Why did I not give you this recipe last summer?

Spicy Artichoke Dip
from Better Homes & Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites
serves 14

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1/3 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp diced green chile peppers, drained
2 tsp drained and chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large bowl, combine chopped artichoke hearts, mayo, Parmesan, green chile peppers, chopped jalapeno peppers, cumin, and garlic. Spoon in to an ungreased small casserole. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

for 40 servings (!)

3 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 4-ounce can diced green chile peppers, drained
2 Tbsp drained and chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Same preparation, but use a larger casserole — about 1 1/2 quarts — and bake for about 30 minutes.

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It occurs to me that I made this for a birthday party last spring, but I don’t think I shared the recipe. My bad.

This recipe works best if you are feeding a crowd, and you have a dedicated sous chef; preferably one who doesn’t mind handling chicken parts.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings
from Better Homes and Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites

for 24 servings
2 1/2 lb. chicken wings
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
3 Tbsp. cooking oil
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/4 c. unsweetened pineapple juice
1/4 c. ketchup
1 tsp. soy sauce
green onions (optional, for garnish)

First, cut off the tips of the chicken wings. Cut wings at joints to form 24 to 30 pieces. This is a really good job for your sous chef.

In a shallow dish, combine the flour, lemon-pepper seasoning, and garlic salt. Coat each chicken piece in the mixture.

Heat your cooking oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add the coated chicken pieces. You will probably end up doing this in batches, which is fine. Cook, uncovered, until brown, turning occasionally. Remove chicken from the skillet and arrange in a 3 to 4 quart rectangular baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, pineapple juice, ketchup, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour over chicken in baking dish.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Turn pieces over after 15 minutes and baste. If desired, garnish with the green onions.

This travels fairly ok, just make sure that you wrap or cover it securely. If you have an insulated hot carrier, all the better. And it helps if there is an oven at your destination in which you can reheat the chicken just prior to serving.

Here is the 12 servings recipe — though I wouldn’t go through with this recipe for only 12 servings. There are a lot of steps to the recipe and it’s just more worth it to make the bigger batch. Leftovers will keep well or can be sent home with guests, and they reheat nicely in the microwave.

for 12 servings:

1 1/4 lb. chicken wings
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning
1/8 tsp. garlic salt
4 1/2 tsp cooking oil
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
2 Tbsp unsweetened pineapple juice
2 Tbsp ketchup
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Prepare using the same method as the 24-serving recipe, except bake in a 2 to 3 quart rectangular baking dish.

Fudge is delicious but it takes forever, right? Wrong! Not when it’s done the Nigella Express way.

Nigella’s Chocolate Pistachio Fudge
from Nigella Express

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 14-oz can condensed milk
pinch of salt
1 cup shelled pistachios
2 Tbsp butter

Melt the chocolate, condensed milk, butter, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over low heat.

Put the shelled pistachios in a freezer bag and bash them mercilessly until broken up into both big and little pieces. To prevent turning some to dust and leaving others intact, move the bag around as you bash and pause occasionally to see if any are escaping altogether; go after these ones personally with the quick rap from the smaller handle-end of your rolling pin.

Add the nuts to the melted chocolate and condensed milk mixture and stir very well to mix.

Pour in to a 9×9 or 8×8 square aluminum foil pan, smoothing the top. Nigella says use a 9×9 but I misremembered when I was at the store and bought an 8×8 pan. This worked out quite well, as the recipe should yield about 64 pieces, and from an 8×8 pan that’s 1-inch squares and easy to cut. As it was, I cut 2×2 squares and then cut each of those in quarters as I plated and served them. I am pretty sure I was able to get 64 1×1 squares from this approach, even if Jim did sneak some of the larger pieces whole before I could cut them. I’m pretty sure my strategy is sound.

Let the fudge cool, and then refrigerate until set. Once cut, you can keep it (for as long as it lasts!) in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. No need to thaw, just take out and eat right away.

I doubled this recipe for the family reunion this weekend. I needed a side dish that would keep 24 hours in a cooler packed in ice while we drove north to Maine. For some reason I didn’t want to make the potato salad I make for Jim’s family reunion. I was watching FoodNetwork earlier in the week and saw Sunny Anderson’s show, and this side dish seemed easy, pretty, and tasty.

1/2 pound of green beans
1/4 cup sliced Spanish olives*
1/4 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 cup cubed provolone cheese
2 cups cubed salume
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt
freshly ground black pepper

*No olives in my salad. I substituted halved grape tomatoes. Marinated mushrooms would also be a good inclusion.

Fill a large bowl with a handful of ice and water. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium heat. Add the beans and cook until tender but still crunchy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to cool. Drain beans on paper towels, then cut into 1-inch pieces.

In a large serving bowl toss together beans, olives, red pepper, onion, cheese, and salami. In a separate bowl whisk in order, the red wine vinegar, sugar, oil and black pepper, to taste. Pour over salad, toss and serve.

This was my first adventure with blanching green beans, and I was worried I’d overdo them, but surprisingly I didn’t. I made this dish up on Friday afternoon and it wasn’t served until Saturday afternoon, and even after a day marinating in the oil and vinegar dressing, they were still crunchy. On the other side of the spectrum, a day marinating in the oil and vinegar tempered the flavors of the smoky provolone and the salume. Jim does not like raw tomatoes, but he actually liked the halved grape tomatoes that had soaked up the dressing. The highest praise any side dish could have garnered came from my uncle, who said “I like it…even if it does have green beans.” Well, that won him the privilege to keep all the leftovers.

Easily doubled. Kept like a gem in ice in our cooler almost 24 hours. (Side note: Want to know how awesome our cooler is? It kept a half gallon of milk icy fresh from Friday night to Sunday morning. I. Was. Amazed.)

