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Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

Creative Cooking

One of my favorite things to do is to look in my refrigerator with the goal of creating something delicious from whatever I find there. Using up leftovers makes me feel thrifty. Often, they even taste better because the flavors have had a little time to develop.

Here’s a perfect example of that. For dinner the night before this project, I had made chicken breasts dipped in egg and sprinkled with cheese. Two were leftover. I had also made corn on the cob and cut off the extra kernels from extra cobs. I found some extra dried cherries, left over from a diabetic cake I had made my mom and a number of staples, like onions. All of this turned into a flavorful chicken salad that could become sandwiches for lunch or a nice side for dinner. Another possibility was to make “deviled” eggs without yolks by filling the eggs with the salad. Believe me; it quickly disappeared! Simply warming up those chicken breasts and over cooking them would not have been the same.

"Deviled" Chicken-Cherry Salad Eggs, with Heirloom Tomatoes and Yogurt Dip

“Deviled” Chicken-Cherry Salad Eggs, with Heirloom Tomatoes and Yogurt Dip

Here is the salad recipe and some tips for using it as an egg filling for a healthy after school snack!

Chicken-Cherry Salad(Makes about 6 cups)

2 large chicken breasts, cooked

½ large yellow onion, diced tiny

½ cup cooked, fresh corn, sliced off the cob

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 cup dried cherries, chopped small

¼ cup cheddar cheese (This was already cooked onto my chicken as indicated above.)

Salt and pepper

Optional Garnishes: Sliced garden onion, red bell pepper, diced small


  1. Thinly slice the chicken, and then cut across the strips to make a tiny dice. (Chopping all ingredients very small protects your finishing options – especially if you think you want to fill eggs.)
  2. Mix all ingredients together except the garnishes (toppings). Taste it and if necessary add more spices.
Chicken-Cherry Salad as a Side Dish

Chicken-Cherry Salad as a Side Dish. Garnished with sliced garden onions.


  1. You can mix the salad ahead and chop the garnishes. Cover and refrigerate. If making deviled eggs, make them up at the last minute. If serving as a side, add garnishes at the last minute.
  2. Older eggs peel better than really fresh ones. Every carton has a sell by date on it. Just make sure you stay within that time frame.
  3. Think of a boiled egg simply as a container. They can be filled with your favorite tuna or any other salad for variety. Make a small slice on the bottom of each egg half so it will sit on a flat surface and won’t go sliding around on your plate.

    Thinly Slice Egg Bottoms

    Make a small slice on the bottom to “anchor” your eggs and keep them from sliding around on the plate.

Next beach walk: A dish hunt?

2-Sunray Venus Clam Shell

Sunray Venus Clam Shell

You’ve all heard the old adage “You eat with your eyes first”. As a Chef, I’m always looking for ideas for making a plate appealing. If it looks attractive, I can be sure it will be gobbled up by my guests and besides the quest is fun! I look for pretty dishes everywhere I go – even on my recent trip to Marco Island, a place known for its beautiful shells washing up on the beach. As well as shells for table decoration, I was looking for dishes. Yes, I said dishes!

When you find your shells, first sanitize them by dissolving one “San Tab” (available at Gordon Foods) in a gallon of water. Then add the shells for at least 20 seconds and that takes care of it. Be sure to also rinse them well to remove the chemicals and you’ve got an interesting and attractive dish. (You can also paint them with Mod Podge on the outside to make them a little shinier if you like, but don’t paint the surface where you will place food.)

I looked for large white clam shells, Sunray Venus clam shells and the largest scallop bowls I could find. Most of these were out on Tiger Tail Point Beach. What’s really interesting about the ocean is that different things wash up each day. One day it will be full of Fighting Conch shells and the next day you might not be able to find any at all. Different shells can be found in various parts of the beach. Make sure not to take one that’s alive or inhabited, which is actually illegal. If you really want to help protect the eco system, you take those that are alive out beyond the waves and throw them out into the ocean so they will have another chance.

3-Table decoration

Variety of small shells for decoration

But let’s get back to the table. Small shells went into decorative bowls. (You can leave them simply as they are or fill the bowls with water and float candles or flowers above them. You could also partially fill a vase and add flowers.) Fighting conchs, starfish and a sand dollar became appetizer tray decorations. Larger shells became containers for little specialties I like to make. The larger shells could simply be handed to people with appetizers in them. I took it one step further and added them to a Bento Box (a Japanese lunch box divided into four sections. Plastic boxes can be found in Japanese grocery stores. Or, if you want beautiful lacquered ones like these, you can find them online). I found the little dishes that fit in them in all kinds of different stores on my travels as well as at Crate and Barrel.

What you see in the box below is grilled shrimp marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and perched on purchased Quinoa-Vegetable Salad, marinated chicken skewers, lump crab and a crab cake topped with a little fresh thyme. The sauces are Sweet Chili Sauce and Thai Peanut Sauce – both simply purchased. On the clam shells on the appetizer tray are seared scallops topped with shredded ribs, Sushi and sashimi. You don’t have to use these exact things. Just use little things that you like to make and don’t forget about your leftovers for toppings or other little creations. Simply have fun with it!

1-Scallop Shells

Large Scallop Shells

4-Bento Box Presentation

Bento Box


To make the ribs: Cut four pounds of bone-in ribs into four pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sear in hot oil in a Dutch oven. Then spread a small can of tomato paste on the meaty side. Turn them over so the tomato side is down. (Heating the tomato sauce sweetens it.) Add 1 cup of beef stock. (If you don’t make your own, I like the Kitchen Basics brand the best.) Cover and bake for 2-1/2 hours at 350 F – or until the meat pulls away when you rake a fork over it. Remove the meat and chop it. Freeze any extra for another meal.

