If you'd like to find simple but intriguing foods on your plate, Jayni Carey's new cookbook, "Kitchen Magic," belongs on your holiday wish list, or in the stocking of the cook in your life.
"Kitchen Magic" is the latest effort from a northeast Kansas kitchen that has brought us "The Kansas Cookbook: Recipes from the Heartland" and "The Easier You Make It the Better It Tastes," which Carey co-authored with her husband, Frank.
In "Kitchen Magic," Carey goes solo, sharing recipes from a repertoire that focuses on what she calls "embellishments," which transform simple foods into elegant and flavorful dishes.
The book's subtitle, "The Secrets of Elevating Ordinary Food to Extraordinary Heights," sums up her purpose. Carey divides her embellishments into spice blends and rubs; relishes, condiments and sauces; marinades, dressings and vinaigrettes; and sweet mixes.
"We prepare food in a fairly simple way, but this gives a chef's touch to a recipe," she said. "It really elevates the taste of the food and the quality of the recipe by using these embellishments."
They range from very simple spice mixtures, such as Moroccan Spice Blend, which has just three ingredients, to the more complex Mediterranean Olive Mix, with a dozen. However, each of the embellishments adds flavor and a touch of the exotic to the most basic foods.
Orange-Fennel Blend can be applied to chicken or veal chops, Herbes de Provence to lamb chops, potatoes or oven-roasted tomatoes and Lemon-Ginger Dressing to scallops and shrimp. You get the idea.
Carey believes that cooks are looking for easy ways to incorporate international flavors into their foods.
"I think people have become more sophisticated in the way they think about food," she said, noting that the diversity in restaurant genres in the Lawrence-Kansas City area has broadened our culinary horizons. "There are more opportunities to try food that is different from what we grew up with."
The book is available for $18.95 at The Bay Leaf, 725 Mass., and The Raven Bookstore, 8 E. Seventh St., and by mail order at 221 Concord St., Lawrence, 66049.
In addition to main course and side-dish embellishments, "Kitchen Magic" also has plenty of salad and appetizer recipes. What caught my eye as a natural for a New Year's hors d'oeuvres table or Super Bowl appetizer was Carey's Olive and Red Pepper Relish, which can be served with goat cheese on crostini.
Olive and Red Pepper Crostini
6 calamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
4 large Sicilian olives, pitted and finely chopped
6 sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons sweet red pepper, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients for the relish in a small bowl and stir gently. Let the relish stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Keep any remaining relish refrigerated for up to one week. Makes about 3/4 cup.
4-ounce package goat cheese
Soften the goat cheese.
Slice the baguette into 1/2-inch slices. Place them on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Toast lightly under the oven broiler. Turn the slices over, brush with oil and toast lightly.
Remove the slices from the baking sheet and immediately spread about 1 teaspoon of goat cheese on each slice. Garnish with a bit of relish.
Place the crostini on a large serving plate.
Makes about 24 servings.