One of our favorite couples to go out with has a big problem – the Mrs. is a vegetarian. I know what you’re thinking – they must be VERY cool for us to hang out with them in spite of such a glaring personality flaw. ;-)
I kid, of course. We wanted to have this dynamic duo over, so I took on not one but TWO culinary challenges. First, I would make sure the meal was both vegetarian AND delicious. And second, since the weather was warming up nicely, I would make sure that every course – including dessert – had some sort of grilled component.
This was the appetizer I served, and it was very light and refreshing. For those of you who are not fennel fans, have no fear – caramelizing it with the onions mellows it out significantly. Plus, there is so much good stuff going on in this salad, you won’t taste any licorice-esque flavors at all.
Prepare grill to medium heat.
Cut eggplant crosswise into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. Lightly coat both sides of eggplant slices with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Place on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 7 minutes on each side or until browned. Set eggplant slices aside.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fennel and onion; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned.
Combine remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, arugula, vinegar, and oil in a medium bowl; toss gently to coat. Divide arugula mixture evenly among 8 appetizer plates; top each serving with 1 eggplant slice. Arrange about 1/3 cup fennel mixture on each eggplant slice; top with 2 tablespoons tomatoes and 1 tablespoon cheese. Sprinkle the chopped basil and thyme evenly over cheese.
I find it really funny that deviled eggs are a super-popular Easter treat, ya know, since the word DEVIL is featured so prominently. Tee. Anywho, since I don’t celebrate Easter, I get my satanic egg fix at picnics – and lo and behold, I went to a picnic just recently!
As I had just been in Utah for a week, I brought a big Chick-fil-a nugget tray as my “main course” (and, as you can imagine, it was gone in about 30 seconds). But I couldn’t show up without some kind of homemade treat – after all, I have a reputation to uphold. I saw these eggs in a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine, and they seemed like the perfect twist on a spring classic. They are easy to make, but difficult to make beautiful – no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get the cuts to be perfectly smooth and even (thus the lack of a decent picture). Oh, well, they tasted yummy!
Place eggs in a large saucepan. Cover with cool water to 1 inch above eggs; bring just to a rolling boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold running water until cool.
Peel eggs; cut in half lengthwise. Place yolks in a medium bowl; mash with a fork until smooth. Add sour cream and next 7 ingredients (through salmon); stir well. Spoon mixture into egg white halves (about 1 tablespoon in each half). Garnish with dill and tarragon sprigs, if desired.
Okay, one more cocktail party recipe before we wrap up 2009 here at TWT…
This dish started out being troublesome. First off, my husband had to drive halfway across the state to find miso paste, despite the fact that we live in an area that has probably the highest Asian population in metro Atlanta (I would have substituted something if I knew what would work – any ideas, as a side note?). Second, while I thought I already had ginger in the house, I realized only AFTER returning from shopping that it was no longer fresh. Grrrr…
I made the orange miso sauce ahead of time and put it in the fridge. However, I basically forgot about this dish until a few hours into the party, until I went into the chill chest to open a new bottle of white wine. I stared at the salmon, torn over whether to present another appetizer or simply save the fish for a weeknight dinner.
“So…what are you going to make with that?” asked one of my guests.
“Eh, I was going to make a sesame salmon dish, but I’m not sure it’s even worth it at this point,” I replied. “It looks like folks are slowing down, and that maybe we don’t need any more food.” She stared at me incredulously, then narrowed her eyes and focused in on me.
“Seriously, what do I have to do to get you to make that fish???”
I laughed out loud – that was all I needed to hear. I quickly prepped and cooked the salmon, and I arranged the skewered pieces on a platter with the sauce. As it turns out, I am incredibly glad that I served this salmon. It was light, tasty, easy to throw together, and a complete and utter hit. I thought the fish was so flavorful on its own that it didn’t even need the sauce, but I was definitely in the minority there – people were grabbing stray bread and crackers just to sop up the nutty, citrusy goodness.
Moms, if you need a way to coax your kids to eat fish, this might just be the ticket.
Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl to blend well. Season orange-miso sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Line large baking sheet with foil. Place salmon and vegetable oil in large bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Place sesame seeds on small plate. Coat 1 surface of each salmon piece with sesame seeds. Arrange salmon, sesame-coated side up, in single layer on prepared baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake salmon uncovered until just cooked through, about 5 minutes; transfer to platter. Skewer each piece with toothpick. Serve warm, passing orange-miso sauce.
While most of my cocktail party prep/cooking went off without a hitch, I did have one pretty major hiccup with an egg roll dish involving phyllo dough. That stuff is HARD to work with, by gosh. I just didn’t leave myself enough time, and phyllo is NOT the kind of ingredient that cooperates in high-stress situations. So, the chorizo-goat cheese-chive filling ended up making some darn fine omelets the following morning, and I resigned myself to master phyllo dough some other day.
