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!

Making the impossible possible

When we picked tonight to host my husband’s Interclub tennis team for dinner we knew that we were going to be away overnight visiting friends in New Jersey on Saturday night.  We did not know that I would need to be in the office on Saturday morning from 7:30 a.m. until time to leave for New Jersey.  That left very little time for party preparations.   (We also didn’t know that we would end up with 32 grownups and 8 children coming.)

I had been giving thought to the menu ahead of time (easy for me since I spend lots of time thinking about food) and drew my inspiration as I often do from The Barefoot Contessa.  In her Parties cookbook, she had a canoe party menu with Chinese Chicken salad.  She matched it with pasta with pesto and shrimp salad but I decided to use the Chinese Chicken salad to set a theme and am pairing it with sesame noodles and bok choy salad.  I am also not using her recipe exactly but am combining my favorite elements of hers and one I found in a Bobby Flay cookbook.  (One of the fun things about picking a dish that is in many cookbooks is that you can compare multiple variations and find one that suits you perfectly.)

I always make lists when I’m entertaining so I started with a list of all items.  Here is the full menu:

Snacks

Asian snack mix and asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise

Dinner

Bok Choy salad

Sesame noodles

Chinese Chicken salad

Dessert

A country dessert platter (also inspired by Barefoot Contessa) with lemon iced gingersnaps, brownies, orange pound cake and chocolate chip cookies

From this list I started identifying items that could be made ahead – the snack mix and wasabi mayonnaise were made earlier in the week and I blanched the asparagus this afternoon.  The dressing and topping for the Bok Choy salad are fine to make ahead so the salad just needs assembly on Sunday.  The dressing for the sesame noodles and the Chinese Chicken salad can both be made ahead and the chicken can be cooked.  The lemon iced gingersnaps and orange pound cake can be made ahead and frozen and I’m buying the chocolate chip cookies.  So all that needed to be done this afternoon was one more trip to the grocery store and a fair amount of assembly.

All of a sudden, this is looking manageable.  If you like to live with a little less stress you could simplify by doing any of the following:

–       Choose snacks that you buy instead of make and focus on the entrée and/or dessert

–       Buy one or more of the side dishes and focus just on the entrée

–       Buy all of the desserts from a bakery

–       Let people bring things and make it a potluck

–       Skip the whole thing and have dinner by yourself (many people would go for this option!)

Here are all of the recipes:

Asian Snack Mix

  • 3/4 lb. butter melted
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 2 t. onion powder
  • 1 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/2 t. ground red pepper
  • 1/2 t. brown mustard
  • 2 T. sesame oil
  • 1 box rice Chex
  • 1 box wheat Chex
  • 2 5 oz. cans chow mein noodles
  • 2 9.5 oz. jars cashew halves
  • 3 c. sesame sticks
  • 7 oz. jar sunflower seeds
  • 3 c. wasabi peas
  • 1 jar crystallized ginger

Combine first 10 ingredients. Combine all remaining ingredients EXCEPT crystallized ginger & slowly stir in butter mixture tossing to coat.  (You will need a few big bowls.) Spread in even mixture in 5 or so pans.  Bake at 250 for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Cool in pan 10 minutes; spread on paper towels to cool completely. Mince ginger and mix in.  Delicious and good for a crowd.

Asparagus with Wasabi Mayonnais

  • 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.)  I did 3 lbs of asparagus and doubled the mayo.

Bok Choy salad

  • 1 head of bok choy, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 bunch of scallions

topping

  • 1 jar of sesame seeds
  • 2 oz slivered almonds
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles broken in pieces (do not use seasoning package
  • 2 TB of olive oil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder

In a medium sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute almonds and Ramen noodles tossing with garlic powder for about 3 – 4 minutes.  Add sesame seeds and sauté an additional 3 minutes.  Cool and store in a covered container until ready to use.

dressing

  • 2 TB soy  sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup olive oil

Boil all ingredients and boil for 1 minute.  Reserve until ready to use.

When ready for salad, toss bok choy and scallions with dressing and then toss in topping.

Sesame noodles with peanut sauce

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 TB chopped ginger
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 TB sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 package linguine noodles, cooked according to package instructions, drained and rinsed in cool water
  • 1 red pepper minced
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • 1 TB sesame seeds

In a food processor, combine garlic and ginger, chopping thoroughly.  Add peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and rice vinegar and combine well.  Toss with noodles until well covered and add red pepper, scallions and sesame seeds.  Mix well and refrigerate until ready to serve.  (I quadrupled this for 30 people and will be happy if we have leftovers.)

Chinese Chicken Salad

Dressing

  • 3 TB low sodium soy sauce
  • 3 TB rice vinegar
  •  1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3 TB smooth peanut butter
  • 1 TB brown sugar
  • 1 TB finely chopped fresh ginger
  •  1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (save the rest in a glass jar in the refrigerator for chipotle mayo and that wonderful marinade)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a blender or mix well in a bowl.  (If mixing in a bowl, mince the chipotle pepper.)

Salad

  • 2 cup sliced red cabbage or Napa cabbage
  • 2 cup sliced romaine lettuce
  • 2 carrot, grated
  • 1 cup trimmed snow peas
  •  3 thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 whole chicken breasts, bone in
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 chopped peanuts
  • 1 lime halved

Mix cabbage, lettuce, carrots, snow peas, cilantro and scallions in a large bowl.

Toss chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 350 for about 30 minutes or until thermometer reads 140.  Let cool and then shred chicken meat.  Reserve until ready to use.  (We got ambitious and made stock with the skin and bones.)

Toss lettuce mixture with dressing and top with chicken and chopped peanuts.  Serve with lime halves.  I quintupled this for 30 people.

Lemon iced gingersnap sandwich cookies

  •  1 stick butter softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • Gingersnap cookies (I used Anna’s)

Combine together with a mixer.  Add juice and zest of 1 lemon and beat until spreadable.  Spread on purchased ginger cookies and sandwich together.

Brownies

  • 2 squares Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Melt chocolate, butter and sugar over low heat.  Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Stir in flour, eggs and vanilla.  Transfer to a  baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 22 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit in pan for at least an hour before cutting.

Orange Pound cake – click on link for the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe

On the bright side I might have leftovers for another night this week!