appetizers

Southern Fried Chicken Dinner

As I may have mentioned before, my mom’s desert island food is fried chicken (as is mine which would be really convenient if we ended up stranded on the same island) so in honor of her birthday today I thought I would post a menu all centered around my Fried Chicken Perfected – this has your weekend plans written all over it.

For this comforting, Southern themed meal I was inspired to use my vintage oyster cans as decoration.  I have been collecting these for several years – they are a symbol of the oyster industry that used to dominate the Chesapeake bay region.  I have them all over my house year round but they act as great vases for hydrangeas that I gathered from my front yard.  Since they were the center piece, and its almost summer, I figured just pull out all of my nautical gear and run with it.  How adorable is this row boat salt cellar??

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Paper placemats are my jam and great for a casual dinner party like this – I have several nautical themed ones (#ihaveaproblem) like this or these rope ones.  I used these rope napkin rings we got on Nantucket and the rattan chargers remind me of their famous baskets.  Seersucker napkins top off the preppy vibe.

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Food and Wine Curried Cashews

To start with I just wanted a couple of things to nibble on since the dinner is pretty heavy.  These curried cashews are easy to throw together and great with a beer or glass of rose.

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Broccoli Slaw 

I make this broccoli slaw from Smitten Kitchen ALL THE TIME.  It is so healthy and so addictive.  People will think you are nuts, shaving down whole heads of broccoli but they will be converts once they have tried it.  The dried cranberries give a little nod to my New England upbringing at this Southern meal and the slaw is a nice crunchy foil to the fried chicken’s tenderness.

Fried Chicken Perfected

I can’t say better things about this fried chicken that hasn’t already been said by my friends.  Years of research and lots of mediocre fried chicken (which lets admit is still pretty good) led me to the perfect recipe that I share with you.  Eat it and be happy.

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Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

Probably the second most requested thing I make right after the fried chicken so why not pair them together?  The Southern tradition of mac and cheese with fried chicken has been around forever and for good reason.  The velvety cheese sauce some times picks up crunchy bits of the chicken skin on your plate and then you are in heaven.

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Bourbon Peaches with Ice Cream and Candied Pecans

You need a sweet treat at the end of this meal and a nice simple fruit dessert is just the ticket.  I make these bourbon peaches just like I do in my pancake bar post – sauté them with a little bit of butter, sugar and bourbon.  You can use frozen peaches or fresh ones if they are ripe enough.  Either way paired with vanilla ice cream and candied nuts (I had Southern appropriate pecans on hand) they are delicious.

So happy birthday mommy and I hope you all celebrate this weekend with fried chicken!

Hummus

Hummus definitely falls into that category of foods where you ask yourself, “Is it worth making this or should I just buy some?”  There are plenty of good brands of hummus to purchase, especially if you doctor it up with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkling of zatar spice.  The thing is you can never quite buy yourself the super smooth, fresh tasting, garlicy punch of your own homemade hummus.  There are a zillion of hummus recipes out there and once again I have practically tried them all to try and find the right combination of teqniques.  Most purists will tell you to start with dried chickpeas, soak them over night, cook them with baking soda etc etc but at that point, for me at least, the scales of why can’t I just buy this and dispense with the hassle starts to tilt into convince’s favor.  So canned chickpeas it is.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be some work involved.  I found the somewhat tedious task of taking the skins off of the canned chickpeas makes for a substantially smoother and better tasting hummus.  It’s not as easy as just dumping the can into the food processor but at least it’s not a multi day effort.  To peel them, drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.  Then take the chickpea between your fingers and gently squeeze – you will find the weird white casing comes right off.  For a can of chickpeas it took me about 15 minutes – just turn on your favorite cooking show and get lost in the mindless task.

From my research I learned that the other benefit of cooking your own chickpeas was that when they are warm they take on the other ingredients better.  Well here we can easily cheat that by quickly nuking the skinned chickpeas in the microwave for a couple of seconds before adding them to the food processor.  After that its just a matter of taste with the amount of tahini, lemon juice and garlic.  The recipe below is how I like it but play around and see what you like best – some people really want more of that sesame tahini flavor, others really hate lemon juice and replace it with water.  The method is the key and once you have that down the sky’s the limit.  Hummus away!

Hummus 

  • 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained with the skins removed (see above)
  • 5 -6 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil and zatar for serving (optional)

Once all the chickpeas are peeled (see above on how to remove the skins) place them in a  microwave safe bowl and microwave them on high for 20 seconds.  Add the warmed chickpeas to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.

If its not as smooth as you would like add more warm water.  Chill for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld – serve room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar (optional).

