Happy 4th of July! Happy Weekend!

fireworksIt’s a great day to celebrate our country’s independence, and to celebrate independence in general. We take for granted the rights we have in this country to make our own choices, and to choose those who enact those choices for us. We have the freedom to live where we want, cross our state borders freely, speak our minds and interact with the rest of the world. We should never forget that we are fortunate to be citizens of, and to live in, this country, nor forget the price and the responsibility of protecting our freedom to do so.

Today in America is all about celebrating liberty and freedom. And celebrate we will!

Here are some great dishes to share that are worthy of a celebration…or worthy of a weekend shared with family and friends. Whether you need inspiration for an appetizer, a salad, side, main dish or dessert, you can find it below. Click on the name under each image to link to its recipe.

Cheers, everyone! May those of you in the United States of America have a wonderful and safe Independence Day, and may all of you out there have a fantastic weekend.

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Deep South Deviled Eggs

You know you want one of these!

You know you want one of these!

Italian Sliders

This is what the patties should look like once off the grill, and see? They are juicy!

Sundried Tomato and Basil Turkey Burgers

Alas, another night shot which really doesn't do these justice, a wrinkle in my cloth, and my little digital camera ran out of space in the middle of shooting...plus I was hungry!

Alas, another night shot which really doesn’t do these justice, a wrinkle in my cloth, and my little digital camera ran out of space in the middle of shooting…plus I was hungry!

Easy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Texas Sheet Cake....you know you want it, you know you're gonna make it!

Texas Sheet Cake….you know you want it, you know you’re gonna make it!

Texas Sheet Cake

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

Couscous Salad

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

The Best Peach Ice Cream

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Firecracker Slaw and Corn with Chipotle Butter

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

Betsy’s Famous Black Bean and Mango Salad

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Betsy’s Retro Cheese Olive Bites and Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricot and Pistachio

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Curried Chicken Salad

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini...need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini

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Cornbread Tartlets with BBQ Pork, Sauce and Wickle

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Crustless Summer Squash, Zucchini and Tomato “Pie”

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Peach Melba Pops

finished plate3Mock Maque Choux

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

Star Spangled Peach, Cherry and Blueberry Crumble

 

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Encore! (More party recipes!)

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

My last post Party On!, was all about tips for planning a party, and specifically a cocktail and heavy hors d’oeuvres party. Now comes the fun part…the food and drink! So this post will be short on chat and long on recipes.

If you missed the first two items on my party menu, the Retro Cheese Olive Bites and the Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricot and Pistachio, click on the names to link to those recipes and the last post. Another great recipe from the party is this Caramelized Shallot and Blue Cheese Dip from Bon Appétit that’s a tried and true favorite I’ve used for years, and it’s great with crudités as well as potato chips.

Following are the rest of the party recipes, some or all of which I hope you’ll consider for your next entertaining event. And be sure not to miss the cocktails at the end of this post…got to have the festive drinks to go with the hors d’oeuvres, after all!

The flavor of the chicken salad is even better the day after it’s made and once the tarragon has had a chance to blend with the other flavors.

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini
Makes about 3 1/2 to 4 dozen

2 large chicken breasts halves, with skin and bone
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper

1 cup quartered seedless red grapes
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped shallot
1/3 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or you can use dried tarragon to taste, start with 1 Tablespoon)
2/3 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Two loaves sliced brioche
1 1/2 inch round biscuit cutter
A few extra tarragon leaves for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, place the chicken breasts in an ovenproof casserole that has been greased with olive oil, then drizzle 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake the chicken breasts in the oven until just done and the juices run clear when sliced, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes, uncover and cool. Remove the skin and discard, and remove the meat from the bones. Chop the meat into small pieces, about 1/2 inch, and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the chicken, then stir until everything is well mixed and the mayonnaise has coated all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the salad until ready to use. It will keep for up to two days in the fridge.

About an hour before you’re ready to compose your crostini, use the biscuit cutter to cut out rounds of brioche, avoiding the brown crusts. You’ll get 2 rounds, sometimes 3 out of each slice depending on how large your brioche loaf is. (I save the crusts and leftover bread, freeze it and make bread pudding, or breadcrumbs.) Spread the rounds on a cookie sheet and toast them under the broiler until lightly golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on wire racks. Mound about 1 heaping tablespoon of chicken salad on top of each crostini and garnish with a fresh tarragon leaf, if desired.

It’s hard to stop at three of these lovely little bites.

Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
(Makes about 4 dozen)

2 lbs. small cherry tomatoes, or about 48, washed and dried
4 oz. fresh soft goat cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves

Using a sharp or serrated knife, slice off a tiny sliver on the bottom of each tomato so it will sit without rolling, then slice off the top of each tomato and gently scoop out the seeds and centers of each one. Turn them upside down on a paper towel as you go to drain. Refrigerate if not using immediately, for up to one day, sitting in a deep dish on paper towels and covered with plastic wrap. When ready to stuff, combine the goat cheese and basil in a small bowl, mixing well. Taste and add a tiny pinch of salt and pepper if desired, but I like mine plain. Stuff a small amount of the goat cheese mixture into each hollowed out tomato, mounding slightly on top. Keep cool until ready to serve.

Crab cakes ready for frying…

…and after frying, ready for aioli and eating…or freezing!

Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli
Makes about 4 dozen
Adapted from Bon Appétit

2 scallions thinly sliced, then run your knife through them, white and light green parts only
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 lb. lump crabmeat, picked over very carefully
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, plus an additional 3/4 cup reserved for breading
1 1/2 Tablespoons thinly sliced chives
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil

Aioli:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons thinly sliced chives

1 Tablespoon chives slices 1/8″ long for garnish (optional)

Whisk the first 7 ingredients together in a medium bowl. Gently fold in the crabmeat. Stir in 3/4 cup of panko, 1 1/2 Tablespoons of chives, salt and pepper. Form a scant tablespoon of the crabmeat mixture into a ball. Roll in the remaining 3/4 cup panko crumbs, set on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and very lightly pat the top to make it flat like a crab cake. Repeat with the remaining crab mixture and panko.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add crab cakes in batches, do not crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the finished crab cakes from heat and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all of the crab cakes are cooked.  If needed, add one more Tablespoon of oil during the frying process. If serving right away, proceed to instructions for the aioli. If freezing, place the crab cakes on a cookie sheet in the freezer uncovered until firm, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until ready to use, up to 6 weeks.

To serve frozen crab cakes, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the crab cakes on an un-greased cookie sheet, and bake until heated through, about 10 to 14 minutes. While the cakes are warming, mix together all ingredients for the aioli in a small bowl. Place the cakes on your serving platter and top each one with a tiny dollop (about 1/4 teaspoon) of the aioli. Scatter chives across the platter for garnish.

Pulled pork, Wickle and cornbread…a classic southern combo.

Cornbread Tartlets with BBQ Pork, Sauce and Wickle
Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted unsalted butter

1 lb. of your favorite BBQ pulled pork
1/2 cup spicy North Carolina Vinegar based BBQ sauce
1/2 cup sweet, thick BBQ sauce
12 Wickle sweet pickles, quartered

For the tartlets, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter two 24-cup mini muffin pans, or you can use just one and bake in two batches. In a medium bowl, whisk the cornmeal with the flour, sugar baking powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, combine the eggs, milk and butter. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir just to combine, don’t overmix. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them halfway. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out to cool completely.

If you’re not using the tartlets immediately once they’ve cooled and plan to freeze them, freeze before slicing off the domes. Thaw and bring back to room temperature before using, then slice off the domed tops of the muffins to make a flat surface. Place the pork on a plate and douse the pork with the spicy North Carolina barbecue sauce, allowing it to absorb the sauce. Top each tartlet with some pork, then drizzle a few drops of the sweet sauce over the pork and top the tartlet with a Wickle. Serve at room temperature.

And the drinks! Each recipe makes one cocktail. Cheers!

The Classic Champagne Cocktail is my favorite of the three!

Classic Champagne Cocktail 
1 sugar cube
Angostura bitters
Champagne
Soak the sugar cube in Angostura bitters, drop it into a champagne flute and top with champagne. Serve.

The color change in the layers of the Kir Royale are so subtle, they are hard to photograph. But in this shot you can see that whatever this drink is, it’s a pretty color in candlelight!

Kir Royale
6 ounces champagne
1/2 ounce crème de cassis
Pour the champagne into a flute. Allow it to settle for a moment. Gently pour the cassis down the inside of the glass through the champagne. The Kir should have a layer of cassis at the bottom. Garnish with a lemon twist or with a blackberry if desired.

The Italian Spritzer is usually made with Prosecco, but we made ours with champagne…it’s great either way!

Italian Champagne Spritzer
1 ounce Aperol
4 ounces champagne
Splash of club soda
Pour the Aperol into a large wine glass with ice cubes (we use two large ice cubes), then add the champagne and splash of soda. Garnish with an orange slice or a cherry, or both.