Coastal Virginia Cocktails and Conversation
Evening Entertainment Is Easy With Simple Eats And Sips
Summer is a season, it seems, when time slows down a bit.
Days are long, stretching well into the evening. Folks move at a slower pace. Families take well-deserved vacations.
Summer is a season, therefore, perfect for entertaining.
As the sun sinks slowly on the horizon, the air cools, and we welcome the milky twilight, it’s a great time to have guests over on the porch. But this is summer, so things need to be taken leisurely.
And, because our food items can be done a day or two ahead, it gives you time to relax, enjoy your family and friends, mix up a wine cocktail or two, and count the fireflies as they dot the lavender sky.
Every southern cook’s “receipt book” (a compilation of recipes from a bygone era) has a recipe for cheese straws that has been handed down from generation to generation. Although recipes vary a bit—some add pecans, others sprinkle the straws with paprika—the premise of the pastry is always the same.
This heady mix of sharp cheese, butter, and fiery spices is a classic that is served graciously at teas, luncheons, and cocktails in homes across the South. Cheese straws are quick and easy to make, and are often given as gifts, especially around the holidays.
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄8 teaspoon dry mustard
1⁄8 teaspoon garlic powder
11⁄2 tablespoons whole milk
Combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt, cayenne pepper, dry mustard, and garlic powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment.
Pulse a few seconds at a time until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
The dough should be firm and smooth but not wet; if it is too crumbly, add a little more milk. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F.
Roll the dough out into an 1⁄8-inch-thick rectangle on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Cut the dough lengthwise into 1⁄2- to 3⁄4-inch-wide strips with a lightly floured pizza cutter. Cut the strips into 2- to 4-inch-long pieces.
Carefully transfer the dough onto ungreased baking sheets, placing the strips about 1⁄4 inch apart; if a strip breaks, press the dough back together.
Bake in the center of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until they just begin to turn golden. Set the baking sheets on a rack and allow the straws to cool completely cool before serving. Repeat with remaining dough.
Note: Adding 1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme to the recipe adds an herbaceous flavor profile. The straws will keep in an airtight container for several days or wrap well and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw for 30 minutes before serving.
Yields 1–3 dozen, depending on cut
DEVILED HAM SPREAD
Like so many traditional southern foods, deviled ham probably started as a way of using every last bit of food, with ham scraps and other ingredients that were finely chopped into a savory spread. This tasty treat makes delicious tea sandwiches to serve at luncheons or cocktail parties.
You can also combine the spread with egg yolks and a little more mayonnaise for a deviled egg filling, stuff it in stalks of celery for a relish tray, or spoon it atop crackers or toast points for easy canapés.
1 pound smoked ham, coarsely chopped
1⁄2 cup chopped sweet onion, such as Vidalia
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
1⁄4 cup spicy brown mustard
1⁄4 cup chopped bread and butter
2 tablespoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine the ham, onion, mayonnaise, mustard, relish, hot sauce, mustard, paprika, salt, and black pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment and blend until smooth. Transfer the spread to a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Leftover spread can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for 3 to 5 days.
Yields about 2-1/2 cups
MINT JULEP BOURBON BALLS
Colloquially referred to as Southern truffles, these confections are found across Virginia and the South, especially during celebratory times. Just a hint of mint makes these sweet treats sing.
1 (12-ounce) box vanilla wafers, crushed fine (2 1⁄2 cups)
1 3⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1⁄2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons mint simple syrup
1⁄3 cup bourbon
Stir the vanilla wafer crumbs, 1 cup of the sugar, the pecans, and the cocoa powder together in a large bowl. Whisk the corn syrup, bourbon and mint simple syrup together in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the vanilla wafer mixture, then stir well to completely incorporate. Refrigerate the mixture for 5 minutes.
Place the remaining 3⁄4 cup sugar in a large bowl. Scoop the vanilla wafer–bourbon mixture into 1-inch balls (the larger end of a melon scoop is just the right size) or form into squares, and roll in the confectioners’ sugar.
Transfer the balls to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 1 day or up to 3 weeks before serving to allow the flavors to meld. Roll in additional confectioners’ sugar before serving.
Yields about 4 dozen
FIVE FABULOUS QUICK WINE COCKTAILS
SUMMER BERRY SPARKLER
Add a splash of Chambord liqueur to a champagne flute, toss in a fresh blackberry or two, and fill with a sparkling wine.
Add a few ice cubes, a shot of peach schnapps and a shot of white rum to a large wine glass, drop in slice of peach and a slice of orange and fill with Pinot Grigio.
Add a few ice cubes to a wine glass and pour in about four ounces of white wine; for summer we like Sauvignon Blanc. Fill glass with sparkling water.
YOU’LL LIKE IT A MER-LOT
Add a few ice cubes, a shot of Grand Marnier and a shot of vodka to a large wine glass, drop in a slice of orange, a blackberry or two and a maraschino cherry (we prefer Luxardo) and fill with Merlot.
In a tall glass add a few ice cubes and pour in about four ounces of Italian red wine like Sangiovese, Barbera or Nebbiolo. Toss in a lemon wedge and a lime wedge and fill with lemon-lime soda.
Some text and recipes came from my book Dishing Up Virginia.