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.

Party planning

We hosted my 30th high school reunion last night.  It was great fun having everyone – I only wish we had a slightly higher turnout.  My husband and I love having parties and of course, I was able to spend some of my travel time last week thinking about menus.  I like to have a variety of things so there is something for everyone and I don’t want anyone to leave hungry.  Here is the menu:

  • Beef Tenderloin
  • Crab DIp
  • Shrimp Seviche with tortilla chips
  • Mushroom and Fontina pizzas
  • Seared Tuna with wasabi sauce
  • Vodka cherry tomatoes
  • Cardamom cheese straws
  • Asparagus with proscuitto
  • Salmon and potato terrine
  • Creme de menthe brownies and macaroons
I made everything except the macaroons.  It wasn’t a big party – about 25 people and as usual, I made a little too much food.  I decided to try a few experiments since it was a smaller crowd and I would say the results were mixed.  Here are specifics for fixing each and comments:
Beef Tenderloin
The beef was very good.  First key is to start with good quality meat – we bought the whole tenderloins, trimmed and tied from our local grocery store.  Season the beef with salt and pepper.  My husband cooked them whole but you can cut them in half – it makes them a little easier to handle and reduces the cooking time.  Preheat oven to 475.  Using a heavy roasting pan with vegetable oil, start the beef on top of the stove over 2 burners.  Sear about 2 minutes a side so beef is browned on all sides and then cook in oven for about 20 minutes or until internal temperature is 125 for medium rare.  My husband sliced the tenderloin and we served it with sliced french bread and horseradish sauce, mayonnaise and purchased bearnaise sauce.  We were disappointed in the bearnaise sauce but the beef was great.  And having leftover tenderloin is not a bad thing.
Crab Dip
This recipe came from my mother-in-law and everyone loves it.  It is quick and easy to fix and is easily doubled or tripled for larger crowds.
  • 1 lb crab meat
  • 2 packages cream cheese softened (we usually use low fat)
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 2 heaping TB mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Combine cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, seasonings and half of the cheese.  Fold in crab meat and top with remaining cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes and serve hot with crackers.
Shrimp Seviche
Christie makes this a lot and I love it.  It’s light and healthy but it’s a little bit hard to eat because it’s juicy.  I made corn tortilla cups from a Martha Stewart recipe and was planning to serve it in those but they were a disaster.  I was glad that I tried them ahead of time because they were so hard to chew, I threw them out and used blue corn tortilla chips.  I thought it was good but we have a lot of this leftover as well.  I think it’s a better summertime thing (along with the vodka cherry tomatoes which I’ve blogged before and are usually popular but did not fly off the table last night.)
  • 1 1/2 lbs of shrimp, peeled and deveined and chopped into 5 pieces each
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 TB orange juice
  • 1 large garlic clove pressed
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 yellow pepper, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 TB minced red onion
  • 1 mango, peeled and finely chopped
Put shrimp in a large bowl with juices and garlic.  Add olive oil, peppers, cilantro and onion and stir well.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Add mango and refrigerate.  Serve with tortilla chips and plenty of napkins!
Mushroom and Fontina pizza
This came from a Martha Stewart book.  Of course, she makes her own pizza dough but I cheated and bought dough from Trader Joe’s.  The trick is to roll it into longer ovals and cut crosswise in small slices to make it easy to eat.  I made a lot of topping and almost all of it disappeared.  This is also a good topping to put on Boboli shells for a mid-week dinner.
  • 1 1/4 lbs mixed mushrooms (I used oyster, shiitake and cremini), cleaned and chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 10 oz Fontina cheese, grated
  • cornmeal
  • Pizza dough
Saute mushrooms in olive oil in 4 batches, seasoning with salt and pepper.  After mushrooms have cooked, pour white wine into pan and turn heat to high.  Scrape up pan bits and cook until wine is reduced to about 1 TB and pour over reserved mushrooms.  Roll pizza dough in ovals on a work surface dusted with cornmeal and top with mushrooms and cheese.  Cook on a hot pizza stone at 500 degrees about 10 minutes per pizza.  Slice and serve.
Seared tuna with wasabi sauce
I almost always have this for parties because it is one of my favorite things.  I special order sushi grade tuna from my grocery store and it makes the difference.
  • 1 1/2 lbs 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.
Vodka cherry tomatoes
I’ve blogged these many times so you can search blog for recipe.  They look pretty in a glass bowl but not many of them were eaten last night.  My  friend Kevin will be happy – he thinks they make a great vegetable with dinner so I have a call into him to come pick up some leftovers.
Cardamom cheese straws
I had never made these before but they are definitely a repeat.  After the first batch I decided I liked them so much I would make a second batch.  They did not take long to make and I love the cardamom flavor – you could certainly substitute other spices and I think I’ll experiment.
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp cardamom
  • large pinch salt
  • 1/3 stick butter, diced
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese grated
  • 1 TB plus 1 tsp milk
  • 1 egg
Pulse flour, cardamom and salt together in a food processor.  Add butter and pulse until mixture is in small balls.  Add cheese and 1/ tsp of milk and pulse until dough starts to form.  Remove from processor and knead until smooth.  Form into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator and on a work surface sprinkled with flour roll into a rectangle – about 10 x 8 inches.  Cut into 1/4 inch wide straws.  Place on baking sheets covered with parchment paper.
Combine egg and milk and whisk.  Brush straws with mixture and bake in a 350 degree oven for 14 minutes, switching sheets halfway through.  Remove from oven and cool.
Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
  • 1 1/2 lbs of asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 1/2 lb proscuitto, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz cream cheese, softened
Boil water and blanch asparagus in batches, 2 minutes per batch.  Remove and rinse in cold weather to stop cooking.  Refrigerate to cool.  Spread prosciutto slices with cream cheese and roll asparagus.  Serve.
Salmon and potato terrine
This recipe came from Martha Stewart and was incredibly complicated.  We made it Friday night and it took the two of us about an hour and required the purchase of a terrine pan.  It turned out well and looked pretty.  This is not practical for large parties.  I’m not going to blog the recipe but will try other terrines in the future.
Creme de Menthe brownies
These are always popular and they look pretty.  I’ve blogged before so you can search for recipe.
One of the things you’ll notice about the recipes is other than the pizzas, everything can be made ahead of time.  I have wonderful helpers who I hire when I give parties.  I like to make the food myself so I don’t want to hire a caterer but I also want to enjoy being with friends rather than making drinks and refilling crackers at the table.  Making the food ahead of time allows you to enjoy your own party.  Pick a couple of the above and invite a few friends over!

Grown up picnic food

There is a nursing home near us that has a lovely tradition of putting on a great fireworks display the Saturday before 4th of July weekend.  Members of the community are invited to bring picnics, enjoy live music and visit with friends and neighbors before the fireworks.  It is good old-fashioned fun.  We have gone the last several years with friends and have our picnic arrangements pretty well set.  White wine and beer, cheese and crackers and vodka spiked cherry tomatoes, deviled eggs, steamed shrimp, shrimp ceviche and blackened cajun chicken salad.  The vodka spiked cherry tomatoes are particularly popular – sort of like having a Bloody Mary on a stick.  Here are the recipes for the tomatoes and the chicken salad:

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.  Our friend Kevin thinks that they count as a vegetable side dish but was planning to eat the leftovers for breakfast this morning.
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.)
Have a wonderful picnic!