|Photo: Matthew Mead/AP|
I usually cook up standards I know most people enjoy and then introduce a couple of new things for review and comment. It's a conversation starter and since my friends tend to be as opinionated as myself, well, they enjoy weighing in. They even make suggestions to kick it up, tone it down or variations that I might not have considered. Since I value their input it's all done in good fun. For my guests to take home I also make copies of the new recipes with space for them to make notes while we discuss the food.
The first two drinks up for consideration are old standards with new twists: a Planter's Punch and a Bloody Mary. The new twist for the Planter's Punch is that it has some added Camus Cognac with the apple cider, apple juice and pineapple juice. The new twist for the Bloody Mary is the addition of Lucid Absinthe with the spicy bloody mary mix, worchestershire sauce, horseradish, black pepper, celery salt and garlic salt. These two drinks come from Niccole Trzaska at The Liberty Bar in New York City.
This appetizer recipe is from Chef Sara Moulton, one of the busiest TV chefs. Check out this link to her site for online cooking classes, links to her TV shows and awesome easy recipes. Sara has enjoyed a long career: a 25-year stint at Gourmet magazine (which had a run from 1941 - 2009), hosted several Food Network shows for a decade, hosts public TV's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, one of which is "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners." Whew! All while raising her own family. It's no wonder she specializes in quick and easy food.
Sara developed this tasty zucchini fries recipe as a way to use up all those crazy zucchini multiplying in your garden and on the grocer's shelves at the end of summer. Sara says, "What if I told you there's a way to transform the whole lot of them [zucchini] into a delicious dish resembling french fries, but without all the calories?" Well, she has my attention. How about you? Sara continues, "The secret involves cutting your zucchini into fry-like sticks, then cooking them in a way that delivers that signature crunch but without the deep-frying."
To get that toasted taste and golden color for the breaded zucchini without deep frying, you start by toasting up some panko breadcrumbs in a dry skillet. Sara also advises to pay attention to which cheese grater you use: a fine wand-style grater has two-thirds more volume than if you grate the cheese on the fine side of a box grater. Sara used a wand-style cheese grater that produced 5 Tablespoons of grated cheese in this recipe. If you use the box grater you will only need 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of grated cheese. Who knew?
The usual basic breading technique is employed to get the crumb mixture glued to the zucchini sticks: dip first in flour, then the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs. Sara advises that if you skip the flour then the crumbs have a tendency to fall off. Stick to the recipe and don't deviate on this step.
For entertaining this recipe is a good one because you can stop at the breading stage an hour ahead of time, parking the breaded zucchini on a cookie cooling rack just before dinner or when you want to serve at the party. The cooling rack keeps air circulating around the zucchini sticks so they don't get soggy. When you are ready to bake, transfer the zucchini sticks to a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes.
The dipping sauce is a kicked up aioli, a garlic mayonnaise. Sara added extra lemon juice to cut the sweetness of the commercial mayonnaise and some smoked paprika. Who doesn't love smoked paprika? It's definitely a standard at our house. I can get downright cranky if my local grocer is found to have an empty space on that spice shelf. Of course, the remedy I've used many times, as I am not one to be denied - is to buy regular paprika and mix it in with what's left of the smoked paprika. It doesn't take but a couple of days for the small amount of smoked paprika to influence and infuse the regular paprika for a lighter smoked taste. It's also a way to cut the price of smoked paprika if you are on a budget but still want to enjoy.
So, check out some new cocktails for entertaining and a new appetizer twist on the humble but plentiful zucchini! Be sure to check at the end of the post for links to more recipe posts...