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Monday, June 08, 2009

50 Great Appetizers by Pamela Sheldon Johns

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One of the first cookbooks I was offered to review was "50 Great Appetizers" by Pamela Sheldon Johns. It's a small book, about 6 inches by 6 inches in size, 111 pages, and with well, 50, appetizer recipes. I flipped through the cookbook quickly when I got it, then put it aside and, as I'm wont to do, promptly forgot about it. It seemed like one of those books I'd buy at a bookstore's bargain bin, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as some of my favorite cookbooks were discovered that way.

I recently picked it up again and actually looked through to see if any recipes interested me, and it was a shame I had left this untouched for so long. Because one of the first recipes that I want to try is the chicken liver crostini. Sure, I have my basic chicken liver pate recipe, but this one calls for chopped pancetta and to serve it with an apple slice, which would help cut the fatty taste.

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I was also intrigued by her recipe for tea-smoked chicken wings.

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And loved the use of rosemary branches as skewers for shrimp. I'd seen this before elsewhere, but had forgotten all about it until I saw it again.

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Although, "50 Great Appetizers" wasn't all hits. The fried spring rolls recipe was a jumble of fresh and fried recipes. Umm, Vietnamese have two distinctly different recipes for Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls) and Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Salad/Spring/Summer Rolls). Neither of the recipes included chopped gai lan (Chinese broccoli). She essentially eliminated the meats from the goi cuon, added Chinese broccoli, and instructed people to fry it, fresh mint leaves and bean sprouts included! And a peanut dipping sauce would not be served with fried spring rolls.

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It always bugs me when non-Vietnamese people give the wrong directions for how to work with rice paper. Rice paper only needs to be wet, it softens and becomes pliable in seconds. Never, ever soak for 1 minute, much less two minutes. After that much time, rice paper just becomes a sodden mess.

Anyway, spring roll recipe disaster aside, "50 Great Appetizers" is rightly back where I thought it should be, perhaps not a book you rush out and buy, but a perfectly OK cookbook for when you feel like flipping through for some ideas.

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Escabeche is a Spanish dish of poached or fried fish in a vinegar- or citrus-based marinade. This Mexican version uses chicken and gives it a Latin flair. Be sure the chicken is completely cooled before you dice it, or it will shred.

Lemon Chicken Escabeche
Reprinted with permission from "50 Great Appetizers" by Pamela Sheldon Johns/Andrews McMeel Publishing

4 lemons, halved crosswise
2 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken stock (page 104)
1 whole skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed, and diced
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup diced jicama
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Scoop the pulp from the lemon halves with a grapefruit spoon or teaspoon, reserving the pulp and juice. Strain the juice and set aside. Cut a small slice from the bottom of each lemon half so that it will stand upright.

Make a cilantro pesto: With the food processor running, drop in the garlic. Add the cilantro leaves, pine nuts, reserved lemon juice, and olive oil. Process to a smooth paste and set aside.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the chicken breast and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until opaque throughout, about 20 minutes. Remove from the stock and let cool (reserve the stock for another use).

Dice the cooled chicken and put it in a bowl. Add the bell pepper, corn, jicama, and cilantro pesto and toss to mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.

Place a lemon half on each plate. Spoon the chicken mixture into the lemon halves and serve.

Serves 8.

1 year ago today, Chong Kneas Floating Village - Tonle Sap (Great Lake) - Cambodia.
2 years ago today, peas! That I grew on a narrow strip of dirt between the concrete and the fence.


  1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, the photographers made crazy posers out of us - then again, we enjoyed ourselves so all was well. I actually don't like taking photographs at all, but this set came out pretty well.

    You're not the only one who wants to try that chicken liver crostini. It sounds intriguing! Do let us know how it goes if you do try it. And jicama! Oh dear lord, it's been ages since I've seen a recipe for it - here we either eat it raw in various salad preparations or we make ju hu char with it (julienned jicama and carrots with shredded squid, it's a Nyonya dish staple here.)

    And now you have made me hungry for cha gio. Lord, they were so good in Hanoi. I may have to make some now!

  2. Shuku,
    I love raw jicama! I've had jicama slaw that was good too.


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