Crispy Eggplant Tapas

November 2, 2009


Celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with another party recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets!


When entertaining during the holidays, it’s sometimes fun to serve lots of little plates with an assortment of small samplings of several dishes, rather than serving a traditional appetizer-main course-dessert type menu. If you’re planning a tapas get-together this dish is a good one to include. It’s kind of a low-cal, bite-sized version of Eggplant Parmesan. Of course, you could add a few calories and a lot of flavor by topping each serving with a slice of fresh mozzarella or some shaved Parmesan!


1 large eggplant

3 cups fresh breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

a generous pinch each of salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper

1 egg white

olive oil cooking spray

prepared marinara sauce, warmed


Cut the eggplant into ½ inch slices. Place a large colander in the sink. Salt both sides of each slice and arrange them in the colander. Let them sit for about 20 minutes until they begin to sweat and give up their liquid. (This takes any bitterness away.)

Meanwhile, in a large, shallow bowl or baking dish, mix together the fresh breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and 1 tablespoon of water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Press the eggplant slices between paper towels to dry them off. Cut each slice in half. Dip slices into the egg white, then into the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Arrange coated slices on the prepared baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once, until slices are brown and crispy on both sides.

To serve, place 1 or 2 hot eggplant slices on a small plate and top with warm marinara sauce.





Happy Halloween from Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets!

If you missed the first 10 you can find them here.

Now get your haunt on and start cooking!

Jack-o-Lantern Quesadilla

Place a large flour tortilla on a dinner plate. Sprinkle evenly with orange sharp cheddar cheese. Use scissors or a sharp knife to cut out a Jack-o-Lantern face from a second tortilla and place it on top of the cheese-sprinkled tortilla. Zap in the microwave until the cheese melts, about 8 seconds. Add a celery stem and serve.

Ice Scream Pie

Fill a prepared graham cracker crust with softened orange sherbet and smooth the top with a spatula. Place the pie in the freezer until it firms up. To decorate the top of the pie, gently press an open-backed Halloween cookie cutter, such as a black cat, into the center. Carefully fill the interior of the cutter with a generous layer of chocolate sprinkles. Remove the cutter to reveal a perfect replica. Return the pie to the freezer until serving time.

Crunchy Graveyard Bones

Dip pretzel rods into melted chocolate or brightly colored candy melts and decorate with Halloween sprinkles. Place on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet until coating hardens, about 10 minutes. (Candy melts come in a variety of colors and flavors and can be found at craft supply stores, Walmart and large grocery stores.

Witches Purse

Spread an 8-ounce wheel of Brie with apricot preserves or your favorite fruit chutney. Center the cheese round in a square of storebought frozen puff pastry that has been thawed and lightly rolled out. Gather up the four corners of the sheet and bring together above the Brie, twisting slightly to form a bundle. Tie the bundle at the neck with kitchen string, transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush lightly with beaten egg. Bake at 375 degrees until pastry is golden all over, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes and place on a platter. Garnish with fresh kumquats and grapes, if desired. Let guests serve themselves, cutting the purse into small wedges.

Snake-in-the-Lake Crudites

Freeze rubber snakes in a slab of ice to make a clever serving tray for broccoli florets, red pepper slices, carrots, and celery! To make the slab, fill a large sheet cake pan with water and arrange 2 or 3 long, rubber snakes, upside down, in the water. Freeze solid. When ready to serve, remove pan from freezer and let thaw for about 5 minutes. Turn the block of ice out onto a large, high-sided tray that will hold the water as the ice melts. (Or, just flip it over and serve it in the same sheet pan you made it in.) Arrange vegetables on top. Depending on its size, the block will last for 5 to 6 hours. The snakes become more visible as it melts.

Muffins From Hell

Make corn bread batter using one of the many mixes available. Stir in a pinch of crushed red pepper. Fill muffin cups halfway full of batter. Drop in a dollop (about ½ teaspoonful) of hot pepper jelly. Top off with more batter, completely covering the jelly and filling the cup almost to the top. Bake according to package directions. Serve warm with cream cheese.

