Party time!

My in-laws both turn 80 this year (my mother-in-law in July and my father-in-law in November.)  They wanted a joint birthday party so Keith and I catered the food and my sister-in-law and her husband took care of the bar.  I wanted the food to be nice and knew that some of the preparation would be done in their kitchen (although it is well-equipped, it is always harder to cook in someone else’s kitchen.)

This was my menu:

Passed hors’doevres 

  • Crab salad in cucumber cups
  • Tuna tartar in tasting spoons
  • Bacon avocado cherry tomatoes

On the table

  • Beef tenderloin with two sauces (mustard horseradish and basil parmesan mayonnaise)
  • Gazpacho (served in parfait tasting glasses we got at Pier One years ago)
  • Bruschetta with three toppings (shrimp, tomato and spinach)
  • Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
  • Deviled eggs topped with caviar

For dessert we had cake from Graul’s (two cakes so they could each have their preferred) served with the amazing homemade ice cream from Victor’s Highland Creamery in Oxford where they live.  It’s always interesting to see what is popular with different crowds.  The crab salad and bacon avocado tomatoes were slightly more popular than the tuna.  Everyone loved the beef (it’s hard not to like tenderloin) and everybody always loves deviled eggs.  Somebody commented that they never make them because they are too labor intensive but I know that whenever I serve them people gobble them up.  (Often with the remark “I haven’t had deviled eggs in years.”)  The asparagus was also demolished.

Here are the recipes:

Crab salad in cucumber cups

  • 2 seedless cucumbers sliced about 3/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound of crabmeat (lump or jumbo)
  • 3 – 4 TB mayonnaise
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop the flesh out of the center of the cucumbers with a spoon making sure not to go all the way through the cucumber.  (This can be done ahead with cucumber cups stored in the fridge until party time)  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Spoon a dollop of crab salad into the cucumber cups and serve.

Tuna Tartar
  • 1 lb fresh tuna, chopped finely
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp wasabi powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 5 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper with seeds removed, minced
  • 1 1/2 avocados, chopped

Place tuna in a bowl.  Whisk together olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, wasabi, soy sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.  Pour over tuna.   Stir in  scallions, jalapeno and avocado.  Refrigerate for a few hours until ready to serve.

Bacon stuffed cherry tomatoes

  • cherry tomatoes (I did about 50)
  • 1 lb bacon, cooked to crisp
  • 2 avocados
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 TB mayonnaise

With a sharp knife, cut a small slice off the bottom of the tomatoes so they will stand up flat.  (I made these for a family reunion in June and thought I could skip that step but it’s important – otherwise they roll around on the serving platter.)  Scoop out enough tomato from the top to make a little cup without cutting all the way through the tomato.

Crumble bacon in a bowl.  Add in chopped avocado and squeeze lemon juice over.  Stir in mayonnaise.  (Refrigerate until ready to serve.)  Scoop some of the bacon avocado mixture into each tomato and serve.  Labor intensive but delicious.

Beef Tenderloin 

We always used to cook tenderloin at high heat until we discovered this slow-roasted technique.  Meat is moist and tender.

  • 1 beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • coarsely ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 275.  Brush filet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check temperature – when a thermometer registers 125, your meat is rare.  If you want medium rare, cook to 135.  Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil.  Let rest for about 20 minutes and then carve and serve with sauce of your choice.  Every time we make the beef this way, people say it is the best they have ever had.

Mustard Horseradish sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 TB whole-grain mustard
  • 1 TB horseradish
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Whisk together to combine.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Gazpacho

  • 4 cups tomato juice
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chooopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 parsley, chopped
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a blender and process to your liking.  Refrigerate.  Serve.  This was easy to make ahead and bring ready to go.

