Cooking for 25… Happy belated birthday, Aunt Ginny!

My Aunt Ginny’s birthday party was last weekend, and my mother and I (and several amazing helpers) concocted and executed a menu for 25 people:

Appetizers:

Mini Sandwiches: Egg salad, Tuna salad and Avocado-Cucumber
Onion Dip

Potato Salad (contributed by my lovely Aunt Darlene)
Pasta Salad
Shrimp and Orzo Salad (contributed by my lovely Aunt Candace)
Arugula Salad (my mom made this is and it was far and away the most popular dish; almonds, green apples, fresh Parm, evoo and s&p – adapted from a Whole Foods salad)

Main Dishes:

Chicken-Zucchini Skewers
Poached Salmon w/ Avocado Sauce and Dill-Tomato Sauce

Desserts:

Birthday cakes!

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Tuna Salad Sandwich Rounds (20-24 rounds)

Ingredients:
2 cans tuna in olive oil, drained
3 tbsp mayo
1 large roasted red pepper bottled in oil , rinsed, drained, and finely chopped
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon (I used less)
Salt and pepper
Unsalted butter, softened
24 thin slices whole grain bread (or whatever kind you like; we used a mixture of white and wheat)
Small bunch fresh parsley, very finely chopped

Method:

Mix the tuna and next 3 ingredients in a bowl; season to taste. Chill for 15 minutes up to overnight. When ready to prepare, Scoop salad onto rounds of bread, top with remaining rounds and lightly butter the edges of the sandwiches. Roll in fresh parsley. Stack, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Egg Salad Pita Pockets (20-24 pitas)

Ingredients:
8 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped finely
4 tbsps mayonnaise
2 tbsps Dijon mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
24 mini pita pockets (we used a mixture of white and wheat)
unsalted butter, softened
watercress sprigs for garnish

Chicken kebabs

Makes 6-8 kebabs (we quadrupled this recipe… it was epic)

1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 zucchini, sliced very thinly lengthways
6–8 metal or wooden skewers or sticks of fresh rosemary, lower leaves removed, tips kept on

Marinade
1 handful of fresh coriander
1 handful of fresh mint
3 cloves of garlic
6 spring onions
1 red chili
zest and juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Blanch the zucchini strips in salted boiling water for 30 seconds then drain and allow to cool.

Blitz all the marinade ingredients (except the olive oil) in a food processor, then loosen to a paste with a little olive oil. Add the marinade to the chicken pieces and mix well. Allow to sit for up to an hour. Then weave the zucchini strips in between the chicken pieces on the rosemary sticks or skewers. Grill for around 8 minutes, turning regularly, until cooked.

If you need to keep warm, sprinkle with a bit more oil and cover loosely with foil.

**Recipe from: JamieOliver.com

Poached Salmon with Dill-Tomato Sauce

Sauce (for 1lb salmon)
1/4 cup light mayo
1 tbsp low fat milk
1 tbsp minced fresh dill or 1 tsp dill weed
1 tbsp lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1 small tomato, diced

Poaching (in the microwave!)
sprayed or lightly oil-coated ceramic or glass dish
2 salmon fillets
3 tbsps water, if more salmon use more water
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
4 lemon slices
Cover dish and salmon with plastic wrap; poke holes to vent.
Microwave on high for 6-8 minutes, turning 1/2 way through (unless, of course, you have a rotating tray in your microwave). Fish should flake easily with a fork.
Let stand 2 minutes, serve with sauce.
Thanks to my Aunt Ginny for this recipe! So easy and so delicious.

Gemelli with Tomatoes, Olives & Ricotta

Coarse salt
8 ounces gemelli (or fusilli or penne)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed (optional)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 cup fresh basil, torn
Fresh ricotta cheese, for serving

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain. Drizzle with just enough oil to coat, so the pasta doesn’t clump.

Pulse sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, capers, and garlic in a food processor. With machine running, add oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss together pasta, sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes, olives, basil, and salt. Transfer to serving plates. Top with a scoop of ricotta, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with pepper.

**Recipe from: Zested (the picture here is prettier than mine… check it out)

Photos:

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It was a wonderful party. I got to see my cousin Anna for the first time in years, and our two new baby cousins were there looking precious and perfect. And my Aunt Ginny, who has been there for me my whole life, was I hope at least a little surprised that we were all there!

