Caprese Skewers, a Summertime Appetizer


Recently at the restaurant we’ve been catering a number of events serving “finger-foods,” small appetizers and baked goods. Such events are typically receptions with light, but colorful, nibbling foods to accompany drinks. A very frequent dish right now, in addition to the inevitable mini-sandwiches, is skewered fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil kebabs based on Caprese “salad.”  That’s the Italian classic appetizer or starter course that’s usually served on a platter rather than bamboo skewers.

Caprese Skewers, a Summertime Appetizer

As I am generally the one who prepares this particular appetizer, I’ve developed a fairly simple method and refined it with practice. The fresh mozzarella is easiest to work with if it’s the small balls called “ciliegine,” meaning “cherries.” But blocks can be cut into half-inch cubes, as well. And small “grape” tomatoes are easiest too. But sometimes they are large enough to need cutting in half. Short (4-5-inch) bamboo skewers work well, and do not need soaking before using.


For the basil I generally mince up fresh leaves very finely on a cutting board and mix them with a little salt, pepper and olive oil for marinating the mozzarella. Depending on the amount of basil, the specks on the mozzarella will be lighter or greener, but the basil flavor penetrates the mozzarella, even if the surface doesn’t look really green. I used to use small pieces of basil leaf skewered between the tomato and cheese, but I think the basil-marinated cheese works best.


Several of our recent catering customers, when returning the platters, have told me how much the guests liked our Caprese skewers.


Here’s a recipe based on 8-ounces of fresh mozzarella, that will make enough appetizer skewers for 6-8 people. For bigger groups, multiply the recipe. Allow 2 skewers, or more, for each diner. The skewers can be assembled up to several hours before they’re served. Store them refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap until needed.


10-12 fresh basil leaves, medium-large

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces  “cherry” sized (“ciliegne”) fresh mozzarella balls, or 8 ounces of a block

8 ounces small grape tomatoes

4-5 inch bamboo skewers


On a cutting board and using a large knife, very finely mince the basil leaves. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Drain the mozzarella balls or cut the block or log into 1/2-inch pieces. Mix these carefully into the basil mix to coat well.


Rinse the tomatoes. If small (grape-sized), use whole. If they’re longer, cut them in half, Thread about three pieces of mozzarella alternating with two pieces of tomato.. Arrange the skewers on a serving platter. Cover with plastic wrap and store refrigerated until served. 



Irish Colcannon for St. Patrick’s Day


Thinking about Irish food for St. Paddy’s Day required sipping some Jameson, neat. It’s silky and elegant, more like cognac than whiskey. It shimmers across your palate. Now where was I? Oh yes, a dish for St. Patrick’s Day.


I propose colcannon, the savory combination of lightly caramelized cabbage, or braised kale, with mashed potatoes.


While not specifically a St. Patrick’s Day treat, it’s solid winter fare and will pair nicely with salmon and watercress-cream sauce or with lamb chops and mint. It’s also ideal with boiled ham or corned beef for a classic Irish dinner.


The name derives from the Gaelic words for white-headed cabbage. “Cál” is the Irish version of “cole,” an Old-English and Germanic word, though of Latin origin, for cabbage (think coleslaw, kohlrabi, cauliflower). Either cabbage or kale combines heartily with potatoes – and plenty of butter, of course -- to make an amazing dish.

Irish fare is infrequently considered a gourmet offering. But in fact, some dishes are extremely tasty. Well-seasoned mashed potatoes, which my New England-Irish mother served nearly every day of my childhood, is one of those, as chefs at classy restaurants now recognize. The greens in colcannon makes mashed potatoes even richer.

Since this is a side dish, I’m not recommending specific accompanying drinks. Those would depend on the meat or fish in the dinner. But if having beer, please not Guinness stout, as good as it is, especially if serving salmon. A low-hop lager beer would be preferable.

Actually, as my Irish informants inform me, wine or beer is uncommon with dinner there. Men are more likely to drink stout or porter after dinner, while the ladies take sherry.

My recommendation is sipping neat Jameson while you’re cooking. 

Irish Colcannon

1 small cabbage or large bunch kale, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 very small onion, diced

6 tablespoons butter, split

3 tablespoons canola oil


2 pounds potatoes, baking type or Yukon Gold type

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Large pinch cayenne or 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (optional)

1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk

About 1/2 cup water reserved from boiling the potatoes

Gently fry onion and cabbage or kale in 3 tablespoons butter, the oil plus 1/2 teaspoon salt in covered pan, stirring frequently. Add a tablespoon of water from time to time to keep vegetables from sticking. Fry until tender and color is becoming pale golden in places. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Meanwhile, peel potatoes (or keep skins if not too thick or spotted: if not peeling, scrub potatoes and remove any bad spots). Cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in cold water to prevent browning.

In a pot boil potatoes in just enough water to cover them, adding garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil until quite tender and beginning to flake on the edges (10 -12 minutes). Test for doneness with a tooth pick.

Drain potatoes, saving part of the water in a bowl. Return potatoes to pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, cayenne or hot sauce, horseradish, if used, and 3 tablespoons butter. Mash well to break up lumps. Add half-and-half or milk and continue to mash and mix. With the masher, beat in enough reserved boiling water to obtain a soft fluffy consistency. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Add cooked cabbage or kale. Mix thoroughly with spoon. Taste again and adjust any seasonings necessary. Cover and keep warm until served.



Chicken Braised with Black Beans “Veracruz”



All right, this richly flavored dish is something I created, not a specialty of Veracruz, that Mexican city and state bordering the Caribbean. But it employs a number of ingredients used in Veracruzana cooking, and highlights their favorite black bean.


Chicken Braised with Black Beans “Veracruz”

The dish is a sort of stew, and is designed to be accompanied by rice. I make it a little on the hot side in terms of peppers, but the people I’m making if for, including my grandchildren, like their food peppery.


The recipe serves 6-8 people, but leftovers are very enjoyable. Serve with rice on the side.


The Chicken:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne


The sauce:

2 medium-large onions, finely diced (or chopped in a food processor)

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon (or less if preferred) dry crushed red pepper or cayenne

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground annato (sold in Mexican groceries as “Achiote Molido”)

1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

1 1/4 cups chicken broth (low salt)

2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed well

1/2 cup sour cream or crema

Chopped cilantro for garnish, optional


Prepare and marinate the chicken: Trim off tough or fatty parts from the chicken breasts. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Mix well with the salt, cornstarch, and next three spices. Set aside to marinate.


Prepare the onions, and fry them over medium-low heat in the olive oil in a wide pot, covered when not stirring. Every several minutes, open the pot and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot well, until onions are very soft and starting to turn pale golden.


While the onions are frying, prepare the garlic, measure out the seasonings into a small bowl, and drain and rinse the beans.


When onions are done, stir in the garlic, and fry them in for several minutes. Add the chicken broth plus the seasonings. Stir well, then simmer, covered, five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the marinated chicken, raise the heat under the pot, and cook, stirring frequently until the raw color of the chicken is gone. Then cover the pot and simmer 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.


Stir in the drained black beans, and simmer 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste the sauce, and add a little salt to taste. Stir in the sour cream, and bring back just to a boil, then remove from the heat. Taste one last time and if under-salted to your taste, stir in a little more salt.


The dish can be served now, or reheated later. When serving, sprinkle the top with coarsely chopped cilantro, if desired. Accompany with rice.

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