Bat Bites

Mix together ¼ cup of prepared pesto, 8 ounces of softened goat cheese, and 4 ounces of softened cream cheese. Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in poppy seeds or coarsely ground black pepper. Insert a triangular-shaped tortilla chip into either side of each ball to make wings. (Blue corn chips make nice dark wings.) Add eyes made from slices of pimento-stuffed olives or black olive slices with a pink peppercorn pressed into the center.

Black Cat Sammies

Freeze thinly sliced dark bread, such as Pumpernickel. Let thaw partially, and cut out cat shapes using a cookie cutter. (Using partially frozen bread slices allows you to cut out the shapes more easily without tearing the bread.) Sandwich prepared orange “Pimento Cheese Spread” between 2 cat cutouts. Arrange sandwiches on a platter and keep covered with plastic wrap until just before serving.

Ghost Chips

Use scissors to cut corn tortillas into freeform ghost shapes. Punch eye-holes into each ghost shape using a wooden skewer. Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange the ghosts on the sheet and brush them lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes. As they bake, the ghosts will curl up slightly before becoming crisp, giving them a livelier shape. Let chips cool before serving with “Satan’s Smokey Guacamole,” below. (For more spirited chips, add pinches of spices to the oil before brushing the ghosts. A combo of chili powder, paprika, cumin and cayenne works well.)

Satan’s Smokey Guacamole

Scoop the flesh of 3 avocados into a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in 2/3 cup each finely chopped onions and chopped fresh cilantro, 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and finely chopped, and ½ teaspoon each cumin and salt. Serve with “Ghost Chips,” above.

Note: Some of these recipes are excerpted from past Halloween articles I’ve written for All You magazine



Spooktacular Halloween party food ideas,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets

With these culinary tricks up your sleeve, you can treat your guests to some devilishly delicious dishes. The sinfully simple party food ideas below are not just for kids. (In fact some, like the Sangria recipe, are inappropriate for kids.) They all have one thing in common, however. Unlike some Halloween concoctions, these dishes taste as great as they look!

Shortcut Candy Apples

Use fast-drying candy melts in bright colors, rather than caramel, to make fancy candy apples that won’t stick to your teeth. This quick, easy, and safe method insures instant gratification for young chefs and opens up a world of decorating possibilities. The melts come in a variety of different flavors and colors (I used peanut butter, chocolate and orange above) and can be found at craft supply stores, Walmart, and large grocery stores.

Insert wooden craft sticks, twigs or cinnamon sticks into the stem ends of apples. Place a generous cupful of candy melts in a microwave-safe, 2-cup (Pyrex) measuring pitcher, or a deep bowl. Zap in the microwave on medium for 1 minute. Stir, then zap in 15 second intervals, until totally melted. Holding an apple by the stick, dip it into the melted candy, swirling until the apple is fully coated. While the coating is still wet, add colorful sprinkles and/or decorate with small candies such as gummy worms, candy corn and red hots. Place the finished apple on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet to dry for about 10 minutes.

Grim Reaper’s Peepers

Slice the tops off of cherry tomatoes and use a small melon baller to scoop out some of the pulp. Push a halved bocconcini (mini mozzarella ball) into the cavity, flat side up. Top each with a pimento-stuffed green olive slice. Arrange in pairs on a large platter.


To make a bone, twist a knot in both ends of a rope of storebought, canned breadstick dough. Repeat with the rest of the dough strips. Arrange the bones on a baking sheet. If desired, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with an herb or spice of your choice such as sea salt, cayenne pepper, sesame seed, or finely grated Parmesan cheese before baking. Bake according to package directions. To serve, arrange bones in a brown paper bag with the top rolled down.

Black Widow Spiders

Using an ice cream scoop, arrange single scoops of vanilla ice cream (one scoop for each spider) on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer until the scoops get very firm. To make a spider, coat a hardened ice cream scoop with “hard shell” chocolate ice cream topping. (This topping sets and forms a hard shell shortly after it hits the ice cream. Find it near the ice cream cones in your grocery.) Just before the topping hardens, push 2 red hot candies into the spider to make eyes. Return to the freezer.

In a blender, puree a bag of frozen raspberries with a dash of sugar. To serve, make a puddle of raspberry puree on a dessert plate. Lay out black licorice lace legs, 4 on each side of the plate. Place the spider body on top and serve.

