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

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
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.


Chickpea, Feta and Basil Salad with a side of Gratitude

An easy little salad for all seasons…packed full of healthy and hearty goodness.

No matter the time of year, I love eating salad, and this particular one is a favorite. Featuring chickpeas, feta, red onion and fresh basil lightly dressed with a flavor-packed vinaigrette, this salad makes a great vegetarian meal by itself, or a tasty accompaniment to another veggie or meat dish. It’s hearty and comforting, and yes…healthy. And it’s so easy to make, what’s not to like about it?

I first tasted this salad years ago at a neighborhood health food restaurant and deli. For many years I’d go in and buy a little carton of this salad for my lunch, all the while thinking that I should just make some myself…but then seemed to never get around to it. Then one day I had a craving for this salad, had all the ingredients on hand and I finally constructed my own version of it which I not only love, but I think it’s even better than the restaurant’s version. I’ll let you be the judge!

But before we move on to the recipe, I need to take a moment to say some heartfelt thank you’s to a few of my fellow blogging friends who have bestowed their most kind words and honors on me lately. I don’t really participate in these awards anymore, but when someone is so kind as to think of me or mention me or my blog, it is such an honor that I feel I must take the time to show my appreciation, and I hope you’ll go and visit these folks and see why I think they are so very special, too.

First up is Chocolate Chip Uru from Go Bake Yourself—a quite brilliant and talented Aussie teenage (17!) baking wunderkind who epitomizes versatility by juggling school, family life, baking and blogging very successfully. She recently gave me the Versatile Blogger award, and if you’d like to see my answers to this award’s challenges you can check that out in a post from last fall right here. Thank you again, Uru, for your support and kind words and for all the truly scrumptious and decadent sweet treats you post! And to my readers…if you like sweets or baking at all…you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you go and check out this amazing gal’s site. You won’t be disappointed, in fact, you’ll be salivating all over your keyboard.

Next I need to thank the very creative Sawsan of Chef in Disguise for awarding me both the Versatile Blogger award and the Very Inspiring Blogger award. I just discovered Sawsan’s blog this past spring, and could only think to myself…where has she been all my blogging life? Talk about inspiring, she’s a most talented chef—disguised or otherwise—and an equally talented photographer who documents the process of making her lovely and delicious dishes in a very approachable and educational way. Hailing from Jordan, the food she makes is not only based on family and traditional middle eastern, Levantine and arabic recipes, but her dishes represent cultures from around the world. I’ve never seen anything on her blog that I wouldn’t want to eat, and that’s the highest praise I can give! Do please go and check her out for yourself.

And lastly, but not the least for sure, is a big thank you to the beautiful Karista from Karista’s Kitchen, who so kindly nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger award. Karista is a professional personal chef and teacher whose every plate of food makes me not only want it, but feel like I can make it, too. In fact I’ve made a few of her recipes and they are always delicious and, well…beautiful! Her colors and flavors are so lively and perfectly balanced, and I can’t tell you how many recipes I have bookmarked to make. She lives on the west coast of the U.S. with her Ranger husband, and shares some of their ranging experiences from time to time as well. She’s also spent some time in my current home territory of Georgia, so she often can relate to some of my own ranging experiences, which is quite fun for me! But don’t just take my word for it, go and see her lovely food and site for yourself.

Applause please, and thanks again to all three of you for your kindness! You can also find these good folks…and me, of course, on Facebook and follow us there!

And now for today’s recipe:

A B C, it’s easy as 1 2 3, it’s simple as Do Re Me…

Chickpea, Feta and Basil Salad
(Makes about 6-8 servings)

2-15 oz. cans of chickpeas, low or no salt, drained and rinsed well
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin slices (chiffonade)
5 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoons Tamari
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas, red onion and basil, then gently stir in the feta cheese. To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, dijon mustard, tamari, lemon juice, salt and pepper, until well blended and emulsified. Pour the dressing over the chickpea, onion, basil and feta mixture and toss gently to coat all of the ingredients. You can serve immediately or place in the fridge for an hour to allow the flavors to blend. This keeps well for several days in the fridge.

Creamy Avocado Cucumber Soup, and…

Elegant and easy, this cold soup has been a staple in our house all summer long. Such a staple that I whirr it up in the blender at least every other week. We gobble it up in no time flat, and then want more and more. In fact, it’s been relegated to the status of something so simple and quick to make that it’s almost like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…almost.

But it really deserves a bit more attention than it’s gotten thus far. I posted the base of this soup when I first started this blog, but since that time I’ve made it so often that I could make it in my sleep! And I think I’ve perfected it now. Continue reading

Orzo with Lemon, Asparagus and Ham

Light and Lively…oh wait, that’s a yogurt isn’t it?

You know how sometimes you’re just putzing around in your kitchen and you remember some ingredient that’s been in the pantry for a while? You meant to use it before now, really you did! A perfectly good, even wonderful, ingredient like that little tin of some special something, that interesting package of pasta, dried beans, a grain of some type, that pesto. Well in my case it was, and is, orzo. Continue reading