Dining Dames Spring Brunch

Spring is the perfect time of year to enjoy outside entertaining with friends. I did just that and invited the Dining Dames cooking group onto my patio for a Spring Brunch. I used a colorful table runner with bold colorful pillows in the chairs and fresh flowers as the centerpiece. It was a beautiful cool day.

I served Prosecco-Elder Cocktails along with appetizers from the new Southern Living Party Cookbook. Elizabeth Heiskell is the author and she offers a modern guide to gatherings. Our group voted on this new cookbook. It was a favorite cookbook choice since we   attended a cooking class in Oxford with the author last month.

The day started with us visiting while enjoying egg salad on toast points, sausage balls and cheese straws tomato tartlets.  Then we sat down to enjoy a puff pastry chicken salad ring, lemon green bean pasta salad and fruit on wooden skewers. It was a colorful display on white antique china plate with a gold trim. I added a porcelain Wolfe Bird to the serving pieces to add color.

Dessert is always a favorite and the frozen lemon cream served in an orange cup was a wonderful choice for a patio brunch. The caramel meringue cookies were light and added the perfect sweetness to the ice cream.  Enjoy entertaining this Spring.

SAUSAGE BALLS

HANDS-ON 20 MINUTES, TOTAL 35 MINUTES, SERVES 48

It’s hard to describe the perfection of this three-ingredient classic. Guests of all ages will light up with delight when they see this treat at your next brunch, breakfast, or tailgate. Instead of using regular Cheddar cheese, try substituting your favorite pimiento cheese recipe for a fun twist on a classic.

3 cups all-purpose baking mix (such as Bisquick Original Pancake and Baking Mix)

1 (1-pound) package hot ground pork sausage

1 (10-ounce) block sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, pressing the mixture together with your hands. Shape into 3/4-inch balls, and place on lightly greased baking sheets. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned.

Note: Freeze the uncooked sausage balls, if desired. Bake the frozen balls at 400F for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

 

PROSECCO-ELDERFLOWER COCKTAIL

HANDS-ON 5 MINUTES, TOTAL - 5 MINUTES, SERVES - 12

St-Germain makes a lovely elderflower liqueur. The elderflower blossoms that grow on the hillsides in France are gathered. Once the flowers have been collected, the blossoms are macerated to extract all the flavor. This process is a guarded family secret. I am not too terribly concerned about uncovering this secret; I am only concerned when I get to the end of the bottle.

12 fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

12 large, ripe fresh strawberries, stems removed

12 mint leaves

1 1/2 cup (12 ounces) elderflower liqueur (such as St-Germain)

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from three lemons)

6 cups ice

2 (750-milliliter) bottles Prosecco

Divide the strawberry slices evenly among 12 (8 to 10-ounce) wineglasses and set aside the glasses while you make the cocktail.

For every two servings, muddle two of the whole strawberries with two of the mint leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add 1/4 cup of the elderflower liqueur, two tablespoons of the lemon juice, and one cup ice. Cover with the lid, and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled, about 30 seconds; strain into glasses. Top each serving with 1/2 cup Prosecco and serve immediately.

PUFF PASTRY CHICKEN SALAD RING

HANDS-ON 30 MINUTES, TOTAL 1 HOUR, 20 MINUTES SERVES 8

This recipe only looks daunting, but I promise it is worth the effort. This recipe was given to me by my good friend Stephanie. She loves to serve this at ladies’ luncheons and late brunches. Just one more way to make chicken salad. Are we at 1,000 ways yet?

2 cups shredded cooked deli-roasted chicken

4 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded (about one cup)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely chopped celery (from one large stalk)

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1 t Greek seasoning (such as Cavender’s)

1/2 (17/3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the chicken, cheese, mayonnaise, celery, raisins, walnuts, and Greek seasoning in a medium bowl.

Roll the puff pastry into a 13x11-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface; spread with the chicken mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Roll up from one long side; pinch the long edges to seal. Bring the ends together to form into a seven-inch ring and pinch the ends to seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush lightly with the egg white.

Bake in the preheated oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked throughout, about 40 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Cut into eight wedges.

FRUIT AND MINT SKEWERS

HANDS-ON 30 MINUTES, TOTAL 1 HOUR, 15 MINUTES, SERVES 24

When making fruit skewers always pick fruit that is in season. A watermelon is not going to be good in February. Even if you use a melon baller to make a perfect watermelon ball, put it on an adorable bamboo skewer, and douse it in mint syrup, you are just putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.

1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 T honey

48 (1-inch) cubes watermelon (about 3 cups)

48 (1-inch) cubes honeydew melon (about 3 cups)

48 (1-inch) cubes cantaloupe (about 3 cups)

15 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes

96 small to medium-size mint leaves (about 1 to 1 1/2-inch long leaves)

1/2 t black pepper

Stir together the vinegar and honey in a small saucepan over medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Thread three assorted melon cubes, one feta cube, and two mint leaves on each of 48 (three-inch) wooden skewers. Brush the skewers with the vinegar reduction, and sprinkle with the pepper. Serve well chilled.

LEMONY GREEN BEAN PASTA SALAD

HANDS-ON 15 MINUTES, TOTAL 30 MINUTES, SERVES 8

Some pasta salads are so heavy and mayonnaise-laden that they elicit the gag reflex. This pasta salad, however, is light and extremely fresh. Add chicken or shrimp on top for a quick and easy supper.