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Chicken Salad Canapes

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I often have a hard timing figuring out what sort of canapés I can serve at parties that are filling.  Most meat based appetizers require them to be warm or are really expensive (think lamb lollipops) but if you are going to be drinking all night I want my guests to have more in them than just cheese!  Here little mini phyllo cups really come into handy.  You buy them in the frozen section of your grocery store and they are already cooked so all you have to do is fill them.  I decided for a recent party to go with chicken salad, most specifically chicken salad veronique, which is a French version with grapes.  It is really delicious as a regular chicken salad served alone or in a sandwich but for this application I cut the chicken and the grapes really small so they would fit neatly in the cups and be easy to eat.  These things went like hot cakes and I am sure your friends will appreciate the “heavy ap” at your next party.

Chicken Salad Canapes

  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts (or roast your own)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 3 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 20 green grapes, quartered
  • 60 phyllo cups – I used the Athens brand

Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl wish together the mayo, sour cream, white wine, tarragon and salt and pepper.

Add 3/4 of the mixture to the chicken along with the grapes.  Stir to combine and then add as much of the remaining dressing as necessary.  The salad can be made several days in advance and stored in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve, use a teaspoon to fill the cups with the salad.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

In honor of the University of Maryland Terrapins starting their football season 4-0 (Fear the Turtle!!!) I am posting one of my favorite snacks from college.  I have already spoken about my love for the wings at Cornerstone in College Park but another important component of those happy hours was the spinach and artichoke dip.  Just another “healthy” college snack (oh how I miss my 19 year old metabolism) to knock back with some cheap beer and good friends.  Cornerstone’s was fantastic, though I am sorry to say since graduation it seems like they have changed their recipe and not for the better.  Anyway it is way easier just to make it at home and that way I can class it up a bit with nutty grueye cheese.  I can assure you the College Park version didn’t include creme fraiche either.

Because this version uses frozen spinach and canned artichokes it is extremely easy to pull together – just make sure to squeeze out as much water from the frozen spinach as you can otherwise it will end up soupy.  I like to make this ahead and then just pop it into the oven when folks get hungry.  LET’S GO MARYLAND!!!!!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 10 ounces canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 6 ounces cream cheese – room temperature
  • 4 ounces creme fraiche – room temperature
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • tortilla chips and crudites to serve with

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the shallots and garlic until softened, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the spinach (make sure to really squeeze out all the water you can) as well as the nutmeg and red pepper flakes.  Cook for another 2 minutes or so until all the water is gone.

Remove from heat.  In a large bowl combine the spinach mixture, artichoke hearts, cream cheese, creme fraiche, mayo and gruyere cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and pour into a baking dish (I used a 7 by 10 dish but 8 by 8 or really any medium to large size will do).  Top evenly with the grated Parmesan.

If you are making this in advance let the dip cool then cover with saran wrap and store in the fridge for a couple of days until you are ready to bake.  Once ready to cook it, remove any covering and bake in the 400 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes (the length will depend on the size of pan you use and how brown you want it to get, just make sure its bubbling before you take it out).  Let cool for several minutes and serve.

Habanero Sauce

Want to heat up your Cinco de Mayo party this year??  Go with this sauce.  It is not for the faint of heart for sure. Pro tip – when you are broiling the peppers keep your exhaust fan going or open a window in your kitchen.  I once took Patrick to a hot sauce making class for our anniversary and it was held in a ventless room – not a great idea, imagine inhaling pure hot pepper fumes for an hour!  Also definitely go out and buy some plastic gloves to keep in your kitchen.  They are great when handling any hot peppers but either way please make sure to carefully wash your hands before you touch anything, especially your face!  A little goes a long way with this sauce so luckily it lasts a long time in the fridge.  You can pull it out whenever you want to spice up a dull week.  Happy almost Cinco de Mayo!

Habanero Sauce

  • 15 habanero peppers
  • 5-6 baby yellow or orange bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • the juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Preheat your broiler and lay the habaneros and baby bell peppers on a cookie sheet.  If any of the peppers have stems attached, pull those off.  Broil the peppers for 5 minutes, flip them over and broil for 5 more minutes until they are blackened.

Using tongs transfer the peppers to a medium size bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let them steam and cool for 10 minutes before handling.  While they steam, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Cook the onion and garlic cloves for 5 to 7 minutes until the onions soften.  Add the onion mixture to the food processor along with the agave nectar, orange zest and orange juice and the cider vinegar.  I recommend using plastic gloves for when you seed the habaneros.

Remove them from the bowl and on a large cutting board use your knife to scrape the seeds and membranes from the inside of both the habaneros and the baby bell peppers (no need to peel off the skins).  Put the deseeded peppers into the food processor and puree until combined.  Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.  WARNING – this stuff is hot!  It can be stored covered in the fridge for several months.

