Appetizers

Seriously Simple: Minced chicken in lettuce cups is easy for lunch or dinner

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Years ago I was invited to Hong Kong to attend a food festival, and we visited many historical spots and restaurants. One memorable meal began with lettuce cups filled with minced pigeon. I loved it. Since pigeon (squab) isn’t easy to find and is very expensive, I decided to reinvent that taste memory with minced chicken. It has also become a classic dish on many Chinese restaurants menus.
These Asian-flavored, minced-chicken-filled lettuce cups are incredibly delicious for a luncheon or as a starter for dinner. I usually select ground white meat chicken but you could also use ground turkey. Flavoring the chicken first with the soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar adds a rich taste sensation. Hoisin and lots of pungent fresh ginger enrich the simple chicken flavor. The red pepper and water chestnuts add texture. You can omit them and add pine nuts and Chinese mushrooms for a variation.

The chicken filling still has excellent texture and flavor. As a main course, plan on two or three of these per person.

Minced Chicken in Lettuce

Makes 6 to 8 lettuce cups

For the chicken:

1 pound ground chicken

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 red pepper, seeded and very finely chopped

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

1 cup water chestnuts, rinsed and drained, coarsely chopped

1 head iceberg or butter lettuce, leaves separated into 6 to 8 individual cups, depending on the size of each leaf

For the Sauce:

2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tsp. cornstarch

1. In a medium bowl combine the chicken with the soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil. Set aside.

2. In a wok over high heat add the peanut oil. When the oil is hot but not quite smoking add the chicken and toss every 15-20 seconds for 1 2 minutes or until no pinkness remains. Push the chicken up the sides of the wok, spreading it around so all the chicken comes into maximum contact with the hot pan and breaking it up as you toss.

4. When cooked, push all the chicken up the side of the wok and out of the way and then add the red pepper, scallions, ginger and water chestnuts and toss for 1 minute. Add the reserved sauce ingredients and toss every 10-15 seconds with the chicken and vegetable mixture until well blended and slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

5. Arrange the lettuce cups on a platter or on individual plates and mound with an equal quantity of the chicken mixture. Serve immediately.

A fresh take on caprese salad

Italian Caprese Salad is made for the summer season. This classic dish alternates vibrant red tomato spokes with slices of creamy mozzarella and fragrant bright green basil leaves. It kind of reminds you of the color of the Italian flag.

You don’t even need a recipe for this well-loved salad. Pick the freshest, ripe tomatoes as the star component. Alternate tomato slices with sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh green basil leaves and you are good to go. All you need for garnishing is some fruity olive oil and salt and pepper.

Sometimes I like to freshen up the idea and give it a new look. Years ago I enjoyed a tomato and watermelon salad in East Hampton and thought it would be the basis of a good alternative to the classic Caprese Salad.

Beautiful on a buffet table, this variation s a welcome surprise. Here, large red, ripe tomatoes are sliced and overlapped on a platter. The refreshing and texturally pleasing watermelon, cucumber and feta relish is dolloped on top of each tomato. Make sure to have a couple of large spoons for ease in serving.

 

 

Summer Caprese Salad with Watermelon, Cucumber and Feta Relish

Serves 6 to 8

Relish

1 1/2 cups ½-inch diced seedless yellow or red watermelon

1 ½ cups ½-inch diced European cucumber

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

 

Dressing

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

2 cups mixed greens like spring greens or arugula or mache

6 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes

 

 

  1. Combine all of the relish ingredients in a medium bowl carefully, making sure to not break the watermelon into smaller pieces. Reserve.

 

  1. In a small bowl, add the red wine vinegar. While whisking, slowly stream in the olive oil and continue whisking until the dressing is emulsified. Add the chives and season with salt and pepper.

 

  1. Just before serving. Arrange the mixed greens in the center of a large circular platter. Cut the tomatoes into 1 ½- inch slices and arrange on a platter in a circular pattern overlapping.
  2. Pour about half of the dressing over the relish and mix to combine. Taste for seasoning. Place a dollop of relish on each tomato slice. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve immediately.

 

Advance Preparation: Relish and dressing may be made up to 2 hours ahead, covered and kept at room temperature. It is best to finish this just before serving.

 

The Clever Cook Could:

 

  • Substitute diced or tiny balls of fresh mozzarella or crumbled goat cheese for the feta cheese.

 

  • This can be doubled. Use a very large platter or 2 platters.

 

  • You can make these into towers. Place a slice of tomato on the bottom of a salad plate and then a dollop of relish. Repeat 1 more time.

Breakfast Egg Crostini

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Adapted with permission from “The Bride and Groom Cookbook,” by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford (Chronicle Books, 2003)

Ingredients

  • 4 thick slices nutty whole-grain bread
  • 4 large farm-fresh or organic eggs
  • 2 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh herbs or greens, for garnish
  • Paprika, for garnish, if desired

Instructions

  1. Toast the bread lightly in a toaster or toaster oven. Arrange open-face on 2 serving plates or a small platter.
  2. Crack the eggs into a medium-size bowl and whisk together to combine yolks and whites completely.
  3. Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the beaten eggs all at once, and season with salt and pepper. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or a whisk until the eggs are creamy and just beginning to set into hundreds of little curds. If the eggs look dry and pull away from the pan, you’ve gone too far.
  4. Quickly whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter, immediately pull the pan from the heat, and spoon the eggs directly onto the toasted bread before they set. Garnish with your favorite herbs or greens. Drizzle with your finest olive oil, and finish with freshly ground black pepper or paprika, if desired.

