Ray gardner, sr




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Lox, Bagels, Cream Cheese, Onions and Capers - ☺♥




My sweetheart, Peggy, and I enjoy Lox in the traditional Jewish Deli manner, except that we typically use various types of crackers instead of bagels. This combination makes a wonderful appetizer that does not spoil your appetite for a meal.

Today I was vacuum sealing portions of Lox in amounts typically used at one time by two people. The vacuum sealing helps extend the life of the Lox, which without vacuum sealing will spoil within a few days once the package is opened.

I got a wild idea while doing the vacuum sealing. The geometry of trying to balance the ingredients of this appetizer on a cracker is peculiar. Often pieces of the ingredients fall off before the item is completely eaten and that is rather sloppy. Thus, my wild idea. Why not make a mixture of the cream cheese, diced onions and capers? By so doing the mixture is easily spread onto a cracker and then the piece of Lox is added. Ah, a definite improvement, and proof that a bit of imagination can work wonders. And it seems other folks have had the same idea as me.

I know you will really enjoy this appetizer, and the recipe is quite simple.

Ingredients: (Serves two people)

1/4 pound of smoked salmon (LOX)

4 ounces of cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup of diced sweet onion

1/4 cup of capers

A bowl of crackers of your choice. We often use Keebler® Club crackers.

Directions:

Put the cream cheese, onions and capers into a small bowl and carefully blend those ingredients with a spoon.

Serve the Lox on a saucer, cut into pieces suitable to be placed on top of a cracker.

Serve those items with a bowl of crackers.

Use about two teaspoons of the cream cheese mixture and spread that onto a cracker.

Place a piece of Lox on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Enjoy!
Melon with Proscuitto Ham -
At various places in this book I make reference to this appetizer. It is a classic combination of the juicy and sweet with the dry and salty, so your taste buds come alive really well. It is a very tasty appetizer and simple to make. All you need is half a pound of a top quality proscuitto ham, sliced very thin, and a very ripe cantaloupe and some wooden toothpicks.
When you buy the ham look for a price of around $17 per pound. The cheaper brands simply aren’t worth buying. For the cantaloupe, if you cannot find a very ripe one then take the best one the store has home and let it sit out on a counter for a few days to finish ripening. Then refrigerate it before making the appetizer.
Even the best proscuitto ham will have some amount of fat in or around each slice. Use a sharp knife and cut each slice of the ham to eliminate the fat. Then cut or tear each ham slice into crudely shaped pieces roughly three to four inches long and about one inch wide or less.
Process the cantaloupe to make bite size pieces that, due to the shape of the cantaloupe, will be like curved trapezoidal prisms that have a volume from ½ to ¾ of a cubic inch.
Each piece of melon is wrapped with one of the ham pieces and the two ends of the ham are secured to the narrower top area of the melon piece with a wooden toothpick, making the toothpick stand roughly vertical. Put the finished pieces on an appetizer type of serving dish or tray.
This appetizer is best served cold so you may want to cover the dish/tray lightly with some plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator for an hour or two before your guests arrive.
Serve this appetizer cold. Some light-tasting crackers go well with it, as do some small ½ inch square pieces of a good provolone cheese and some kalamata or oil cured olives. Also, a nice medium dry white wine like Pinot Grigio, chilled, is appropriate.
Olive Tapenade - ☺♥
