While the calendar tells us summer is still a little way off, it’s never too early to plan ahead for the warm days we know are surely coming.
Thoughts of picnics, barbecues and spur of the moment get-togethers at the beach in one of our many parks, or on the patios and decks of friends and family, means planning for easy meals that allow us to spend time outdoors, as who wants to waste a minute of our lovely summer season in the kitchen?
Below are four appetizers (and one dessert!) easily transportable if you have been asked to bring a snack or that can be made ahead if you are hosting. Put away those store-bought chips and bottled salsas, and explore these easy to make, delicious snacks.
Caprese Skewers with Balsamic Reduction
Cherry size balls of fresh mozzarella cheese (BelGioioso brand works well)
Fresh basil leaves
One carton cherry tomatoes
Make balsamic reduction (easy, or it can be purchased at Trader Joe’s). Pour one cup balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan. Cook over high heat until it boils, then reduce heat and simmer until vinegar looks like thin maple syrup (it will thicken more as it cools). Set aside.
On a toothpick, thread one mozzarella ball, followed by a folded basil leaf followed by a cherry tomato. Continue until tomatoes, cheese and basil leaves are used up. At this point, they can be refrigerated covered with plastic wrap until ready to eat. Just before serving, lightly salt and pepper the skewers (Maldon Sea Salt, if you have it), and drizzle balsamic reduction over the skewers. So easy, so pretty and so delicious!
Pimento Cheese Spread with Crackers (adapted from Southern Living)
½ cup mayonnaise
12 ounces pimento, drained
¼ cup diced green onions
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce
¾ teaspoon celery seeds
¾ teaspoon cider vinegar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 cups (20 ounces) freshly grated white cheddar cheese
Mix together mayonnaise, pimento, green onions, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery seeds, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir in cheddar cheese until well blended. Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours. Serve with crackers.
2 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 300°. Place pecans on baking sheet. Drizzle with butter and Worcestershire sauce. Toss to coat. Spread nuts in a single layer. Bake at 300 for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every five minutes.
Meanwhile, stir together the salt, cinnamon, garlic powder, red pepper and sugar.
Remove pecans from oven, sprinkle with spice mixture and toss to coat. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Cousin Cathy’s Farmer Chicken Salad
In case someone asks you to bring a summer salad that acts as an entree, here is one of my favorite recipes. Make it a day ahead and your get-together just got easier.
5 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces (store-bought roasted, like Costco, is fine)
2 tablespoons salad oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cooked white rice
1½ cups small green seedless grapes
1½ cups sliced celery
1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1½ cups mayonnaise
Combine chicken, salad oil, orange juice, vinegar and salt. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Add remaining ingredients and gently toss. Refrigerate for several hours. Serves 12.
Edna’s Rhubarb Torte
And finally, my mother-in-law Edna was an amazing cook and even better maker of desserts. We were always happy when she volunteered to bring dessert to a family get-together, because we knew it would be great. This is her rendition of a classic ’70s recipe that became a family favorite we continue to enjoy several times each summer.
2 cups flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup butter
6 egg yolks
2½ cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup heavy cream
7 cups diced rhubarb
6 egg whites
½ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine first three ingredients until well blended. Press into a 9 x 13 pan and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Combine egg yolks, sugar, flour and heavy cream. Add rhubarb and pour over the baked crust. Return to the oven and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until set.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly add sugar and continue beating until thick and shiny. Top the baked rhubarb mixture with meringue and return to oven until the meringue is browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Now let’s get ready for summer!
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