Queso and Poblano Dip

It has been a while since I have done a Fiesta Friday post so I thought it was as good as time as any to share my new favorite obsession in the form of this queso dip.  I looooooove cheese in all forms but melted with a bit of spice??  That’s just too good to be true.  The problem is a lot of queso dip is pretty terrible – either flavorless, rubbery or even worse, gritty.  I have searched for the perfect recipe for a while.  So many of them call for velveeta because of its smooth, melted texture but I gotta say that stuff just is. not. good.  Then I came across this recipe in Food and Wine magazine that mixed manchego and sharp cheddar cheese with american cheese.  Genius!

The american cheese gives it that nice smooth consistency but isn’t fake and gloopy, and the other cheeses add a ton of flavor.  Now don’t go and buy american cheese slices and spend time unwrapping enough to make 12 ounces.  Go to the deli counter and ask them to cut it for you really thick so you can cut it up in cubes.  They will probably look at you funny but that is the best way to get it incorporated into the dip.  Also when you start adding the cheeses you might get discouraged but stick with it.  After the 7 or so minutes it will all come together and be smooth, trust me.  I played around with the recipe a bit because it was lacking heat so I added some poblanos and fresnos.  I also cut out the buttermilk – while it gave the dip a slightly more tangy flavor which was nice, it thinned it out more than I wanted and meant one less thing to buy!  You could punch up the heat or lower it to your liking – the key is the base of the milk and cream with the mix of 3 cheeses.  Have a happy, cheesy, Fiesta Friday!

Queso and Poblano Dip 

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped poblano pepper (about 1/2 a poblano)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresno chili or jalapeno (about 2)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 ounces american cheese, cut thick and cut into cubes
  • 2 ounces grated manchego cheese
  • 2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper

Set a medium bowl over a pot of water and bring the water to a simmer.

Add the cream and milk to the bowl, stirring occasionally until pretty warm, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile in a small skillet warm the canola oil over medium heat and cook the poblano, fresno, onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened.  Add all the cheeses, the veggies and the cayenne to the bowl with the cream and milk.

Continue to heat for 7 to 8 minutes more, stirring to incorporate the cheese, until it has all melted.  Serve right away – rewarm over the double boiler if necessary.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

Want people to think you are fancy?  Go ahead and call toast crostini.  Somehow by using the Italian word you can make slapping goat cheese on a piece of bread sound totally difficult and high end.  Because that’s basically what this is and it’s delicious!  Perfect for a Thanksgiving ap this crostini has soft goat cheese, sweet caramelized onions and a sprinkle of fresh thyme – and it all comes together super quickly.  If you followed my post last week on caramelized onions then you are ahead of the game because you have some sitting in your freezer already.  If not, no worries, just whip up a batch this weekend and then take out 1 mound from the freezer Wednesday night and put it in the fridge to defrost.  I would serve these and maybe one other bite like nuts or a nice hummus.  Don’t load people up with a ton of food, otherwise you are going to end up with more leftovers than you know what to do with (though if you do make sure to log in on Friday the 27th for an amazing idea for your leftover turkey).  These would also be a great addition to a holiday party buffet or a potluck, as they are served room temperature and can hang around for hours with no ill affect.  I love these paper leaves to dress up a simple appetizer, and they are on sale right now at Williams Sonoma.  A really easy and cheap way to make something this simple look even better – cause you’re so fancy.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini 

  • 12 slices of a white or whole wheat baguette, sliced on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup of caramelized onions, defrosted over night in the fridge (about 1 mound from the recipe, or a 1/6 of the total)
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out the baguette slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle both sides of the bread with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 5 minutes, then flip and bake for 5 minutes more (if you want to make the crostini in advance go ahead, just let them cool and store in an airtight container up to 24 hours in advance).

While the bread is toasting, place the caramelized onions in a small saute pan over medium low heat to warm through.  Once warm (a couple of minutes) splash in some balsamic vinegar and stir it around.  You can leave the onions on low while you work on the rest of the dish.  Take the leaves off of the thyme sprigs (best way is to hold the top of the stem and run your fingers down to the bottom, ripping the leaves off as you do).  Once the toast is ready and cool enough to handle, spread the goat cheese on each slice.  Then remove the onions from the heat and using a fork (found this was easiest) cover the cheese with the onions.  Sprinkle with thyme leaves and serve.

Short Rib Nachos

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These are O.M.G good.  Life changing.  You can also make them in less than 10 minutes, give or take grating cheese time.  How is that possible you ask?  Your best friend the freezer.  Remember these amazing short rib tacos from a couple of months ago?  Well you made a big batch like instructed and froze a bunch for later.  Now is the time to dig them out of the freezer and spread them all over a huge mound of chips and cheese.  Seriously, if you are going to take the time to make a slow cooked item like short ribs, it takes the exact same time to cook enough for 4 as it does for 6 (or 10 for that matter) so go ahead and make way more than you need.  Then when Thursday night football rolls around and you realize you don’t have a fabulous football meal planned for mid-week you can absolutely kill it with these nachos.