The marinade for the chicken is ½ cup Sesame Seed oil, ½ cup Soy Sauce, 1 Clove minced Garlic, 1 minced Green Onion, 2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce. Pinch of Cayenne Pepper, 1 Tablespoon Curry Powder and 1 Tablespoon ground ginger. Marinate for at least 45 minutes and then cook them in a pan. Remember to soak your skewers ahead of time so they won’t burn.

To make the crab cake: Mix 1 pound of crab with 1/4 cup chopped pepper, 1/4 chopped shallot, ¾ cup Pepperidge Farm Herb dressing (first mixed with 2 Tablespoons Dijon or Mucky Duck mustard and 1 egg and then added to the mix) and salt and pepper to taste. Press into cakes and dip in Panko. Fry in butter.  Enjoy!

6-Finished Appetizers

Finished Appetizers

7-Finished Bento Box

Finished Bento Box

Six Great Appetizers

On my last cable television show, I invited Ruben Griffin from NYA Catering to come back and show us his six favorite appetizers. He is so good at mixing flavors and coming up with fun ideas. Here are the recipes for you. Do try them at home!


Left to right, they are 1. Bacon wrapped pineapple and scallop skewers, 2. Ginger minted melon salad in a prosciutto cup, 3. Jamaican Jerk Guacamole on a Plantain Chip, 4. Cauliflower Cheddar Cakes with Saffron Aioli, 5. Curried Crab Salad on a Watermelon Popsicle, and 6. Sweet Pea and Saffron Arancini.

1. BACON WRAPPED PINEAPPLE AND SCALLOP SKEWERS. To make, simply place the thawed scallop and a piece of pineapple on a skewer and wrap it in a piece of bacon. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven until the bacon is crisp,about 12 minutes.

2. GINGER MINTED MELON SALAD IN A PROSCIUTTO CUP. To make the cups, turn a muffin tin upside down. Wrap prosciutto around the upside down cups, making sure you have no big gaps. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven until the bacon is crisp, about 12 minutes. To make the salad, mix together 1 diced cantaloupe, 1 diced honey dew melon, 1/4 cup mint chiffonade, 2 cups ginger simple syrup and a teaspoon of cracked black pepper. This will make about 16 cups. (To make the ginger simple syrup, mix together 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil and let it cool. In this case, put 4 Tablespoons minced, fresh ginger in it before you boil it so it will have a ginger flavor. Add just enough to the salad to moisten it.) (To make chiffonade, roll the mint leaves and then make tiny slices across the roll.)

3. JAMAICAN JERK GUACAMOLE ON A PLANTAIN CHIP. It’s important to use plantains instead of regular bananas here. The picture shows this done with a banana because they were unavailable, but the plantain curls up and makes a little cup, which is nicer. Slice the plantains on an angle, leaving the skin on. Fry in vegetable or olive oil until soft. Top with the salad, which is a mixture of 2 diced Avocados, 1 Tablespoon minced cilantro, 2 Tablespoons Jerk Marinade (which comes in a jar that you purchase at the store), Zest from 1/2 lime, Juice from 1/2 fresh lime, 1/2 cup small diced pineapple and 1/2 cup chopped red onion.

4. CAULIFLOWER CHEDDAR CAKES WITH SAFFRON AIOLI. Boil one head of cauliflower in water until it’s very soft. Drain, let it cool and mash it with a fork. Mix the cauliflower with 2 large eggs, 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese, 1 cup Panko, 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper ( or more to taste), 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and salt to taste. Form into cakes. Fry in olive oil into slightly browned. Garnish with a little cilantro.

5. CURRIED CRAB SALAD ON A WATERMELON “POPSICLE”. Cut watermelon into 1 X 2 by 1/2 inch pieces. Mix together 1 can lump crab, 1/2 cup mayonnaise. 2 Tablespoons curry powder, 1/4 cup minced fresh chives. Insert the popsicle sticks into the watermelon rectangles. Top with the salad and garnish with a piece of serrano chili cut on an angle.

6. SWEET [EA AND SAFFRON ARANCINI. Make 1 pound of risotto. (In a small amount of olive oil, soften 1/2 onion. Add the rice and toast it for a minute or so. Start adding hot chicken broth (1 box) 1/2 cup at a time. Stir and add in 1 cup of wine and 2 pinches of saffron. Then keep adding the broth until the rice is soft. Finish with several Tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. (Stir through.) Add 2 cup frozen peas to the mix. Prepare three bowls, one with 4 cups flour, 1 with 10 beaten eggs and 1 with 2 cups Panko bread crumbs. Form the risotto into balls, then flatten them and push some grated Fontina into the middle, covering it with the cake. Dip the cake into the flour, then the egg, then the Panko. Fry in vegetable oil until slightly browned. Garnish with Saffron Aioli and a little chive.

To make the Aioli: Bloom a pinch of saffron in 1/2 cup cider vinegar. Mix in 2 egg yolks, 1 egg and 1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 1 Tablespoon honey and 3/4 cup vegetable oil (OR canola, corn or grapeseed oil. Whisk together well. (PANKO bread crumbs can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores. They are crispy and flavorless so they are great for adding crunch without interfering with the flavor combination that you have created.

TIP: Making your appetizers as equal as possible in size and lining them up makes them look professional Enjoy!


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