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I'm a professional snacker, so when it comes to putting out tasty bites for guests, I know what I'm doing. Having bits and bobs to munch on is the most important part of any party because they're the first thing everyone gets to try, plus it's a fun way to get everyone mixing and mingling. Whether it's fresh, cold oysters with homemade mignonette; ooey-gooey queso; an epic cheese board; or any salty, sweet, tangy, crunchy, chewy nosh in between, I've got you officially covered in the appetizer department.
Oysters with All the Sauces
Back in my picky-eating days, you could not have paid me to eat an oyster. I convinced myself that they would be fishy, slimy, and all-around yuck. But what I discovered was that high-quality, fresh oysters are sweet and briny – almost like tasting the ocean. That's why when I serve them, I don't use overpowering condiments like horseradish or cocktail sauce. No, thank you! instead, I offer a trio of mignonettes, or vinegar-based sauces, that bring out the natural flavor of the oysters.
For the classic mignonette:
For the chive mignonette:
For the cucumber mignonette:
For the oysters:
To make each mignonette: Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and chill for 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.
To prepare the oysters: Clean and shuck all the oysters. Set the rock salt on a large serving tray and lay the shucked oysters on top.
Stir each of the mignonettes and serve alongside the oysters. Enjoy immediately.
Serves 6 to 8 | Total Time: 40 minutes (Prep: 40. Cook: 0.)
Rainbow Summer Rolls
I would make these all the time when I was a private chef, especially when I was cooking for a crowd. They're nice and light, beyond simple to assemble, and add a super-colorful punch to the table. Feel free to get creative with this recipe – mix and match with your favorite veggies or even add cooked shrimp or crab if you want some extra protein.
For the dipping sauce:
¼ cup (60 ml) hoisin sauce
For the summer rolls:
To make the dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Taste and add more soy sauce if you want it a bit saltier. Set aside until ready to serve.
To make the summer rolls: Fill a shallow bowl with water. Soak one rice paper wrapper in the water for 30 to 45 seconds, until pliable. Transfer the wrapper onto a clean cutting board. If it didn't get quite flexible enough to roll, briefly dip it in water again.
Arrange the fillings along the bottom third of the wrapper. I use about 2 tablespoons of the rice noodles; equal amounts of the cucumber, carrot, bell pepper, mango, and scallions; a few fresh mint, basil, and cilantro leaves; 2 avocado slices; and a butter lettuce leaf for each roll.
Fold the wrapper over the filling and start rolling it up. About halfway through the roll, stop and fold in the sides, burrito style. Then finish rolling until you have a tight roll. Transfer the finished roll to a clean plate seam side down and drape with a damp kitchen towel while you assemble and roll the remaining summer rolls. Once all of the rolls are finished, serve immediately with the dipping sauce alongside.
Serves 4 to 6 | Total Time: 15 minutes (Prep: 15. Cook: 0.)
Matt's Bean and Cheese Panchos
When your best friend (and food photographer) says you need panchos in your cookbook, you listen. These are basically single-serving nachos, or crispy corn tortillas, that are loaded up with beans, cheese, and of course, guacamole. It's a fun twist on the Tex-Mex food staple – especially because you don't have to share!
¼ cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add a few tortilla halves to the oil and fry until crispy on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes total, turning halfway through. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to cool slightly and let excess oil drip off. Repeat until you've fried all of the tortilla halves.
In a medium bowl, combine the cheddar and Jack cheeses and set aside.
Place the fried tostada halves on the prepared baking sheets. Working assembly-line style, place about 2 tablespoons of warmed refried beans on each tostada half, sprinkle on the cheese mixture, and top with the chorizo.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
While the panchos are in the oven, in a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, cumin, coriander, and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the panchos from the oven, top with the pickled jalapenos, a drizzle of spiced sour cream, the cotija cheese, cilantro, and scallions, and serve with the guacamole.
Serves 6 | Total Time: 25 minutes (Prep: 15. Cook: 10.)
California Girl Cheese Board
Humboldt Fog goat cheese Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese Red Hawk cheese Gouda cheese Burrata cheese Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar cheese Thinly sliced prosciutto Thinly sliced salami Marcona almonds Pistachios Candied walnuts Olives Crackers Breadsticks Dried fruit Fresh fruit Dried Strawberry and Cherry Compote
There's not much more to putting together the perfect cheese board than loading up as many goodies on there as possible and making them look pretty. But there are a few good rules of thumb. Make sure to get a range of cheeses: soft, hard, mild, intense, cow, goat. I like seeking out California-made options, and I encourage you to see what kinds of cheeses are being made near you. Pair them with lots of different crackers and breadsticks for variety, along with other salty or sweet nibbles like olives (a must), salumi, nuts, fresh or dried fruit, and compote (wait until you try the compote: GAME CHANGER. Plus it can be made weeks in advance).
Let the cheeses sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes before serving and cut a few slices from each piece to not only make them look more appealing, but also to help your guests feel less shy about being the first ones to dig in. Although if you're inviting me over, I have no issue being the first one to dig into a cheese platter! No shame in my game.
Serves 8 | Total Time: 10 minutes (Prep: 10. Cook: 0.)