Voodoo Fondue

In a fondue pot, make a classic cheese fondue. Here’s a good, easy recipe.

Arrange the following dippers on a big platter for guests to eat with the fondue.

Apple Mummies Apple wedges wrapped in prosciutto

Bat Bread – Pumpernickel bread cut into bat shapes and toasted. (Freeze bread slices. Remove from the freezer and when the bread is partially thawed, cut bat shapes out with cookie cutter. Toast in a 300 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes.)

Speared Eyeballs – Grapes on fancy Halloween toothpicks

Blanched Brains – Blanched cauliflower florets

Stake-in-the-Heart Salad

Hot glue a plastic spider, lizard or snake to the center of each of 8 long wooden skewers. Cut a lettuce head in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 4 equal sized wedges, each with some core attached. Thread each of the 8 skewers with a lettuce wedge, piercing the wide part first and keeping the wedge close to the tip, below the spider. Add a cucumber slice and then a cherry tomato to each skewer. Arrange the skewers on a large platter and scatter a few more spiders around. Serve with a bowl of your favorite creamy dressing for dipping.


Open a round, wooden box of Camembert and poke a few holes into the rind. Sprinkle with a little white wine, replace the lid and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cheese is molten. Meanwhile, cut a jack-o-lantern eyes, nose and mouth from an orange or red bell pepper. Remove the lid and arrange the features on the cheese round. Serve the cheese from the box, sprinkled with a little orange zest, and accompanied by “Gotcha Focaccia.” (Warm storebought focaccia.)

Ginger Snap Pumpkin Patch

Use a dab of canned frosting for glue to attach purchased mello-cream candy pumpkins to the tops of ginger snap cookies.

Snake Sandwich

Knead together 3 (1 lb.) loaves of frozen bread dough, thawed. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment. Form dough into a long, curvy snake shape and place it on the pan. With a sharp knife, cut shallow V-shaped slash marks down the back to make scales. Push 2 pimento-stuffed olives into the head for eyes. Brush with olive oil and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Bake at 350 degrees until crust is golden, 30 to 40 minutes.

Use a serrated knife to slice the cooled loaf horizontally. Fill the sandwich with sliced prosciutto and mozzarella, roasted red peppers, olive relish and arugula leaves… or your favorite cold cuts. Replace the lid and slip a piece of red bell pepper cut into a snake tongue shape into the mouth. Use the snake as a centerpiece for the party table before slicing it into wedges for serving.

Satan’s Slap-Me-Silly-if-I’m-Still-Alive Sangria

Serve this refreshing drink from a large laboratory beaker so it resembles blood with body parts and guts floating in it. To make a simple Sangria, pour a bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Rioja) into a pitcher or beaker. Add assorted cut up fruits such as orange slices, fresh pineapple wedges, plum slices and seedless grapes. Add a shot of brandy (optional), and squeeze the juice of ½ lemon into the mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, add a cup or two of chilled seltzer or club soda. Serve ice cold. To make this punch super-spooky, pull the arms and legs from an inexpensive rubber doll and add to the beaker along with the fruits.

Note: Some of these recipes are excerpted from past articles I’ve written for All You magazine

DSC04453Wrap your candy apples in cello bags tied with pretty ribbon and decorated with spiders and lizards and snakes. Oh, my!



It’s Friday! It must be time for another fun party recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets.

Enjoy your weekend!


Everything’s better with bacon, right? It’s optional here, but it does add another layer of flavor to these cornbread party wedges. This is a version of something my Mom used to make, called “Spanish Cornbread.” Mom’s recipe actually ran in an issue of Food & Wine magazine one year as part of a Thanksgiving menu. This recipe is foolproof and Mom-tested. Works perfectly every time!


1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 cup whole milk

1 cup cottage cheese

1/3 cup corn oil

1 (4-ounce) can peeled whole green chiles drained, patted dry, and coarsely chopped

1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 slices crisp bacon, crumbled (optional)

Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, preferably nonstick.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the egg, milk, cottage cheese, and oil. Mix until blended. Add to the dry ingredients and stir gently until just mixed. Spread half the batter in the prepared pan. Scatter the chiles evenly over the top and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. Cover with the remaining batter.
  4. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 35 minutes, or until the cornbread is golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes. Cut into small wedges and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and garnish with rosemary sprigs, if using. Serve warm.