Spicy Artichoke Dip
Crab-Caper Dip
Tzatziki
Celery Stuffed with Gorgonzola
Spanakopita
Mini Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Relish

DH tells me I am a glutton for punishment: Almost all my friends have food allergies or diet restrictions! Throwing a dinner party becomes a creative exercise when more than one guest has a restriction. My tapas party for 6 is being attended by a vegetarian with a tomato allergy and one guest with a possible gluten allergy. DH just laughs as I try to pick menu items that give everyone a selection of dishes to eat from. Dips are served with whole wheat pita chips and plain bagel chips, and carrots, celery, and broccoli for variety and as an option for the guest with the possible gluten allergy.

The recipes for the Spicy Artichoke Dip and Crab-Caper Dip both came from a potluck cookbook; the gorgonzola celery was from an Italian cuisine cookbook I’ve had for years; and the mini lamb burgers came from a recipe for lamb meatballs on Chow.com (just squish them a little and they’re mini burgers, not meatballs!). Everything else was bought from the store ready-made. Why drive myself batty doing everything from scratch, when a mix of a few homemade items and a few store-bought items will be just as delicious. If not more so — I tried to make tzatziki once and failed miserably.

SPICY ARTICHOKE DIP
The Spicy Artichoke Dip wasn’t quite as spicy as I had been expecting. Even though it had two tablespoons of canned diced green chilis and two teaspoons of chopped pickled jalapenos, the amount of heat in the fresh dip hot from the oven was not at all overwhelming — I don’t like spicy food and I thought it was great. I noticed that the small amount of leftover dip seemed to increase in heat after a day or two in the fridge, but still was not too hot. The recipe I have can serve 14 or, multiplied out, 40, and would make an excellent potluck party dip.

CRAB-CAPER DIP
When the recipe calls for low-fat mayo or salad dressing and reduced-fat Swiss cheese, heed it. I had regular mayo already on hand and I couldn’t find reduced-fat shredded Swiss in the store, so I used regular versions of both. It prepped fine but during the baking process, I believe the fats in the mayo and cheese separated out and the result, while still incredibly tasty, was not as creamy as I think it could have been, and I had to whip it together a little to re-colloid it. In fact, it looked a little scary when it came out of the oven and I was afraid it was ruined. But it wasn’t, and it was fantastic. There wasn’t any left over, so I’m not sure how it would be after a day or two in the refrigerator. I still have all the ingredients in my fridge, so I am going to make a second batch just for me and DH to enjoy. He doesn’t like to eat and drink at the same time, so he actually got to enjoy very little of the food I prepared.

TZATZIKI
I get the Joseph’s brand cucumber & garlic tzatziki because it is the thickest store-bought version I have found, and runny tzatziki is not as satisfying on pita and would definitely not stand up to vegetable dippers. It did hold up well, was incredibly popular with my guests, and made a great condiment for the mini lamb burgers.

CELERY STUFFED WITH GORGONZOLA
The cheese filling for these celery sticks is actually half gorgonzola, a blue cheese, and half cream cheese. I softened the cheeses up and blended this in advance, so at serving time all I needed was to fill the celery sticks. Apparently the combination of celery and cheese is a lot like cilantro — people either like it a lot, or don’t. I apparently am in the latter camp and all my guests seemed to be in the former. I wasn’t overwhelmed.

SPANAKOPITA
Store-bought frozen, baked up  browned and crispy with the perfect blend of filling. Some opened at one of the seams and became cornucopiae of spinach filling, but it was low-mess even then. Definitely a repeat frozen treat.

MINI LAMB BURGERS
I made the lamb mini burgers up in advance the morning of, and refrigerated those until we were ready for the second course. They went literally like hot cakes; I baked up half, they disappeared, I baked the second half, and they disappeared. They were delicious — with cumin and cinnamon dominating the palate, without much flavor of the chopped fresh mint, which was a bit of a surprise. I would have expected really strong flavor from the mint. But they were DELICIOUS and the next time I make them I will make them standard-burger size, because they are fantastic. They shrank rather a lot from their raw size, and plenty of fat was left behind in the baking sheet, so the burgers themselves were actually quite firm. I spread dollops of tzatziki on mine and the tangy Greek yogurt was the perfect condiment for the sweet, earthy lamb.

I know you shouldn’t use your guests as guinea pigs; you should always test drive new recipes before a party so you know whether they work, what their quirks are, and how they should taste. I didn’t test drive any of these recipes, I just went for it and promised everyone that if it turned out awful, we’d order pizza. Happily everything turned out, and I had maybe a half cup of the Spicy Artichoke Dip left over, and nothing else — it all disappeared. One of my guests brought chocolate chip banana bread for dessert and I don’t know how she did it, for it was cohesive but fall-apart moist.

I was able to do a lot of the recipe prep in advance in spurts throughout the day, so I didn’t feel like I spent all day cooking and when it was time to throw the dips together and bake them, I didn’t have to start an extra half hour earlier and chop onions, artichoke hearts, and vegetables in order to get started. It worked out really well as my guests arrived a half hour early, so when they called to say they were leaving I was able to get everything together and in the oven well before they arrived without any panic.

Go ahead and throw a party! It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, even if there are a lot of different things on the menu, such as for this appetizer-oriented party. The fact that there were “courses” impressed and excited my guests and it was actually very little actual work for me — I just had to spend some energy preparing in advance, which was no big deal and I used cutting up celery and broccoli as a break from cleaning. More important than the ease or contents of the menu, we laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. There is very little better than to eat, drink, and be merry with good friends.