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Bless Your Spoon: Boost culinary skills with creative, artistic fare

By Stephanie Williams Dean

An art gallery reception was recently held in conjunction with an opening exhibit of paintings by French painter Paul de Longpre. The artist is renowned for beautiful watercolors of flowers, especially roses. The event was a small yet sophisticated soiree – a celebration of both art and food.

While patrons viewed the art, delicious, d’inspiration Francais (French-inspired) aperitifs were passed on silver trays. Savory and sweet, small bite offerings included: pastry cups filled with caramelized onions, phyllo tarts with brie and raspberry jam, whole strawberries piped with almond-flavored cream cheese, cucumber slices spread with cream cheese/lox, and tender chicken wrapped in puff pastry. Accompanying the fare were flavored coolers to wash it all down – a fresh lavender-infused lemon cooler and an herbal tea infused with rose petals.

Summer’s the perfect season to refine your palate by taking in a few regional art exhibits – usually only a short road trip away. Offerings of fresh, artistically presented, lighter fare often accompanies opening receptions. If the savory creations don’t satisfy hunger – book a reservation at a trendy restaurant in the area to follow.

The reception inspired me to get busy in my kitchen creating new party appetizers. Always true to my heritage – any southern table includes at least one of the following: a nut, a cheese, and a fruit. Boost your culinary skills – roast nuts with fresh herbs, combine savory artisan cheeses with varietal honey, and serve marinated fruits with divine citrus whips for dipping—everything else: fresh veggie and premium meat combinations.

Simple is sophisticated – the sweet finale – a delicious, made from scratch cookie says it all.

DELUXE NUTS WITH ROSEMARY

2 egg whites

2 tsp. fresh rosemary

½ tsp. Kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

3 cups premium deluxe nuts with no peanuts

In a bowl, combine egg whites, rosemary, salt, and pepper and mix well. Add nuts and toss to coat. On a large sheet pan covered with foil, spread nuts in an even layer. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once halfway through cook time. Remove foil from hot tray and set aside to cool.

MUSHROOMS STUFFED WITH CHEVRE

24 large mushrooms

1/3 cup salted butter

3 Tbsp. chopped onion

1 cup bread crumbs

2 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. salt

4 oz. crumbled chevre

3 oz. crumbled bleu cheese

Remove and chop mushroom stems. In a skillet, melt butter. Saute mushroom stems and onion until tender. Stir in bread crumbs, parsley, lemon juice, and salt. Cool. Add chevre and bleu cheese to bread crumb mixture and mix well. Spoon the mixture into mushroom caps. Arrange mushroom caps in a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 7-10 minutes or until browned.

ZUCCHINI PILLOWS

3 beaten eggs

½ cup Wesson vegetable oil

1 cup Bisquick

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. seasoned salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Dash of garlic powder

3 cups thick chopped zucchini

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add oil. Mix well. Add Bisquick, and mix well. Add cheese, oregano, salts, pepper, garlic powder, and mix well. Fold in chopped zucchini, onion, and parsley. Mix gently until incorporated. Pour into a greased 13 xx 9 pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into 2-inch squares. Serve warm.

SKEWERS OF ASPARAGUS AND BEEF

½ lb. fresh asparagus, cut 1 ½-inch pieces

2 lbs. fondue beef

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

2 minced garlic cloves

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Wesson vegetable oil

In a covered saucepan, cook asparagus in small amount of boiling, salted water for 5 minutes. Drain. In a bowl, combine asparagus pieces, beef, sesame seeds, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix well. On skewers, thread asparagus and beef alternately. Brush with cooking oil. Grill for 15 minutes or until done while continuing to brush with oil while cooking.

RICOTTA STUFFED EGGS

12 hard-boiled eggs

1 cup ricotta cheese

2 Tbsp. finely minced green onion

½ tsp. dry mustard

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/8th tsp. seasoned salt

Slivers of red pepper

Sprigs of parsley

Shell eggs and slice lengthwise. In a mixer bowl, scoop out yolks and mash with a fork. Mix with ricotta cheese. Add additional ingredients except for parsley and red pepper and mix well. Garnish with sprig of parsley and sliver of red pepper.