Bruschetta Toasts

  • 1 loaf of French bread (I used two since I made all three toppings)
  • olive oil
Slice bread into 1/4 inch slices on diagonal to make longer slices.  Brush with olive oil.  Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes until crisp.  Cool before topping.  (Toasts can be made ahead and stored in baggies – just make sure they are cool before bagging.)
Tomato topping
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3 oz ricotta salata or feta cheese, diced
  • 2 TB chives, minced
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Heat oil over low to medium heat in a small saucepan.  Cook shallots, stirring until soft.  Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.  Toss tomato mixture with cheese, chives and balsamic vinegar.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  To serve, top toasts with 1 – 2 tsps of mixture (depending upon size of toasts.)
Spinach topping
  • 2 bags baby spinach
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
Saute garlic in medium saucepan over medium heat for about 1 minute.  Add spinach in two batches and stir until wilted (about 5 minutes.)  Drain liquid and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in mozzarella cheese.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Spoon onto toasts.
Shrimp topping
  • 1/2 lb cooked shrimp, roughly chopped
  • 2 – 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 TB chopped parsley

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to assemble – up to overnight.  Spoon onto toasts.

Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto

  • asparagus
  • cream cheese (slightly softened)
  • proscuitto (thinly sliced)

Blanch asparagus by dropping into boiling water for about two minutes and then running under cold water.  Refrigerate.

Cut prosciutto slices into smaller pieces.  Spread with cream cheese and roll asparagus spears in it.  This is a bit labor intensive but worth it.  I had them ready to go and then refrigerated with a damp paper towel over them.  I’ll also confess that I’m not good at managing the quantities.  I bought a bunch of asparagus and a pound of proscuitto.  We ran out of asparagus and the big platter of them was decimated.

Deviled eggs
  • eggs
  • Worcestershire
  • dry mustard
  • cayenne pepper
  • paprika
  • mayonnaise
Place eggs in a pot just big enough to hold them and add water to cover.  Bring to a rapid boil, turn off heat and cover for 17 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cold water and ice cubes to stop cooking.  Chill eggs in refrigerator.  Peel eggs and cut in half.  Put yolks in a bowl and mash with a fork.  Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, paprika and mayonnaise.  For the party I cooked 60 eggs.  I have no idea what quantities I used of anything else – I just put in a bunch of everything, stirred it, tasted it and then added a little more.  Everyone loved them.  You can top with a small amount of caviar to make them look a bit more elegant.   Refrigerate until ready to serve.  (When you fill them and refrigerate you usually end up smashing them when you cover them.  I’ve discovered it is easier to put the whites in a baggie and the filling in a bowl and then fill them when I’m ready to go.
Sadly we were so busy that I never got a chance to take a picture!
Advertisements

Fireworks!

We had a chance to enjoy fireworks on Maryland’s Eastern Shore last night – fortunately unimpeded by rain.  The forecast for Baltimore’s fireworks tonight is not so good.  Here are some appetizers that make for a great fireworks picnic – if the rain continues you could always open a bottle of wine and enjoy them inside!

Vodka spiked cherry tomatoes

These are the ultimate grown up appetizer.  It’s like having a Bloody Mary on a stick and one of the most popular things I’ve ever put on blog.  They are easy to transport for a picnic – just stick them in a plastic container, fill another container with the salt and pepper and bring some toothpicks.  For an indoor party, they look pretty in a glass bowl.

  • 2 pts cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup good vodka
  • 3 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper
Make an x at stem end of each tomato.  Dunk in boiling water for about 20 seconds and then in ice water.  Remove peels.  Combine vodka, vinegar, sugar and lemon zest and soak tomatoes in vodka mixture.  Combine salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Serve tomatoes with toothpicks – spear the tomato and then dip in the salt, pepper mixture.
Crab salad in cucumber cups
These also travel well.  Put the cucumber bags in a big plastic bag and bring the crab salad in a plastic container.  Fill them as you serve them.
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch
  • 1 pound of crabmeat
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp celery salt (or 1 celery stalk minced)
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop center out of cucumber slices with a spoon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, mound about 2 tsp of crab salad in cucumber cup and eat.

Guacamole salad

  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • zest of 2 limes
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 avocados, diced

Combine tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeno and lime zest in a bowl.  Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, garlic and cayenne pepper in a separate container and pour over veggies.  Mix well.  When ready to serve, add avocados and stir to combine.

