Without really being conscious that an evolution had taken place, I recently realized that the appetizers, entrées and desserts I used to serve at my dinner parties had morphed into what I’ve come to call “flights of bites,” a parade of one- and two-bite offerings. The format borrows liberally from the Spanish world of tapas and the now common practice of restaurant grazing (sampling a variety of appetizers, usually at the bar, at a succession of restaurants). Being The Surreal Gourmet, I’ve taken the concept one step further, creating tiny dishes that pleasure the palate and amuse the eye.
These bites are unbelievably flexible. One’s guaranteed to deify anybody who brings it to a party. Two can jump-start a fabulous meal and create a halo effect around the host. Add a few more of your own, and the collection will work beautifully for a dinner party or cocktail event as a complete menu.
Call me a control freak (many have), but when I invite friends over for food, I like to confiscate the wines they bring and match them with the bites from my menu. Then I fill in the blanks with my own stash. As long as you have an adequate supply, each bottle of wine can easily be stretched across as many as 12 people, allowing everyone to have a taste of a harmonious wine and food pairing.
In any configuration, these bites are guaranteed to be showstoppers and conversation starters.
(yields 12 popsicles)6 chicken tenders
2/3 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup panko or coarse bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 T Mrs. Dash Italian blend or
1 T dried oregano + 1 T dried thyme
2 T butter
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pineapple (for presentation)
Freshly ground black pepper
Chicken tenders contain a thin white tendon that runs the length of the tender. These are edible, but they’re stringy when cooked. To remove the tendon, pinch its protruding tip between the blade of a paring knife and your thumb. Using your other hand, grasp the tendon just below the blade, between your thumbnail and pointer finger, and pull down.
Cut each tender in half horizontally, creating 2 pieces that should be approximately 1 x 2 inches. Season with salt and pepper.
Set out 3 medium bowls. Place flour in one; the eggs in the second; and the panko, Parmesan and Italian spices in the third. Arrange the bowls in a row.
Roll tenders in flour until well covered, then dip in egg until well soaked. Finally, roll in bread crumb mixture until completely covered. Transfer to a plate.
Melt butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add tenders when butter begins to sizzle. Cook approximately 3 minutes on the first side or until golden brown. Turn once and cook approximately 2 more minutes, or until the second side is golden brown and the tenders are cooked throughout. To test for doneness, make a small incision in a sacrificial tender. If any pink remains, return to heat for another minute or two.
Transfer tenders to a plate. Remove pan from heat and add lemon juice. Stir for a few seconds to loosen up brown bits, and let the lemon juice reduce. Drizzle a few drops over each tender and season with salt.
Skewer the chicken tenders, then stick skewers in pineapple.
level of difficulty: Think Shake n’ Bake
(yields 12 shooters)8 cucumbers (the conventional field variety)
1/4 cup fresh mint, stems removed before measuring
1 shallot, minced
1 jalapeño, stem and seeds discarded, minced
2 T freshly squeezed lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
|Cut 2-1/2 inches off both ends of the cucumbers. Reserve.Peel middle sections, cut in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out seeds. Discard seeds.
To make the gazpacho: In a food processor, add the middle sections of the cucumbers along with the mint, shallot, jalapeño, lime juice and garlic. Purée.
Strain puréed mixture through a fine strainer into a medium bowl. Use a rubber spatula to press out as much juice as possible from the mash. Discard solids. Whisk in oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate a minimum of 1 hour.
Take the 12 most aesthetically pleasing cucumber ends and slice off the bottom 1/4 inch so they stand solidly on their ends. Use a zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler to create designs in the peel.
Use a melon baller or a tiny spoon to scoop out the seeds and some of the surrounding cucumber, creating a cucumber shot glass. Serve the chilled cucumber gazpacho in the sculpted cups.
level of difficulty: Just like arts and crafts in school — everyone can do it, some will just make it look prettier