The Peanut Chicken Sticks recipe in the April 6 food section was incomplete. Here is the corrected recipe: PEANUT CHICKEN STICKS (4 to 6 first course servings) These chunks of chicken, saute'ed in a spicy coating, should be cooked prior to serving. FOR THE COATING AND CHICKEN: 1 cup all-purpose flour 3/4 cup chopped peanuts, preferably dry roasted, unsalted 1 tablespoon dried oregano 2 teaspoons dried thyme flakes 2 teaspoons sweet or hot paprika 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning 2 teaspoons cumin 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 large whole chicken breasts, halved, skinned and boned, cut into 2-inch nuggets 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted with 2 teaspoons liquid hot pepper sauce, plus 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter Sweet and hot mustard for dipping Make the coating: In a deep mixing bowl blend together the flour, peanuts, oregano, thyme, paprika, poultry seasoning, cumin, salt and pepper; set aside. Fold the chicken nuggets into the melted butter with hot pepper sauce to coat. Heat the remaining 1/2 cup butter in a large skillet. A few at a time, coat the chicken breasts in the peanut mixture, then add to the skillet of sizzling butter. Coat and cook as many pieces of chicken as fit into the pan without crowding; cook the chicken until golden on both sides, over high heat, 3 minutes on each side (longer or less time according to the thickness of the chicken). Thread each piece of chicken onto a bamboo stick or skewer and pile them in a bowl. Serve immediately with a bowl of hot and sweet mustard on the side for dipping.
The signs of spring are many -- and we all have our favorite. For some it's the crocuses popping up, or the first robin arriving. For others, the azaleas bursting forth, or the Orioles working out.
As exciting as any, however, is the appearance of heaps of asparagus in the markets. A plate of freshly steamed asparagus, served all by itself, is, to many, what spring is all about. Now tastes shift away from the sturdy and robust to the light and fresh.
In addition to enjoying the new crop of vegetables (among them peas in their pods and tender baby carrots), the cook can play around with the menu, often serving first courses that are lively, little meals packed with herbs, fresh and spicy, or fragrant and subtle-tasting.
It's enjoyable to serve first courses away from the dining room table -- in the family room or library, on the deck ir,6.6p or in the garden (weather permitting) -- thus adding another dimension to the dinner party or casual supper.
The first xr courses that follow should delight any family or guest, and the food is easily transported from room to room. Now that good smoked fish and shellfish appear at most major markets, these first courses are simple to put together from one trip to the store.
Boneless and skinless chicken breasts can be converted into festive food when treated to a coating of chopped peanuts blended with flour and many spices in the recipe for Peanut Chicken Sticks. After large chunks of chicken are coated in melted butter, turned in the light, nutty "breading," and saute'ed, they are speared on plain bamboo skewers. Heaped in a bowl and served with a sweet-and-sharp mustard sauce for dipping, they become a fast and glamorous first course.
The Gruye re Tart With Sun-Dried Tomato and Onion Relish is a blend of both reserved and intense tastes. The smooth and silky cheese custard sits against a meltingly tender pastry crust enlivened with flakes of thyme and dry mustard. Savory pastry crusts, by the way, are wonderfully enhanced by incorporating finely chopped fresh or dried herbs into the pastry dough (the most efficient way to flavor the dough is to add the herbs to the flour before the fat is worked in). The relish is a little side dish of saute'ed onions, chopped parsley and roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes; this provides a sharp and intriguing contrast to the smoothness of the tart.
Sun-dried tomatoes evolve from the slow drying of ripe tomatoes. The pieces of tomato are slightly chewy and taste of the concentrated essence of tomato. The nuggets are then steeped in olive oil and bottled; some sun-dried tomatoes are available flavored with basil or oregano, and are quite delicious.