Dried Strawberry Cherry Compote
4 ounces (115 g) dried strawberries, roughly chopped
In a medium saucepan, combine the dried fruit and water. Place over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the fruit is soft but still keeps its shape. Add the orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, clove, star anise, and salt, and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 8 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before serving. The compote can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Pea Pesto and Burrata Crostini
Traditionally, pesto is a blend of basil, Parmesan, and pine nuts. But you can turn just about anything into a pesto, so long as there's a fresh element, whether it's an herb or a vegetable. When spring rolls around and peas are out in full force, I'm all about a pesto that features peas. Their naturally sweet flavor paired with basil, mint, and garlic along with a decadent soft cheese like burrata makes for the perfect crostini topper. If you can't find burrata, then you should just move ... joking! Fresh mozzarella works, too.
For the pea pesto:
1 (10-ounce/280-g) package frozen peas, thawed, or 10 ounces (280 g)
For the crostini:
1 baguette, cut into ½-inch (12-mm)
6 ounces burrata cheese Pea tendrils, or extra basil and/or mint
To make the pesto: In a large food processor, combine the peas, basil, mint, garlic, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Pulse for 45 seconds, until the peas are broken down and chunky. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse for an additional 10 seconds. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.
To make the crostini: Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat.
Generously drizzle the baguette slices with oil on both sides. Using tongs, transfer the slices of bread to the hot griddle and toast for a few moments, until golden brown. Flip and toast the bread on the other side for a minute more. Remove from the griddle and set aside. Carefully rub the garlic over the toasted bread.
To assemble: Slather 2 tablespoons of the pea pesto on top of each crostini. Add a tablespoon or two of burrata cheese and garnish with some pea tendrils. Serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8 | Total Time: 10 minutes (Prep: 5. Cook: 5.)
Tip: Extra pea pesto can be tossed into pasta for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.
If I had a signature spread for entertaining, this would be it. It's my favorite way to feed a crowd because everyone can assemble their own bites. And because there's so much to choose from – Meats! Cheeses! Sautéed veggies! Sauces! Dips! – there's bound to be something that every guest will want to eat. Yes, there are a lot of elements here, but every single one can be used in other ways, such as tossed in salads, slathered on sandwiches, or heaped into rice bowls. For a more polished occasion, you can assemble and style the bruschetta bar yourself, or for a casual picnic or potluck, assign guests something to bring.
1 large loaf of bread, cut into ½-inch
Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat.
Generously drizzle the bread with oil on both sides. Using tongs, transfer the bread slices to the griddle and toast for a few moments, until golden brown. Flip and toast the bread on the other side for a minute more. Remove from the griddle. Carefully rub the garlic over the toasted bread.
To make the caramelized onions, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the onions and stir to combine. Once the onions start to cook down, reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 25 minutes.
Arrange the toppings on a large platter and serve with the grilled bread. Let guests DIY their own bruschetta toppings.
Serves 8 | Total Time: 35 minutes (Prep: 10. Cook: 25.)
Bean Jack Bean Dip
I feel very strongly about a good bean dip because, Hi, I grew up in Arizona. Any Southwestern girl will tell you that the keys to this game-day staple are cheese and spice, so using pepper Jack cheese is one way to nail both, plus green chiles, cumin, and chili powder for extra kick. I'd tell you that leftovers would be awesome slathered on a quesadilla or served over rice with a spoonful of salsa or guacamole – but I've never actually had leftovers.
2 teaspoons olive oil
Preheat the broiler.
In an oven-safe skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the refried beans and stir until warmed through.
Remove from the heat and add the drained diced tomatoes, green chiles, sour cream, 1 cup (115 g) of the cheese, and the lime juice. Stir until fully combined, then press the mixture in an even layer. Top with the remaining 1 cup (115 g) cheese. Place under the broiler and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and garnish with the scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately with tortilla chips for dipping.
Serves 8 | Total Time: 15 minutes (Prep: 5. Cook: 10.)
Gaby's Famous Guacamole
Leave it to me to write an entire cookbook on avocados and only discover the secret to the best guac in the world after I finish! But here it is: no chopped tomatoes, mayo, garlic, or any of the other weird things people are putting in it these days. (Broccoli and peas? No thank you.) Just avocados and a few ingredients to help balance their creamy richness, like lemon, lime, chives, and jalapeños. Simple and perfect.
4 ripe avocados, pitted, flesh scooped out, peels discarded Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste Juice of 1 lime, or to taste Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Put the avocado flesh in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice and lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Mash with a fork until smooth and creamy. Stir in the red onion, chives, and jalapeno. Taste and adjust the lemon juice, lime juice, salt, and pepper if needed.
Serve immediately with tortilla chips for scooping.
Serves 4 to 6 | Total Time: 5 minutes (Prep: 5. Cook: 0.)
California Girl Margarita
1 wedge of lime Kosher salt
5 ounces (150 ml) tequila
Run a wedge of lime across the top of 2 cocktail glasses. Once damp, coat the rims in salt. Add all the ingredients except the sparkling water into a cocktail shaker with a few cubes of ice. Shake for 30 seconds, until chilled, and then strain the margaritas into serving glasses with new ice. Top each glass with a splash of sparkling water and serve immediately.
Excerpted from "What's Gaby Cooking"
Copyright © 2018 Gaby Dalkin.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Getting Prepped: Kitchen Staples 9
Appetizers + Bites 11
Breakfast + Brunch 37
Give Me All the Greens! 79
Things to Put on the Side 99
It's Six O'Clock + I'm Starving 127
Weekend Par-tays 149
Carbs, Carbs + More Carbs 187
Sweet Treats 215
The Essentials: Vinaigrettes, Sauces, Dips + Spreads 249