I well remember the different tapenades and aiolis that Marie and I used to enjoy. We got hooked on them while eating light meals (and sampling wines) at the Viansa Winery in California. The entire scene was romantic and fun ... a great natural setting and a time to enjoy life and celebrate. We used to purchase the aiolis and tapenades available at the Viansa gift shop and take them home to enjoy with friends later. My, they sure were good, and so were the friends, especially Bob and Lois. We had great times with them at many places.
In memory of those times I decided to provide a tapenade appetizer recipe in Food Nirvana. I will likely also provide a nice aioli recipe soon. The recipe below is self-explanatory regarding how to use a tapenade as an appetizer. I hope you try the recipe. It looks very good. Yes, I do intend to make it and report back to you. I kind of doubt any recipe improvements will be necessary ... It simply looks to be perfect. Enjoy!
Ingredients: (Makes 4-6 servings)
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 3/4 cups of whole, pitted olives (kalamata, black, green or use a mixture)
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed
2 Tbsp. of capers
1 tsp. of chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp. of dried thyme leaves
3 Tbsp. of lemon juice
6 Tbsp. of olive oil
1/8 tsp. of white pepper
Directions:
Combine the garlic, olives, anchovies, capers, thyme and lemon juice in an electric blender or in the bowl of a food processor. Slowly add the olive oil into the mixture while blending or processing. Blend until a paste is formed. Add the white pepper and stir.
You can also make this recipe by using a mortar and pestle, or by chopping all ingredients together until very fine. The texture can be as smooth or as chunky as you like.
Store the tapenade in the refrigerator, well covered.
Serve it with crackers or crusty French bread. It can also be a sandwich spread. For example, use it with roast beef and hoagie buns for a rich sandwich.
Salsa - ☺♥
This is a fun recipe guaranteed to please you and your guests. It is best served as an appetizer course with white corn tortilla chips and various beverages. But isn’t it easiest just to buy a jar of the stuff from the snack aisle at the supermarket? Easy, yes, intelligent, no.
Freshly made salsa is simply a whole lot better in taste and texture than any canned or bottled product. In fact, the bottled products all stink! That is why the best store bought salsas are found in plastic containers in the produce or specialty sections of supermarkets, fresh and refrigerated. I decided many years ago to make my own salsa to guarantee freshness, taste and minimum cost. Also, by making it myself I could vary the amount based on the number of people eating it at any event, and I could vary the ingredients to please different tastes. Similarly, I could divide the basic salsa into separate portions to vary the seasoning to please everyone from mild versions for children to fiery stuff for hot pepper fanatics.
There are many different types and flavors of salsa and I have tasted many that are just as good or better than mine but with a special flavor focus, like southwestern salsa, which contains some products and spices, like corn and chipotle, that I do not use. You can use my recipe as a starting point and then vary it to produce any flavor that pleases you best.
Note that with a good fresh salsa people tend to scoop fairly large amounts on to each white corn tortilla chip. This means the amount consumed will be larger than you might first conclude. Thus, the recipe shown below allows for about one cup of fresh salsa per person. That is significantly more than they would eat with a typical canned commercial product, and that is due primarily from the bulk resulting from using freshly chopped ingredients. Fresh is so much better …
Ingredients: (makes about 2 1/2 quarts, serves 10 people)
1, 28 oz. can of peeled plum tomatoes (or 6 large ripe fresh tomatoes)

