Monday, July 22, 2013

Four Courses, Four Friends - Easy Fish Feast + A Cocktail

Amante Picante Margaritas, Photo by Eric S. 
This past weekend we hosted a little dinner party at my family's bungalow for my best friend and her husband.  We always have a great time together, so much so that I hate the thought of being stuck in the kitchen while all the usual hilarity ensues. 

Initially, I was toying with the idea of grilling, but I ditched that plan in favor of a multi-course seafood meal. Plus, it was a brutal 90 degrees out so standing over a hot grill (who am I kidding? making my husband stand over a hot grill) didn't seem all that appealing.

You may think that serving a  meal with this many courses could never be easy, but I am here to tell you it can - the key is making good choices by serving simple, mostly make-ahead, no-cook dishes, while tackling some of the prep and chopping in advance. 

In today's post, we'll share four dishes and a smashingly good Margarita, all of which require minimal effort. This is because 3 of 4 courses are served chilled or at room temperature and call for "assembly" rather than cooking. As such, all three beginning courses can be made/prepped ahead. 

The entree course (my favorite, Linguine with Clam Sauce) comes together in under a half hour and is incredibly easy to throw together. I like to take a long pause before serving it as a final plate. This way, I have plenty of time to join in the merriment before taking a little break in the kitchen to finish everything off. It's also nice to be able to give your guests time to again rev up their appetites, so start early, eat slowly, and enjoy. 

Cocktail Hour
Amante Picante Margarita

Margarita Oysters Verde 

Lump Crab Cocktail

Peach & Tomato Caprese Salad with Burrata

Linguine with White Clam Sauce  

Cocktail Hour with Oysters? Yes, Please! 

Check out this slightly spicy,refreshing and not-too-sweet cocktail that my Sister-in-Law recently introduced me to - the Amante Picante Margarita. My best friend, who is always full of surprises, brought along little cocktail umbrellas that worked perfectly in our drinks. How cute is she? The Amante Picante Can be Made an hour in advance. 

Preparing the Amante Picante Margarita, Photo: NK
Amante Picante Margarita
Recipe Courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine
Serves 6 to 8 

1/2 a large Seedless Cucumber
plus 8 thin slices for garnish

1/2 a medium Jalapeno, thinly sliced

1/4 Cup Cilantro, plus additional for garnish. 

8 Ounces Lime Juice

6 Ounces Agave Nectar 

18 Ounces Silver Tequila

1/2 teaspoon Celery Bitters 
(Optional, we omitted) 

Lime wedges for garnish and rimming the glasses

1/4 Cup Kosher Salt and 1 teaspoon
grated Lime Zest mixed together


A large pitcher and a cocktail shaker 
In a pitcher, muddle up the cucumber (all but the 8 slices for garnish), Jalapeno, and a 1/4 Cup of Cilantro. Add the Tequila, Lime Juice, Agave Nectar and optional Bitters. Allow to refrigerate about an hour.

When ready to serve, wet the rims of 8 rocks or margarita glasses with a Lime wedge and coat with Lime Salt. Fill the cocktail shaker with ice and working in batches and adding fresh ice, shake the cocktail and strain into glasses (removing all solids). Garnish with Cucumber, Cilantro and Lime. Enjoy! 

You know what pairs well with the spicy brightness of the Amante Picante Margarita?  
Margarita Oysters (aka Tequila-spiked) topped with spicy Salsa Verde. We make this dish with store-bought green salsa with a major kick of spice so that it's as easy and fast to prepare as it should be. I bought my Oysters already shucked to save time. Slurp away...

Margarita Oysters Verde 
Serves 4 for cocktail hour (3 oysters each)

12 Raw Oysters, shucked
1/4 Cup Silver Tequila 
1 Container Spicy Salsa Verde (with tomatillos, lime, jalapeƱo) Freshdirect's is our fave.
2 Limes, 1 for squeezing, the other for Lime Wedge Garnish
Cilantro, optional garnish
Ice, if desired, for serving

Salsa Verde and Tequila-Spiked Oysters and a Margarita -  a natural match

Plate oysters on a bed of Ice and squeeze one Lime over all of them.

Drop about a quarter teaspoon Tequila over each Oyster.

Drop about a half teaspoon Salsa Verde on each Oyster as well. 

Garnish plate with Lime Wedges and Cilantro Sprigs.

