Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.
Herbal Happy Hour
by Sandra Bowens
Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.
Tea is an herb too, and can make a delicious addition to a wide variety of foods. Here are 100 recipes to get you started.
Along with those first days of spring comes the call of the patio. There may be yard work to do but why not procrastinate for a bit and enjoy an outdoor happy hour instead.
Happy hour is most often associated with adult beverages but you don't have to consume alcohol to partake. You need only three things: A pleasant drink, snacks and good company. Whether you have a tiny balcony or a spacious yard, take the party outside to celebrate the warm weather.
Sometimes a bottle of wine or an icy cocktail is just the thing but we can't do that everyday. You can always put a spin on ordinary drinks like iced tea or lemonade. Brew up some extra-strong herbal tea to pour over ice or crush some mint leaves into the lemonade pitcher.
Perhaps "mocktails" are in order. Try a daiquiri without the rum or a spicy bloody mary sans the vodka. Fruit juices can become exciting when combined for new flavors. Try pineapple with orange juice and a squeeze of fresh lime or create a tropical drink with coconut and mango juices flavored with just a dash of almond extract. Or make it simple by adding sparkling water to a single juice. Be sure to garnish your drinks with fruit slices, crazy straws or interesting swizzle sticks to keep a festive atmosphere for your happy hour.
Snacks can be as simple as spiced nuts or as elaborate as you are ambitious. Whatever you choose, present it with flair. Pour that salsa in your favorite serving dish and put those chips into a basket. Cut up some fresh vegetables and arrange them on a platter around a hollowed out tomato filled with salad dressing.
Cheese is a natural for an herbal happy hour. Basic cheese and crackers seem more special if you include three or four types of cheese. Take the time to cut each cheese into a different shape, like cubes, rectangles and triangles. Arrange crackers around the cheese on a plate and garnish with some fresh herbs or homemade mustard that will compliment the favors.
Perhaps one of the most delightful celebrations of cheese should only be made with the finest, freshest ingredients. Look for a ball of fresh mozzarella (made from buffalo milk, if at all possible), the most perfectly ripe tomatoes and some large leaves of basil. Slice the cheese and the tomatoes and then layer them together with the basil. Drizzle with a fruity olive oil, a light grinding of black pepper and enjoy. If you can't find the perfect tomato for slicing, consider some of the gourmet cherry tomatoes that are often available and scatter them around the mozzarella.
The two recipes that follow can be made ahead and will be ready for that spontaneous call of spring. The herb-filled ricotta cheese spread is simply an idea to build on--use whatever fresh herbs you have available. Don't skip the grating of nutmeg, however, it really adds an exciting zing. The cheeseball will keep for about a week but it is especially enjoyable soon after it is made when the nuts are still crisp.
As for the good company, you're on your own. But don't forget--there is nothing wrong with flying solo.
Herbed Ricotta Spread
Seems to me, any leftovers would make a pretty terrific omelet filling.
1 container (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
5 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
5 teaspoons snipped fresh chives
4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly coarse ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Serve with crackers or fresh vegetables.
Makes about 2 cups
Three Layer Cheeseball
16 ounces (2 cups) cream cheese, softened, divided
3 ounces (about 1/2 cup) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
4 ounces (about 2 cups) finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups toasted chopped walnuts
Mix 1/4 cup of the cream cheese with the Gorgonzola; shape into a ball. Place on a paper-lined plate, transfer to the freezer and chill while preparing the next layer.
Combine the cheddar cheese with 3/4 cup of the cream cheese, the paprika and mustard. Remove the Gorgonzola ball from the freezer and press the cheddar mixture around it, maintaining the round shape. Return to freezer while preparing the next layer.
Mix the dill weed and cayenne pepper into the remaining cream cheese. Again, work this mixture onto the round shape of the other two cheeses, maintaining the roundness.
Place the toasted walnuts on a sheet of waxed paper. Roll the cheeseball in the nuts to coat well, pressing them gently into the cheese.
Serve right away with crackers or wrap well in plastic and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Not too tart, not too sweet, this is a wonderful pink drink.
1/2 cup berry fruit juice
1/2 cup pink lemonade
1/2 cup strawberry-flavored sparkling water
Pour the three beverages into a tall ice filled glass. Stir lightly and garnish with a lemon slice or fresh strawberry, if desired. Makes one serving.
For other snack and drink recipes, see the Recipe Index.
photo courtesy of Dorina Andress and Wikimedia commons
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