12 oz. of tomato or V-8® juice (more if needed, none if using all fresh tomatoes)

3 ripe fresh large tomatoes

1 large sweet onion

4 stalks of celery

6 large cloves of garlic

1 large sweet red pepper

1 mild green pepper (optional … some folks don’t like green peppers)

1/4 cup tightly packed freshly chopped cilantro (or 2 tbsp. dried cilantro … Buy the fresh cilantro!)

1 large lemon or one medium lemon and one lime (lime adds a unique flavor)

2 tsp. of sea salt

2 tsp. of black pepper

½ cup of Texas Pete’s® Hot Sauce (optional … makes a medium hot salsa. 1 cup makes a hot salsa)

½ cup of chopped canned jalapeno peppers (optional, … for an extra hot portion)

¼ cup of habanero pepper sauce (optional, … only for a very hot portion)

2 giant or Family Size bags white corn tortilla chips
Procedure:
Use a six quart mixing bowl, a sharp paring knife and a wood cutting board. Drain the juice from the can of tomatoes into the mixing bowl. Chop the tomatoes into pieces about the size of the end of your little finger. Put all of the pieces and the extra juice produced during chopping into the mixing bowl. Add the can of tomato or V-8® juice only if needed. The idea is that after all ingredients have been combined there should be barely enough liquid to keep everything wet, so you can defer the liquid addition until last. Cut the fresh tomatoes into roughly the same size pieces as the chopped canned tomatoes and add them to the mixing bowl.
Chop the onion into small pieces about ¼” by ¼”. Similarly, cut the celery into small pieces about half the size of the end of your little finger. Do note that you can use a good food processor for all the firmer vegetables to speed up the process. Add both to the mixing bowl and mix gently. Finely chop the six cloves of garlic (some folks like more garlic, like 9 or 12 cloves) and add them to the mixing bowl. Finely chop the red/green pepper(s) and add them to the mixing bowl. About this point you will be cursing me as this recipe does have a labor component! Trust me, it is worth the effort. If you are lazy, buy the fresh salsa. If you are smart, use the food processor with a disc for fine chopping (I am too stupid and stubborn to use a food processor for this recipe).
Finely chop the fresh cilantro and put it into a one quarter cup measuring cup, pressed tightly, to be certain to have the right amount (The next time you make this recipe you may want to increase or decrease the amount of cilantro. Ditto the garlic.). Add it to the mixing bowl. Cut the lemon/lime in half and extract the juice into a separate small bowl. Remove any seeds and pour the juice into the mixing bowl. Add the salt and the pepper and mix the contents gently but thoroughly. Adjust the solids/liquid ratio if necessary by adding some additional tomato or V8 juice. As mentioned earlier, the liquid should barely cover the solids when they are pressed down into the bowl. Mix again.
Divide the salsa into equal parts by ladling it into sterilized one quart canning jars, but leave space in one jar for the ½ cup of Texas Pete’s® Hot Sauce. Add the Texas Pete’s® Hot Sauce to the jar for those who like medium hot salsa, and reserve the other full jar for those who like mild salsa. You will have excess salsa after filling the first two jars. Use a third canning jar and reserve that extra jar of salsa for later addition of seasonings for the “hot” fanatics. Put lids on the jars and refrigerate the salsa, ideally for 24 hours. That will allow the seasonings to mix well with the other ingredients, particularly the cilantro and the garlic.
Serve the salsa in wide and deep bowls (for easy scooping) along with large bowls of white corn tortilla chips, and some beer or other beverages like frozen margaritas, lemonade, canned sodas, etc. You will get some nice compliments.
For those who like salsa to be very hot, take the third partial jar of salsa and add the optional habanero pepper sauce, chopped canned jalapeno peppers and/or Texas Pete’s® hot sauce in whatever proportions are desired.
Overall, the chips and salsa make a great appetizer course preceding many different types of outdoor meals. The secret is to serve them and the beverages immediately when guests arrive, about one to one and one half hours before the main meal is served. The point is they will be enjoyed best and act as social stimulants if served early.
Leftover salsa will keep well and remain fresh in the refrigerator for a week if stored in the canning jar(s). I doubt it will last that long before use.
Scallops Ceviche - ?

Ceviche is pretty fabulous as an appetizer, and it may be found in upscale seafood restaurants, like Harry's Seafood Grill® in Wilmington, DE. Harry's Seafood Grill is a favorite restaurant of mine where my great friend Peggy Hullinger and I occasionally have lunch.
Basically, Ceviche is raw seafood marinated in pure lime juice or in a mixture of pure lime and lemon juice. The marination replaces the normal cooking process for the seafood. Then selected fresh vegetables are prepared and added to the drained seafood along with some olive oil and salt and pepper. A small amount of the reserved, drained and strained lime juice is added back into the mixture, to taste. The Ceviche is served very cold, immediately.
By happenstance I saw a recipe for baby scallops ceviche on the Internet and I knew that, with a few modifications, it would be a great addition to the Food Nirvana Appetizer section. As I have never made Ceviche of any sort I decided to provide the recipe and indicate that I have to test it and possibly modify it to create a perfect product. I will do so and report back to you. Alas, I doubt the chefs/management at Harry's would share their recipe.
Note that the recipe I found used bay scallops and I specifically avoided them in this recipe as they are inferior in every respect to fresh sea scallops. I figure that if you are going for something great you have to start with the very best ingredients.
Ingredients:
1 pound, 5 ounces of drained fresh sea scallops

3/4 cup of lime juice (from about 8 limes)

1/3 cup of minced red onion

1/3 cup of seeded and diced tomato

1/2 cup of peeled, seeded and diced cucumber

1 seeded and diced jalapeño pepper

3/4 cup of diced fresh cilantro, loosely packed (about 1 bunch of fresh cilantro)