12 ounces Casarecce (or penne) pasta

8 ounces haricots verts (French green beans), cut in half lengthwise

1 T fresh thyme leaves

5 t lemon zest (from 2 lemons)

1/4 cup finely chopped roasted salted pistachios, plus more for garnish

2 T Champagne vinegar

1 T minced shallots

1 garlic clove, minced

1 t table salt

1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

5 T olive oil

1 1/2 cups loosely packed arugula

Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the green beans to the boiling water during the last two minutes of cooking time; drain. Rinse the pasta and green beans with cold water; drain well.

Place the pasta mixture, thyme, and three teaspoons of the lemon zest in a large bowl; toss gently to combine.

Whisk together 1/4 cup pistachios, vinegar, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, and the remaining two teaspoons lemon zest in a small bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended. Drizzle over the pasta mixture. Add the arugula and toss gently to coat. Garnish with the chopped pistachios and Parmesan cheese.

EGG SALAD ON TOAST POINTS

HANDS-ON 25 MINUTES, TOTAL 25 MINUTES, SERVES 12

Egg salad is often overlooked, and I’m on a mission to bring it back. The deviled egg has become the darling of the party circuit, but its cousin egg salad is really where it’s at. It’s just as versatile, a bit more elegant, and the perfect complement for a toast point.

2/3 cup mayonnaise

4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, diced

4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1 T minced sweet onion

1/4 t seasoned salt

1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

12 very thin white or wheat sandwich bread slices, lightly toasted

1 cup firmly packed fresh spinach (optional)

Whole fresh chives

Stir together 1/3 cup of the mayonnaise, eggs, celery, bacon, chopped chives, onion, salt, and pepper. Spread the remaining 1/3 cup mayonnaise evenly over one side of each bread slice.

Layer spinach evenly on top of bread slices, if desired. Spread bread slices, mayonnaise side up, evenly with egg salad. Cut bread slices in half diagonally. Garnish with whole chives, if desired.

Sweet-pickle egg salad club. Omit the bacon and chives. Add two tablespoons instant potato flakes and one tablespoon sweet pickle relish. Proceed with the recipe as directed.

Shrimp-egg salad club. Omit the bacon. Add 2/3 cup finely chopped boiled shrimp, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Proceed with the recipe as directed.

CARAMEL MERINGUE COOKIES

HAND-ON 30 MINUTES, TOTAL 1 HOUR, 10 MINUTES, SERVES 12

These caramel cookies are as light as a feather. If you are not careful, you could devour a whole batch without even realizing it. If they become too tempting, they do freeze well.

1 large egg white

1/2 t cream of tartar

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 T all-purpose flour

3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Beat the egg white with an electric mixer at medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form. Fold in the flour until fully incorporated. Fold in the nuts and vanilla. Let the mixture stand five minutes.

Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls, two inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet five minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Store in an airtight container up to one week.

NOTE: When baking the meringues, don’t open the oven after turning it off, this will help them dry to airy perfection without residual stickiness. And don’t attempt them on a humid or rainy day.

FROZEN LEMON CREAM

HANDS-ON 10 MINUTES, TOTAL 6 HOURS, 10 MINUTES, INCLUDING FREEZING TIME, SERVES 12

A light lemon dessert is a delightful way to end a luncheon. This is a simple recipe that produces great results, and there’s no need for an ice-cream maker or boxes of rock salt.

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 t table salt

3 T lemon zest, plus 2/3 cup fresh juice (from about 4 lemons)

Combine the sugar, milk, cream, and salt in a medium saucepan, and heat over medium, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved, about 6 minutes. (Don’t allow the mixture to boil.) Pour into a 1 1/2 to 2-quart baking dish, and freeze until firm, about three hours.

Scoop the frozen mixture into the bowl of an electric stand mixer; beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about two minutes, gradually adding the lemon zest and juice.

Return the mixture to the baking dish, and freeze just until almost firm, about one hour. Using a fork, vigorously stir the mixture in the dish until smooth, about one minute. Cover and freeze until firm, about two hours.

NOTE: An attractive way to serve this dessert is to cut small oranges in half, scoop out the pulp, fill with the frozen lemon cream, and freeze in the cups. A twisted citrus slice perched on top of the dessert is a nice touch.

CHEESE STRAW TOMATO TARTLETS

HANDS-ON 30 MINUTES, TOTAL 3 HOURS, 25 MINUTES, SERVES 24

This recipe combines my two favorite foods to make one amazing, savory pickup bit. Feel free to adjust the amount of crushed red pepper added to the dough to suit your fancy.

CRUST

2 1/2 cups (about 10 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/2 t kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 t crushed red pepper

3/4 cup (6 ounces) cold salted butter, cut into pieces

6 ounces extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 to 3/4 cup ice-cold water

FILLING

2 pints red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 T chopped fresh basil

1 T chopped fresh oregano

1 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 T red wine vinegar

2 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 t kosher salt

1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

Crumbled feta or shaved Parmesan cheese

Prepare the crust: Pulse the flour, salt and crushed red pepper in a food processor three or four times or until combined. Add the butter, and pulse five or six times or until crumbly. Stir in the cheese. With the processor running, gradually add 1/2 cup ice-cold water, and process until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, adding more water, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary.

Divide the dough in half; place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Shape each into a flat disk. Wrap in the plastic wrap, and chill two to 24 hours.

Prepare the filling: Toss together the tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano, parsley, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl; let stand one to one and a half hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll one dough disk to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 12 rounds using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, rerolling the dough as needed; press into the cups of a lightly greased 12-cup miniature muffin pan. (The dough will come slightly up the sides.) Repeat the procedure with the remaining dough disk and another muffin pan. Divide the tomato mixture among the cups.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pans. Cool completely on a wire rack, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the cheese.

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