Another delicious party recipe, compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets.


Don’t know where this recipe originated. I think I first saw it in a Marcella Hazan cookbook. More recently I saw a version in Bon Appetit magazine, which is the source I adapted my version from. Whoever came up with the original certainly had two of my favorite flavors in mind… cheese and fried. How could you go wrong!


2 large eggplants

1 ¼ teaspoons salt, divided

Olive oil (for brushing)

Canola or vegetable oil (for frying)

2 large eggs

¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 ¼ cup plain dry breadcrumbs, divided

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ tablespoons all purpose flour

3 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes (about 15 cubes) or 3 ounces smallest bocconcini


  1. Cut eggplants crosswise into ½ inch slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and arrange in a colander. Place colander in sink and let stand about 30 minutes, until eggplant slices begin to sweat and give up liquid.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil. Pat eggplant dry with paper towels and arrange in a single layer on prepared sheets. Brush lightly with olive oil. Bake until eggplant is tender and dry, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly; coarsely chop.
  3. Whisk 1 egg, grated Parmesan, ¼ cup breadcrumbs, thyme, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Stir in chopped eggplant (mixture will be soft.) Spread 1 cup breadcrumbs on plate. Whisk 1 egg and the flour in a small bowl. Press and shape eggplant mixture into 1 ¼ inch balls. Press 1 piece of mozzarella into the center of each ball, making sure to reshape the eggplant mixture so it covers the cheese completely. Dip balls, one at a time, into egg batter. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat.
  4. Pour enough canola oil into a large skillet to reach a depth of ½ inch; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add balls to skillet; sauté until browned, turning often, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot.




Another easy party recipe, compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets

Happy Weekend!


The trend toward getting back to basics prompted me to start playing around with good, old-fashioned, economical popcorn. Here’s a grown-up twist on this crowd-pleasing standby. If you’re making this for kids or would like less heat, omit the wasabi edamame or replace them with toasted pumpkin seeds. Either way, this easily prepared snack is the perfect accompaniment to beer and a ballgame!


3 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni, each slice cut in half

15 cups salted popped popcorn

1 cup dry roasted wasabi edamame

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin


In two batches, microwave the pepperoni on High on a paper towel-lined microwave-safe plate in 30-second intervals until dry and crisp, about 1 minute. Toss in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients.



Ham & Asparagus Quiche

September 11, 2009


Whoop-de-do! The world’s longest short work week is finally over! Celebrate with another party recipe, compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets.

Happy entertaining!


Everyone (except maybe your cardiologist) has a favorite quiche recipe. This is mine. This old fashioned classic is great make-ahead party fare. It’s sinfully rich, but it won’t kill you if you only eat it on special occasions. Substitute ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese for the cup of cheddar, if desired.


(Serves 6)

1 disk prepared piecrust dough

3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, chopped

8 small stalks fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

Pinch cayenne pepper

3 large eggs

1 cup half-and-half

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

¼ teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

¾ cup smoked ham, cubed


  1. Line a 9-inch glass pie plate with the pastry and prick it all over with a fork. Chill at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet and add the onions, asparagus and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes over medium high heat until the mixture is fragrant and the vegetables have begun to soften. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Cut out a 10-inch circle of parchment paper or aluminum foil and place it in the pie shell. Pour 2 cups of dried beans or pie weights into the shell. Bake the piecrust until it has begun to turn a pale gold color, about 15 minutes. Remove the pie plate from the oven, lift the parchment and beans from the shell, and return it to the oven. Cook the shell until it is golden, another 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool. Keep the oven on and increase the temperature to 375 degrees.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  5. Scatter the asparagus mixture across the bottom of the pie shell. Sprinkle with the ham cubes. Pour the egg mixture into the shell. Bake the quiche until the filling is just set and slightly puffed, about 30 minutes. If crust starts getting too brown, cover it with a piecrust baking shield or crimped foil. Let cool for at least 30 minutes on a wire rack and serve it warm, or let it cool completely and serve at room temperature.