Blackened Cajun Chicken Pasta Salad
  • 2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts split
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 oz. cajun or blackening seasoning mix
  • 1 lb orecchiette pasta
  • 3 – 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
Melt butter.  Dredge chicken breasts in melted butter and then in seasoning mix.  Sear 3 minutes per side in a heavy oven proof skillet and then cook in a 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes until done.  Chill.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.  Chop chicken into bite size chunks and toss all ingredients together.  (If you want spicy, you can add extra seasoning.)  Warning – this is addictive!
Lemon iced gingersnap sandwich cookies
This is the dessert that I created for a fireworks picnic when our friend Kevin requested something with gingersnaps.  They have since become a regular favorite.  Alternatively, you can swap the lemon zest for a few teaspoons of cocoa powder and milk to make cocoa frosting.  I like the cocoa but everyone else seems to prefer the lemon.
  •  1 stick butter softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • Gingersnap cookies (I used Anna’s)

Combine first three ingredients together with a mixer.  Add juice and zest of 1 lemon and beat until spreadable.  Spread on purchased ginger cookies and sandwich together.  Freeze and bring to your picnic.

Happy 4th!

Have appetizer, will travel

We are invited to a party tonight and I was asked to bring an appetizer.  I’m always conscious of bringing something that is easy to transport and requires very little work or use of the host’s kitchen on the receiving end.  (And we will need to be prompt since we have the start of the evening – if you want to be late, bring dessert!)  I decided to make seared tuna with wasabi since I had seen beautiful tuna on sale at Graul’s.  Here is the recipe along with a few other ideas for appetizers that fit the bill for a potluck.

Seared tuna with wasabi sauce
  • 1 lb of sushi grade tuna
  • 1 TB black sesame seeds
  • 1 TB sesame seeds
  • 1 TB poppy seeds
  • 1 TB canola oil
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 TB wasabi paste (can be made by combining equal parts of wasabi powder and water)
  • flat bread crackers
Cut tuna into long blocks.  Season with salt and pepper.  Combine sesame seeds and poppy seeds in a shallow pan and dip tuna blocks in seeds, coating each side.  Using a non-stick pan over medium high heat, heat canola oil and sear tuna blocks about 2 minutes a side.  (You want tuna to be rare).  Remove from heat and chill in refrigerator.  Combine sour cream and wasabi paste.  When ready to serve, slice tuna and put on flat bread crackers – top with a small amount of sauce.

Blanched Asparagus with Wasabi Mayonnaise

This is always a hit.

  • Asparagus spears, tough end broken off
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp wasabi paste

Boil water with salt and blanch asparagus in batches for 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.  Refrigerate wrapped in paper towels.  Stir together remaining ingredients and refrigerate.  Serve asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise for dipping.  NOTE:  Leftover wasabi mayonnaise is great on turkey sandwiches.

Salmon Spread

My nieces all love this spread and it is a great way to serve smoked salmon to a group of people.

  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz smoked salmon, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1/4 tsp tabasco
  • 1/4 cup chopped black olives
  • pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients. Press in a mound or a bowl for shape and chill. Serve with crackers.

Grilled Thai chili scallops

These are delicious and pretty.  I took them to a Halloween gathering – being sort of orange in color, they looked as good as they tasted!

  • 7 – 10 slices white bread, cut into rounds with a 2 inch fluted pastry cutter
  • 15 sea scallops, cut in thirds horizontally
  • 6 – 8 TB Thai sweet chili sauce
  • creme fraiche

Bake bread rounds in a 300 degree oven for about 25 minutes until crisp and browned.  Cool completely and then store in a zip lock bag until ready to assemble.

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat.  Grill scallop slices (dry) for about a minute a side.  Remove from heat into bowl with sweet chili sauce.  Chill until ready to assemble.

When ready to assemble, top each toast round with a scallop slice and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Vodka spiked cherry tomatoes

  • 2 pts cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup good vodka
  • 3 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper
Make an x at stem end of each tomato.  Dunk in boiling water for about 5 seconds for cherry tomatoes or 20 seconds for grape tomatoes and then in ice water.  Remove peels.  Combine vodka, vinegar, sugar and lemon zest and soak tomatoes in vodka mixture.  Combine salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Serve tomatoes with toothpicks – spear the tomato and then dip in the salt, pepper mixture.  For an indoor party, these look pretty in a glass trifle bowl – for a picnic transport in any plastic container.
Crab salad in cucumber cups
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch
  • 1 pound of crabmeat
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp celery salt (or 1 celery stalk minced)
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop center out of cucumber slices with a spoon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, mound about 2 tsp of crab salad in cucumber cup and eat.  (Leftover crab salad is delicious eaten with a spoon!)