Thank goodness refrigerated pie crusts are more friendly and forgiving, as I really wanted to have at least one “filled pastry” kind of dish. These empanadas were relatively straightforward to make (the filling in particular was quite simple, and it definitely made the kitchen smell yummy), and even though they required a little time and concentration to fill and shape, the oohs and ahhhs and “you MADE those?!?!” comments definitely made the extra effort worthwhile. They really were delicious, and everyone had fun guessing what made them just a touch sweet (it’s the cinnamon).
A couple of notes: 1) You have to find your own happy zen place in terms of how thin to roll the pie crusts. You want them to be thick enough to hold in the stuffing, but you don’t want them so thick that the dough overpowers every bite. I think after making one or two, you can easily figure out what works and what doesn’t. 2) If you don’t have cookie cutters, just use the open end of a water glass. 3) Yay, you can put these together ahead of time and then freeze them until you’re ready to bake! Just assemble them, freeze them flat on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then transfer them to a Ziploc bag once they are firm. When you bake them from frozen, just adjust the time to more like 30-45 minutes.
Heat oven to 375º F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the raisins, ketchup, cinnamon, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Using a 2½-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles from the piecrusts. Divide the beef mixture among the circles, brush the edges with water, fold in half, and press with a fork to seal. Transfer to a baking sheet and brush with the egg. Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Put the sour cream in a small bowl and sprinkle with the lime zest. Serve with the empanadas.
Whew, sorry to leave y’all hangin’ there…life kind of got in the way of blogging for a hot minute, but I do want to continue sharing my cocktail party recipes and stories. Here goes!
Since my first couple of cocktail party “courses” consisted of nuts and dips, I wanted to bring something out next that was a bit more complex, both texturally and flavor-wise. These crostini were incredibly easy to prepare, but they had great visual appeal, and their salty-acidic crunch was a refreshing counterpart to the rich and creamy dips.
I am normally wary of fennel, finding its anise flavor a little off-putting (mostly since I don’t care for licorice). However, this slaw was nicely balanced, largely due to the citrusy notes of the lemon and the parsley. It really only took me a few minutes to put this platter together, and the dish did a good job of refreshing everyone’s palates.
Do-ahead note: You can toast the baguette slices in advance and then store them in an airtight container for probably a day or two. Same goes for the slaw, but make sure you refrigerate that. :-)
Heat oven to 375º F. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Toast until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the fennel, parsley, lemon juice, the remaining tablespoon of oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Divide the prosciutto evenly among the toasted baguette slices and top with the slaw.
If the caramelized onion dip was the shining star of the cocktail party show, then this hummus was the unassuming supporting actor who’s a dark horse to win an Oscar (sorry, it’s the best analogy that came to mind). It had a spicy, smoky kick that was the perfect foil to the sweetness of the onions in the other dish. The bonus? Hummus doesn’t even require any real cooking! Just throw all of the ingredients in a food processor, pulse, and voila.
Don’t skimp on the lemon juice or the cilantro, as the acidic and herby notes are pretty necessary for balance in this dish. The recipe makes a LOT of hummus, but no worries - the leftovers make a great bagel-topper or sandwich spread!
Blend garbanzo beans and next 7 ingredients in processor until smooth. Add pimientos; process, using on/off turns, until pimientos are coarsely chopped. Transfer hummus to medium bowl. Stir in cilantro. Season hummus to taste with salt and pepper. Accompany with bagel chips.
Jason and I hosted our first dinner guests (well, besides my parents) on Saturday night, and I wanted to make a special meal to mark the occasion and make them feel welcome. However, I also wanted to keep the cost of the dinner relatively low, and because of our new pup, I didn’t want to spend all day in the kitchen.
This appetizer was perfect because it was simple and fresh, and because it was ideal for advance preparation. The flavors were great (even though the basil oil, since I kept it on the side, didn’t mesh with the ingredients on the skewers as intensely as I would have liked), but the presentation seemed a little off to me–next time, I’ll use a melon baller instead of chopping the canteloupe into cubes.
Puree olive oil, 1/3 cup basil, and shallot in food processor until basil and shallot are finely chopped.
Cut each cantaloupe wedge crosswise in half. Alternate 1 melon piece, 1 piece ruffled prosciutto, 1 mozzarella ball, 1 more prosciutto piece, and 1 more melon piece on each skewer. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 15 minutes before serving.)
Arrange skewers on platter. Drizzle with basil oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper. Garnish with basil sprigs.
In addition to chocolate mint brownies (the recipe for which I’ve already posted), my other contribution to the recent Food Blogger Potluck was this deliciously cheesy dip. And guess what–it’s light! That’s right, Cooking Light magazine promised to deliver a rich, flavorful dish with less fat and calories, and I definitely felt like this version passed the test. It’s quite thick, so make sure you have sturdy chips or bread to use for dipping. This is a great make-ahead recipe; I mixed everything together, put it in the baking dish, and refrigerated it, and then I just popped it in the oven about 30-40 minutes before I wanted to serve.
Combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and next 6 ingredients (through spinach) in a large bowl; stir until well blended. Spoon mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.