Virtual Traveling: Homemade Japanese Feast

Last weekend, my dear friend Elisabeth and her partner Taha came to visit for the Cherry Blossom Festival held annually in Washington D.C. The weather prevented us from picnicking on the mall, but that did not stop Elisabeth displaying her impressive culinary skills in my kitchen.

The Menu

-o- Miso soup
-o- Seaweed salad

-o- 3 kinds of salmon maki
-o- Salmon rice balls

-o- Chicken gyoza
-o- Soba noodles

Check out the feast she prepared for us! Brian and I contributed sake and the fish plates… he also attempted to build a sushi-rolling mat from bamboo skewers and dental floss.

Elisabeth even brought Japanese cookies for dessert and Japanese gum for palate-clearing.

(Image source: Serious Eats)

New Year’s Eve Dinner – Brie, Asparagus, Curried Chicken Bites, Salmon and Orzo with Olive-Mustard Butter

-o- Brie, Baguette and Strawberries -o-

No explanations needed here. We are on a budget, so we bought Simply Enjoy brand brie from Giant, and found it delicious. With baguette slices toasted into crostini and a few ripe strawberries, we had a very romantic first course for our 2011 New Year’s Eve dinner.

-o- Curried Chicken Bites with Lemon-Dill Yogurt -o-

First, prepare the yogurt so you can cover and chill. Mix 1 cup plain lowfat yogurt, 1 cup finely shredded peeled, seeded cucumber (with as much moisture removed as possible), 1/2 tsp. lemon juice (resist the urge to add more), and 1 tsp. dried dillweed in a small bowl. Cover and keep chilled until it’s time to serve the chicken bites.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts or tenderloins, cut into 1-in. pieces (*note: you will end up grinding this; I suppose you could buy ground chicken, but the recipe I used for inspiration called for grinding your own and I did like being able to remove most of the fat)
1/4 cup onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

3 tbsps. flour (optional)
2 tsps. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. paprika

Method:
Add half of the chicken pieces to a food processor bowl. Pulse until pureed. Place in a large mixing bowl; repeat with remaining chicken. Add onion and garlic. Add the egg slowly, stopping when it looks wet enough. Mix together with a wooden spoon or your hands.

Mix together the dry ingredients (breadcrumbs and spices, minus the paprika). Add to chicken mixture. Mix well (I used my hands).

Shape the mixture into 40 (or so) 1-in. balls. If you are cooking them right away, dredge in flour (optional) and place half of the bites in a glass pie dish. Microwave for a few minutes, mixing halfway through. Fry over medium-heat in 1 tsp. vegetable oil and 1/8 tsp. paprika. Repeat with remaining bites.

If you want to freeze them (which I have been doing, because they are rather labor-intensive), skip the flour step and simply coat wax-paper-lined baking sheets with cooking spray. Spread the bites onto the sheets; coat with more spray. Freeze for an hour or so, then transfer to a cooking-spray-lined freezer bag. When you are ready to cook, microwave for a few minutes as directed above, then proceed.

Serve with yogurt.

Inspiration: Spicy Chicken Bites with Cucumber Dip, from the CookingLight Five-Star Recipes: The Best of 10 Years (1996).

-o- Simple Roasted Asparagus -o-

See the recipe for my favorite way to eat asparagus – simply – here. All you really need is good salt, freshly-cracked black pepper and a bit of olive oil.
You can see Brian’s favorite asparagus recipe, Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Vinegar and Tarragon, here,  featured as part of a weekend dinner menu.

Preheat the oven to 425 when you put the water on to boil for the orzo. When you add the to the boiling water, reduce the heat to 400 and add the salmon. Depending on your oven, stove, etc., everything should be finished around the same time!

-o- Roasted Salmon and Orzo with Olive-Parsley Butter -o-
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each, skinned
8 oz. orzo pasta

*I made double the amount of olive butter and froze half for future use. If you want to do the same, double the amounts below and roll the unused butter into a log and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Use within a month.
1/4 cup salted butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
6 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 a medium shallot (about 2 tsps.) minced shallot
2 tsps. chopped fresh parsley (or more, to taste)

Method:
Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Cook the orzo according to package directions and return to the pot.

To make the butter, put the butter, olives, mustard, shallot and parsley into a food processor. Process until smooth.

Coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides of the salmon fillets with good-quality salt and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and roast for 12-14 minutes, until just done in the center.

Add half of the butter to the orzo, toss well to coat. Place a small dab of the butter on each piece of salmon and garnish with fresh parsley and/or whole olives.

Enjoy!

Inspiration on Epicurious.

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