Bruschetta Toasts

  • 1 loaf of French bread (I used two since I made all three toppings)
  • olive oil
Slice bread into 1/4 inch slices on diagonal to make longer slices.  Brush with olive oil.  Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes until crisp.  Cool before topping.  (Toasts can be made ahead and stored in baggies – just make sure they are cool before bagging.)
Tomato topping
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3 oz ricotta salata or feta cheese, diced
  • 2 TB chives, minced
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Heat oil over low to medium heat in a small saucepan.  Cook shallots, stirring until soft.  Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.  Toss tomato mixture with cheese, chives and balsamic vinegar.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  To serve, top toasts with 1 – 2 tsps of mixture (depending upon size of toasts.)
Spinach topping
  • 2 bags baby spinach
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
Saute garlic in medium saucepan over medium heat for about 1 minute.  Add spinach in two batches and stir until wilted (about 5 minutes.)  Drain liquid and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in mozzarella cheese.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Spoon onto toasts.
Shrimp topping
  • 1/2 lb cooked shrimp, roughly chopped
  • 2 – 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 TB chopped parsley

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to assemble – up to overnight.  Spoon onto toasts.

Baby shower

I did the food for my friend Celia’s baby shower today.  Everything turned out well (if I do say so myself.)  I met with Celia and her daughter a few weeks ago and we planned a menu that we thought had something for everyone.  Here is what was served:

  • Chicken Salad
  • Crab salad in cucumber cups
  • Blanched asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise
  • Bloody Mary tomato salad
  • Pasta salad

Here are the recipes:

Chicken Salad

  • 1 whole bone in chicken breast with skin on (I prefer organic chicken)
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup green grapes, halved
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup (or as needed) Hellmann’s mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 350.  Rub chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in a ceramic dish.  Roast until chicken is at 150.  Combine chicken with celery and grapes and season with thyme, garlic pwoder, Worcestershire and celery salt.  Add mayonnaise and stir well to combine.  If salad is dry, add more mayonnaise.  Chill and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Crab salad in cucumber cups
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch
  • 1 pound of crabmeat
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp celery salt (or 1 celery stalk minced)
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop center out of cucumber slices with a spoon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, mound about 2 tsp of crab salad in cucumber cup and eat.  (For the baby shower I used 2 pounds of crabmeat and 5 cucumbers.  We could have used at least one more cucumber but the crab salad is good by itself.)

Asparagus with Wasabi Mayonnaise

  • Asparagus spears, tough ends broken off
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 tsp wasabi paste
Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes per batch.  Rinse under cold water and refrigerate.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and refrigerate.  Serve asparagus with mayonnaise dipping sauce.  (Mayonnaise keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks and is also good on turkey sandwiches.)  Everyone loved this – I made 3 pounds of asparagus.)

Bloody Mary tomato salad

  • good tomatoes (I used a mix of red and yellow)
  • 1 TB horseradish
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 olive oil

Chop tomatoes.  Combine horseradish, lemon juice, celery seed, Worcestershire and pepper.  Gradually whisk in olive oil.  Toss with tomatoes.  Beautiful in the trifle bowl and I found one perfect leafy stalk of celery to garnish the bowl.

Pasta Salad

  • 1 pound tri-color fusilli pasta
  • 1 package Good Seasons Italian dressing (made according to package instructions.)  You can either use the Italian or Zesty Italian – I doubled the recipe and used one of each today.
  • 1 – 2 TB capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in cool water to stop cooking.  Toss with dressing, capers and Parmesan and cover.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  You could add vegetables (blanched broccoli, sliced cherry tomatoes but I figured with everything else, we would just serve it straight.

Doesn’t the table look pretty!

