BIT BY BIT

My personal recommendation for surviving August is to have a snowball every day. About half way through one, you can feel your body cooling off. It’s magic!

Back-to-school or end-of-summer parties can be fun if you don’t heat up the kitchen too much. The outdoor grill is great but sometimes the cook gets overheated. I was looking up some easy appetizers for a friend and vowed to use them myself for some summer entertaining. I prefer appetizers that don’t take too much time – or heat. Whether indoors or outdoors, you can just pass the food around, requiring little in the way of dishes to clean up. Heavy paper platters work just fine.

You can still find some good tomatoes this month whether they’re Creole or not, as cool weather in late spring delayed the local harvest. Home gardens typically are burnt in August but homegrown tomatoes from North Louisiana and neighboring states still turn up in the markets. One of my favorite fresh tomato appetizers is bruschetta, a truly Italian dish that’s simple but always a hit. It can be composed in the kitchen or passed around, letting guests spread it themselves.

Another colorful favorite I had at a party years ago is a dish of small red potatoes, cooked, halved and topped with sour cream and different colors of caviar. It’s a perfect beginning for a barbecue party.

And, if you want the atmosphere of grilling without having a heat stroke, try grilling some little meatballs. It only takes 10 minutes.

A fancier appetizer but just as easy uses puff pastry. Place pieces of pastry in muffin cups and top them with apricot jam, goat cheese and walnuts. Sensational!

Here in New Orleans we have many European customs. We celebrate saints’ days, much of our cooking is of French and Spanish influence and we love statues, fountains and ornate architecture. But there’s one custom I wish we had adopted and that’s the holiday in the month of August. The French close their businesses and flock to the beaches or wherever they can totally relax. For me, the perfect August would be spent high in the mountains with gentle breezes and cool nights. As much as I love New Orleans, I will admit that I’d just as soon be somewhere else in August.

Alas, my fate this year is fending off 100 percent humidity and 90 degrees right here in the good ol’ Crescent City. I think I’ll have a party and hire a snowball maker. Or, maybe I’ll just live on appetizers or little dishes and call them “tapas” like they do in Spain. In fact, some of the following recipes have European twists from the countries that have influenced our cooking.
 
BRUSCHETTA
1 or more baguettes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ripe tomatoes, preferably Creole
Garlic
Salt

Slice baguette into thin slices, brush with olive oil on both sides and toast lightly in a 400-degree oven on a cookie sheet until golden brown. Set aside.

Peel tomatoes* and dice them in small pieces. Use 2 tomatoes per baguette. Place in a bowl.

Mince garlic (about 1 clove per small tomato). Add to tomatoes.

Add lots of high-quality olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per small tomato). Add salt to taste. Refrigerate.

Serve tomato mixture in a bowl with toasts surrounding it for guests to compose their own. Or, place mixture on the bread slices at the last minute to pass.

 *For easy peeling, drop tomatoes one at the time into boiling water for 10 seconds. The peeling will slide off without wasting any tomato.
 
POTATOES WITH SOUR CREAM AND CAVIAR

20 small red potatoes
1 8-ounce container sour cream
1 small jar black caviar
1 small jar red caviar
 
Boil potatoes until done all the way through. Cool and slice in halves. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and then a dab of caviar. Place on a serving tray alternating colors. Makes 40 hors d’oeuvres. These can be made a few hours ahead of time, but it’s best to put the caviar on at the last minute so that the juices don’t bleed onto the sour cream.
 
APRICOT, GOAT CHEESE, WALNUT PASTRY
1 17-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets)
Non-stick spray
Goat cheese, about 5 ounces
1 small jar apricot jam
1 cup walnut pieces
 
Let frozen puff pastry sit out for about 30 minutes. Spray muffin pan with non-stick spray. Cut both sheets of puff pastry dough into 2-by-2-inch squares. Lightly press squares into muffin cups of 2 muffin pans. (Don’t press hard – just enough for a shallow indentation.) In the center of each pastry, place a dollop of goat cheese, then apricot jam and then some walnut pieces. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven until puff pastry is puffed and golden. Wait 5 minutes to serve because cheese and jam will be very hot. Makes 24 pastries.
 
DATE AND CHORIZO RUMAKI
16 slices bacon
8 ounces chorizo
4 ounces cream cheese
32 whole dates, pitted
 
Partially cook bacon on sheet pan in a 350-degree oven, about 5 minutes.
In a skillet, cook chorizo to render excess fat. If chorizo is in a casing, remove it first. Drain and blend cream cheese into chorizo.

Butterfly dates and stuff with chorizo mixture. Wrap each date with half slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Bake at 350 degrees until bacon is crisp and dates are hot, about 15 to 20 minutes. These can be made up ahead of time and baked at the last minute. Makes 32 hors d’oeuvres.
 
HERBED MEATBALLS
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped, half of the green section separated
3 pounds ground beef
3 eggs
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley
1 teaspoon dried mint, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh
 
Mix everything except half of the green section of onions together. Shape into balls. Grill on a charcoal or gas grill over high heat, turning frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes. For best results, clean and spray grill with non-stick spray. Sprinkle with the remaining green onion tops for garnish. Makes about 3 dozen meatballs. Serve with toothpicks. These are good served with pepper jelly.

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