Article Comment 

Simple recipes for sensational entertaining

 

Elizabeth Karmel/The Associated Press

 

When it comes to entertaining, I often find that the casual gatherings and impromptu parties outshine more elaborate affairs. I think it's the combination of a relaxed atmosphere and last minute inspiration. 

 

This summer, for example, I was visiting friends when one of the hosts spontaneously began making homemade crackers from corn and flour tortillas. It wasn't planned, but it was delicious. They were positively addictive and I've since started making them myself. 

 

 

 

BUTTERMILK RICOTTA CHEESE DIP 

 

Start to finish: 2 hours 

 

Servings: 12 

 

 

 

3 cups whole milk 

 

1 1/2 cups buttermilk 

 

1 cup heavy cream 

 

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 

 

 

 

To serve: 

 

Fleur de sel or pink sea salt, about 1/8 teaspoon 

 

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 

 

Fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano or basil 

 

Zest of 1/2 lemon or orange 

 

 

 

  • In a large, stainless steel saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, buttermilk, cream and salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. As the milk solids begin to separate from the whey, give it a stir, then return it to a gentle simmer. When you see steam rising and solid chunks (curds) forming, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for about 30 minutes. 

     

  • Meanwhile, line a mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. Using a ladle, spoon the cooled curds and whey into the strainer. Place one layer of the cloth over the cheese. It will strain quickly at first. The longer you let it sit, the drier and more concentrated the cheese will become. Strain the cheese at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. 

     

  • Once strained, discard the liquid. The cheese can be used immediately, or covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. 

     

  • When ready to serve, place the ricotta in a decorative bowl. Use a spoon to form a well in the center. Sprinkle the cheese with the fleur de sel, then fill the well with olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and citrus zest. 

     

     

     

     

     

    HOMEMADE CRACKERS 

     

    Start to finish: 30 minutes 

     

    Servings: 12 

     

     

     

    12 round fresh flour or corn tortillas, at room temperature 

     

    2 tablespoons olive oil 

     

    Seasonings (such as fleur de sel, truffle salt, dehydrated minced garlic, minced dried onion, sesame seeds, etc.) 

     

     

     

  • Heat the oven to 350. 

     

  • Brush the tortillas on both sides with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt or the seasonings of your choice. Arrange the tortillas on 2 baking sheets (or bake them in batches). The tortillas can be close together, but not touching. Bake on the oven's center rack for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans after 12 minutes, until slightly puffy and golden brown. 

     

  • Let cool and break into irregular shapes. 

     

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

     

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