Baby shower

Baby shower

 

Fireworks picnic

Last year we took a picnic with our friends to watch fireworks at Oregon Ridge and listen to the BSO.  This year we have other plans but here are some fun picnic suggestions if fireworks are on your schedule:

Vodka spiked cherry tomatoes

These are the ultimate grown up appetizer.  It’s like having a Bloody Mary on a stick and one of the most popular things I’ve ever put on blog.  They are easy to transport for a picnic – just stick them in a plastic container, fill another container with the salt and pepper and bring some toothpicks.  For an indoor party, they look pretty in a glass bowl.

  • 2 pts cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup good vodka
  • 3 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper
Make an x at stem end of each tomato.  Dunk in boiling water for about 20 seconds and then in ice water.  Remove peels.  Combine vodka, vinegar, sugar and lemon zest and soak tomatoes in vodka mixture.  Combine salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Serve tomatoes with toothpicks – spear the tomato and then dip in the salt, pepper mixture.
Crab salad in cucumber cups
These also travel well.  Put the cucumber bags in a big plastic bag and bring the crab salad in a plastic container.  Fill them as you serve them.
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch
  • 1 pound of crabmeat
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp celery salt (or 1 celery stalk minced)
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop center out of cucumber slices with a spoon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, mound about 2 tsp of crab salad in cucumber cup and eat.

Guacamole salad

  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • zest of 2 limes
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 avocados, diced

Combine tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeno and lime zest in a bowl.  Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, garlic and cayenne pepper in a separate container and pour over veggies.  Mix well.  When ready to serve, add avocados and stir to combine.

Blackened Cajun Chicken Pasta Salad
  • 2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts split
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 oz. cajun or blackening seasoning mix
  • 1 lb orecchiette pasta
  • 3 – 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
Melt butter.  Dredge chicken breasts in melted butter and then in seasoning mix.  Sear 3 minutes per side in a heavy oven proof skillet and then cook in a 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes until done.  Chill.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.  Chop chicken into bite size chunks and toss all ingredients together.  (If you want spicy, you can add extra seasoning.)  Warning – this is addictive!
Lemon iced gingersnap sandwich cookies
This is the dessert that I created last year for the picnic when Kevin requested something with gingersnaps.  They have since become a regular favorite.  Alternatively, you can swap the lemon zest for a few teaspoons of cocoa powder and milk to make cocoa frosting.  I like the cocoa but everyone else seems to prefer the lemon.
  •  1 stick butter softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • Gingersnap cookies (I used Anna’s)

Combine first three ingredients together with a mixer.  Add juice and zest of 1 lemon and beat until spreadable.  Spread on purchased ginger cookies and sandwich together.  Freeze and bring to your picnic.

Book club appetizers

Last night was our planning meeting for book club.  We get together and nominate books and then assign nights and each hostess chooses one of the nominated books.  It is always a fun evening – since we don’t meet in the summer it is great to reconnect and in September there is always a wonderful optimism that we’ll all make it to all of the meetings and read all of the books.  We did a potluck and I volunteered to provide appetizers.

When I take appetizers to someone’s house I try to make sure that I need minimal assembly and no equipment (I hate to be asking for the oven at 400 while they are trying to finish cooking dinner.)  These two light appetizers were quite the hit and easy to transport.

Vodka spiked cherry tomatoes

  • 2 pts cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup good vodka
  • 3 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper
Make an x at stem end of each tomato.  Dunk in boiling water for about 5 seconds for cherry tomatoes or 20 seconds for grape tomatoes and then in ice water.  Remove peels.  Combine vodka, vinegar, sugar and lemon zest and soak tomatoes in vodka mixture.  Combine salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Serve tomatoes with toothpicks – spear the tomato and then dip in the salt, pepper mixture.  For an indoor party, these look pretty in a glass trifle bowl – for a picnic transport in any plastic container.
Crab salad in cucumber cups
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch
  • 1 pound of crabmeat
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp celery salt (or 1 celery stalk minced)
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop center out of cucumber slices with a spoon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery salt and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, mound about 2 tsp of crab salad in cucumber cup and eat.  (Leftover crab salad is delicious eaten with a spoon!)