CHEESE STUFFED BRUSSEL SPROUTS

2 lbs. fresh Brussel sprouts

salted water

1 cup Italian salad dressing

4 oz. crumbled bleu cheese

¾ cup regular cottage cheese

1 tsp grated onion

½ tsp. seasoned salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a pot, cover Brussel sprouts with salted water. Cook 15 minutes on medium heat until crisp-tender. Cool. Remove center from sprouts with melon ball scoop. Place upside down on paper towel to drain. Place sprouts in a bowl. Pour dressing over, and refrigerate overnight. Drain. In a bowl, combine bleu cheese, cottage cheese, onion, seasoned salt, and pepper. Spoon the cheese mixture into sprouts. Yield: approx. 40.

MINI BROCCOLI AND BACON QUICHES

26 gem size foil baking cups

26 cheddar cheese crackers

10 oz. cooked, drained, chopped broccoli florets

6 slices cooked, crumbled bacon

5 beaten eggs

1 ½ cups half & half

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

On a baking pan, arrange baking cups. Place cracker in bottom of each. Divide well-drained broccoli florets and bacon crumbles between cups. In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add half and half, salt and pepper, and blend well. Pour over broccoli and bacon. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until set. Yield: 26

SALMON-STUFFED TOMATOES

30 cherry tomatoes

4 oz. softened cream cheese

4 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Watercress sprigs

Cut tops away from each tomato. Scoop out pulp and seeds from center. Place upside down on paper towel to drain. In a bowl, combine softened cream cheese, chopped salmon, lemon juice, and dill. Sprinkle salt and pepper on inside of each tomato. Fill with salmon mixture. Top with sprig of parsley. Yield: 30

VEGGIE-CHEESE TORTILLA ROLL-UPS

2 cups softened Boursin cheese

¼ cup premium mayonnaise

8 10-inch sun-dried tomato or plain tortillas

2 cups grated carrots

1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper

½ cup grated red onion

1 cup chopped watercress leaves

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl, combine cheese and mayonnaise. Spread 1 side of each tortilla with a thin spread of cheese. In a bowl, combine carrots, watercress, bell pepper, onion, parsley, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle evenly over cheese mixture. Roll up tightly. To slice, make first cut a straight cut. Next, cut second cut at a slight angle, the third cut straight, and the fourth cut at a slight angle. Repeat cutting process until all rolls are sliced. This will give each slice a flat bottom and angled top.

BRIE AND FRUIT FILLED PHYLLO

30 frozen phyllo tart shells

6 oz. rind removed, thinly sliced Brie cheese

Homemade fruit jam

Arrange tart shells on a baking sheet. Place a slice of brie cheese in the shell. Spoon ½ tsp. fruit filling, jam, or preserve on top, slightly pressing into the cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 8 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

VEGETABLE STRIPS & DIP CUPS

1 cup premium mayonnaise

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 tsp. grated onion

1/8 cup drained horseradish

½ juiced lemon

1 tsp. seasoned salt

½ tsp. Accent

In a mixer bowl, combine mayo, cream cheese, onion, horseradish, lemon juice, salt, and Accent. Mix well. Chill. Put ½-inch dip in the bottom of a small, clear plastic cup. Place 5-6 long, 4-inch strips of raw vegetables of your choice in the cup, such as peppers, carrots, celery, zucchini, yellow squash, etc. The bottoms of vegetable strips should be sitting in the dip.

CHICKEN LETTUCE ROLL-UP WITH DIP

24 butter or leaf lettuce leaves

4 boneless, skinned, cooked chicken breast halves

Dip

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup chopped fruit chutney

3 Tbsp. sunflower seeds

1 cup toasted coconut

Prepare lettuce leaves for wrapping. Cut boneless, cooked chicken breasts into 3-inch long, ½-inch wide strips. Place each strip of chicken on lettuce leaf. Fold in sides of lettuce and roll-up. Secure with toothpick. For the dip, combine sour cream, chutney, and sunflower seeds. Refrigerate. On a platter, arrange chicken rolls with bowl of dip and bowl of toasted coconut in center. When serving, dip rolls in sour cream mixture and then dip in coconut.

CITRUS DIP FOR FRUIT

2 beaten eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

4 tsp. cornstarch

6 oz. undiluted, frozen limeade concentrate

A few drops of green food color

1 cup whipped, heavy cream

Fresh fruits cut in sticks and whole berries

In a bowl, combine eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and limeade. Cook on medium heat while stirring until thickened. Stir in food color. Set aside and refrigerate until completely cooled. Whip the cream and fold into the cooled mixture. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve with fresh fruits.