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Pre-dinner pick-me-ups

  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Published Wednesday, July 25, 2012, at 7:33 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 25, 2012, at 8:04 a.m.

APEROL ORANGE SODA

Hands on: 3 minutes

Total time: 3 minutes

Makes: 1 drink

1 ounce Aperol

1/2 ounce (2 tablespoons) simple syrup (see directions below)

1/2 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice

Crushed ice

3 ounces soda water, preferably Italian

Dash of orange bitters

Strip of orange peel

To make simple syrup, in a saucepan, bring one-part sugar and one-part water — say a cup of each — to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Pour the Aperol, simple syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail glass or other small, 8-ounce tumbler. Mix well. Cover with crushed ice. Top with soda water and dash of orange bitters. Stir briskly. Garnish with orange peel. Serve immediately.

Per drink: 115 calories (none from fat), trace protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium.

THE WICHITA EAGLE — July 25, 2012

HERBES DE PROVENCE LEMONADE

Rosemary, lavender and other herbs (depending on the mix) give lemonade a sunny disposition. We used sprigs of rosemary as a garnish, but lemon, mint and lemon balm are other good options.

Hands on: 10 minutes

Total time: 30-40 minutes

Serves: 6-8

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

2 heaping teaspoons dried herbes de Provence

2 1/4 quarts cold water, divided

1/3 of a whole vanilla bean

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Crushed ice

Rosemary sprigs for garnish (optional)

Place granulated sugar, herbes de Provence and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Split third of vanilla bean and scrape seeds into the water. Toss the bean into the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until the sugar is completely dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the syrup into a large pitcher. Add lemon juice and remaining 2 quarts water and stir. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Pour into glasses over plenty of crushed ice, and garnish with a rosemary sprig, if desired.

Per serving (based on 6): 182 calories (none from fat), trace protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

THE WICHITA EAGLE — July 25, 2012

GRILLED FIGS WITH PANCETTA, LEMON AND ROSEMARY

Any kind of figs will work in this recipe. If the figs are small, you may want to cut the pancetta into smaller pieces. You may also use Parma or Serrano ham or bacon.

Hands on: 10 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Serves: 6-8

12 to 15 large ripe figs

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound pancetta, sliced

Slice figs in half and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, place the brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, salt and pepper. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour mixture over figs, and toss well to cover. (If you have time, let the figs marinate for 20 minutes or so before cooking.) Cut pancetta slices in half. Wrap each fig half with pancetta, and skewer it with a toothpick or skewer. Place pancetta-wrapped figs on a tray, and drizzle with any remaining marinade. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to grill.

Place the figs on a hot grill over medium-high heat, and cook until they are quite soft and the pancetta is crispy, about 5 minutes per side. (You may also cook figs under the broiler.) Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Per serving (based on 6): 161 calories (percent of calories from fat, 19), 11 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 1,179 milligrams sodium.

THE WICHITA EAGLE — July 25, 2012

BLUE CHEESE WAFERS

Adapted from “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook” (UGA Press, $24.95)

Hands on: 10 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (includes 2-hour chilling time)

Makes: About 8 dozen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1 cup finely chopped pecans

2 large egg yolks, slightly beaten

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt and black pepper. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to cut in the butter and cheese until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the pecans and yolks until the mixture forms large clumps. Press and knead the clumps until the dough is well mixed. Divide dough in half, and shape each piece into a 9- to 10-inch log with round or flat sides. (If you make the log with flat sides, it will be easier to slice when ready to bake the wafers.) Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Remove plastic wrap. Cut the logs into 1/4-inch slices, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with salt. Allow the wafers to cool completely. Remove from baking sheet. Store in a cookie tin or other airtight container. (You may separate each layer with a sheet of waxed paper.)

Per wafer: 30 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 53 milligrams sodium.

THE WICHITA EAGLE — July 25, 2012

In ancient times, our parents would dissolve a sugar cube with bitters, and add whiskey, ice and a twist of orange zest. That was an Old Fashioned. When in Rome, they did as the Romans did, sipping aperitifs concocted from brightly colored liqueurs and soda.

Today, young moderns are embracing light, spritzy, aperitif-based drinks as pre-dinner pick-me-ups — libations to perk up the palate before the food and wine come around.

Of course, you cannot serve cocktails or lemonade, hard or soft, without something to nibble. You can open a can of nuts or a bag of chips. But when you want a little something extra special and homemade, try cheese straws.

If you’re in a Mediterranean mood, try some sweet summer figs wrapped in salty Italian pancetta. Marinate the figs with a little brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon and rosemary. Pierce them with a skewer, and grill until the figs are oozing and the pancetta is crisp.

Then pour yourself a drink.

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