Grown up picnic food

Typically there are fireworks in our neighborhood the weekend before the Fourth put on by a local nursing home.  They didn’t do it this year and when I told my daughter, she started to cry.  Obviously we needed another plan.  I bought tickets for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra fireworks at Oregon Ridge and we are going with our friends and taking a picnic.  It’s going to be hot so I wanted cool things.  Christie is making her wonderful ceviche which has been blogged previously.  I made vodka cherry tomatoes, cucumber cups with crab salad, tuna tartar, deviled eggs and Parmesan crackers.  Here are the recipes:

Vodka spiked cherry tomatoes

  • 2 pts cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup good vodka
  • 3 TB white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper
Make an x at stem end of each tomato.  Dunk in boiling water for about 20 seconds and then in ice water.  Remove peels.  Combine vodka, vinegar, sugar and lemon zest and soak tomatoes in vodka mixture.  Combine salt and pepper in a shallow dish.  Serve tomatoes with toothpicks – spear the tomato and then dip in the salt, pepper mixture.  For an indoor party, these look pretty in a glass trifle bowl – for a picnic transport in any plastic container.
Deviled eggs
Classic picnic food – not the easiest to transport but worth the trouble.
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Place eggs in a pot just big enough to hold them and add water to cover.  Bring to a rapid boil, reduce heat to just simmering and cover for 17 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cold water and ice cubes to stop cooking.  Chill eggs in refrigerator.  Peel eggs and cut in half.  Put yolks in a bowl and mash with a fork.  Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, paprika and mayonnaise.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  Fill egg whites with filling and top with additional paprika.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  (My daughter loves the filling – not surprising given that when I make her poached eggs she only eats the yolks.  She is spreading the extra filling on pretzels – it’s pretty good.)
Tuna Tartar
  • 1 lb fresh tuna, chopped finely
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp wasabi powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 5 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper with seeds removed, minced
  • 1 1/2 avocados, chopped

Place tuna in a bowl.  Whisk together olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, wasabi, soy sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.  Pour over tuna.   Stir in  scallions, jalapeno and avocado.  Refrigerate for a few hours until ready to serve.  This is really good on sesame crackers and I found some with lime.   (You can also eat it with a fork!)  🙂

Cheese crackers
I wasn’t going to make these but I was in the garden picking herbs for dinner and I smelled the rosemary and I thought it would be a good addition to the cheese crackers that I make.  I was right.
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated cheese (I used half Parmesan and half Romano)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 TB fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 stick butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine cheese with salt and pepper and rosemary in a mixer.  Add butter and beat to combine.  Add flour in 3 batches combining until mixture holds together.  Roll into balls (about 1 TB in size) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Flatten slightly.  Bake about 14 – 16 minutes until edges are browned.  Remove from oven and let cool.

Crab salad in cucumber cups

  • 2 cucumbers, cut into slices about 3/4 inch
  • 1/2 pound of crabmeat (leftover after my seafood salad last night)
  • 2 TB mayonnaise
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Scoop center out of cucumber slices with a spoon.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Gently combine crabmeat with mayo, lemon juice, celery and Worcestershire.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, mound about 2 tsp of crab salad in cucumber cup and eat.  These will be very refreshing at our picnic.

When we were talking about the picnic, Kevin said that when he was a kid they always had gingersnaps (or ginger cookies) with strawberry cream cheese and he wanted ginger cookies with something.  I am a big fan of Laurie Colwin’s food essays and remember her writing about a gingerbread cake with chocolate icing.  I also thought about lemon with the ginger flavor.  I made a batch of icing – 1/2 chocolate and 1/2 lemon.  I bought a package of Anna’s ginger thins and a package of Otterbein’s ginger cookies (not realizing that they are cut into shapes – trucks, people, etc. which made it a little harder to make sandwiches).  I spread the Anna’s cookies with chocolate icing and sandwiched them together and the Otterbein’s with lemon icing.  I froze them in bags.  I think they are going to be popular.

Icing for cookie sandwiches

  • 1 stick butter softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Combine together with a mixer.  Split in half.  For chocolate add 4 TB of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tsp milk.  Beat until spreadable.  For lemon add juice and zest of 1 lemon and beat until spreadable.  Spread on ginger cookies and sandwich together.