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
Wash and drain the sea scallops. Then cut them into pieces about 1/2 inch per side.
Marinate the scallop pieces in the lime juice in a medium size bowl for 30 minutes, covered and refrigerated, tossing every 10 minutes.
Strain the lime juice from the bowl and save it in a separate bowl, using a very fine sieve.
Stir in the onion, tomato, cucumber, jalapeño pepper and cilantro.
Stir in the olive oil and season the Ceviche to taste with salt and pepper.
Add back some of the strained lime juice to taste as desired. I suggest starting with no more than 1/8 of a cup.
Serve the Ceviche immediately in pre-chilled appetizer dishes.
I suggest serving herbed crackers and a nice chilled clean-tasting white wine like Pinot Grigio to accompany the Ceviche.
Enjoy!
Shrimp Toast - ☺♥
Shrimp toast is a tasty appetizer and it is easy to make. Only a few fairly common ingredients are needed. Having researched recipes on the Internet and in my Chinese cookbook I put together my ideas of the best combination of ingredients, processing and frying. I added a scallion for taste and appearance, and I decided to process some of the ingredients in a blender for the best texture. The results were great.
The frying of bread in peanut oil does make this appetizer higher in fat content than typical Chinese foods, so my advice is simply to limit the amount served per person.
Ingredients: (6 generous servings, two pieces per person)
½ lb. of shelled deveined fresh raw shrimp

5 water chestnuts, sliced or whole

1 tsp. of fresh ginger root (or more), minced, or equivalent bottled minced ginger.

1 or 2 scallions, finely diced

1 large egg

1 ½ tsp. of cornstarch

1 or 2 tsp. of medium dry sherry wine

½ tsp. of sea salt

Dash of black pepper

6 slices of day old (stale) white bread (moist bread absorbs too much oil)

3 cups of peanut oil (for frying)
Directions:
Chop and then dice half of the raw shrimp and set it aside on a saucer. Chop the other half of the shrimp and put it into a one quart bowl.
Chop the water chestnuts and add them to the bowl.
Mince the ginger (or use pre-purchased minced bottled ginger) and add it to the bowl.
Finely dice the scallion(s) and place the pieces on the saucer with the diced shrimp.
Break the egg into the bowl.
Add the cornstarch, sherry, salt and pepper to the bowl.
Put all of the bowl contents into a blender and blend on high speed for two minutes.

Empty the blender contents back into the bowl.
Heat the oil in a medium to large non-stick skillet on medium heat where the depth of the oil is limited to about ½ inch. You can vary the amount of oil used based on the size of the skillet.
Cut the crusts from the bread slices. Discard the crusts.
Cut each bread slice into two triangular pieces.
Mix the blender contents in the one quart bowl with the reserved diced shrimp and scallion with a wooden spoon. Mix thoroughly.
Coat one side of each triangle of bread with the shrimp mixture so that all of the mixture is used on the twelve triangular pieces of bread. The coating will be about ¼” to 3/8” thick. Put each piece on a plate as it is coated.
Use a frying or candy thermometer to check the temperature of the oil. It should be heated to 365º F. Adjust the heat as necessary.
Note: The various shrimp toast recipes call for oil that is very hot, even smoking, but we determined that method to be overkill as it is too easy to burn the bread rather than fry it to a golden crispy color. This is especially true since the frying is done one side after the other instead of doing deep fat frying. The purpose of using very hot oil is to reduce the amount of oil absorbed by the bread, but too hot is too hot, period. After adjusting our oil temperature down from smoking to 365º F we got superior results and nice crispy shrimp toast.
Use a thin polymer spatula to introduce each piece of the shrimp toast into the oil. Do only four pieces at a time as one batch. The easy way to do it is to dip the spatula into the hot oil and then put a piece of coated bread coated side down onto the spatula. Then slide the piece from the spatula with a fork into the hot oil.
By the time four pieces have been put into the hot oil it is time to start turning them over. Give each piece no more than one to two minutes on the first side and one minute after turning it over or it will become too dark.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove each piece of shrimp toast quickly onto a plate with a double paper towel on it to absorb excess oil. Do not put the pieces on top of each other. Use additional paper towels for each stacked batch so that the toast is crisp and well drained of excess oil.
When all the batches are done the paper towels can be removed and the shrimp toast pieces placed in one layer, on top of one fresh paper towel. The plate can be put into a 200º F oven and held for up to an hour prior to being served … or, you can serve the shrimp toast immediately.
Remember to turn the heat off under the skillet. Enjoy!

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