Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Happy Hour at Home

For those of us who have resolved to save some money and cook at home a bit more in the new year, why not have a couple of friends over after work one day this week for a few bites and drinks, and stay in with a movie, or head out somewhere fun afterwards for a nightcap. All of these recipes can be prepared in less than a half an hour, so there is no need to fuss about having time to finish everything, even on a workday. Do the popcorn first so if folks arrive while you are finishing up the other dishes, they have a delicious snack that goes perfeclty with a glass of sparkling wine to start the evening off.

Herb and Parm Popcorn
1 package of plain microwave popcorn
Kosher or sea salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Pop the popcorn in the microwave. Put hot, popped popcorn in a large mixing bowl and add the olive oil, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and red pepper flakes and stir with a wooden spoon or your hands to combine. Serve with a nice sparkling wine and enjoy.

Proscuitto-Wrapped Broccolini with a Drizzle of Balsamic and Parmesan
1 pound of fresh broccolini
8 ounces of prosciutto
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar, or regular balsamic reduced over medium heat by one half
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese

Cook the broccolini in the microwave on high heat for approximately 5 minutes, or until firm but tender on the inside. Take two to three pieces of broccolini at a time and wrap with a piece of prosciutto. Arrange in a wheel sort of fashion on a platter with the flower end of each broccolini bunch facing the outward edge of the platter. Sprinkle with a small pinch of salt and about one tablespoon of ground black pepper. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and enjoy. Serve with a light-bodied Chianti Classico or another light red such as a nice Chamboursin from Virginia.

Whole Grain Quesadillas with Mushrooms and Gruyere Cheese
1 package (about 10) whole grain tortillas
About 14 to 16 large white button mushrooms, chopped into slices
Juice of half a fresh lemon
1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
12 ounces of gruyere cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Cooking spray

Heat a non-stick skillet to medium heat and add a few pumps of cooking spray. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and sautee for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the garlic starts to turn light brown (but don't let it burn at all or it will get bitter). Transfer to a mixing bowl, and combine the mushrooms and garlic with most of the chopped parsley, ground cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Grate the gruyere cheese with a peeler or a grater. Place one tortilla in the skillet you sauteed the mushrooms and garlic in. Add a layer of the mushroom mixture to cover the tortilla but don't overfill. Place a handfull of cheese on top of the mixture, and cover with another tortilla. Press down, and cook on each side until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is a bit crisp, about a minute on each side. Remove from the skillet and let cool on a plate and slice into wedges. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas, mushroom mixture and cheese. Arrange the wedges on a serving plate and drizzle with the sour cream and remaining chopped parsley. Serve with fun cocktails or a nice glass of light- to medium-bodied red wine or a non-oaked Chardonnay.

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