Tips

Scrambled eggs can be as soft or as firm as you like. These eggs are about creaminess; you can add a bit of butter to them after they are cooked for extra flavor and texture.

Makes 2 servings.

Chef Nick’s Mango Gazpacho

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Ingredients

  • 4 large ripe mangoes, peeled and roughly chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 4 medium yellow tomatoes, roughly chopped ( about 4 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 cup roughly chopped European cucumber
  • ½ cup roughly chopped celery
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped European cucumber
  • Favorite hot sauce
  • Olive Oil

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except oil and salt and pepper in the blender and process until smooth. Add the olive oil slowly so it blends into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Four hours before serving chill small glass bowls or martini glasses.
  3. When ready to serve: Pour the soup into the bowls and garnish each one with some diced cucumber, a few drops of hot sauce and olive oil. Serve immediately.

Advance Preparation

This may be made through step 2, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance. Thin out the soup with a bit of stock, if necessary.

Tips

The thickness of the soup will be based on how ripe the mangoes are. Since there is little liquid added, other than the vegetables, the riper the mangoes the better.

Serves 6 to 8 people.

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Mango Cocktail Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined with the tails kept on
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Seasoning salt

Mango Cocktail Sauce:

  • 1 cup peeled and diced mango, about 1 medium ripe mango
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cream-style horseradish
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • A few drops of Worcestershire sauce
  • A few drops of hot sauce, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the shrimp on a large baking sheet with sides. In a small bowl, combine the shallot, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and seasoning salt, and mix to combine. Pour over the shrimp and move them around to evenly coat. Make sure the shrimp are arranged in one layer.

2. Roast the shrimp for about 8 to 9 minutes, or until they are pink and opaque all the way through. Place in another dish and cool. Refrigerate until serving.

3. While the shrimp are cooking, prepare the sauce: In a food processor puree the mango. Combine the remaining ingredients together in the food processor and blend until combined. Taste for seasoning. Place in a small serving bowl and serve with shrimp or crab.

4. To serve as an appetizer: place the sauce in a small bowl in the center of a 12-inch platter. Arrange the shrimp around the outside of the platter in a pretty pattern. Garnish with the parsley. Make sure to have a small bowl next to the platter to dispose of the tails.

5. To serve as a first course: Place a couple of tablespoons of the sauce in the center of a martini glass. Sprinkle the parsley on top of the sauce. Arrange the shrimp on the edge of the glass; figure 4 to 5 shrimp per person. Serve immediately.

Advance Preparation

The shrimp and sauce can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Tips

  • Add 1 diced avocado to the sauce
  • Cut up the shrimp and add diced avocado to the shrimp; mix with the sauce and serve in Martini or cocktail glasses
  • Serve with flatbread or flatbread crackers

Serves 6 to 8 people as a first course and 12 to 20 people as an appetizer; Mango Cocktail Sauce makes about 1 cup.

Ahi Tuna Tartar

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Ingredients

Won Ton Triangles

  • 12 won ton wrappers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Tuna

  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 pound raw tuna fillet, skin and dark part removed
  • ½ European cucumber, seeded and cut into ¾-inch dice

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons wasabi powder
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ½ medium avocado
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion, white and green parts
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Garnish

  • California Caviar, wasabi flavored caviar recommended

Instructions

Won Ton Triangles

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the won ton skins on the diagonal to make 2 triangles each. Arrange on baking sheets and spray with olive oil spray evenly. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for about 5 to 6 minutes or until browned but not burned. Place on wire racks to cool.
  2. To toast sesame seeds for garnish, place in skillet over high heat. Shake until light brown, about 2 minutes. Remove immediately from skillet. Reserve

Tuna Tartar

  1. Cut tuna into ¾-inch slices, then cut into ¾-inch chunks. Place in bowl with cucumber.
  2. Prepare dressing by mixing all ingredients together. Set aside:
  3. Peel avocado and cut into ¾-inch pieces. Sprinkle with lime juice and reserve.
  4. Add dressing to tuna and cucumber and stir. Add green onion and avocado and mix gently.
  5. Spoon onto crisp wonton chips and garnish with California caviar. Place on a serving platter and serve immediately.

Serves 6 people.

Baked Brie with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients

  • ½ cup Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto (Recipe Here)
  • One 1-pound Brie
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • Fresh basil leaves

Instructions

  1. If the pesto is very thick, you may need to add a bit of olive oil. Place the Brie on an ovenproof dish. Make about 8 wheel-spoke cuts down into the cheese, leaving a little circle in the center uncut to hold the wheel together during baking. With a spoon, carefully push a few tablespoons of pesto down into each slit so it’s flush with the top. Tie a piece of cooking string around the rim of the Brie to hold its shape.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toast the pine nuts on a baking sheet for 5 minutes or until lightly browned; reserve for garnish.
  3. Place the cheese in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until it just begins to melt. Remove from the oven, untie the string, sprinkle the pine nuts on top, and decorate with a garland of fresh basil leaves around the base of the cheese. Serve immediately with crisp crackers.

Advance Preparation

Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead through step 2, covered, and refrigerated. Keep the pine nuts covered at room temperature. Bring the cheese to room temperature before baking.

Serves 8 to 10 people.