Anyone who knows me knows I don’t bake. It isn’t that I don’t, I just can’t. It is easier for me to bone a duck than bake a cookie. Too much stress and tension in all that measuring. Give me some fruit in a martini glass topped with ice cream and I am in dessert heaven. But, this little sweet is a joy–easy to put together, can be made in advance, and requires no measuring cups or spoons. Checks all my dessert boxes. Here we go. You will need strawberries–larger is better, a container of mascarpone cheese-softened and drained of any liquid, a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of Drambuie, a pinch of salt and pepper and container whipped cream–I used Land o’ Lakes Sugar Free Heavy Whipped Cream. Top and core the strawberries–make enough of a hollow, you are going to fill them. Set them aside. In a bowl, mix the mascarpone cheese, the honey and the Drambuie until well blended. Add the salt and pepper. Drain off any liquid. Taste. Now fill a piping bag (or a plastic bag with a small hole cut in a corner) with the mixture. Pipe the mixture into the little hollows of the strawberries to the top of the hole. You can store at this point and refrigerate any leftover filling. When ready to serve, squeeze a bit of the whipped cream all over. You can finish with mint, or chocolate dust, or powdered sugar or sprinkles, you get the idea. If you want it non-boozy, leave out the Drambuie. If you don’t like Drambuie, add another liqueur. Make a lot. They go quick.

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Simple Starter Scallop Ceviche. Ceviche is fish cooked in a citrus acid or vinegar and can be prepared with different varieties of fish and a multitude of ingredients and techniques, but this is basic, simple, and fresh, and all the ingredients are easy to come by. You will need sea scallops (plan on one per person), the zest and juice of one lime, 1/2 Serrano pepper or JalapeƱo pepper or whatever pepper you want for heat (or keep it heat free if that is your preference and use 1/4 slice red bell pepper cut into small dice), a slice of red onion-diced, mint, and salt and pepper to taste. First, slice your scallops across to make three small discs holding your hand on top of the scallop to make even cuts. Then cut each disc into cubes; try to get nine per disc as shown. Add the lime zest to the cubes. Save the juice for finishing. Add the chopped onion. Slice the pepper into small rounds and then chop finely. Add the amount you want for desired heat to the mix. If serving later, cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If you are serving right away, add 1/2 the reserved lime juice and the salt and pepper and taste. If you want more tang, add more lime juice. The scallops will start to cure immediately, the longer they sit, the more “cooked” they become. Tear pieces of the mint and scatter over the ceviche. Stir well. Serve on a tortilla chip, on a small spoon, or even on a potato chip. It all works. One more thing, if you don’t like or can’t eat scallops, you can make this with any non oily fish using the same technique. Or if shrimp is your thing, just blanch the shrimp (cook in boiling water until shrimp turns pink and rinse in ice water to stop the cooking), chop into bite sized pieces and add the rest of the ingredients. Cocktails, anyone?

This is the world’s easiest nibble to create. It requires three ingredients, the choices of which are a matter of taste, preference, and wallet. It takes the concept of Chips and Dips to a whole new level, a gilding of a lily the doesn’t necessarily need gilding, but benefits by doing so. It is that perfect blend of salt, creaminess, and crunch, doesn’t require a fork or knife, and can be served with any libation. Your guests may be skeptical, but they will soon be converted. Ready? You need a bag of potato chips, your favorite, they can be ridged or not, they just need to be crunchy. You need a small container of sour cream or creme fraiche. You need fish roe, otherwise known as caviar, any color, any type, depending on your preference and your wallet. Less expensive varieties can be found in the canned fish area of your supermarket, more expensive types in the specialty area. Save the Beluga for something else, we don’t want overgilding! Take a chip, add a dollop of the cream, top with a bit of caviar. That’s it. Don’t prepare in advance, the chips will get soggy and no one likes soggy chips, irrespective of how gilded they are. Serve and watch them disappear.

 

Roasted peppers have found their way into my fridge since the days of my very first apartment. My grandmother taught me how to cook them and as a fledgling foodie, it was an easy recipe to follow. Roast on high heat, put in paper bag, peel skin, seed, add chopped garlic, olive oil, and eat with really good bread. But, a few days ago, my dear friend Chris Hanc found some of those baby sweet peppers which had been lying around and came up with this idea. Kudos to him because it was a great bite! A riff on your standard roast peppers without all that peeling and seeding. Here is what you need. Peppers, of course, olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Preheat your oven to 400F (200C)–(yes, you can use a toaster oven). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil (easy cleanup). While oven is heating, toss the peppers in a bowl with olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Place on the prepared pan and roast until the peppers are softened to your liking turning occasionally to caramelize. Total cooking time, about 20 minutes. Serve. We drank Rose’. Lambrusco would be nice. Leftovers? Store in a jar and use on sandwiches with mozzarella and basil or as a side dish with some shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano, basil and capers. You can still drink Rose’ or Lambrusco.