A bath of herbs and olive oil is good for many kinds of seafood, and especially good for shrimp. In Steamed Shrimp in Herbed Oil, shrimp with tails and shells left intact sit in what is really a simple warming of garlic and herbs in oil. Provide big lap napkins if you are serving the bowl of shrimp in shells; shrimp served "in the nude" -- stripped of everything but the tails to use as handles -- can be eaten with far less fuss and bother. You may even present these oil-marinated shrimp, peeled, on individual plates accompanied by a selection of unusual lettuces mounded in a tangle next to the shrimp. A warm, crusty loaf of bread is in order here to blot up the delicious oil dressing.
The Smoked Trout Mousse With Dill is easily whizzed up in a food processor. Good smoked trout is firm, yet flakes easily; it's best to purchase the trout whole and strip it of skin and bones in seconds at home. Buying the smoked fish whole does produce a little waste, but the flesh of the fish is moister and fresher-tasting than if you were to shop for skinless pieces of fish.
The simplest way to get at the trout flesh from the whole fish is to lay the fish flat on one side on the cutting board. You can peel away the skin by starting to dislodge it with the tip of a knife; if the fish is oily enough the skin will come away quite easily by using your fingertips.
Break away the flesh (with your fingers or a knife) from the long central bones running down the middle of the fish. Peel away the bone, beginning at the tail, and snap it away from the head. The remaining flesh will lift right off the second side of the skin. As you are not attempting to keep the trout flesh in one piece, it's fine to have the pieces come off in sections.
The Butterfly Pasta With Asparagus is a lighthearted room-temperature dish of steamed asparagus and cooked pasta, sharpened with a mint and garlic-infused lemon and olive oil dressing. I prefer to steam asparagus until tender for this dish, mainly because I think boiling robs asparagus of its inherent sweetness. If you take away a thin 1/16 of an inch of outer peel from the spears with a sharp swivel-bladed peeler, you can steam them to just the right firm-but-yielding stage without using a special steamer kept only for cooking asparagus. Once plunged in ice water directly after cooking, and drained well, the spears can wait several hours before being cut up and tossed in the dressing with the pasta.
Sprightly and full of flavor, most of the following first courses may be enjoyed on their own as a light supper, or precede not-too-substantial main courses; all will revitalize the spirit that has grown weary of hearty winter soups and stews: GRUYERE TART WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND ONION RELISH (6 servings as a first course)
This smooth and enchanting egg custard and cheese tart is served with a stronger tasting relish; the relish is bold and piquant, and is delicious, too, with roasted or grilled meat or poultry.
FOR THE PASTRY DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (stir to aerate before measuring)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, cold
1 jumbo egg yolk, cold
2 tablespoons ice-cold water (or more as needed)
FOR THE EGG AND CHEESE CUSTARD:
3 jumbo eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whipping cream, at room temperature
1/2 pound gruye re cheese, trimmed of rind, grated on the large holes of a hand grater
FOR THE SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND ONION RELISH:
3 onions, sliced
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped drained sun-dried tomatoes
Make the pastry dough: Place the flour, salt, thyme and mustard in a large mixing bowl; mix well. Scatter over the butter, and, using 2 round-bladed knives, cut the butter into the flour until the butter has been reduced to small pea-size bits. With your fingertips, further blend the butter into the flour by gently scooping down into the mixture and rubbing the butter and flour between your fingers; the mixture should look like medium-coarse cornmeal. Combine the egg yolk and water. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the liquid, and stir to make a firm but pliable dough. Add only enough additional cold water by half teaspoons, if necessary, if the dough seems too crumbly or does not adhere together into a rough mass. Turn out the dough onto a cool work surface and press it into a round flattish cake, not a ball. Refrigerate, covered in waxed paper, for about 20 minutes before rolling out.
Roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a large 1/4-inch-thick circle, using quick and light strokes of the pin. Refrigerate the circle for about 5 minutes to firm up slightly, then place the dough in a round tart pan at least 2 inches deep to accommodate all of the filling, and 8 inches in diameter. First press down the dough on the bottom of the pan, then press it up and against the sides. Using the overhang of the dough, press 1/4 inch of it inside the rim of the pan; roll the rolling pin over top of the pan to cut off the excess dough. Press up the edges of the dough all around, using the tips of your fingers to make the sides slightly higher. With the tines of a fork, prick the entire bottom of the pastry at even intervals. Refrigerate the shell, covered, for at least 1 hour before baking. The shell may be made up to this point 2 days in advance; keep well wrapped.
To partially bake the tart shell, line the chilled shell with aluminum foil. Pour raw rice or dried beans right up to the top of the shell; set on a preheated cookie sheet in a 425-degree oven. Bake for 10 minutes; remove foil and rice or beans, reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until the shell is a light brown color, about 15 minutes longer. Prebaking the shell in this way ensures that the bottom crust stays crisp while the filling bakes.
While the shell is baking, make the filling: beat the eggs together with the cayenne pepper and salt. Thoroughly beat in the cream, adding it in a slow, steady stream as you whisk it in. Stir in the cheese. Pour the cheese mixture into the pastry shell. Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 10 minutes; lower the temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes or until the custard has set (it will not wobble when moved lightly) and a knife inserted in the center emerges clean. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
Make the relish: place the onions and olive oil in a skillet and set over moderately low heat; cook the onions until they have softened completely and are a pale golden color. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley and tomatoes.
Remove the sides of the tart pan, and cut the tart into pie-shaped wedges (the tart must settle for at least 20 minutes before cutting, and may be served warm, tepid, or at room temperature). Place a wedge of tart on each plate and garnish with a small mound of relish. SMOKED TROUT MOUSSE WITH DILL (6 servings as a first course) This mousse may be served from a crock, oval terrine, or individual porcelain or glass ramekins. Offer plenty of crisp country-style bread, or dark whole-grain bread to accompany the mousse -- either would make a fine base for this spreadable savory mixture.
2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 pound smoked trout (net weight of fish with skin and bones removed)
2 tablespoons finely snipped dill (use the feathery portions only)
2 teaspoons tiny, nonpareil capers, rinsed in cool water, drained and finely chopped
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, or an equal amount of snipped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons light (table) cream, at room temperature
Process the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Sprinkle the lemon juice on the trout, add to the cream cheese mixture and spin until the trout is very finely pure'ed, scraping down the bowl of the processor several times to keep the mixture even.
(If you are not using a food processor, beat the cream cheese and butter until very light in an electric mixer. Mash the trout with a fork to break it up, then beat it into the cream cheese mixture, little by little. The processor will produce a mousse that is silkier, while the mixer turns one out a bit coarser. If you are making it with a mixer, you can lighten up the mixture by adding an additional 1/4 cup light cream to the trout and cream cheese after both have been combined and beating on high speed for an additional 5 minutes. This amount of cream is in addition to the 3 tablespoons that will be added at the end.)
Scrape the cream cheese-butter-trout mixture into a mixing bowl. Beat in the dill, capers, hot pepper sauce and onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the mousse needs a good deal of each to bring out the flavor of the trout. Beat in the light cream.
Pack the mousse into a 4-cup terrine or crock, or pack into small ramekins. Smooth over the top with a spatula or knife. Cover the tops of the containers, making sure they do not touch the mousse and spoil the surface. Put the containers into a plastic bag, tie, and refrigerate for 6 hours, or up to 48 hours before serving. If you are making individual mousses, place them in one large plastic container, cover, and refrigerate; small mousses take about 4 hours to set.
Serve the mousse cool but not cold, out of the refrigerator about 1/2 hour before serving. You may garnish the top of individual mousses or the whole mousse with fresh, green sprigs of dill. (Pass the crock to each eater for scooping out a portion of mousse for spreading on the bread.) BUTTERFLY PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS (6 servings as a first course) This room-temperature composed salad of steamed asparagus, butterfly-shaped durum wheat pasta, mint, and garlic is bright and fragrant. The cool taste of the mint is a good contrast to the pungency of the garlic. Those flavors, along with the sweet taste of spring asparagus and firm pasta, make for perfect eating.
