheese)

4 tsp. Prepared Horseradish (add more to taste, but this should not dominate as a flavor)

Freshly ground Black Pepper (if desired)

Salt (if necessary)

Fresh Chives, finely chopped for garnish (if desired)


Mix all ingredients except black pepper, salt, and chives in a bowl until thoroughly combined.  Chill for several hours or overnight to let the flavors meld together.  Taste before serving to see if it needs the addition of pepper and salt.  Garnish with the chives, if desired to give an extra bit of color and contrasting flavor to the richness of the dressing.

Buon appetito!


To find out more information about hiring me for my culinary and events planning expertise and how I can help you organize your next gathering, please refer to my Chef’s Services page on this website.  You can also read my profile on the chef-for-hire website Kitchit (photo courtesy Kim Elphinstone)

Southern-style Holiday Dinner: Old Bay Deviled Eggs

The Dinner TableThe holiday dinner table

Every family has its own holiday traditions.  Ours revolves around a group meal and present exchange.  Here’s how it rolled out this year.  We actually managed to lock down the date and time for our celebration in near record time.  Then, negotiations started over what would be prepared for said holiday meal.  When I explained this two-step process to a few folks at work and some friends, I got a some odd looks (from those with smaller families) and some knowing nods of recognition (from those who are part of larger broods).  My youngest sister very proactively sent out this proposed very Southern-style holiday menu via email a few weeks out:

Holidays are coming fast!  For those of you dining at the Blake household, how does Ham, potato salad, green bean casserole, and biscuits sound?

Then, I responded with a few points of feedback, based upon what I knew to be of some of the guests’ preferences (including those of one notoriously-fussy nephew) and a few of my own.  Here was her response:

Well it is up to you. I was going to pick up ham from honey baked, potato salad from red hot blue, make green bean casserole and biscuits plus I asked R and M to bring appetizer or side dish. If you want to do something different and want to spearhead dinner, I will gladly pass the torch. You just let me know.

Dinner PlateMy dinner plate

I wasn’t even pulling rank as a working chef on her.  It was more just that I know that green bean casserole is a dish that repulses my youngest brother and that his children (in the main not vegetable-eaters) would also not touch it.  Believe it or not, I’m not much of a fan of a huge hunk of ham as part of a meal.  My mother used to fix mustard and brown sugar-glazed ham, boiled potatoes, and corn as a holiday dinner, as one of my sisters liked it.  It is one of my culinary nightmares, still.  After a few more emails, and a suggestion from me that we order Chinese food from our local favorite haunt, I received carte blanche to proceed with re-organizing the menu:

Then we will leave it in your capable hands. Just let R and M know if there is something other than a side dish or appetizer you want them to bring.

Old Bay Deviled EggsOld Bay® Deviled Eggs

So, I took the original food list and revamped it a bit, still keeping it Southern-style and letting everyone contribute a bit to the meal.  Feathers were smoothed back into place, and my father did not have to make good on his threat that if he didn’t like what we fixed, he could just run out to McDonald’s and grab a hamburger.  (I did point out to him that that comment just tore right into my soul as a culinary professional, which he somehow found amusing.)  One of the things that I added to the list was Old Bay® Deviled Eggs.  I mean, what typifies a Southern celebratory meal anyway like a big ol’ plate of deviled eggs, with gleaming whites and smooth, creamy yolks.  Judging by the fact that I was asked to set aside the last remaining two halves for one of the guests, I’d say that they were a hit on our holiday dinner table.  Hopefully, they’ll find a spot on yours as well.

Old Bay® Deviled Eggs

Prep time: 30-45 minutes or so

Serving size:  Allow one whole egg per adult, at least (my nephew eats only the whites)

Ingredients: There’s no specific proportions or measurements that I use for this recipe.  I make these by taste and feel and depending upon the quantity of eggs I’m fixing.





Dijon Mustard

Old Bay® Seasoning

Black Pepper


Place a saucepan of water full enough to cover the eggs on the stove and bring it to a boil without the eggs in it.  Then, when the water has boiled, pour a bunch of salt in the bottom of the pan.  You probably need a couple of tablespoons of it at least.  I used a very sad-looking container of good-quality sea salt for these, but any table or kosher salt will do.  Gently lower the eggs into the pan, bring the water back to the boil, and let the eggs cook for 10 minutes in the boiling water.  Remove the eggs from the pan and immediately either dunk them into an ice bath or into a bowl of cold water.

Preparing eggsPreparing the eggs

The eggs I made at my folks’ house this past week, using this cooking method, gave me the easiest-to-peel, hard boiled eggs of my life.  Once cooled, the shells just slipped right off of the eggs.  Cut them in half and pop out the yellow yolks, keeping whites and yolks in separate bowls.

Mixing fillingMixing filling

Mash up the egg yolks with a fork until they are in fine, fluffy pieces.  For this batch I made 8 eggs for 9 adults, which turned out to be just right.  I started off with about 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons of mustard along with 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay® Seasoning, a sprinkle of salt, and a couple of grinds of black pepper.  Mix this all together and then taste it.  It should be nicely creamy with no one flavor of mayonnaise or mustard or seasoning competing with each other or standing out too much overall.  Keep adding a bit of each ingredient until you get the right proportion and taste.  The consistency should be kind of similar to that of mashed potatoes.

Ready to fill eggsReady to fill eggs

I made the eggs a few hours prior to serving them, so I stored the whites in the refrigerator on their serving plate, and put the filling mixture into a piping bag to put into the egg whites at the last minute.  I’ve served deviled eggs a few times at catered events and learned early on that using a piping bag speeds up the process of getting filling into whites, and it makes them look prettier and more consistent as well.  After filling them, I sprinkled a bit more of the Old Bay® Seasoning on top of the eggs to give them an extra pop of flavor.

Deviled Eggs with Old Bay

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

I know there’s some differences of opinion about adding salt to the water in which the eggs are cooked, but this is the method I learned in culinary school as well as in the catering prep kitchen, where we did lots and lots of deviled eggs.  This way seems to work when I’ve had to produce batches of them myself.  Also, another tip is to use “old eggs,” ones that are a few days old and are not right off of the farm, as they are easier to peel.