I am sure that everyone reading this has a favorite chicken wing recipe. Add Frank’s Hot Sauce. Add Blue Cheese. Add any number of Asian blends. This recipe is my hands down favorite and is adapted from the way they are offered at Ocean’s Grille in Fort Lauderdale owned and operated by my friend Joe Israel. I serve these for spur of the moment weeknight dinner parties accompanied by a refreshing salad and chilled white wine or Beaujolais or even something fizzy and my guests have devoured them. Ingredients? Simple. I plan on 10 pieces per person so multiply according to the size of your group–wings, juice of 3 limes, salt, pepper and arugula or something green for serving (in the photo below I used celery leaves). That’s it. Preheat oven to 400F (~~200C). While the oven is preheating, separate wings if not already done and line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and parchment paper. The parchment prevents the wings from sticking as they cook, the tin foil aids in easy cleanup because you don’t want to be scrubbing a pan when you could be eating and drinking. Roast wings about 15-20 minutes a side until really crispy. At Ocean’s Grille, they are baked and then deep fried, I skip that step. While wings are roasting, juice your limes and add salt and pepper to taste to the juice. When wings are done to your satisfaction, toss them with the lime juice mixture. Find a pretty platter, scatter the arugula or whatever greens you have chosen and plop the wings on top with the lime dressing. That’s all there is. If you want to stray off the path a bit, you can change up the juice for either lemon or even orange, it is a matter of preference or what you are in the mood for. And at the end of the day, if you still miss your Frank’s or Asian spices, have at it. It’s all good.

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Roasted beet and yogurt spread with pita. Can be done ahead. Allow time for roasting beets. Easy. You will need 2 medium sized beets, 2 cloves of unpeeled garlic, vegetable oil (or canola or olive), 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon walnuts or nut of your choice, 1 tablespoon of walnut or another nut oil, even olive oil if that is what you have, the juice of a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. For finishing and serving, pita bread cut into triangles and plain Greek yogurt or Labne–more on that in a minute. First, wrap the beets and garlic cloves in aluminum foil with a bit of the vegetable oil and salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until the beets are softened-about 45 minutes. Let cool and peel both beets (maybe with gloves?) and garlic. While beets and garlic are roasting, toast the nuts being careful not to burn them. Chop when cooled. Combine the beets, garlic, and 1/4 cup nuts and put into food processor or chop finely by hand if food processor is not available. Add walnut oil, salt and pepper to taste and lemon juice to your liking. To finish, spoon mixture on a flat plate and swirl in yogurt or Labne. Labne has a similar taste and texture as Greek yogurt and if you can find it, give it a try. It can be found in the refrigerator section of your grocer. It can also be found in Middle Eastern markets if you live in an area where they exist. Top with last tablespoon of chopped walnuts and drizzle with a bit more of the nut oil if you wish. Serve with pita triangles and a glass of your favorite libation.

Somewhere hidden in your pantry lies a can of sardines. It probably arrived as part of a Mediterranean gift basket and was pushed to the back of the closet three holidays ago. You tell yourself “I hate sardines. What am I doing with these things?” You are here to find out the answer to that question. Turn the contents of that can into a delicious bite to serve on toast, gluten free crackers–I love Mary’s–even cucumber rounds. What you need is that can with some of its oil, 1/2 stick softened unsalted butter, juice of 1/2 lemon (or whole lemon depending on taste), finely chopped scallion, and salt and pepper to taste. Check the sardines for bones, sometimes they have already been removed, just slide your finger down the middle of the fish and pull out if bone is still there. Chop finely or add to food processor with some of the sardine oil, butter, lemon juice, scallion and season to taste with salt and pepper. It can be used immediately, or prepared ahead, just bring to room temp before serving, it should be spreadable. Serve with something fizzy like Prosecco or a spritz. (Tip for keeping scallions-place in water as though they were flowers with roots still attached. They will keep longer-see below.) One more thought. If, after all is said and done, you still don’t like sardines, substitute canned tuna, in oil please, or, for something really luxurious, canned crabmeat. It’s all good.