FOR THE PASTA:
1-pound box imported Italian durum wheat farfel medie (medium-size butterfly pasta)
3 tablespoons olive oil
FOR THE ASPARAGUS AND GARLIC AND MINT DRESSING:
1/2 pound firm, green asparagus
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
First prepare the pasta: Boil the butterflies in a large pot of salted water until just firm to the bite. Drain the pasta in a colander, shaking the colander briskly to rid the noodles of any clinging droplets of water. Turn the pasta into a large bowl and toss with the olive oil; set aside, stirring the pasta from time to time to prevent pieces from sticking together while cooling down.
Take off the tough outer peel from the asparagus, using a swivel-bladed peeler, starting from the base of the tip. Trim off any woody bases by simply cutting them off or snapping off the tougher parts.
Steam the asparagus until tender yet firm; immediately plunge the cooked asparagus into a basin of ice-cold water to cool down. When cool, drain the asparagus on paper toweling; cut the asparagus on the diagonal into 1 1/2- to 2-inch lengths.
Heat the garlic cloves and olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice; pour into a small bowl. When cool, whisk in the parsley and mint; season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the salad, carefully combine the pasta with the asparagus, pour over the dressing and recombine. Season to taste with extra salt and pepper, as necessary, and serve. STEAMED SHRIMP IN HERBED OIL (6 servings as a first course) The herbed oil, below, would also act as a fine dressing for glossing over steamed clams or mussels.
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or marjoram) leaves
1 small bay leaf, preferably imported
1/2 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 pounds fresh shrimp, left in the shell, or, peeled, leaving the tail intact, as preferred, and deveined
For the herbed oil: Place the garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Add olive oil; set over moderately low heat and cook for 5 minutes, or until the garlic begins to release its aroma. Remove from the heat and cool. Whisk in the lemon juice and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
If you are steaming the shrimp without the shells, devein using a sharp paring knife; to devein shrimp keeping the outer shell on, force a toothpick down the top center of each shrimp, starting at the tail end, and running it down the length of the shrimp to remove the internal vein. This is tedious but if you are serving the shellfish in the shell, deveining them is a necessary, if not cosmetic, procedure.
Place the shrimp in the top level of a steamer and steam, covered, over boiling water for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until they just turn opaque. Whisk the dressing for a few seconds, then toss with the shrimp which have been transferred to a big bowl.
Serve the shrimp warm, tepid or at room temperature, with lots of crusty bread. PEANUT CHICKEN STICKS (4 to 6 first course servings)
These chunks of chicken, saute'ed in a spicy coating, should be cooked just prior to serving.
FOR THE COATING AND CHICKEN:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped peanuts, preferably dry roasted, unsalted
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme flakes
2 teaspoons sweet or hot paprika
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large whole chicken breasts, halved, skinned, and boned, cut into 2-inch nuggets
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted with 2 teaspoons liquid hot pepper sauce
Sweet and hot mustard for dipping
Make the coating: In a deep mixing bowl blend together the flour, peanuts, oregano, thyme, paprika, poultry seasoning, cumin, salt and pepper; set aside. Fold the chicken nuggets into the melted butter to coat.
Heat the 8 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. A few at a time, coat the chicken breasts in the peanut mixture, then add to the skillet of sizzling butter. Coat and cook as many pieces of chicken as fit into the pan without crowding; cook the chicken until golden on both sides, over high heat, 3 minutes on each side (longer or less time according to the thickness of the chicken).
Thread each piece of chicken onto a bamboo stick or skewer and pile them in a bowl. Serve immediately with a bowl of hot and sweet mustard on the side for dipping.