With the spring winds (mostly) behind us and the summer heat still a few weeks away, no time is better for hosting friends than May in the Panhandle. Guys’ Night may be all about the grill, but getting the girls together means delicious drinks and fantastic finger foods. Joni Prater of Nordic Galley Bakeri shares two of her favorite plan-ahead drink mixes and also offers a few easy-to-serve options for casual get-togethers. From classic southern cheese straws to more epicurean aebelskivers and strawberry-pretzel crostinis, there’s something here for everyone.
Avocado Salsa 1 package frozen sweet corn 2 cans sliced black olives 1 medium red pepper, diced 1 small onion, chopped 5 garlic cloves, chopped 1/3 cup olive oil or vegetable oil ¼ cup lemon juice 3 tablespoons white vinegar 1 teaspoon oregano ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon pepper 4 avocados, pitted and cubed
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and marinate several hours or overnight, and then add avocado right before serving.
Makes 12 servings
Texas Cheese Straws ½ pound grated cheddar cheese 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper ½ cup butter 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 2 cups flour
Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend. Using star tip on a cookie press, make straws about 3 to 4 inches long. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.
Makes about 50 straws
Smoked Salmon and Dill Aebelskivers 1 cup flour 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon black pepper 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped dill 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 2 large eggs, separated 1 cup milk 2 tablespoons melted butter ¼ cup smoked salmon, minced ¼ cup cream cheese
In a large bowl combine first six ingredients. In another bowl mix egg yolks, lemon juice, milk and melted butter. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; whisk in egg and milk mixture. In a clean bowl, whip egg whites with hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter. Heat aebelskiver pan and generously brush each well with melted butter. Drop about a tablespoon of batter into each. Add ½ teaspoon salmon and 1 teaspoon cream cheese. Top with more batter. When bubbles form on top, gently turn with wooden skewers. Brown second side for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and serve warm.
Stir together strawberries and chopped basil. Mix in brown sugar and pepper. Stir well to combine. Spread cream cheese on pretzel crackers. Top with strawberry mixture. Serve immediately.
Makes about 36 crackers
Phyllo Cinnamon Chips 1 package phyllo dough 1 stick butter, melted Cinnamon and sugar to taste
Lay out a single sheet of phyllo dough, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Repeat with six more layers. Cut the stack lengthwise into three rows. Cut each row into triangles. Lay on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden.
Makes about 24 chips
Texas-themed Chocolates 6 large bars Ghirardelli dark chocolate
Break up chocolate bars in a glass measuring cup. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each one. Pour into plastic molds. Chill about half an hour in the refrigerator and unmold. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Makes about 2 dozen chocolates
Rum Slush 1 (12-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate 1 (12-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate 1 (12-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
Mix frozen concentrates in a large pitcher or plastic container. Use empty juice cans to measure 9 cans of water and 2 cans of light rum. Stir thoroughly and freeze 24 to 48 hours. Stir a couple of times during the freezing process. Fill pitcher or glass about 2/3 full of frozen slush. Add lemon lime soda to top and garnish with lime slices. Diet soda is a good option to cut down on the sweetness. Store slush in the freezer in Ziploc freezer bags for up to a month.
Makes about 1 gallon
Sangria Slush 1 gallon red or white Sangria 1 – 12-ounce can frozen limeade
Combine Sangria with limeade concentrate. Freeze in plastic container or freezer bags for 48 hours. Spoon Sangria slush into pitcher or glasses, about 2/3 full. Top off with lemon-lime soda. Add slices of lemons, limes, and oranges for flavor in the pitcher and garnish on a glass.
Joni Prater grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota to a Scandinavian family of bakers. “I started baking at 5 years old with my mom,” she says on a spring Monday at Nordic Galley Bakeri, where she’s finalizing a warm-weather menu update that includes more salad and fruit dishes. She’s also in the process of completing one of her many catering projects this time of year. “I was fortunate to have an incredible mom and grandma as examples to teach me how to bake.”
In 2001, Joni put that lifetime of cooking to work when she opened an Amarillo catering business called The Gathering Place. For the next four years she catered weddings, parties, and other special events until selling the business. Six years later, with her kids on the cusp of finishing school, she decided it was time to get back into the restaurant world. “I specifically wanted a bakery,” she says.
When Joni learned in early 2012 that Great Harvest Bread Company had closed its doors in the Summit Shopping Center at Southwest 34th and Coulter, she jumped at the opportunity to purchase its equipment and move into the space. She named the new bakery Nordic Galley “because many of my recipes are old family recipes” and because she’d spent a lifetime collecting Scandinavian and European cookbooks – loving the rich, butter- and cream-heavy baking tradition and its reliance on almond-based pastries.
Joni describes everything on the Nordic Galley menu as “homemade, made-from-scratch comfort food.” This local lunch favorite has, in recent months, become a bustling breakfast stop, anchored by three varieties of breakfast cinnamon rolls, sausage-filled “breakfast bretzels,” and the Nordic Galley’s new liége sugar waffles, which are made with pearl sugar. “People just flip over them,” she says. “They’re so rich and yummy they don’t require butter or syrup. I give one out and people say, ‘Great, thank you for my dry waffle.’ And then as soon as they eat one, they’ll order six more.”
Joni says her summer drink recipes are perfect for entertaining, whether it’s a “girls night” or anything else. “I always like having cocktails and mixes you can keep in the freezer,” she says. “They’re just so handy, especially if someone comes over unexpectedly.” As for the finger foods, she’s getting excited that the spring and summer season means a greater variety of berries are available – at much more reasonable prices – and believes no warm-weather Panhandle get-together is complete without cheddar cheese straws. “Since we’re in the south, you have to have them.”
by Jason Boyett
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.