It all started with a simple, round, wooden tray that I bought a couple of weeks ago at a yard sale for $2.00. On my way to a swim party, I grabbed the tray and opened the fridge. Amazingly, I had a few things in there to start building an appetizer platter. A few olives, an Armenian cucumber from Susie's garden, some tomatoes from Annie's garden, leftover store bought hummus, half of a melon leftover from breakfast, a bit of prosciutto, lovely goat brie and fresh mozzarella balls (I always have some on hand during the summer tomato season) with some of my very own fresh basil leaves and some good crackers and parmesan crisps...honestly, I didn't even go to the store. I started with the cheese in the middle and with the help of some cute, small bowls for 'interest', I just kept the arranging going. Once you get started and have your focal point, it is pretty easy, fun and creative. I like the fact that guests can pick and choose what sort of bite they will have, it's interactive!
Sometimes inspiration can come from a platter, bowl or plate that simply "speaks to you".
Other ideas might include a tray of smoked salmon, sliced red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, capers, cream cheese and bagels. Or chips, salsa, guacamole, black olives, baby tomatoes, queso chihuahua or Monterey Jack, fresh strawberries and some good crackers. Basically, use your imagination and have fun.
Just about every year I take a trip to Mexico. I love everything about it, the people, the culture, the architecture, the folk art and especially the FOOD! My friends, Peter and Tari Bowman, moved down to Puerto Vallarta and bought a beach front restaurant called Daiquiri Dick's 35 years ago and about 10 years ago they opened a home furnishings/design store, Banderas Bay Trading Company. This year, they invited me to join them on a buying trip to Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Patzcuaro and San Miguel de Allende to stock the store, I couldn't say no. My plan is to take notes on the food while we are on the road and then share my version of my favorite bites with you, here on the bird blog.
I arrived in PV last Sunday and yesterday, after hiking all over town in the heat and humidity trying to find a 'cute little café' that I had eaten in a couple of years ago and finding it gone (aargh), I headed for the nearest ice cold Negra Modelo. I ended up at a small fish restaurant next to the vegetable market. On their menu they offer a shrimp aguachile
(a type of ceviche from the Sinaloa region of Mexico). I LOVE aguachile so I ordered one. WOW, what a great idea that was! I immediately (well. after one more cerveza fria) went next door and purchased the ingredients to make my own agauchile for an easy appetizer for dinner, it goes together in minutes. Here is my version.
1 lb shrimp, 20-25 size, raw, deveined (be sure to remove both veins by cutting all the way through but leaving both ends attached)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 - 2 serrano chilies or jalapenos (or one of each) stemmed, seeded and cut into chunks
1 bunch of cilantro, washed, dried, stems cut away, no need to be too fussy
2 T water (the agua part of aguachile)
1 lime, zested
4 limes, juiced
1 small mandarin orange, juiced (optional)
1 large cucumber, peeled cut in half lengthwise and sliced in 1/2" slices or diced
1 avocado, sliced or diced depending on the presentation
tostada chips for serving (I use the big ones intended for tostadas)
Place the shrimp on a plate and sprinkle all over with salt, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine chilies with a pinch of salt, the water, lime zest and juice and the cilantro (add the mandarin juice now too, if using) and process until thoroughly blended. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pull the shrimp from the refrigerator and in a mixing bowl, toss shrimp with chili-lime marinade, onion, and cucumber. Serve right away with tostadas and avocado.
The small inset picture is the actual plating from the restaurant in PV. I thought it would be fun to show you the original inspiration. Very authentic but a bit 'heavy handed'. You get the idea.
You can present as a first course, plated and even put some greens underneath or serve as an appetizer in a small asian style spoon as pictured above. Be sure to use all of the sauce, that's what makes it great!
Last Monday night I needed an hors d'oeuvre to bring to book club so I peeked into the fridge to see what odds and ends might be left over from catering a wedding on the weekend. I saw some baby potatoes that I used for an appetizer. I had hollowed them out, roasted them and then filled them with sour cream, topped them with crispy bacon, finely grated cheddar and chives. They were a big hit so I thought, perfect, I will do the same thing for book club! I began preparing the potatoes when I noticed my basket of just picked ‘snacking’ tomatoes on the counter in front of me and I got an idea. What if I placed a tomato inside the potato hollow and roasted them with the potato? I could top with some torn, fresh mozzarella while still warm and then drizzle with some basil pesto... a baby potato caprese! Easy, different and delicious. Yes, it was.
Roasted Baby Potato ‘Caprese’
24 baby potatoes, all red or mixed colors
salt & pepper
24 baby ‘sun gold’ or other small tomatoes
2 oz basil pesto (make yourself or use good store bought)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the potatoes on the counter to see where the flat side is (so they don't roll around) and then hollow out with a melon baller. Put all on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Place a tomato into the hollow of each potato. Roast until done about 30-40 minutes. Test the potato by sticking a paring knife or a fork in the bottom, it should go in easily. Remove from the oven and while the potatoes are still warm, tear a piece of fresh mozzarella from a ball and place in the hollow with the tomato. Allow to melt slightly. Top with a bit of basil pesto and serve warm.
When the late summer garden gives up its bounty, it's a great time to make caponata. This flavorful Italian variation of the French ratatouille has been in my recipe box for over 30 years, It keeps beautifully, travels well and is best served at room temp or only slightly warm. I serve it in a bowl surrounded by sliced, toasted baguette or mounded on crackers topped with toasted pine nuts as a bite-sized hors d'oeuvre. You can add fish, like calamari or halibut, to the mix and it becomes a main course. Leftover caponata has even been made into soup with the addition of some veggie or chicken stock! Don't let the list of ingredients bother you—it's super easy once you have them all gathered.
A fig is actually an inverted flower that is pollinated by the fig wasp. Wasps hatch inside, mate & then dig their way out. Born wingless, the gallant males die after helping the pollen-covered females escape. These gals find a new immature fig to lay their eggs in and pollinate the new fig with the pollen from the fig they were born in and the cycle continues. Some figs are self-pollinating but I couldn't let such a fascinating story go untold. I am lucky enough to have a friend with a fig tree, a really BIG fig tree. It started producing these jewels about 2 weeks ago and they are still coming in like crazy. I have been serving them at many of my catering jobs, on flatbreads with caramelized onions & blue cheese or on homemade focaccia with fresh mozzarella. Figs don't ship well and must be eaten within a few days of harvesting so a locavore you must become. Here is my current favorite way to eat fresh figs, other than out of hand of course!
Marinated Figs with Fresh Mozzarella
15 fresh figs, any variety
1 lemon, zest & juice
3 T fig balsamic (or reg balsamic)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped
salt & fresh ground black pepper
Cut the figs into quarters and place in a bowl. Zest the lemon over the cut figs and then squeeze the lemon juice over the figs as well. Strip the thyme and sprinkle over the figs. Sprinkle with a bit of salt & pepper. Toss with the balsamic vinegar and let marinate for an hour or so. Serve with fresh mozzarella balls tossed with a little olive oil & fresh basil, goat cheese or blue cheese on crackers or sliced baguette. I served them at a Hovey wine event on homemade focaccia with fresh mozzarella and caramelized onions to pair with Tempranillo.
As a caterer for over 30 years, I have established a reputation for consistently creating original menus inspired by the occasion and the season, presenting them with an ease and elegance uniquely my own. Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are the basis of my creative “from scratch” menus, which range from the classically elegant to rustic and whimsical.
"Love your recipes! Pat made your avocado toast a few weeks ago, delish! I'm taking them to a party in a few weeks, although the mushroom crostata looks pretty darn good!"