Serve immediately. 

Margarita Oysters Verde, Photo: NK 
What's easier than our next dish? Probably nothing. Individual Lump Crab Cocktails are a favorite go-to appetizer of mine (for the full recipe, click HERE). I buy Pasteurized Lump Crab in the can and toss it with Salt, Pepper, and Lemon Juice. Then I pop it in a Ziploc bag in the fridge until ready to serve. I have my plates ready to go in advance with some fancy lettuce lining the bottoms. Sometimes, I even make this portable by serving it in a Martini Glass. When I'm ready to bring the Crab Cocktails out, I simply portion out the Crab, squeeze some more Lemon Juice over it and garnish with lots of chopped Chives alongside a dollop Cocktail Sauce. Can't miss!

Individual Lump Crab Cocktails, Photo: NK 

Peach and Tomato Caprese Salad with Burrata, Photo: NK 

Like Classic Caprese Salad? Then you'll love this version that gets extra twist with the addition of Peaches and Burrata instead of the usual Mozzarella. This is best made fairly close to serving time because Peaches can turn brown in the air. 

Peach & Tomato Caprese Salad with Burrata
Serves 4


8 Ounces Burrata Cheese, cut into 1 inch pieces

A Handful of Basil Leaves Still on the the stem, plus a few additional leaves cut into a chiffonade

1 large and very ripe Beefsteak Tomato, cut into wedges

1 large and very ripe Peach cut into wedges (I prefer Georgia Peaches but White Peaches work too)

Optional Balsamic Cream, for drizzling

Balsamic Vinegar

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Black Pepper


Arrange the Tomato, Peaches in whatever formation you prefer. Sprinkle Peaches and Tomatoes with a bit of Salt and Pepper. Add the Burrata, again, in whatever configuration you prefer. Finally, drizzle everything lightly with Balsamic Cream if you have it, and drizzle again with a little bit of Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Top with the Basil Leaves and sprinkle all over with the Basil ribbons. Enjoy!

After several courses, everyone was understandably getting full. I always enjoy taking a nice long break before popping back into the kitchen to throw the final dish together. Should take you about 20-25 minutes. Clean the fresh Clams in advance and pre-chop the Garlic and Parsley to make this dish super fast to prepare. It gets raves!

Dad's Signature Linguine with White Clam Sauce
(click HERE for the make-ahead version of this recipe)
Serves 4
1 Pound Linguine

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

6 Garlic Cloves, finely sliced

2 Can Chopped Clams (5 oz)
8 Ounces Clam Juice (one bottle)

3 1/2 Dozen Littleneck Clams, scrubbed thoroughly. Ask the fishmonger to pick out the smallest ones possible.

2 Cups Dry White Wine, divided
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
Crushed Red Pepper to taste
1/2 Cup Flat Leaf Italian Parsley, Chopped

Optional Crusty Bread for serving (to soak up the delicious broth)

Set a pot of salted Pasta Water to Boil. Cook as directed on package.

In a large, heavy bottom pot, heat Oil and Butter over medium low heat.

Once the Butter is melted, add the minced Garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 or 2 minutes. Do not burn the garlic. If the garlic burns, it is not a bad idea to toss everything and start over.

Next, add both cans of Chopped Clams with their juice to the pot. Turn up the flame to medium.

Add 1 cup of the Dry White Wine.
Heat until the liquids begin to bubble a bit.

Add 8 oz of Clam Juice

Add the Black Pepper and Crushed Red Pepper to taste. I like to use at least 1/2 a teaspoon. Bring liquid to a light boil and add all the fresh Clams to the pot.

Cover the pot and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the remaining 1 Cup of Wine.
Re-cover pot and cook another 3-4 minutes.

It should come to a gentle boil.

Check the Clams now and as they should begin opening.
Pull clams out immediately with tongs one by one the moment they open and set aside in an extra bowl.

Give the pot a stir and continue to cook, continuing to remove Clams out one by one as they pop open. You may have to shuffle them around to make space for them to open one by one. Discard any that do not after a reasonable period of time.

To assemble: Plate Pasta into bowls, and top with even amounts of fresh Clams. Pour a generous amount of Broth from the pot over each portion. Garnish with Parsley and enjoy!!

That does it! I hope you'll try our easy Seafood feast for your next dinner party. Happy cooking!

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