If you don’t have those short ribs tucked away in your freezer go ahead and throw some shredded chicken on here – really this is just a method.  Swap out cheddar for jack cheese or red salsa for green – it’s a great way to get rid of stuff hanging around in your fridge.  One pro tip courtesy of my husband – make sure to take the extra step of tossing half the chips and cheese together before topping with the rest.  That ensures you don’t just end up with one layer of cheese, neglecting lots of the chips.  This made the perfect football dinner (yep just for two people, no judging) but it would also make a great appetizer for Fiesta Friday.  I went ahead and just ate these babies straight off of the cookie sheet because I didn’t want to waste time transferring them to something nicer but for a dinner party just use two spatulas to transfer, should happen pretty easy with all that cheese acting as glue!

Short Rib Tacos 

  • 10 ounces of tortilla chips
  • 8 ounces of grated jack cheese
  • 1 to 3 fresno chilis (or jalapenos) thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups leftover short ribs (or other shredded meat) – room temperature or rewarmed
  • 4 tablespoons salsa verde
  • 2 scallions, green and white part, chopped
  • sour cream to serve

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  On a cookie sheet spread half of the chips and half of the cheese and toss together.  Top with the rest of the chips, then evenly distribute over top the rest of the cheese, the chilis, the short ribs and the salsa.  Bake for 6 to 7 minutes until all the cheese is melted.  Sprinkle with the scallions and dollop on the sour cream or serve on the side.

Fennel and Apple Salad

So we were going to go apple picking this weekend but Hurricane Joaquin had other plans.  Luckily I was still able to get my hands on some good local apples at the super market without all the mud and decided to dedicate this week to all things apple.  I know it’s tempting just to go the pie or apple sauce route if you have a lot of them, but there are so many more ways to use apples.  This week I will walk through 3 totally different recipes that really show the apple’s range.  This first dish is inspired by a terrific tapa at a Spanish restaurant called Jaleo, here in DC.  It’s been on their menu for years and while I haven’t been able to get it 100% perfect, this is pretty close to the real thing.  Raw apple is tossed with raw fennel, salty manchego cheese and nuts to create a great, crunchy fall salad.  Experiment with different ways of cutting the elements of this salad – sometimes I do the apple, fennel and cheese all in baton shapes, sometimes I slice them thinly, and sometimes I do them in different shapes.  The exact same ingredients take on a different personality depending on how you present them, from rustic to sophisticated.  Hope you enjoy apple week!

Fennel and Apple Salad 

  • 1 large head of fennel or 2 small, cored and sliced thinly (some fronds reserved for topping)
  • 1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced thinly
  • 4 ounces manchego cheese, cubed or cut into batons
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup marcona almonds

In a large bowl toss the fennel, apple and manchego together.  In a smaller bowl crease a dressing by whisking together to the sherry vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Toss the veggies with the dressing then spread out the salad on a nice platter.  Sprinkle with the almonds and reserved chopped fennel fronds (the green leafy parts) and serve.

Spiced Nuts

Coming up with a good hostess gift isn’t always so easy.  Sure everyone loves a bottle of wine but some occasions or some hosts really demand more effort.  I like to mix homemade things with store-bought things so going to parties doesn’t turn into a chore.  Spiced nuts are the perfect thing for this as they are super quick to make, as well as a perfect accompaniment to that bottle you lug along.  Best of all the host can whip them out and toss them in a bowl if they run low on supplies or keep them for themselves later.  The key to making a homemade gift like this special, is the wrapping.  They taste just as good from a ziplog baggie but something about a nice cellophane bag and a pretty bow really elevates them.  I have lots and lots (and lots) of different ribbon on hand – I suggest checking out the dollar section at your local craft store or Target and picking up colorful ribbon when it’s super on sale.  As for the bags, ones like these are perfect to have on hand.

These nuts are adapted from the Union Square Cafe, an amazing spot in NYC where Patrick and I had an unbelievable meal.  It’s eponymous cookbook has tons of amazing recipes so you can recreate their meals at home, including their addictive bar nuts.  My friend Ali requests these at every party I have and I always make extra for her to bring home.  I actually just made these for her housewarming party and since today is her birthday I thought it was the right time to post them.  Congrats on the new house Ali and happy birthday!!

Spiced Nuts

  • 2 cups of unsalted mixed nuts (I like cashews, pecans, and walnuts but use whatever you want or have)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toast nuts on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then mix them with the melted butter in a large bowl.  Add the spices and toss.  You can make these ahead of time but not too much – I would say 24 hours.  Eventually the butter makes the nuts a little smooshy and the spices don’t have the same pep.

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